23. Januar 2006. Analysen: Kunst & Kultur - Weltweit From Kama Sutra to Club Kali

Queers in the South Asian Diaspora, the Localisation of Space and a Politics of Difference

Von queeren Formen der Artikulation in der Diaspora handelt Jonathan Prices Artikel über den "Club Kali" in einem Londoner Vorort, in dem sich alle zwei Monate vorwiegend Schwule und Lesben mit südasiatischem Hintergrund treffen. Seit seiner eher problematischen Gründung 1995 hat sich der Club in eine wirtschaftlich florierende und international bekannte Location verwandelt. Der "Club Kali", in dessen Namen bereits kulturelle, religiöse und historische Bezüge auf Südasien sichtbar werden, verdeutlicht dem Autor zufolge einen Prozess von Identitätsbildung im Kontext verschiedener sexueller und nationaler Diskurse in Großbritannien, Südasien und der Diaspora. Ein Zusammenkommen über Klassen-, Gender-, und Religionsgrenzen hinweg, innerhalb eines Diskurses, der Homophobien und Rassismen explizit ablehnt, zeigt zudem die Agency, die Handlungsmächtigkeit von Queers in der Diaspora. Dies ist umso bedeutender als die vermeintliche "Befreiung" der Homosexuellen im Westen, so Price, wiederum Stimmen marginalisierte und weitgehend auf "weiße" Männer aus der Mittelklasse beschränkt blieb. Mit dem Entstehen einer queeren Diaspora-Identität – manifestiert im "Club Kali", wo nicht zuletzt mit Musik Politik gemacht wird -, ist aber, wie der Autor ebenfalls argumentiert, gerade keine öffentliche Identität gemeint. Die Ablehnung eines "coming out" bzw. die Präferenz für ein "Doppelleben" unter vielen queeren Südasiaten in der Diaspora stößt wiederum auf Unverständnis im Kontext der britischen queeren Bewegung, in der die Identität eng an das "coming out" geknüpft ist und zeigt damit letztlich die Vielfalt queerer Identitäten, für die der "Club Kali" ebenfalls steht. (Uwe Skoda)

"We are the Asian version of G.A.Y.[1] Right from the word go, we put on live acts at Kali that are top top Asian names, we’ve had B21, Jay Sean, Juggi Deep, Rishi Rich, Raghav, more recently Diya who’s gone in at 37 in the chart. So although we’re trying to keep the club secret, we’re bringing these top Asian performers into the club who I have vetted very carefully before hand in terms of their attitude, and if I know they can cope with being there, then I’ll bring them in. Sometimes these people, when they’re doing their big press interviews, they can help spread a bit of peace and acceptance in the world, that’s one thing. But also I’m trying to say to them: ‘this is your Asian pink pound, these people are important, come in and perform for them and respect them’".[2]

Club Kali is a club night for South Asian gay men and women held bi-monthly in a North London suburb. DJ Ritu, its founder, described to me in detail the history of the club from its problematic inception in 1995 to the thriving, internationally renowned operation that it is today. Her story, narrated alongside the changing social and economic conditions that had allowed this political and cultural space to flourish, highlighted the consistent struggles she, her colleagues and the club-goers had fought against both the wider queer and South Asian communities in the UK. The story of Club Kali illustrates the politics of difference, and the formation of an identity, that has emerged in response to dominant sexual and national discourses in Britain, South Asia and subsequently, the South Asian diaspora. I have focused more specifically on queers in the Hindu diaspora, because Club Kali uses elements of a mainly Hindu tradition in the construction of this space, despite being attended by followers of all religions. The club’s relationship with the Hindu community moreover can be used as representative of a wider South Asian struggle. I will argue that the terms ‘sexuality’ and ‘ethnicity’ are contested within this space, and a counter-hegemonic narrative constructed in which oppressive discourses are continuously rearticulated to legitimise a queer diasporic South Asian subjectivity. This narrative invokes an ‘imagined’ pre-colonial Hindu past in which sexuality is claimed to have been fluid and homosexuality sanctioned, rearticulating the same history that is used by Hindu nationalists to justify the suppression of queers. In Club Kali, this narrative becomes the subject of commodification, facilitated by the expanding power of capital to capture segmented markets in a world of difference, while concurrently reterritorialising a ‘forgotten history’, localising a space in which ‘queer’ and ‘South Asian’ can legitimately coexist.

