Language And Identity

Does the language we speak influences our reality? Recently I was in Goa for a meditation retreat. Before entering the meditation room, one practitioner said, “Walk in with an intent but keep the language simple.” On hearing that a friend of mine said, “Fuck. It’s a simple word. But if I use it too much in relation to a girl I’m with, the whole thing becomes just that – a fuck. Even if I have a deep connection with her if I use fuck to describe what we share – the whole thing gets reduced to that. But if I change the language and use Making Love, my experience of us changes completely!”

I found the distinction simple and yet powerful. It made me reflect on my relationships and the power of language as a tool to communicate… It is amazing how language gives us the ability to read the thoughts of others. And also gives the ability to project our thoughts into the mind of others. We choose words with conventionalised meanings, arrange them in a certain order and viola!

In the Queer world, it does a powerful work of forming and communicating identities!

I’m a gay woman. What does that mean? It means that I identify as a woman and am attracted to people who similarly identify. The word “gay” can mean anything I want; words after all, do not have an inherent meaning. But I chose it because it is already used to mean an identity I am describing here; and hence, it seems easy to use it.

I’m Gay. I have labelled myself. Gay. Labelling oneself can give one considerable power in the political sphere. Lesbian and Gay men have a public, collective identity. Lesbians and Gay men have built up solidarity by creating institutions and festivals. Underlying this solidarity is the notion of what Gay and Lesbians share – a self with same sex desire.

When I consider this – I find it difficult to use Gay for myself. It feels like I’ve put myself in a box which is not big enough. I fit in but kind of awkward. It’s like I’m a square pin in a round hole. One of the reason is that my sexual desires and gender expressions are more fluid than these fixed identities allow for.

I like the work Queer but not everyone does. Words might have a certain meaning but patterns of use can create additional associations for us.

Queer has been  used as a slur against the LGBT folks. Those who associate this word with experiences of abuse may not prefer to use it. But I still prefer to use the word Queer. How did it make a word we use today? Long time ago, some activists reclaimed this word wanting to assert a politicised identity. And today, it’s an umbrella term for all things L, G, B, T. Isn’t Queer closer to the mark?

What I like about the word queer is that it is not limited to sexual orientations and gender diversity. It gives room for more – so much more. Being Queer is a philosophy and a politics and a sensibility of desiring outside the hetero-normative. It is also an assertion of our sexual selves that are questioned or denied existence by others. Equally, it is a celebration of these “not normal” selves. It’s a reflection of diversity; and how amazing and beautiful that it. But there lies a problem. The problem is that the word ‘queer’ is supposed to embrace the different, but ends up including just about everybody! We are all minorities; it just depends on how you slice the pie. Whether it is your religion, your skin colour, what you believe in, how much you earn…

The word ‘queer’ becomes unspecific on what we stand for; and thus loses political influence.

What must we do then? Does the answer lie in personal narratives? Each one of us tell our story in our language. These stories could connect us with others. These stories might resonate with some and make them feel less alone.  These stories might encourage someone to take the first big step.

They just might create a new narrative – a different end to all our struggles and, and a new beginning.

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