Open Thread: Are South Asian Closets Different?

You'll have to forgive me if I'm a bit defensive or cloistered in myself in this post, because it's hard putting yourself out. It's a pretty uncomfortable position (like the back of a volkswagon).

About a year ago, I wrote about my participation in Upper Caste Supremacy (i.e. casteism). I want to continue this line of discussion (regardless of whether anyone else is interested) because I was encouraged to do so by a good friend whose judgement I trust on emotional matters. She suggested tying this analysis of neurosis to sexuality.

To be honest, I don't really understand it, which is why I made this an open thread. I can put forward some simple possible hypothetical relationships. body = dirty = shame. sexuality = bodily desire x desire for other bodies = double shame. And there's always Freud and Foucault and blah blah blah, but it's...a bit theoretical. A basic question I'm struggling with is whether or not something as personal as sexuality and specifically neuroses associated can be really be taxonomized with any degree of certitude, let alone "from below".

(haha, very funny, you think you're so clever--we all thought that when we read that phrase).

And even if it can, how does it intersect with self? personality? gender? money? power? For example, I have a hard time believing that the intersection of gender and sexuality constructs "men" and "women" in ways that are the same in terms of how they approach sexuality in terms of fluidity / rigid categories - but I wonder to what extent this is a product of middle-class/rich American gender construction (the waters of the model minorities among us). At the same time, gender gets read into same-sex relationships too - bottom, top, butch, femme, etc. Hetero/homo/bi/queer sexuality? I was on a panel about sexuality at a middle-class ethnic conference in the U.S. a while back, and most of the people in the audience, really unsurprisingly, were hetero people who related very closely to the idea of being "different" from their parents' expectations in terms of who they brought home. Not that I ever bring anyone home. And then there's race - is the parental thing really a South Asian thing even among straight people? Even a White straight friend of mine once remarked to me that he thought it was a misfortune for straight people that they never HAVE to come out and mark a breaking point from their parents, with which I largely agree (about effects, anyway).

But the point being that this is all in need of a great deal of construction and deconstruction in order for it to be made sensible...which is a questionable goal to begin with. The complicatedness is really not that different from any other identity marker that's so personal, so implicated with who you are that the very idea of becoming an object of your own analysis (let alone someone else's) is frightening, gross, disempowering, or angering; what identit(ies) and what reactions you have depend, I guess on which ones are closest to home in your life experience, and the extent to which its socially and personally dealt with. For me, I think the difficulties are one of the reasons I've been able to contribute the LEAST titillating item on sexuality ever created in the history of the Internet, but it's actually pretty humbling in a good way to remember your lessons in foucault.

And at least we'll get entertaining spam :)

Anyway, if you are willing to open up and share stories in the comments, it would be a wonderful gift to all of us. And if not, well, I understand. I only just today got up the courage to ask a lovely family member, who's um, prone to fits of voicing not-nice-and/or-stupid-things-about-the-queerfolk if she'll come to my (hypothetical) same-sex wedding.

Believe me, I understand. Look at this post full of avoidance and obfuscation! And they ask why we use hifalutin words :)

Final word: enjoy your path to liberation :)

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Comments

Something must be in the air

Something must be in the air - NY Review of Books has an article entitled "India: The Place of Sex" right now :)

In a coupling, whether

In a coupling, whether straight or gay, these energies are intertwined and exchanged, neither party being all or or the other all the time.

if they're energies, why are they linked to biological sex in popular discourse? I should probably go look up the work you referred to before asking this, but there must be more to it than this.

It was not a simple speech

It was not a simple speech act. It felt a little like “I say, therefore I am,” to put it crudely. I am not saying something as ambitious as “I narrated myself into queerness,” but I am just willing to concede that the narration has a constative function as well.

Interesting! one of the real problems I have had and am trying to avoid now is that I have had the opposite experience. I have narrated myself back into something like a closet (the second one is messier than the first), using the speech act as an attempt to eliminate the feeling. So whereas the first few coming outs felt warm, they then became rote, obligatory, silencing, violent towards the self.

The days I put to analysis my activism are much less painful than the nights I spend theorizing on my sexuality, as if it truly and completely presents itself for analysis (I personally don’t think so).