The articulation of queers in a politics of difference

The nation-state paradigm, industrialisation, capitalism and urbanisation to name but a few, characterise the identification between westernisation and the notion of modernity, in which ideas of the self as fixed, waiting to reveal its ‘true essence’ in a continuous developmental inner dialectic of selfhood (Hall, 1993a), remains paramount. Within such a conceptualisation, grand narratives of social identities remain stable; self is separated from other, inside from outside etc. such that we go on being the same (ibid.). This old notion of identity has been made redundant in the ‘postmodern hyperspace’ (Gupta & Ferguson, 2001) that is contemporary Britain, in which different ethnicities, sexualities, genders and so on, live side by side. The subject is no longer centred and unified under the grand narrative of ‘Britishness’, but is multiple, shifting and decentered, such that cultural identities are dynamic multitextured productions subject to constant revision (Westwood, 1994). This de-essentialised notion of subjectivity undermines the social and ideological narrative of the nation. The collective social identity is now seen to be fragmented, and has inner contradictions and segmentations (Hall, 1993b).

The powers that produce and aggressively maintain the nation-state are resisted by a politics that articulates different and often opposing racial, sexual, gender and ethnic identifications. Interconnections between elements of identification may articulate to construct political discourses and collectivities. These elements have no necessary belongingness (ed. Grossberg, 1996), and only articulate under specific historical circumstances, where ideologies cohere to bring about a particular political outcome.

At Club Kali, various groups with no necessary class, ethnic, religious or gender belonging come together under a unifying discourse which counters the articulation of homophobia and racism that DJ Ritu so carefully disallows from entering through the door. It is difficult to conceptualise the club as a political operation, as it seeks to remain secret from the mainstream media and what DJ Ritu terms ‘fundamentalists’, but it need not be overt to be political. The mere existence of Club Kali resists the colonisation of space which the nation constructs along heterosexist and racial lines. The agency of queers in the diaspora which is expressed through the success of the club shows that there is a space of resistance against dominant discourses of the heteronormative nation. In its tenth year moreover, it is early days for Club Kali, and its full potential to ‘spread a bit of peace and acceptance in the world’[3], remains to be fulfilled.

I began this article by outlining how western modernity essentialises its subjects. The decentring of the self in post-structuralist analysis eschews such essentialism by destabilising the subject, the western narrative, and highlighting the discontinuity between language and reality. It is what Hall considers ‘the beginning of modernity as a problem’ (Hall, 1993a). Queers in the diaspora pose a most powerful critique of state nationalisms, which lie at the heart of modernity’s ideological constructions. Their marginality is positioned against the articulation of racist and heterosexist state discourses, in which the ‘legitimate’ British subject is white and heterosexual. They are denied citizenship of the nation on the basis of two elements of their identity, and it is an aggressive, violent denial. It is no surprise that DJ Ritu must guard the door of Club Kali so cautiously.

In postcolonial Britain, a politics of space has emerged, in which an identity of place is reterritorialised by marginalised groups. These spaces, which are invoked in terms that are real, imaginary, symbolic and metaphorical (Keith & Pile, 1993) are out of the control of the nation-state. They represent struggles that emerge at specific historical conjunctures, and articulate the multiple identifications of British subjects to form coherent political discourses. At Club Kali, sexuality and ethnicity articulate at this particular historical conjuncture in a politics of difference. It is thus necessary to analyse the social and economic conditions that have allowed the club to flourish and this politics of difference to emerge.

The globalization of a ‘gay identity’

The economic boom of the 1950/60s brought about major social and economic changes in Britain (Forrest, 2003), which decentred the heterosexist and racist discourses of the nation-state. These pathological discourses however remain naturalised in the heterosexist and racist structures constructed through state nationalism. The British nation’s claim to hegemony and its role in constructing and controlling its subjects however, has been increasingly challenged by the globalisation of capital in an era of consumer/late capitalism. One could argue that the commodification of homosexuality has provided a political space for queers to emerge, in an economic system where consumerisms increasingly gains greater relative importance to production. Citizenship of the nation is no longer predicated on the basis of compulsory heterosexuality. Indeed, the British nation-state has become a protector of gay rights, having decriminalised homosexuality in 1967[4] and abolished Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1987-8 which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality as ‘pretended family relationship’ (Binnie, 2004). This is not to say however that heterosexism does not remain implicit in much government legislation covering female and male sexuality and frequently explicit in the right-wing press, at the pulpit, in the military etc. (Forrest, 2003).

