The belief that queerness is linked to biology is a popular one. A study as recent as 2019 tested nearly half a million genomes to see whether orientation can be linked to biology; as of 27th September, 2020, there are nearly 1.2 million Instagram users sharing the hashtag #BornThisWay on the social media platform; and India still requires a medical certificate as proof of one’s “transness” in order to change one’s identity on official documents. Like it or not, a revolution linking biology to queerness is heavily underway. But what does this revolution do for the queer community? Let’s find out.
Getting into the crux of the biological queerness argument, it suggests that because you were ‘born this way’, your orientation isn’t a choice and so it is not something you can change at any point. It argues that there is a starting point to queerness (which you must know of) and is inevitably tied to biology. For instance, transgender persons around the world are at the receiving end of transmedicalism – “the belief that being transgender is contingent upon experiencing gender dysphoria or undergoing medical treatment in transitioning”. This not just violates one’s freedom of expression but also deprives the transgender community of their right to self-identify. But one may wonder – why does something have to be as fixed as biology to be accepted as real?
Reflecting on my journey as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, I thought of all the stories I had read and heard of by queer people about their lives. They were all about different facets of queerness. Some queer people came out much later in their lives, while some were still questioning their identity. Some had no language for their queerness and some discovered their queerness through language. But what tied them together was the sense of belonging and association with one’s identity. The belief that we are queer and we are valid, despite our trauma and pain. This intimate connection had no space for judgement with regards to when they had first realised that they’re queer or labelled themselves or used different names and pronouns.
The biological argument adds this discomforting and uninvited layer of judgement as a condition for acceptance. Expecting some kind of rootedness in one’s queerness – that being queer is only valid if it was always known – makes for a very rigid idea of identity. This extends to social gatekeeping of identities as well. For instance, if you realised later in life that you identify as transgender, your entire life before that should have felt incongruent, if you are attracted to one gender then you cannot be attracted to more, or that if you are monogamous you can never divulge from that truth, etc. However, when we reflect on the cis-heterosexual frameworks around us, the reality seems far from allowing for such a black and white concept of queerness.
One of my good friends came out only in her mid-to-late 20s. On hearing her story, what stayed with me was her saying, “I never knew liking women could be normal.” If the cis-heterosexual frameworks around us could blind us to the mere possibility of our existence as queer people, how can we possibly know when we “become” queer? Or when do we stop being queer?
Moreover, this biological queerness argument doesn’t stand for a large section of society in India today. I recently read Loving Women by Maya Sharma – which talks about the lives of 10 working-class lesbian womxn. Most of them did not even identify with the term lesbian or didn’t know what it meant; and yet lead their lives in a way that challenged cis-heterosexual frameworks. They had not, quite literally, learnt the language of queerness. Why should one’s truth be a game of conditional acceptance?
If the cis-heterosexual frameworks around us could blind us to the mere possibility of our existence as queer people, how can we possibly know when we “become” queer? Or when do we stop being queer?
I would even argue that it is this rigid idea of biological queerness that causes the problem of invalidating queer identities across the globe. What biological queerness seems to argue for is that one is valid only when their biology affirms their identity. It’s the same argument for several other marginalities such as race, disability, etc. – something that suppresses the voices of the marginalised – in refusing to believe them unless supported by a mainstream rationale (science). How can we support a belief as bigoted as this in a time as politically active as 2020?
Such a disempowering narrative not just ends up leaving many underprivileged queer people out of the conversation but also suggests that queerness needs biological materialism for it to be considered valid. One could ask: Why do we need to establish that queerness is rigid from birth to be valid? Isn’t it valid anyway?
The above article was written by Charuvi Lokare for One Future Collective. The views expressed are the author’s own. Charuvi is an advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and mental health positivity and strongly believes that words have the power to make change happen.
The Queer Quill is a collaborative column by One Future Collective X SheThePeople on the theme of queer rights with a focus on law, modern culture and the intersections of art and history.