This raises a number of interesting distracting questions about your relationship to your activism but I was more thrown by the words like "analysis" and "theorizing." I think I have belatedly come to grasp the importance of emotional reasoning - and that it has a logic to it - and i wonder whether it is not the object of analysis but the form of reasoning that's being employed that renders it a subject of pain or detachment. For example, the same person could mentally explore sexuality in South Asia and depending on the form of analysis they take, could have extremely different reactions, employ different vocabulary, have different style, etc.. I thought this immediately after I wrote the paragraph above about my relationship to acts of coming out.

why does the utterance of it put almost all hearers in zones of self-reflexivity – like this friend of mine who cried for over an hour when I ‘came out’ to her; her reason: she was upset that, prior to that, she would “definitely have been, at least a little, heterosexist” in her relationship with me.

dude. once of the first people i came out almost immediately started talking about serious family drama of his own, completely unrelated to sexuality, for the next hour. i was a little taken aback, but in hindsight i'm glad I was able to provide that forum for him, if only for an evening. It's interesting the kinds of things people need to come out about.

At the same time, gender gets

At the same time, gender gets read into same-sex relationships too - bottom, top, butch, femme, etc. Hetero/homo/bi/queer sexuality?

David Deida discusses this in his work.

"masculinity" and "femininity" are "energies", not people, not genders, not sexes.

In a coupling, whether straight or gay, these energies are intertwined and exchanged, neither party being all or or the other all the time.

Anyway, I’m not even sure

Anyway, I’m not even sure that I addressed what you were talking about, but this is my two cents.

Oh you totally did. The lack of lucidity was pretty self-aware - i simply CAN'T talk more directly about this - the same way that sexual abuse is generally a topic in the silences.

It's interesting what you said about your parents, because i had the same experience before I was out to them. All through my childhood they were telling me I should be studying and not dating and then when I was in college they started inquiring all of a sudden. It took me a college class in Hinduism and learning about stages-of-life ideas in Hinduism (first you do this and that's your primary identity, then you do this and that's your primary identity, etc.) that helped me make some sense of it.

Anyway, I think it's interesting how quickly we moved to talking about our relationships with our parents. It seems like that's always the out for me, at least, when in fact, I need to spend more time on my relationship with my SELF. My mom once said to me about a sexuality-related converation "I don't think you're emotionally ready ot have this conversation with me," or something along those lines. Fairly brilliant for someone who manages to say some fairly [] things sometimes - a good description of South Asianness :) But point being, it does speak to the whole extended family syndrome and the way that impacts on the ways in which we conduct ourselves afterwards. And raises some questions about what changing/liberation means and what it doesn't when individualism isn't the sole value you're taught to prize.

The way you dealt with your parents is interesting - what made you feel like they HAD to know. Because i felt similarly in terms of my identity as a gay person, to the point where it inhibited my actual emotional development as a gay person.

I think it's interesting that

I think it's interesting that I had a hard time following your writing today-- as most of your posts are usually so lucid and clear. Not to say that this isn't well thought out...but I think most of us have the same stilting hesitancy when we talk about s-e-x.

I've had kind of an interesting experience with my parents and 'coming out as a hetero :)' (because, in south asian families, dating as a late teen/young adult is akin to adopting an alternative lifestyle). I never dated in high school, but I did in college...and I vowed that my parents would never not know. So I brought every serious boyfriend home and facilitated the process my parents become OK with it. So we continued like for for a while, and I thought they were gradually becoming OK with my being a sexual being (and dating all kinds of people). Until.

I turned 25 and they started talking to me about marriage. I was so shocked, because the rhetoric they used was so old-fashioned and completely obvlivious to the fact that I had been dating all these years. They were like, OK, now that you're old enough and past your silly dating phase let's talk about preparing you for what you should actually be doing. And it crushed me a little becauase I thought that I had fostered a really open and loving atomosphere with my parents when really they were tolerating my choices until they felt that they had a legitimate say in what I should do. I think, though, that we've moved past that a bit and are getting where I thought we were so many years ago-- maybe this time it will be for real.

Anyway, I'm not even sure that I addressed what you were talking about, but this is my two cents.

I understand the idea of

I understand the idea of fluid energies and of delinking gendered energies or strands or portions from a rigid binary conception (which probably originates in biological sex). However, my question is how far do you go towards "fluidity" before you lose any conception of what you were talking about to begin with? Where is the viscerality of the body and how do we remind ourselves of it? How do we remember the social actuality of rigid binaries - of the gender division of labor, for instance - after we abandon them (as we should) as essentialized? Yes, yes, well worn grooves in discussions of postmodernism, but I'm new here :)

I also had a hard time getting the gist of what he wanted to say, and I have absolutely no hesitancy talking about sex. The writing was not clear.