David Forrest argues that the movement away from heterosex as a compulsory function of the reproduction of the nation had the effect of objectifying sexuality in an economy of desire (2003). When men become objects of desire for women and other men, they are objectified and are possible to commodify (ibid.). Consequently, late capitalism has delivered a ‘gay scene’ in which the queer has become public, visible and ‘legitimate’, but also commercialised, categorised and commodified. Consumer capitalism has targeted the ‘pink pound’: a niche market based on the notion that queers are conspicuous consumers of an easily commodifiable ‘lifestyle’. What was once considered private has become an object of consumption, through which queers constitute their identities (Cruz-Malavé & Manalansan, 2001). The legal recognition of homosexuality is an undeniable improvement on its former criminal status, but it could be argued that the emergence of a ‘community’ based on consumer capitalism has pacified political action, and rendered queers complicit with their subordinate status.

The greatest fallacy of this ‘queer revolution’ is that it represents the ‘liberation’ of queers. As Forrest points out, heterosexism remains widespread. The construction of queer is harnessed to its commodifiable form, articulating other (undesirable) discourses in its commercial endeavour. Consequently, there has been a construction of a ‘legitimate’ queer subject, a ‘modern homosexuality’ (Altman, 2001) that is middle-class, white and male:

"If you consider what our society deems beautiful nowadays, it’s skinny, white, I mean people have had their genuineness taken away from them. What’s considered attractive is an Aryan skinny white thing."[5]

This superficial liberation, buttressed by consumer capitalism, has the undesirable consequence of marginalising certain voices. The ‘gay scene’ is androcentric, racist and middle-class, because queers are still gendered, racialised and classed subjects in a gender- race- and class-divided society. While it could be argued that capitalism has provided a space for a queer politics to emerge, it must be understood that it does not come without costs. In a similar vein to the construction of the essentialised subject of western modernity, there has emerged an essentialised queer subject, ‘the gay subject’, which is minority-oppressive. The danger of extending this subjectivity to a totalising queer subjectivity is that it obscures racial, ethnic, class and gender based power relations that exist within this ‘unifying identity’ (Fortier, 2002). Gay begins to speak in global terms championing a notion of ‘sexual citizenship’ that transcends cultural differences. For queers in the diaspora, citizenship is not something that can be taken for granted (Gopinath, 1996).

I asked my informants whether they had experienced racism on the gay scene, and despite a general consensus that racism isn’t an enormous problem on the London scene, there was still an anxiety regarding prejudice, particularly outside London, and in wider representations of ‘gay identity’:

"Race discrimination within the gay community pisses me off more than in the general population. They should understand how it feels to be in a minority."[6]

"The wider gay movement never addressed the ethnicity issue. For example, ‘Gay Times’ and ‘Attitude’[7] don’t represent the South Asian community. We are anonymous. Gays are portrayed as homogenous, which is problematic. Stonewall for example don’t do enough to educate people about ethnic diversity, they need to engage the black community, who are never consulted."[8]

Queer theory has attempted to address the shortcomings of conceptualising gay identity in such essentialised terms. In destabilising the homo-hetero binary, queer not only accounts for sexualities that are contingent and fluid, but also an array of subjectivities that question stabilised notions of the self. Despite marking a distinct movement away from the ‘gay and lesbian liberation movement’ that emerged in the late 1960s, in an effort to articulate alternative ethnic, racial, and gender identifications in the discussion of the complex lives of queer subjects, Donald Morton criticises queer theory for neglecting issues of class belonging. He claims that queer theory, appearing when the Berlin Wall fell, is a bourgeois ideology declaring an autonomy of desire, celebrating the liberation of the queer subject into a space of unfettered consumption and unregulated desire (Morton, 2001). By overemphasising ‘desire’, it marginalises ‘need’ (ibid.; Hawley, 2001) and doesn’t take into full consideration the effect of material conditions in the formation of identities.

The strong articulation between diaspora communities and class underprivilege might therefore account for the lack of representation of diasporic queers within the wider queer movement. Furthermore, underemphasising material conditions may result in displacing homophobia onto diasporic communities in which underprivilege creates conditions which makes sexuality a less dominant category (Morton, 2001). There is a danger of using ‘gay rights’ as a benchmark for a country’s/ community’s civilisational progress, invoking colonial discourses of the civilising west (Binnie, 2004; Schildt, 2001). While one should remain cautious of class reductionism, queer theory may benefit from questioning its often non-materialist assumptions, in which a queer community that transcends class and cultural differences is taken for granted.

