Homosexualization of the villain or queering the villain refers to the idea of representing villains as queer people (not to be confused with ‘vilification of the queer’ where queer persons are shown as villains). The vilification of the queer has existed since dawn of humanity. The religions have dehumanized and villainized us, science and media has done it, but the other phenomena of queering the villain is something that represents villains as ‘ambiguously queer’, the suggestions are often tongue-in-cheek but have over time spilled to be more concrete and on the face. Statements like that’s so gay to refer to unlikable things are a prime example of queering the villain. This is something that along with media, we ourselves have done to us, and woke liberals do it with a special sense of authority that no one else seems to have. The story of ‘free’ India begins with homosexualization of Godse and Savarkar, where they are critiqued less on their politics and more on their alleged sexual relationship.
Gandhi has been considered too effeminate by Nathuram to be the father of the nation. This dichotomy of masculinity and femininity with masculinity being ‘better’ has also slipped into the nation’s understanding as people from left to right criticize Gandhi as much as about his ‘sexual self’ as about his politics.
But what is more interesting is that despite their constant homosexualization and vilification, they had to ban a book by Joseph Lelyveld which was rumoured to have shown Gandhi in bisexual light. Lelyveld claimed he had done nothing as such and many scholars agreed. Though a queer reading of the text reveals otherwise. Of course homosexuality and femininity are seen as closely linked, with a strong belief that homosexual men are feminine, and feminine men are homosexual. This interchangeability arises from the disgust of femininity, something that western capitalist patriarchy has managed to instil very strongly in its own systems and later in its colonies – the burden of which we carry along with the abuses of Manu. In Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici writes,
“[T]he construction of a new patriarchal order, making of women the servants of the male work-force, was a major aspect of capitalist development.”
This construction ensured that the woman was lesser than the man, this construction also strengthened the binaries of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and anyone who dared transgress was strictly punished. For men, it was below them to ‘become a woman’ and for women it was above them to ‘become a man’. Both of which could not be allowed as it questioned the post feudal patriarchal order of bourgeois male and proletariat female. The man who banned the book on Gandhi went on to become India’s Prime Minister and has had his fair share of homosexualization. From Austrailian Prime Minister to American President, Narendra has been paired up with these men to mock him and not his politics by homosexualizing him. This is part of a bigger narrative where opponents, mostly political, are shows as ‘lesser’, and what is lesser than homosexuality, in contrast to pure, scientific, natural, god given heterosexuality?
Disney had been doing it for far too long, so much so that a tweet by giabuchi (@jaboukie) reads “representation is so important. Disney gave us countless queer coded villains and now we finally have one running for president” referring to American Democrat candidate Pete Buttigieg who has a history of racism and recently denounced the ‘revolutionary politics of 1960s’ which gave him the chance to be an openly gay president candidate. Pete is a clear reminder of ‘intersectional failure’ as Kimberle Crenshaw calls it. Shashi Tharoor recently ‘attacked’ Arvind Kejriwal by calling him a ‘eunuch’. This transphobic comment reveals something crucial about the cis centric world order we live in. Anyone who does not agree with the vision of power of those with the mic would be ‘lessened’, and this lessening would mean amongst many things that anyone who transgresses the strictly marked boundaries of cis-ness must be punished, and brought ‘in the line’ to uphold the structure.
The connection of political warfare and homosexuality is complicated. Queer persons have often used it to attack homophobic politicians. The idea is to say that “you are one of us, so you must stop being cruel to us”. Liberals have then rallied on these queer persons’ backs to make homophobic comments on conservative politicians, which we can see being displayed as signs of wit and humour across the geopolitical spectrum. When liberals do it, the idea is ‘they are cruel because they are gay.’ The usage is inherently fueled by homophobia, of seeing homosexuality as less than worthy, of seeing it as laughable, as disgusting, as a joke. The problem is that this has seeped too deeply in our political structure that so many of us have bought into it as the ‘normal’.
