Diya was a 28-year-old gay woman who was out to her friends and would participate in queer collectives, queer support groups, and research initiatives. She had written and published on topics around various LGBT+ themes.
Once in her city, there was an event being organised by a few supposed allies of the queer community. When Diya learnt about that event, she eagerly approached one of the organisers called Pallavi, a straight cisgender woman and expressed interest in attending the event. Pallavi knew about Diya’s identity and about her work with queer folks but shunned Diya, saying: ‘you are not from the community!’ Diya was taken aback. For a while, she felt like it was a joke and that Pallavi would burst into laughter soon, but this did not happen. Later Pallavi clarified that this event is only meant for people who are ‘transgender’ and joked that the only cisgender person allowed was Pallavi, as she is the organiser. There were two trans people present during this exchange, and they too were taken aback by Pallavi’s callous remarks.
Diya had gone to express interest in this event after reading a flyer. The flyer did not specify that the event was for transgender people. She was disappointed that she could not attend the event and was deeply upset with Pallavi’s tone. Pallavi didn’t care much about how Diya felt and continued with her work as usual, while Diya was upset for several days. Two of Diya’s friends who were present during this incident shared her feelings and consoled her. They suggested that she should have responded by saying that it was not Pallavi’s place to declare who is and is not from ‘the community.’
The lived experiences of individuals within the queer community can vary with different identities and personal experiences. However, regardless of the identity, there exists a shared sense of struggle for every member of the queer community. The struggle of living in a heteronormative binary-producing world. The popular initialism of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and, Transgender) emerged in the 1990s in the backdrop of transgender, bisexual and queer movements in the United States. The acronym signifies a critical view of the norms of gender and sexuality. It also shows that identities are complex and dynamic. The label eventually expanded to LGBTQIA+ to include people who are questioning their gender identity or sexuality or feeling discomfort to neatly fitting themselves into any of the other labels (Q), Intersex persons (I), Asexual person (A) and the ‘+’ denoting the inclusion of all existing gender identity and sexual orientations. Another such umbrella terminology is people with diverse SOGIESC i.e., Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics. This term too includes every person whose gender and sexuality are non-conforming. Such terms imply collective solidarity between diverse groups of gender and sexuality. There are many individuals like Diya who see themselves as a part of the whole community and the shared solidarity. They see a reflection of their struggles and challenges in the various identities within the community. This quite naturally brings a desire to work and get involved in issues of gender and sexual minorities. People like Pallavi may however miss these intricacies of identities within the community, as they identify outside of what the space has to offer.
There can be projects and events directed only at a particular subsection of the community. However, being in a position of driving projects, hiring people and setting the agenda, one is in a place of power. And power brings responsibilities with it. What you say, how you say it, whom you include matters. How do you engage with people who wish to be included, but who you deem excluded, also matters? People like Pallavi whose gender and sexuality conform to the world around them could be mindful that their ‘allyship’ isn’t one of gatekeeping. This will require challenging and critically reflecting on one’s beliefs and positionality beyond the books, talks, writings, forums and workshops.
After this incident, Diya has convinced herself that remarks by others cannot determine how she identifies herself. Both Diya and her friends have now braced themselves to bring it to the notice of all the Pallavis in future that who is ‘not from the community’ is not their place to say.
This piece has been reviewed by several individuals. I want to acknowledge and thank all of them for their input. In alphabetical order, this list includes Dr Ameya Bondre, Gadha Thachappilly, Ragi Gupta, Rohin Bhatt, Prof. Sivakami Muthusamy, Rajan Negi, and Rajan Negi, Sharin D’Souza.