Having outlined the genealogy of queer subjectivity, it is possible to see what role Club Kali plays in resisting what has become a marginalising and oppressive queer identity. The reterritorialisation of heteronormative national space by the gay community is dominated by a globalised notion of sexuality premised on an essentialised queer subjectivity.

"We are made to feel like it’s our responsibility to integrate. But there is institutional racism, and this even extends to the gay scene. Club Kali…is a vital space outside the gay scene, and outside of Soho (where you’re less accepted), and also you know you’re not going to get a bashing. Club Kali is also a forum where politics is played out through music. There is a genuine need for this."[9]

Club Kali, and the emergence of a diasporic queer identity, implicitly contests this dominant discourse, in a struggle not only against the nation-state, but dominant racialised discourses that have articulated with a globalised queer subjectivity.

The localisation of the global

"What we usually call the global, far from being something which in a systematic fashion, rolls over everything, creating similarity, in fact works through particularity, negotiates particular spaces, particular ethnicities, works through mobilising particular identities and so on. So there is always a dialectic, a continuous dialectic, between the local and the global." (Hall, 1993a: 62)

Stuart Hall problematises the widely held assumption that globalisation commodifies social life into a homogenous transnational form in which western cultural ideas and practices dominate. The power of a globalised queer subjectivity must be questioned as globalisation increasingly targets segmented markets, penetrating smaller groups, working through specificity, and pioneering lifestyle- and identity-specific forms of marketing (Hall, 1993b). The local can mobilise itself as the global interpolates it, by being able to address people through their multiple identities. As DJ Ritu herself asserted:

"I’m trying to say to them [Asian pop stars]: ‘this is your Asian pink pound, these people are important, come in and perform for them and respect them.’"[10]

Within this economic and social framework, there are always new emerging spaces that can be targeted by the power of capital.

Club Kali could be considered one such space, as it works through capital to address a group of people through their ethnicity (South Asian) and sexuality (queer). Sexuality and ethnicity can have both everything and nothing to do with one another (Fortier, 2001), but when articulated in this space at this particular historical conjuncture, they construct an identity and a politics of difference. Those groups hitherto marginalised and subaltern, have acquired, not without struggle, the means to speak for themselves for the first time (Hall, 1993b).

Hall elaborates on this notion of a counter political strategy, claiming that ‘hegemony’ is a strategy for the local. In the context of Club Kali, South Asian queer subjects pursue a political strategy in order to become represented and accepted within the wider queer community and eventually, the South Asian community. He uses hegemony in the Gramscian sense whereby a collective will is constructed through difference and not through the destruction of difference (Hall, 1993a). The decentring of the subject renders revolutionary politics unfeasible as it cannot be mobilised on such a fragmented basis, and in order to unify people one must account for difference. The space that emerges and is appropriated by South Asian queers becomes hegemonic in the sense that it is able to address people through their multiple identities under the unifying political project and identity ‘South Asian queers’. Under this term, a political strategy in the public sphere articulates various groups based on unequal, multiple and potentially antagonistic identities (Rutherford, 1990). This is indeed empowering, but is not unproblematic, as it is once again an essentialised identity and may potentially silence subaltern voices in its midst, for example queer women and working-class South Asian queers. Considering the latter, one mustn’t forget the Marxist critique of queer theory, which argues that political resistance shouldn’t be based on activities within the ‘economy of desire’. There is a danger of constituting this identity through consumption, which marginalises those who do not have access to such privileges.

This is not to say however, that Club Kali has not succeeded in what it set out to do. Notwithstanding the problems of constructing this identity and political strategy through consumer capitalism, Club Kali’s political strategy remains forward looking:

"One of our missions from the very beginning was to incorporate people from the wider lesbian and gay community…We always wanted the acceptance of Asian lesbian and gay people by the wider gay community, so that we were no longer outcast."[11]

The number of non-South Asians who frequent the club has increased dramatically since 1995, thus proving the success of Club Kali’s mission. Queers of even wider backgrounds articulate under the term ‘queer’ at Club Kali, ensuring that South Asians participate and are represented in the wider queer movement. However, Club Kali remains marginal in the queer movement at large, and its diasporic queer regulars continue struggling to reconcile themselves with the wider South Asian diaspora. I turn now to look in more depth at how Club Kali exists as part of a continuous process of negotiation with both queer and South Asian diasporic discourses in which decentred concepts of the self are a necessary prerequisite to this negotiation.

