A Kind of Decolonization I Can Feel at the Back of My Pussy

The first time I watch Neelu Bhuman’s stop-motion short, FU377, I hide the lower part of my face in my t-shirt because I am embarrassed. This is not through any fault of the film, which is a beautifully sophisticated exploration of familial intimacy, activism and queer heartbreak — but rather because Nain’s mum (Amma) is trying to engage her in a conversation about dildos.

As the film explains, “Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, dating back to 1861, was introduced during the British rule of India, criminalizing sexual activities “against the order of nature,” including homosexual acts.” FU377 is set in 2013, when Section 377 was reinstated, after having already been deemed unconstitutional and removed back in 2009. The law, which carried a potential penalty of life in prison, was scrapped once again in September of last year, meaning that gay sex was no longer illegal — a poignant moment for Indians, the South Asian diaspora and all of the other former British colonies with sodomy laws that were modeled on section 377 still in place.

FU377 from Neelu Bhuman on Vimeo.

The role of sexual control and enforcement of the gender binary through colonization of Black and brown bodies and lands is referenced often among the queers of colour who are living with the consequences, and yet somehow never enough. This conspiracy of silence has attempted to strip the Desi world of desire and expression despite the fact it is pretty well documented that Indians have, historically speaking, been knowing how to fuck.

Not to be extremely basic but Indians literally wrote the Kama Sutra, one of the most comprehensive and freaky texts on human sexual behavior in the history of the world, and yet for many of us, our lived South Asian sexual experience is heavy with trauma and secrecy. What a trick of the light, to rape, displace and psychologically alienate people on an unimaginable scale and then let them carry the shame of it. Bhenchods.

Mass colonization of Asia was successful, in part, by ruling the sexualities and genders of native people as… wrong. Wrong in comparison to the shame-steeped literal nightmare that is European cis-hetero-monogamy; wrong in its multiplicity; wrong in its curiosity; wrong in its freedom. This redefinition of queerness as worthy of shame is an act of warfare so pervasive that not only do we feel it today, but we have learned to police ourselves with it, from the inside out, and to expect the same from the people we love.

Whiteness, as jealous as it is greedy, relies on South Asian shame as a method of control — not only against us, but also using us to play our part in a global structure that perpetuates anti-blackness in order to protect white supremacy. By shaming South Asians, initially for our abundant sexual expression, and then again, more recently, for not being as “””enlightened””” as the Western world in issues of gender and sexuality, we are left to toe a very fine line; Not a wanton Black girl, not yet an innocent white woman, but a respectably sexless paki, still.

FU377’s protagonist, Nain, has just been dumped by her girlfriend. She lollops around the living room in a kind of ageless queer misery, bemoaning a future in which she just finds herself a “suitable boy.” Amma, her spritely and well-informed mother, does her best to console her, “just because you’re partially gay, Nain, doesn’t mean you’re not gay.” She tries to distract Nain from her heartbreak with TV coverage of the activism against section 377, snippets of which are shown on the family television throughout the film. Amma even touches on the possibility of Nain being in love with a man and a woman at the same time — she’s comfortable with the ambiguities of intimacy and desire. The film ends with mother and daughter, hand in hand, on their way to join the protests with placards that read, “Love Always, Any Ways, Many Ways” and “FU377” — but not before Amma teases Nain about her poor stroke game.

With intolerance of gayness understood as an official marker of how backwards various previously colonized lands are in comparison to “the west” — of how vigorously white liberals should wring their hands over it all — the decriminalization of gay sex in India is sold to us as a tale of savages come good. I know we know better, but that doesn’t stop me from having to look at Tina’s insufferable face as she tells me about the petition she signed to #Abolish377 and it doesn’t stop me from feeling fucking infuriated about it all. What if the abolition of 377 doesn’t signal an end, but is like one landmark on a long, long journey of healing from a legacy of colonial sexual trauma. What if it signals communal remembrance, anger, or a kind of decolonization I can feel at the back of my pussy.

