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The Violence of Irrationality: response to Mohana Krishnaswamy

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Dr. Mohana Krishnaswamy: Image source – The Hindu

We respond to Mohana Krishnaswamy’s piece ‘It is Nurture against Nature’ in The Hindu Open Page, dated December 21, 2013 (since taken down, cached copy here). There is an urgency associated with not just creating a more egalitarian environment for all marginalized groups in India, but for arguments in the public sphere to be informed by a reasoned chain of logic. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that arguments such as those of Krishnaswamy, be tested against the grain of reason and be exposed to an analysis of what such attempts at discourse formation might possibly result in.

Krishnaswamy places decriminalization of homosexuality and Eugenics on the two extremes of an imaginary spectrum. She goes on to argue that Section 377 does not criminalize a particular group but only certain sexual acts. In fact, any sexual act beyond peno-vaginal sex among consenting adults is now criminal in India, but given that all non-asexual LGBTs would automatically be deemed criminals as a result of this judgment, is not difficult to derive.  Therefore, this judgment in as far as it affects some sexual acts of heterosexual couples, criminalizes the homosexual community as a whole.

Krishnaswamy’s essay is generously but uncritically sprinkled with the words “natural” and “unnatural”. She makes no attempt to demonstrate how one set of consensual sexual acts by adults are “natural” and others, not. Krishnaswamy, further, makes no effort to explain how “popularizing” what she calls “non-standard practices” inflicts harm on the society. Her warnings about “non-standard” practices being mainstreamed in the society makes one wonder, if she thinks of any society and its morality as frozen in space and time. Did women always vote? Were dalits always allowed to walk with their heads held high among upper castes? Did the Indian courts, if not the Indian middle-class, always take a progressive stand on heterosexual live-in relationships, like they are doing now? For Krishnaswamy, the categories “natural” and “unnatural” are fixed in that she doesn’t acknowledge the shaping of these categories by socio-political moralities at different historic conjunctures. Among the several rebuttals to her argument, an important one would be that Section 377 is Victorian and pre-constitution. It is not “Indian” by any understanding of the history of culture and morality in India.

Human sexuality is diverse and organizations right from the United Nations to the World Health Organization consider LGBT people to be part of this natural diversity. The author fails to logically connect homosexuality (which, for her, is either an “unnatural” or a “natural but abnormal” tendency) with being “improper, unethical and undesirable”. This unjustified connection is the fundamental building block of her core argument, and is clearly standing on a flimsy ground. Krishnaswamy’s arguments are further made confounded by her examples. For the author, one’s possession of six fingers is a “natural abnormality”.  Does that make the possession of six fingers immoral?

Krishnaswamy presents a known fact about the impact of environment on gene expression. The Indian Psychiatric Society, through an editorial in their official publication in 2012, stated that particular sexual orientation and identity are produced by a combined influence of biological and environmental influences. Krishnaswamy, however, departs from the progressive stand taken by the Indian Psychiatric Society to claim that environment could be forcibly brought under control by laws. We are not explained what “environment” means here. We have no evidence to suggest that artificial creation of a social environment would necessarily alter the gene expression responsible for homosexuality, even if we were to assume for a moment that there is something “wrong” with homosexuality. We wonder then, if Krishnaswamy is herself giving away into the trap of Hitler-style justification of Eugenics that she initially denounces. For Krishnaswamy, only one world is possible – that governed by reproductive heteronormativity. Instead of citing any evidence in favor of a connection between homophobic laws and gene expression, Krishnaswamy abruptly claims that certain countries attribute terrorism to genes. We fail to understand, through brutal application of rationality – setting aside our rage at being subjected to this comparison – how the harm caused by terrorists could be compared with that allegedly caused by homosexuals.

The author assumes that criminalization of homosexuals (perhaps, specifically, men who have sex with men), would lead to greater control over the AIDS epidemic. In their affidavit during the section 377 proceedings, National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) unambiguously submitted that the draconian section was a serious impediment to successful public health interventions. Policing sexuality will not make gay men heterosexual. It is only sad that instead of debating why “gay therapy” to “convert” homosexuals to heterosexuals is not being criminalized in India, we have to spend our energies in rebutting arguments that have been laid to rest decades ago.

Krishnaswamy also fears that marriages would fall apart as a consequence of legalization of homosexuality. We wonder how that would happen and we wonder if marriage is yet another institution that is frozen in space and time for the author. We also fear that by reifying marriage as a traditional institution that should be guarded against all encroachments by liberal discourses of rights embedded in all humans, the author is acceding grounds to conservatives who shudder at the thought of recognizing (heterosexual) marital rapes and who would perhaps still want women to be kept away from their fair share of property rights.

We term Krishnaswamy’s essay as violent. As the famous Italian scholar Antonio Gramsci made us understand, discourse formation is an active space of hegemony and counter-hegemony. The hegemonic hetero-normative discourse of “unnaturalness” of gay sex and indeed, of the existence of the gay body, has been interrupted by struggles from marginalized queer communities across the world. These acts of resistances have hardly been peaceful, if one were to account for not just the brutal killings of queer people and persistent homophobia in our society, but also the struggles that queer people face with themselves as they navigate a new life-world, often in solitude, after coming to terms with their own sexual orientation. This discourse does not remain a discourse, but transforms into physical and emotional harm and abuse, and so arguments that strengthen and support the irrationality of this discourse, only support that violence, intentionally or not. As queer activists working to make the lives of queer people in our homeland more livable and to help them become equal citizens, we only hope that readers of these columns will pit (her) argument for (our) argument, and question the very rickety grounds that are established to support and further irrational prejudices against a class of people.


Orinam’s notes: Also see the following responses to Dr. Mohana Krishnaswamy’s latest article:

It is ‘nonsense against science’: Analyzing Mohana Krishnaswamy’s defense of the 377 in India, by BerryNice, published on personal blog, Dec 22, 2013

Homosexuality Is Not Against Nature, Homophobia Is, by Arvind Raghavan, republished from Nirmukta on Orinam, Feb 3, 2014

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