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Queer about Gays (Dharun Ravi Case)

By Parthiv N. Parekh Email By Parthiv N. Parekh
April 2012
Queer about Gays (Dharun Ravi Case)

The nationally publicized trial and conviction of Dharun Ravi—the Rutgers University freshman who secretly recorded his gay roommate in an intimate act and then shared it publicly through Instant Messages and texting—has been made a cause célèbre for issues such as hate crime and bullying, and has been debated endlessly to caricature Ravi as everything from a fool to a bigot. While all of these characterizations may have some relevance and truth to them, they miss the larger, more fundamental issue that the case reveals.

Take for example the inane suggestion made in a New York Times blog titled, “Dharun Ravi Case Raises Issue of Homophobia in Indian-American Community.” To be sure, the blog post is a soft insinuation rather than a blatant conclusion of the claim it alludes to. And yet it is a poor choice of expression in a highly reputed forum. This is so because the Ravi case raises the issue of homophobia in the Indian-American community only so much as the Timothy McVeigh (of the Oklahoma bombing) case raises the issue of terrorism in the white Christian community. Absurd, right?

Does that mean Indian-Americans are above homophobia? Hardly! It’s not that Indian-Americans are not tainted by homophobia but that there is hardly a demographic group out there that is not. From African-Americans to Asian-Americans, the cultural sub-text in most ethnic groups is far from healthy towards homosexuality. As to white Americans, they constitute the majority of the Far Right, a group that actually engages in anti-gay activism.
Even our vaunted institutions such as the Armed Forces only recently did away with “Don’t ask, don’t tell”—a policy that advertised the deeply institutionalized homophobia in the military.

The simple and loud truth is that after millennia of civilization, the vast majority of mankind has yet to come to terms with homosexuality, a biological fact of life—no matter how divergent it may be numerically.

Philosophically speaking the issue of homosexuality is a perfect litmus test of our maturity as individuals and as a civilization. Perhaps the repulsion felt by many heterosexuals towards the physical act that defines homosexuality is designed purposefully by the creator—as if to challenge us to not impose our own personal likes and dislikes and our own moral, ethical, religious, and philosophical values on others.

As a vegetarian who grew up in a household steeped in Krishna-bhakti, even the thought of biting into a cooked cow is sacrilegious to me. And yet I don’t go around judging or hating those who indulge in that act. Far from it, many in my inner circle of friends and relatives eat beef, and that has never been an issue in these close relationships.

If we show such tolerance in cuisine, which is largely a matter of choice even when dictated by beliefs, why are we so unwilling to accept a different sexual orientation, which is largely a matter of genetic programming? Can we be okay with our discomfort towards this biological outlier, and yet bow down to its inevitability amongst some of our fellow humans?

When we take the broad societal contempt towards homosexuality and combine it with other cultural shenanigans such as portraying as cool the very act that Ravi engaged in, in movies like American Pie, and the fact that in the recent past we had a President of the United States, no less, with his pants down at the very office from which he conducted the nation’s business, the surprise is not that we have Dharun Ravis amongst us; but rather, the surprise is that we don’t have a whole lot more of them. This is not to downplay individual culpability in this case or others.

But the larger, more relevant issue here is not the culpability of individuals such as Ravi, but rather the culpability of all of us as a society for continuing to be so queer about gays in these modern times.

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