FU377 presents us with much-needed affirmation regarding the normalcy and rich history of queerness in communities of color as well as a gorgeous fantasy of brown familial acceptance. When I talk to the filmmaker about this, they are keen to point out that while the character of Amma is based on their own mother (who has represented the film at festivals internationally) the character is ultimately still a fantasy. “It’s how I wish my mum was,” says Bhuman, explaining that their own mother would never talk quite that candidly about sex.

I have yet to decide if not wanting to talk with my mum about dicks is a result of internal colonization or just my actual personality, but either way I am moved by FU377’s ability to do so much; from the energy of the agitated protestors and beeping phones, to the adolescent whines of a young heartbroken queer pretending that she wants to be alone. I watch the film, waiting for the part about shame, but it won’t come.

Bhuman’s next film TRANSFINITE is a sci-fi omnibus feature film composed of seven standalone magical realistic short stories where supernatural trans and queer people from various cultures use their powers to protect, love, teach, fight and thrive. It is getting ready to travel the film festivals worldwide starting in the Spring of 2019. More about their films at www.filmsofneelu.com.

Aisha is a writer, DJ and sexual assault and domestic violence counselor based in London and Brooklyn. They are the author of the essay White Women Drive Me Crazy. Follow them on Instagram so they too can get free shoes one day.

Aisha has written 1 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. This is such a powerful piece overall, and I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out what I want to say about it.

    Just generally: the intergenerational trauma from Western colonization runs so deep around the world, in particular for QPOC, and I think part of taking back power and healing is bringing the source of that trauma to light, whether it be through articles like this and other media.

    Personally: I have spent a lot of time thinking in the past few years, about how if I had been more aware of radical South Asian queers growing up, how my personal experience would have been different. As it was, I spent a long time in the closet, and then time after that out of the closet but very much in proximity to whiteness, because that was the dominant visible queer culture I had access to. There was a lot of painful fragmentation going on, a lot of apologizing for not being one thing or another well enough, and a lot a lot of internalized shame.

    Reading pieces like this, watching the video, and the protestors involved in abolishing 377 does act as a healing for me. Seeing mothers of color, fantasy or not, accept their kids, acts as therapeutic sutures when I revisit my own memories.

    I could literally block quote half of this article and paste it on my walls, but this reverberates the most: “This redefinition of queerness as worthy of shame is an act of warfare so pervasive that not only do we feel it today, but we have learned to police ourselves with it, from the inside out, and to expect the same from the people we love.” If making the queerness of POC shameful is a tool of white supremacy warfare, then deliberately and joyfully engaging in POC queerness is the resistance I choose to engage in. Years and years of internalized shame is not something easy to overcome, but drowning it out with joy when I can does help.

  2. I argue this point all the time. Colonized nations are only recently breaking out of their mind slumber. Ironically this may be due to citizens taking cues from western countries and from social media making minorities have a stronger collective voice. Colonized countries not only keep antiquated laws on their books, they rationalize keeping them. What does Independence mean? They also keep holdovers such as the thinking of what constitutes beauty and the idea that formal western clothes means you look smart or respected. To me, the perception that sexual taboos in South Asian cultures endured the test of time is nuts. It’s a recent development.

  3. Thank you for this, I’m always excited to see queer South Asian content. It always blows my mind how the effects of colonization on South Asian sexuality continue to hurt us, even in the diaspora. I often find that when I speak to people in the community that are anti-queer, they cite “tradition” as the reason that they have an issue with queer people. This has never made sense to me, because our real history is that we have been sexually diverse and open, so the “traditions” they’re speaking of are a rewriting of our history from the age of colonization.

  4. Thank you for writing about this! I feel like I’m constantly hungry for more queer South Asian art and dialogue, I’ll have to watch this short.

    I read Tanuja Desai Hidier’s book Born Confused when I was a teenager (and when I still thought I was straight), and I remember it being one of the first places I learned about our long, rich history of queer culture pre-colonization. I’m glad people are talking about it more and exploring our history. I’d love to read anything else you might write about queer South Asian history!

  5. I love everything about this short film, from the style of the animation to the weaving of politics into a mother-daughter conversation.

    I hope to see more from you here in the future, Aisha, and more about Neelu Bhuman.

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