Monday, February 01, 2010

Interview with Dr. Ashley- Part 2

Q6. You said last time that the world is hegemonically heterosexual and that any other kind of social behavior, as I understood it, tends to get labeled in terms of ‘deviancy’, ‘abnormality’ or ‘queerness’. Would you then go a step further and correlate the rigid sense of the ‘normal self' that is made out to be desirable in majority opinion, but actually feeds into rising levels of violence and intolerance in society today?
I did not say any such thing. I said various other identities get erased, rendered illegible by the heteronormative order. I also explicitly said I hated the word ‘queer’ so please do not attribute it to me ever. I loathe it. I then responded to your question of what I find in common among these various identities which I said is the violence at the hands of the heteronormative order which, unfortunately, was and is not enough to help us get together and fight it, though I said that was the struggle for me. Therefore, it does not involve any step further to say that a majoritarian, ‘normal’ self is posited against several deviant selves. That’s just saying what I said in different words.
What’s more important and in some sense the more difficult question is how to put the struggle that I refer to into action. How to get people who should be fighting together to come together, especially, as I said, we are divided across lines of class, caste, gender, sexual orientation and location. For me the biggest barrier to us coming together is not heterosexuals but NGOs. I think NGOs, the upholders of the so-called f...... ‘queer movement’ are the most criminal elements in society and inhibit any real coming together and transformative social change, happy as they are with bourgeois entrepreneurialism and report-based voluntarism. In Hyderabad, where I live, if you try to do any voluntary, non-funded work, the NGOs can get really nasty. There is no real ‘movement’ in Hyderabad at all apart from strict NGO shit, unlike say Bombay or Delhi Bangalore, or even Chennai, where some noises are made outside these spaces in terms of a ‘movement.’ Hyderabad is a perfect example of a comatose NGOised space.
Q7. Why do you think a person is violent in intimate spaces, for instance in cases of rape- marital or otherwise? I also feel that only a hurt person can hurt others, so how can such a violent person be healed so that s/he stops further abuse? Do you have any ideas that can be applied in extreme cases of violence and those not so extreme?
People are violent in intimate spaces because that is where they are at their most vulnerable, most naked, in every sense of that word. I don’t believe in nonsense like only hurt people hurt others. People hurt people and ALL people are hurt people. The processes of psychic formation and socialisation are foundationally hurtful and cause a map of hurts. I also do not believe in this s..... idea of healing. I leave that to New Age activists in California. I believe in theorising our hurts in our lives and seeing that we hurt each other the least. There is no complete stopping of abuse. Abuse is in many ways a given in our lives. It is about minimising it and learning about each other. Extreme cases of violence just call for separation. It is quite simple. More complicated forms of violence require serious dialogue and the willingness to change oneself. For example, I have a friend who is polyamorous and yet she keeps having relationships with men who are monogamous and who get hurt by her wanting other men. Now she is very honest and ethical with them and tells them she is not monogamous and does not want a monogamous deal. She even goes to the extent of trying to understand their pain and ethically offers to leave if they are hurting ‘too bad,’ to use your earlier phrase. Are they justified in feeling violated by her? Hurt by her? Who is being violent here? We seem unable to think outside boxes. I was aghast at how conservative the JNU students I spoke to that night were. People in their 20s, studying, and yet upholding family and marriage and monogamy. That would be unheard of for my generation when we were in our twenties, not that long ago. I think we are becoming a more and more conservative society as we go along. And everyone wants one alternative. What is your alternative they ask. Arre bhai, form your own f...... alternative. Why do you want to be led by the balls like some stupid f...... donkey? Why talk all this talk of plurality and diversity and what not when all you want is one f...... alternative. The question is how willing are you to change your beliefs, your value system and re-invent yourself. Ask yourself that. Honestly.
Q8. ‘There are many genders in the world’, please elaborate. Is ‘genderisation’ same as ‘socialization’?
What is there to elaborate? There are men, women, hijras, gays, lesbians, ‘queers’, MTFs. FTMs, transpeople, so many f...... genders and identities. Genderisation (what a terrible word - does it even exist?) is socialization and we need to contest it. Fight it. Reinvent ourselves, question our own cherished beliefs.
Q9. If marriage is a bad institution, then is institutionalizing non-marriage as bad? Which is a lesser evil and why?
Who is institutionalizing non-marriage? I do not like any form of institutionalisation. No one is offering any institutions of non-marriage. Non-things can’t be insitutionalised by virtue of being non. Institutions are, they are not not. ‘Evil’? I don’t believe in that word. I leave it to George Bush to bandy such terms about. But I think non-marriage is much better than marriage. Non-marriage is a sky open with possibilities. Marriage is a prison.
Q10. What is your view on spirituality? I am asking this because most intellectuals have problems with spiritual practices since they believe them to be hogwash or methods of mass control/hypnosis in an age of well-to-do sadhus and babas.
I do not believe in spirituality. I leave it to the sadhus and the babas and the likes of Alice F...... Walker. I am an old-fashioned feminist Marxist. I believe in the world of materiality. I do not believe in meta things. I believe in fighting the good fight with the idiots around me, though spirituality might help in dealing with men because they are so stupid, only spirituality might be able to save us from them.

(Dr. Ashley Tellis is Assistant Professor, Department of Liberal Arts, IIT (Hyderabad). I am grateful to Neha Wadhawan  for introducing me to Dr. Tellis.)


  1. i heard a sad news , the Facebook has deleted Dr. Tellis's account. We are in solidarity with Dr. Tellis.
    Shwata, can we do something ?
    Friends, fight against the capitalist mindset of Facebook

  2. Renny, I feel sad about this too. In solidarity with Dr. Tellis.