Queer identity: problematising the sovereignty of the self

That sexuality is a central component of one’s identity has become axiomatic in western conceptions of the self. Sexuality is who one is, not what one does. Being afforded such centrality to the self in its unitary, stable form, it is easy for sexuality to assume an essentialised collective identity. It adheres comfortably to the hetero-homo binary, in which a ‘gay identity’ is the only legitimate ‘other’ to the sexual norm. Above I have problematised this essentialised identity, using Club Kali as an example of a politics of resistance to this oppressive construction. It may be more accurate not to talk of sexuality, but of sexualities, in which the contingent nature of the experience of sexuality concurs with a decentred conceptualisation of the self. There is not one ‘true way’ of being gay (as espoused by a ‘western gay identity’), but multiple gay identities that are equally legitimate. It is difficult however to conceive of various sexualities articulating under the term ‘queer’ to form a coherent political discourse and identity. This may be more clearly illustrated in the limitations of Club Kali articulating as part of a wider queer political movement:

"We’ve tried to keep Club Kali as quiet as possible, we regularly get Asian journalists trying to do exposés about the club, we’ve been approached repeatedly by Asian production companies at Channel 4, ITV, BBC, all the Asian radio stations and newspapers, and that’s gone on consistently over the past ten years, and what we keep saying is: ‘no no no, we will not let you come into Kali, we will not let you take pictures here, we will not allow cameras or TV cameras in this room’. We know damn well if there was a TV camera in that room fifty percent of the people would walk out, they’d be terrified of being spotted by a family member, by an employer, by a landlord, so we’ve always had to strike this very fine line."[12]

The queer South Asian identity is not necessarily a public identity. Many of my informants lead a ‘double life’, choosing to keep their sexuality secret from their family and many of their friends. This may be seen as a denial of the sovereignty of the self, the continuous developmental dialectic of selfhood, which is central to the above subject of modernity. Indeed many of my informants feel stigmatised because they refuse to ‘come out’:

"My gay friends resent the fact I won’t come out or kiss them on the street. On campus I’ll shake their hand rather than ‘hey darling’ which they’re more accustomed to. When I play hockey on Wednesday, my team have no idea [that I’m gay], I have this escape from the horrible gay world, where I can be someone entirely different. I don’t think there’s any need to come out and scream from the rooftops."[13]

It is an identity that is widely held as illegitimate within a British gay context, because it does not uphold the most crucial prerequisite of a ‘gay identity’: to ‘come out’. The secrecy of Club Kali and the secrecy with which many of my informants lead their lives may be seen as a compromise with the oppressive heteronormative society, a betrayal of the ‘gay camp’. This coheres with the notion that to ‘come out’, to be public, and to consume a gay lifestyle, constitutes the liberation of queers. To be true to one’s self is seen as a personal liberation, and part of the wider liberation of the ‘gay brotherhood’. Indeed, as Forrest asserts:

"There appears to exist a widespread tendency to believe that once we have accomplished the psychological ordeal known as ‘coming out’, we are suddenly magically free of the negative conditioning of our homophobic society" (Forrest, 2003: 108).

By ‘recognising’ the true self and declaring that self, which coheres with the ‘legitimate gay subject’, one is resisting heterosexist oppression. Club Kali and South Asian queers may not be seen as part of that public resistance, and are thus not articulated in this western discourse of ‘liberation’.

It is crucial that the articulation of various sexualities is based on a non-sovereign notion of self (Rutherford, 1990). In the above example, cultural differences may seem insurmountable, but it is vital that the essentialisation of the queer subject is eschewed. Homi Bhabha’s notion of the ‘third space’ (ibid.) may help to think through how these differences can be united to form coherent political discourses, and open up new sites of negotiation, in which queer South Asians can articulate with the wider queer community and may be reconciled with the wider South Asian diaspora.

