‘Queersapien’ by Sharif D. Rangnekar and queer as new normal

For a queer person, “coming out” happens multiple times. First and the most difficult one is coming out to the self, then the family and close friends and ultimately to the larger world. The process is neither linear nor always progressive. For instance, during the Covid-19 emergency, many queer persons had to move back into the closet to get a roof over their heads or to hold on to a job. Even without Covid, there is a constant evaluation of risks, a search for safe spaces and people with whom the veneer can be dropped. This book is a recounting of such daily struggles and the journey to trascend them.

If Rangnekar’s earlier book ‘Straight to Normal’ was about self-discovery and coming out, this one is more about spreading out. The author not only recognises his own class, caste, and gender privileges, but also dwells on how these privileges can be used to further queer the pitch or normalise queerness.

He situates the queer rights movement in the context of women rights and class and caste struggles, emphasising the synergy between them for the common goal of freedom and equality. The author also draws parallels with the freedom struggle, narrating how his grandfather and other freedom fighters were part of an underbelly where they found safe spaces to discuss their choices, develop strategies and build camaraderie in pursuit of pride and respect. Queer groups of today operate in a similar manner except that the struggle now is against our own.

The author also recognises that even though he is queer, there are people who are minorities within this minority. Thus, he includes voices of transgender persons and talks about Dalit and Muslim queers who face multiple discriminations.

Despite being full of serious anecdotes, data and expert opinions, the book is an easy read and sprinkled with intimate memories. It begins with the author’s love affair with Thailand. A gender-equal country rooted in spirituality and open towards sex and diverse sexualities, it bestows him with better physical and emotional health every time he lands there. This passage is bound to resonate with all the marginal communities who navigate public spaces in India with the fear of gettiing bullied or assaulted. ‘Queersapien’ offers many such insights to push for a more empathetic society and the need for more queers to be out there because “it adds to the numbers and to the safety”. Rangnekar invokes Tagore’s poem ‘Where the mind is without fear’, which talks of a land where people take pride in being themselves and hence make a free country.

Coming out makes us queers vacate space that we never fit into and compels us to occupy the space that is rightfully ours. The struggle is mostly a lonely path, occasionally lit by the torches held by those walking ahead of us. A former journalist, a high ranked PR professional besides fronting an indie band, Rangnekar let goes of his fears gradually, infusing queerness in all aspects of his life, going on to organise ‘Rainbow Litfest’. He learns from many friends, including the late Saleem Kidwai whose seminal co-authored work on queer history of the sub-continent, ‘Same Sex Love in India’, has provided validation to many.

A constant companion to Rangnekar in this writing is his mother who, as a single parent, always pushed against the gendered roles society wanted to box her in. As he says, anything against the norm is queer.

by Manu Moudgil
Source – The Tribune