Queer Theory

Jaded's picture

Learning Relevance Through Erasure

One of the few things people connect with India besides Slumdog Millionaire and hub of cheap Third World labour are the epics Ramayan and Mahabharat — which are of course, anglicised to Ramayana and Mahabharata. Almost always, these epics are seen as the narrativisation of ‘the great oral tradition of storytelling’, basing this tradition in the past, which not only increases the net worth of such a text but also binds the epic with ‘history’; it’s seen as a ‘pre-colonial’ Indian¹utopia and as the ‘pure’ culture, while neatly obliterating the existence of more than a few hundred narrativisations of these epics — which are subjective to the caste and class of the community they come from — and they’re seen synonymously with Hinduism and our religions — meanwhile western epics like the Iliad and Odyssey are seen as Great Literature and not the representative of a population. Thanks to this pact with ‘history’, these texts are seen as — forcibly — situated texts that describe how Things Were Back Then and almost always read when mirrored with Christianity or the western gaze. So when the text turns out to have any contemporary beliefs or depict any ‘modern’ behaviour, it is hailed as a new ‘discovery’, when in reality these ‘discoveries’ have always existed in the texts. Insert quip about colonisation here.

Lately, there is a new surge of reading ‘religious’ texts through a queer perspective, which perplexes me to no end — for these particular texts, Mahabharat especially, have always been queer texts. I grew up with stories from the Mahabharat and have known tales of Krishna and Radha role-playing and switching genders, Arjun living as a woman for a year with a man’s mind, Draupadi as the daughter born of a man’s body — and these are a few instances I can remember without even looking at the texts my grandmum used to read. Agreeably, in most re-tellings of this epic, even these gender transgressions are somehow inserted into patriarchy — Krishna becomes a ‘womaniser’ who doesn’t mind ‘playing around’, Arjun is written and seen as a character who ‘just dresses as a woman’ while retaining his identity and physical form, Draupadi’s birth is naturalised — however what these studies do is anthropologically ‘carve out’ queer instances and characters, instead of just rescuing the regional-dialectical re-telling from the mainstream one. Not to mention, even these queer characters are seen through the Western lens and then we have debates and papers arguing just why Arjun isn’t a trans* character, without taking into account that being trans* across different cultures or that even ‘queer’ manifests in different forms here. Because of such ritual and continuous exotification, books like Devdutt Pattaniak’s ‘The Pregnant King‘ are a cause for wonder and amazement in the Western world — more like a mild case of, “I used to be Brown but now I Think!”.

Olga Wolstenholme's picture

Am I Bad Feminist?

I have a confession to make. I know jack squat about feminist theory.  No, really, it’s true. I’m busted!  You found me out!  I’ve never read The Feminine Mystique (I can’t even tell you who wrote it with utmost certainty), I’ve never read The Second Sex (the only reason I know who wrote that is because I love me a French existentialist), and I have no idea what the difference is between first wave, second wave, or third wave feminism.  Seriously, I have no idea.  Although, I’m confident enough that I could probably fake my way through a pretty decent guess.  At least with someone who didn’t know any better.  And even then most of what I’ve picked up is from movies, TV, and every other form of media, but then only by chance.

I can pretty much count on my fingers the number of books I’ve read that weren’t novels and that were somewhat related to feminist theory.  I remember when I was about 18 I bought two books from the woman’s studies section at the new Indigo bookstore in downtown Montreal the titles of which were Bitch and Slut.  The only reason I picked up these particular books is because of their succinct and titillating titles.  I only got around to reading them about four years later and anyone with a mind can figure out the premises: i.e. women who hold power are bitches and women who have sex are sluts.

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