And yet we ended up with a conversation about sex and confusion that has strayed into a number of interesting tangents. Funny that :)

In a coupling, whether

In a coupling, whether straight or gay, these energies are intertwined and exchanged, neither party being all or or the other all the time.

if they’re energies, why are they linked to biological sex in popular discourse? I should probably go look up the work you referred to before asking this, but there must be more to it than this.

It's just a theory, but what Aniruddhan says below is kind of Deida's point;

is a function of essence or difference, though new wisdom tells me not to make rigid binaries but to let them play upon each other.

I think it’s interesting that I had a hard time following your writing today– as most of your posts are usually so lucid and clear. Not to say that this isn’t well thought out…but I think most of us have the same stilting hesitancy when we talk about s-e-x.

I also had a hard time getting the gist of what he wanted to say, and I have absolutely no hesitancy talking about sex. The writing was not clear.

very nice post, dr anon. I do

very nice post, dr anon.

I do not know how different south asian closets are. In fact, I am always confused as to whether my south asian identity is a function of essence or difference, though new wisdom tells me not to make rigid binaries but to let them play upon each other. But I tend to think all closers suffocate unless you have a big enough hole to breathe through. But then it also becomes big enough for some to peek in, and then you are kind of “out” in the closet.
Your questions/ thoughts on intersections of things (didn’t you keep “identities” under erasure in your previous post?! :)) like gender, sexuality, economic status, caste, geographic location are very interesting and have been very open for sometime now in various discussions.

When I announced to may parents my gayness, it did not mark, much to my relief, “ breaking point” from them. But it definitely redefine and “refresh”(in the sense that we “refresh” computer screens) the relationships at home. And I know it also impacted their relationships with their own selves as parents in a general sense, but also in a specific sense as parents of a boy in whose marriage and marriageability that all Tamil Brahmin relatives and friends would soon be interested. But my parents, thankfully, chose to focus on the former - on how this alters the way they looked at pretty much everything, because my announcement meant for them a clear break in the way lives and families go around us.

And you are right about the dangers of theorizing oneself away sometimes. That is especially so when the object of your incessant analysis is a question of your selfhood. The days I put to analysis my activism are much less painful than the nights I spend theorizing on my sexuality, as if it truly and completely presents itself for analysis (I personally don’t think so). But then there is also this question that comes to my mind so that when it is so inextricable a part of who I am, why does the utterance of it put almost all hearers in zones of self-reflexivity – like this friend of mine who cried for over an hour when I ‘came out’ to her; her reason: she was upset that, prior to that, she would “definitely have been, at least a little, heterosexist” in her relationship with me. I felt, in my case, that my utterance of sexual orientation was also partly an illocutionary speech act, in the sense that it felt like a good portion of it fell in place only with the utterance of it. But that could simply have been due to my general over-dependence on words. What I am trying to say is that the announcement of it – and many subsequent announcements – also effected major breaks and makes within myself. It was not a simple speech act. It felt a little like “I say, therefore I am,” to put it crudely. I am not saying something as ambitious as “I narrated myself into queerness,” but I am just willing to concede that the narration has a constative function as well.

Okay, enough rambling!

OK, in re-reading my post, I

OK, in re-reading my post, I realize that the addendum of me engaging in expoits made it sound like I was one person in my private life and another in front of my parents...but that's not really true. Bringing a guy home was never in response to what my parents expected of me, it was my introducing someone I felt strongly about to people that are deeply meaningful to me. I didn't feel that I was responding to external pressures, I just felt that I was exploring a deeper commitment to someone I felt might be right for me.

But I've not felt this deep connection to everyone I've ever been with, for various reasons, all of them personal. With some, I just didn't feel that long-term things were going to work out, for others, our relationship was just casual. I reserved the 'meet the parents' ritual only for those who I felt strongly about (whether or not my parents agreed with my choice), and in this way I think I asserted my autonomy, because these end choices were not a result of who my parents wanted to see, but who I wanted them to see. And it's been deeply satisfying every time, even if the relationship didn't end up working out.

Doc Anon: You know I enjoy

Doc Anon: You know I enjoy your posts and we've shared many a convo about gender and sexuality but dude - this current post is entirely incomprehensible to me.... and I'd like to engage, so what exactly are we exploring here on this thread?

I don't think that my being

I don't think that my being forthright with my parents inhibited my growth-- I think it actually made me think deeper about what I wanted and how far I was willing to go for it. Because bringing someone home to meet the parents meant so much, I treated my dating decisions with care and concern. I couldn't bring home just anyone and expect my parents to respect my choices-- I had to make sure I stood by my decisions and chose people I was willing to fight for.

