A friend recently asked me why I use the term ‘Queer’ when I refer to the LGBT community, as he felt that the term has negative connotation. The term was used against the LGBT community in the past. The LGBT community claimed the word as our own. Queer is also a political term now, claimed by the community for our empowerment. Today, a term that we identify with, call our own cannot be used against us to insult us.
The term homosexual is deemed offensive by some queer groups. I use the term when I want to make a strong on the face statement. But I prefer people to use either gay or queer when they refer to me. It also depends on who uses the term. The casual usage of the term ‘homo’ within the queer community in India is common and acceptable. The same term used by someone outside the community or used in a newspaper reportage is surely offensive. Unfortunately, many Tamil print media uses the term ‘homosex’ to refer the LGBT community.
Cheri - village of Mullai tract people from the Sangam Landscape. The term has been used in Tamil literature. This is the original meaning available in Tamil dictionaries. Like many Tamil words that has been ostracized today with negative connotation, Cheri does not have the same innocuous meaning.
The Tamil Wikipedia says that Cheri is a place inhabited by economically backward people. That is a nice way to whitewash the social and caste ostracism associated with the term.
We also have places with the term Cheri in it. Puducherry - the literal meaning is ‘New Town’. Probably that is what the term Cheri meant when the place was named.
But today, the term Cheri is loaded. The term Cheri is widely used to denigrate people - not just by associating them with a ‘diminutive’ area, but it also evokes the shame built around the caste of people who live in these quarters. Cheri also carries the burden of exclusion. The closest term in English that carries such negative connotation today is Ghetto – a term that cannot be casually used.
Unlike Queer, the term Cheri has not been reclaimed. In this aspect; the reportage in a recent TNM article and the usage of “cheri” in it is not appropriate. And Cheri doesn’t mean local, as the article had explained, and even if it is stretched to that meaning, the word comes with baggage.
Being a news outlet that covers diverse topic and tries to be inclusive, TNM should have known better the implication certain words carry.
This was used while writing about the Chennai based YouTube channel Temple Monkeys. The usage of Cheri, along with other shortcomings in the article, as per Temple Monkeys, was picked up by the channel’s creative director Vijay Varadharaj.
Tamil cinema is notorious for its jokes on gender-non-confirming people, women, obese people, dark people to name a few. Some of the derogatory terms for queer individuals stemmed out of Tamil movies. Terms like ‘avana nee’, ‘uss’ are still popular and are used to harass queer people.
Even the film name Fire was used in a Tamil comedy to refer to lesbian women. Little did I expect that the Orlando nightclub shooting incident will become the new mockery term to refer to gay men in Tamil Nadu.
The new video by Temple Monkeys and Put Chutney - Aathrangal Varuthu Athreya - casually uses the term ‘Orlando Boys’ when one of the character places two men in compromising position.
The life experiences of the queer people who live in constant threat is mocked. It is saddening to see that one can only find ways to mock the community even in our grief. Every effort that we put to bring awareness about the queer community is instantly erased by such media portrayal.
Being popular new age media, The News Minute, Temple Monkeys and Put Chutney need to address their unconscious biases. And, I do not know who dominates the creative rooms of Temple Monkeys and Put Chutney. But whomever it is; the insensitivity and trivializing one of the harrowing attacks towards the queer community isn’t a passing joke either.
These are the personal views of the author. The article was a voluntary contribution from the writer and was not commissioned by The News Minute. It has been published without any editorial interventions.