To change our attitudes, and how we make our political criticisms, we need to acknowledge something that is crucial to our understanding of politics. We wish to see the people as lesser if we disagree with them. And to achieve this we think of everything else that we see as lesser and extrapolate it to the political persons. This includes homosexuality, transgressions of gender, educational/ethnic backgrounds, physical and mental disabilities, and even caste. The people who do this, often cite their ‘coolness’, ‘wokeness’ and ‘authority’ to make such statements. In their zeal to question and/or denounce the oppressors, they in turn become the oppressors. They uphold the oppression of the ‘other’ in their quest to dismantle the oppression against ‘self’. this dichotomy of ‘self’ vs. ‘other’ is a construct that destroys any hope of solidarity between marginalized communities beyond a certain point. If they form solidarity, the one ‘more’ marginalized must compromise.
This reminds me ironically of Slavoj Zizek saying that he disagrees with the use of politically correct language, seeing these liberal people make such statements, I have to agree with him. At least this language, their real linguistic inheritance from the heteronormative1, ableist cistem2 makes the rest of us aware that violence often comes in the form of friendly gestures and jokes.
I could continue to analyze political campagins, satires and debates, YouTube videos, protest posters, social media posts to show in graphic detail how deep that is, but if by this point you haven’t understood, then anything further is emotional and intellectual labour that I would like to invest in advancing this argument to show how it harms rather than convincing you when I full well know, that the end of the analysis you’d still say, “it’s just a joke, take it lightly”. Here is a joke for you then, “cisgender heterosexuality should be a criminal offence punishable by death.” Please take it lightly.
The ill effects of homophobia and queerphobia in general are expressed in monetary terms amongst many. According to a 2014 report by Wall Street Journal, homophobia had cost India between 112 billion to 1.7 trillion rupees in 2012. Though staggering this amount was, and may have had increased in past years, this no way comes close to what a queer person loses in their life thanks to the straight world order. I have lost people to suicide and heterosexual marriages and I do not know how to grieve them differently. I have lost lovers and friends, and I have often lost my dignity in spaces where my being and identity have been questioned. Someone who is not queer will probably never notice the shift in the eyes of cishets3 after they come to know of us. The reconciliation of their imagery of our ‘self’ with our assertion of the ‘self’ is often almost too hard for them to make. Of the many homophobic jibes that I have faced, one stands stronger with me despite the fact that over years I have seen much worse. “kya main Dharmesh ke saath surakshit hoon?” These were the words of a man, leftist, nonetheless, whom I really valued and respected.
The homosexualization of the villain then normalizes the idea that homosexuality is something to be despised, shunned, defeated, mocked, and even murdered. It contributes to violence against us, which is as much mental as it is physical, as much sexual as it is political, as much economical as it is sociological. The solution is to see these villains (in real as well as in reel life) as they are, mostly cisgender heterosexual abled-bodied neurotypical men, and question the cishet world order and its structure which has created a world of such fascist men. The solution is also to realize that by homosexualizing the villain, we uphold the structure that harms all of us.
At this point I would also like to draw attention to the queer legacy of never backing down and turning the worst that is thrown at us into a fierce sashay move. Except we shouldn’t have to. We shouldn’t have to be strong and brave and resilient to live with dignity. This is a legacy that is also a burden. This is a legacy that we should not have to carry since this legacy is not just our strength but also our suffering, and it must stop. Not just because we deserve better legacies, but also because we deserve to live without have to carry the weight of heavy legacies.
- 1 A structure where heterosexuality is considered normal.
- 2 Another spelling for ‘system’ to point out how it is made of/by/for cisgender people and oppresses transgender persons.
- 3 Cisgender heterosexual. A person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth is cisgender. ‘cis’ is used as a short form or to use it with other prefix, such as ‘cisness’. A person who is attracted to ‘other’ gender is heterosexual.