Bhabha argues that all forms of culture are in a continuous process of hybridity, because they cannot claim a totalised prior moment of being (ibid.). His notion of cultural translation suggests that all cultures can articulate because they are "symbol-forming and subject-constituting, interpolative practices" (ibid.: 210). We live our lives according to myths and metaphors that are forms of representation, and given that meaning is constructed between the separation of signifier and signified, attempting to objectify cultural meaning indicates that there always has to be a process of alienation in relation to itself (ibid.). By being imitated, the original is always open to translation, such that it cannot be said to have an originary moment. Cultures are thus decentered structures in which the "otherness internal to their own symbol-forming activity" (ibid.: 210) allow for the articulation of other cultures. This process of hybridity doesn’t emerge from two originary moments, but rather "displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority [and] new political initiatives" (ibid.: 211).

The ‘third space’ helps eschew essentialised notions of the sovereign self, and conceive of the coexistence of multiple identities, which are equally legitimate and form a coherent political discourse that doesn’t refer to a pregiven, originary, organic identity. Club Kali sits comfortably in the third space, in which a continuing process of hybridity enables a negotiation of a more inclusive queer subjectivity. The terms under which groups identify are not fixed or stable, but in a constant process of negotiation. Club Kali proves that there is not a one-way flow of commodities, identities or models of being (Gopinath, 1996), where the subaltern and marginalised are silent. Club Kali confirms that South Asians are pursuing a politics of difference, that they are contesting the terms ‘queer’ and ‘South Asian’, and are consistently renewing and de-essentialising these terms.

The recovery of a lost history in the reterritorialisation of queer

In this final section, I will consider the nature in which ‘queer South Asian’ has been commodified and represented at Club Kali, highlighting in particular a resistance to discourses of sexuality put forward by state nationalisms in India and both reflected within, and buttressed by, the diaspora. There is a tendency to invoke pre-colonial Hindu notions of fluid sexuality, which are interpreted within a queer diasporic context, to counter the oppressive assertions of religious nationalisms. Indeed, at Club Kali, it is ‘tradition’ that becomes the subject of commodification. My informants consistently agreed that Hinduism is a tolerant religion, replete with historical sources that sanction homosexuality:

"There are many religious sources about homosexuality, temples with homosexual acts depicted on them, how that can be, I don’t know. If you look in the Mahabarata and the Ramayana there are homosexual or third sex characters. Kama sutra has a chapter on the third sex."[14]

"In the Mahabarata, we interpret the Eunuch character as gay. If he was tolerated by Krishna, why shouldn’t we be respected today?"[15]

‘Tradition’ becomes the subject of personal reflection, and a site in which a personal reconciliation with religion, ethnicity and community can take place. There is a wealth of historical sources which suggest that homosexuality was widely practiced and went unpunished in pre-colonial India. But it is not so much a question of historical accuracy that consequently legitimises this contemporary identity; indeed, as Bhabha has argued, there can be no claim to an originary moment of being, a ‘true culture’ (Rutherford, 1990). Tradition is rediscovered and becomes reinscribed in a narrative that legitimises a queer diasporic South Asian subjectivity. It responds to the exigencies of the queer diasporic position, an inbetween space that is at the receiving end of multiple oppressions. To return to Bhabha once again, the histories that constitute these forms of oppression, themselves narratives, are displaced, and new structures of authority and new political initiatives are established. For example, Hindu symbols and scriptural sources, widely used by religious nationalists to condemn and to exert violence on homosexuals, are rearticulated in a positive way to validate their identity and to represent their political movement.

In London, Club Kali plays a vital role in the construction of this narrative, printing Hindu goddesses on its advertising, celebrating religious and cultural festivals throughout the year, and of course, naming itself after a Hindu goddess. Kali brings together religious and sexual discourses in a commodified form, reconstituting them in this cultural and political space.

It could be argued that this narrative has greater currency in the diaspora. South Asian queers are not only reclaiming a ‘lost’ history, obliterated by colonialism, but face racial discourses that are inherent in the British gay scene and in society at large, urging them to explore their own identity, to search for roots, to ‘elaborate strategies of selfhood’ (Bhabha, 1994):

"There’s an incredible number of coconutty Asians[16] who come to Kali and what they’ve actually come for is the possibility to reclaim their cultural heritage in a positive way which they may not have claimed before."[17]

Club Kali represents a symbolic construction of community (Cohen, 1978) in which meaning is imputed to Hindu symbols and scriptures in the context of queer diasporic experiences and the need for political expression. The mythological distance of tradition hinders the validation of its historiographical claims (Cohen, 1978); the past is inchoate, malleable, and by virtue of its ancient and auspicious status, beyond scrutiny. Club Kali consolidates this narrated identity, establishing a space of belonging in which both the trope of ‘home’ can be legitimately uttered and sexuality performed, at the same time. The reclamation of this lost history is less about nostalgia, than a part of the necessity of living (Bhabha, 1994), of making sense of the present.