Course, doesn't meant I didn't engage in frivilous, willfull exploits that I knew weren't going anywhere. I did. They just didn't meet my parents.

Doc Anon: You know I enjoy

Doc Anon: You know I enjoy your posts and we’ve shared many a convo about gender and sexuality but dude - this current post is entirely incomprehensible to me…. and I’d like to engage, so what exactly are we exploring here on this thread?

it's not incomprehensible to me :) , which makes me joyously curious about where the imcomprehensibility (which as neetu pointed out is a result of a general repression of discussion of sexuality) begins, why it occurs, and in what specific ways it manifests itself. The specific nature of sexual repression in South Asia and its diasporas is the topic, but more broadly, it's just a forum for you to come out if you want to, in whatever ways you want to.

Course, doesn’t meant I

Course, doesn’t meant I didn’t engage in frivilous, willfull exploits that I knew weren’t going anywhere. I did. They just didn’t meet my parents.

Oh. So you did preserve autonomy - but what about the places where your internal values clashed with what your parents raised you to believe? What if you thought there was someone you really liked, but that your parents wouldn't like? Or did you only choose people where there was an overlap?

In other words, to what extent did acting on parental values that you didn't share help determine what was frivolous and what was important, what was "going anywhere" and what was "meet my parents" territory?

it’s not incomprehensible to

it’s not incomprehensible to me , which makes me joyously curious about where the imcomprehensibility (which as neetu pointed out is a result of a general repression of discussion of sexuality) begins,

I think the post needs some proof reading and editing for sentence structure. It's not a smooth flow.

it’s not incomprehensible to

it’s not incomprehensible to me , which makes me joyously curious about where the imcomprehensibility (which as neetu pointed out is a result of a general repression of discussion of sexuality) begins, why it occurs, and in what specific ways it manifests itself.

You're right, you were being an obnoxious prick. But I love you dear friend, so I won't flay you publicly. :) And now that I actually get what questions you mean to raise - hmmm..... extremely thought-provoking, and really interesting as to why all the work on identity, migration etc. hasn't explored sexuality aside from the truisms about desi families.

an explanation: The writing

an explanation:

The writing is not clear because on this topic at this point, not only is it nearly impossible (for me) to express honestly while writing clearly in an analytical fashion, but also because of the fear that the very act of describing, writing - particularly in a conventional fashion - will end up sucking whatever is interesting about the topic out of the expression of it and construct it into something entirely different (at which point we should at least question to what purpose that is being done). In other words, can you really have a post about personal neuroses which has the pretense of being free of them, being written in a way that is easily and (allegedly) universally comprehensible? Secondarily, as a friend noted to me offline, do we even have the language to describe sexuality-related issues in a specifically South Asian American context?

What potentially makes this of broader relevance is all the work that scholars have done to demonstrate that the identities/categories in religion, caste, and other areas in South Asian experience have been fundamentally shaped by state policy (colonial and postcolonial), social processes (tied into those) and the clash of different frameworks of knowledge.

As a result, what you are presented with is a badly structured "text" with intertexual comments from different fragments of my self (note parenthetical comments interspersed). Which I think is, at this stage, from my vantage point, a more honest presentation of how I am living with sexuality and race.

Somewhat detailed and hastily written deconstruction:

Title: Are South Asian Closets Different (south asian + personal secrecy/hiding - I really should have said South Asian American - sorry)

Body:

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a bit defensive or cloistered in myself in this post, because it’s hard putting yourself out. It’s a pretty uncomfortable position (like the back of a volkswagon).

open statement that the text is not going to be straightforward because sex, neuroses, and personal feelings are hard for me to talk about. Joke about anal sex in American pop-culture reference

About a year ago, I wrote about my participation in Upper Caste Supremacy (i.e. casteism). I want to continue this line of discussion (regardless of whether anyone else is interested) because I was encouraged to do so by a good friend whose judgement I trust on emotional matters. She suggested tying this analysis of neurosis to sexuality.

neuroses, body and purity. Open statement that this is personal. Suggestion of the importance of kinship and support on these expressing one's self on these issues. segue into topic-- psychological basis of sexual neuroses for me.

To be honest, I don’t really understand it, which is why I made this an open thread. I can put forward some simple possible hypothetical relationships. body = dirty = shame. sexuality = bodily desire x desire for other bodies = double shame. And there’s always Freud and Foucault and blah blah blah, but it’s…a bit theoretical. A basic question I’m struggling with is whether or not something as personal as sexuality and specifically neuroses associated can be really be taxonomized with any degree of certitude, let alone “from below”.

statement that i can't engage the task at hand, that sexuality/neurosis intersection is difficult for me to comprehend - ask for help from others, call to share. Some basic thoughts about where sexuality and attendant neuroses might come from. References to western theorists on sexuality - statement that they may be too abstract to capture the lived experience. Question as to whether intimate body related issues and their attendant neuroses can be "classified" just as questions have arisen about whether people - in general - can be sociologically understood in sociological categories, particularly the subaltern.

