Postcolonial societies are a mess when it comes to healthy understandings of sexuality on their own, but add an extra layer of religiosity that is rooted in ideas of sexual chastity and you've got yourself the recipe to fuck up a young queer kid's sense of self for the rest of their life.
My mother's position in the Hare Krsna community is what might translate into a pastorate in the Christian tradition, and one of the four pillars of her denomination–and thus a phrase I heard all too often growing up–was the commandment for "no illicit sex." On a very basic level, the commandment simply means no sex outside of marriage, which is still damning for someone who has never thought they could or never wanted to be married, like many queer folks of my generation.
But I soon learned by noting when it was invoked that "no illicit sex" is really about how you present yourself, whom you associate with and how closely, and what you say and even think about gender and sexuality. Unsurprisingly, many of the things that were deemed "illicit" align with a non-normative sexual or gender identity. And having to also come to terms with my father's hyper-masculine understanding of Islam as a member of The Nation, it took a long time for me to stop believing that everything about little old queer, non-binary me and how my mind and body worked was dirty, sinful and wrong.
By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer
As a Black American, my parents' specific religious journey is rare, but the ideas of gender and sexuality that they espoused is not (nor is it exclusive to religious people). Though many strides have been made due to feminist and queer movements (particularly those spearheaded by Black people), there is yet a widespread resistance to queer expressions of self.
Take, for example, just last week, when the internet erupted into a bizarre controversy after a clothing designer launched a crowdfunding campaign for "The RompHim." The RompHim is an iteration of a clothing item that has been around for ages, the romper, but marketed specifically to men. Because the romper has historically been more commonly worn by women, many cisgender/heterosexual people were insistent that the RompHim was effeminizing–and thus dirty, sinful and wrong for men (or those believed to be men) to wear.
The idea that queer behavior or presentation is wrong is rooted in the belief that queer sexuality/gender is an act in and of itself of illicit sexual deviance. But rather than fight the reality that queerness is a sexualized construct, perhaps a more productive task is to fight the idea that sex is something shameful that should be kept hidden in the first place. This is why I have committed to talking openly about my sexuality (in the spaces I have ownership over or curate), even if it makes others uncomfortable.
An irrational discomfort with healthy ideas of sexuality (healthy = rooted in a respect for consent between adults) will always be harmful to queer people. The same discomfort that allows folks who would otherwise be drawn to my work to turn away at the first glimpse of something sexually affirming on my page is why I was taught to run from "illicit" behavior as a child. "Sexual difference/deviance = bad" is always rooted in fucked up ideas of queerness in that it legitimizes the demonization of non-normative gender-based behaviors that are not harmful to the consenting adults involved, as witnessed with the conversation around the RompHim. This is why discussions about sex that aren't forced onto anyone are not harmful, but they remain demonized.
Publicly embracing my sexuality is an important and purposeful way I not only fight the shame I was taught to have about myself and my queerness, but also fight the structures that allowed such debilitating feelings to fester for so much of my life. Though I seem to always lose friends for it, I encourage everyone to talk openly about their sexual journeys, because without open dialogue it would be impossible to fix the deep-seeded issues plaguing queer communities. But I do this while knowing that stigma is still persistent, and not everyone should be forced or is willing to face the consequences of a queerantagonistic world. Even for me, being public about my sexual journey has opened the door for varying degrees of harassment, including the professional harassment by well-meaning older professionals who try to convince me to be more "discerning."
But everyone should be willing to not perpetuate the same queerantagonistic violence. Everyone should be able to challenge the fallacious idea that how you present means you are "asking for it" (both sexual and other forms of harassment), and everyone should be willing to combat how and why we judge those who are more open about their sexual journeys than we are able to be.