This space of hybridity, the ‘third space’ (Rutherford, 1990) is a continuous process where the contingency of the present is continually negotiated and renewed. There is no final moment when a culture can be said to be ‘true’, nor an objective beginning to which it can refer. That the histories which constitute identities and political movements are narratives, enables discourses to be rearticulated in a new structure of authority through a continuous process of negotiation. The discourses that constitute the oppressive forces that Club Kali and South Asian queers in the diaspora confront everyday, are not complete in themselves, and when facing this new situation and in future situations, they are destabilised, forced to negotiate, and may eventually be reconciled with a queer diasporic subjectivity.


Club Kali illustrates the consistent processes in which rigid notions of ‘sexuality’ and ‘ethnicity’ are destabilised within a queer diasporic context, and are localised to make sense of the present. Such processes, it has been argued, have been facilitated by the power of global capital to target segmented markets, to interpolate queer South Asians by commodifying elements with which they identify as queer and South Asian subjects.

Club Kali has enabled queer South Asians to be articulated within the wider queer community, but in which they still however remain largely underrepresented. Club Kali can be viewed as part of a larger process of negotiation with the oppressive discourses that my informants face on an everyday basis. As Bhabha contends, that cultures do not have an originary moment to refer to, nor a true completion to point to be achieved, means that all cultures are in a continuous process of hybridity. New situations, meetings and emerging spaces, are part of a continuous process where the contingency of the present forces discourses to be negotiated. For my informants, an emerging space for queer diasporic South Asians in London has laid the foundations for negotiations with the oppressive discourses against which they continuously struggle to take place, and to continue taking place into the future.


This research was carried out during the period September 2004 to April 2005. I held five in-depth interviews with individuals who attended Club Kali and/or identified as gay and South Asian. I also held two group discussions with members of Masala and Dost focus groups, which are both organised by Naz Project London, a charity addressing the sexual health and HIV/AIDS needs of black and minority ethnic communities. The research also, of course, involved multiple nights out dancing at Club Kali.


[1] An infamous gay club in Central London

[2] Interview with DJ Ritu – February 17th 2005

[3] Interview with DJ Ritu – February 17th 2005

[4] The 1967 Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales. This was followed in 1980 in Scotland with the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act was extended to Northern Ireland in 1982, to the Channel Islands in 1990 and to the Isle of Man in 1992.

[5] Interview with ‘Aloke’ – January 27th 2005

[6] Comment made in a discussion with Masala (part of The Naz Project) – January 11th 2005

[7] These are both British magazines for gay men

[8] Interview with Pav Aktar – January 1st 2005

[9] Interview with Pav Aktar – January 1st 2005

[10] Interview with DJ Ritu – February 17th 2005

[11] Interview with DJ Ritu – February 17th 2005

[12] Interview with DJ Ritu – February 17th 2005

[13] Interview with ‘Aloke’ – January 27th 2005

[14] Interview with ‘Amit’ – November 30th 2004

[15] Comment made in a discussion with Dost (part of The Naz Project) – January 5th 2005

[16] A colloquial term for ‘westernised’

[17] Interview with DJ Ritu – February 17th 2005

Dieser Beitrag gehört zum Schwerpunkt: Queer South Asia .


Primary Sources

  • Interview with MC (‘Amit’) 30th November 2004, London
  • Interview with KS (‘Taljit’) 12th December 2004, London
  • Interview with Pav Akhtar, National Union of Students Black Students Officer, 1st January 2005, London
  • Discussion group with Dost group (five members present), Naz Project London, 5th January 2005, London
  • Discussion group with Masala group (twelve members present), Naz Project London, 12th January 2005, London
  • Interview with RM (‘Aloke’) 27th January 2005, London
  • Interview with DJ Ritu, founder of Club Kali, 17th February 2005, London

Secondary Sources

  • Altman D., 2001, "Rupture or Continuity? The Internationalisation of Gay Identities" in Postcolonial, Queer, State University of New York Press: Albany
  • Bhabha H., 1994, The Location of Culture, London : Routledge
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