(haha, very funny, you think you’re so clever–we all thought that when we read that phrase).

Another intertextual neurotic joke about gay sex, demonstration of insecurity.

And even if it can, how does it intersect with self? personality? gender? money? power? For example, I have a hard time believing that the intersection of gender and sexuality constructs “men” and “women” in ways that are the same in terms of how they approach sexuality in terms of fluidity / rigid categories - but I wonder to what extent this is a product of middle-class/rich American gender construction (the waters of the model minorities among us). At the same time, gender gets read into same-sex relationships too - bottom, top, butch, femme, etc. Hetero/homo/bi/queer sexuality? I was on a panel about sexuality at a middle-class ethnic conference in the U.S. a while back, and most of the people in the audience, really unsurprisingly, were hetero people who related very closely to the idea of being “different” from their parents’ expectations in terms of who they brought home. Not that I ever bring anyone home. And then there’s race - is the parental thing really a South Asian thing even among straight people? Even a White straight friend of mine once remarked to me that he thought it was a misfortune for straight people that they never HAVE to come out and mark a breaking point from their parents, with which I largely agree (about effects, anyway).

Questions about interrelationship of sexuality with potentially connected issues and those which don't necessarily seem connected at first - and how complicated it gets very quickly on a surface level. Repeated questions about the intersection of race (and specifically American racialization of South Asians) with how South Asian Americans might relate to their own sexuality, as well as class and family.

But the point being that this is all in need of a great deal of construction and deconstruction in order for it to be made sensible…which is a questionable goal to begin with. The complicatedness is really not that different from any other identity marker that’s so personal, so implicated with who you are that the very idea of becoming an object of your own analysis (let alone someone else’s) is frightening, gross, disempowering, or angering; what identit(ies) and what reactions you have depend, I guess on which ones are closest to home in your life experience, and the extent to which its socially and personally dealt with. For me, I think the difficulties are one of the reasons I’ve been able to contribute the LEAST titillating item on sexuality ever created in the history of the Internet, but it’s actually pretty humbling in a good way to remember your lessons in foucault.

Critique of whether the language exists to appropriately talk about sexuality from a South Asian American vantage point and whether it would be useful to do so even if it did. Questions about the intersection of power and the process of creating knowledge, implicit confession about feelings towards sexuality ("frightening, gross, disempowering, or angering") - question about whether this critique of description of sexuality is a personal issue for me or extends more broadly, on different identity grounds, for other people. Statement that this epistemological problem may destroy the ability to communicate the reality of sexuality in an analytical way and a reminder of knowledge/power.

And at least we’ll get entertaining spam

Interjected joke (in bad taste) expressing resignation with the unreconstructed racial fetishism that predominates on the Internet.

Anyway, if you are willing to open up and share stories in the comments, it would be a wonderful gift to all of us. And if not, well, I understand. I only just today got up the courage to ask a lovely family member, who’s um, prone to fits of voicing not-nice-and/or-stupid-things-about-the-queerfolk if she’ll come to my (hypothetical) same-sex wedding.

Request for dialogue. Statement of reassurance that this is not a demand, but a request. Sampling of the type of thing you might share.

Believe me, I understand. Look at this post full of avoidance and obfuscation! And they ask why we use hifalutin words :)

Another self-reflexive statement on the lack of clarity in the post (and sort of a joke at that). Joke about academic discourse / my role in it - also serves as a callback to the discussion of the potential limitations of that type of analysis in this context.

Final word: enjoy your path to liberation :)

Takeaway message / hope for the removal of neuroses (for you too!), regardless of whether you're interested in engaging in the process posed here. - clearly disconnected from the rest of the text - not steeped in the neurotic but in the ideal.

really interesting as to why

really interesting as to why all the work on identity, migration etc. hasn’t explored sexuality aside from the truisms about desi families.

From my vantage point, iz other way around. why the sexuality stuff hasn't addressed migration, postcolonialism, etc. or maybe it has and my lack of lurning is getting in the way.

either way - same shit.

and i was NOT being an obnoxious prick--at least not self-consciously! but if you want to raise BDSM as something to talk about, that's fine. :P

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