Two worlds, three women

25 06 2011

1.
When I was younger I was married for around six or seven years. I remember this as being one of the happiest times of my life, for three reasons. One was because the man concerned was an unusual one -talented, confident and quite comfortable with himself -a rare characteristic as far as Sri Lankan men go. The second thing was that for the first time in my life upto then, I was comfortable with myself. And finally the fact that for the first time in my life upto then, other people were comfortable with me.
Life as a queer woman in Sri Lanka, I find is a completely different experience. I am very used to feeling like the weird person in the room since childhood, since that is how I have always been. But being queer in Sri Lanka is a whole different level of weird. So many doors are closed to you, so many things you don’t say to so many people, (often the ones you’re closest to), and so many, many, many things you just don’t DO.
There are places one avoids, conversations one edits, dreams that one abandons, all because you know that for so many people, knowing exactly what and who you are would be just too much to handle. These are the two worlds that many of us inhabit – straight and queer. And still for its difficulties and trials, I know where I belong.

2.
I had girl friends before and after I had boyfriends. Boy friends were uncomplicated. So uncomplicated that I managed two at a time. I was doubly spoilt, taken out to nice restaurants, shown off and generally proudly paraded to friends and family.
With girl friends it’s always been hidden. Never met the parents, never taken home, never invited to dinner with family and rarely taken out.
Yet if you ask me now why I choose secrecy over acceptance I would say “to be myself”. With women I am me, not pretending to be someone I am not, just to please him or his family or just to save face. With women I can be that dark and dirty secret that lives in a closet – but that closet is my own and dark and dirty can be exciting!

3.
In school, for a long time, I was one of a handful of girls in the class who didn’t have a boyfriend. I would either be surrounded by discussions of how some adolescent male looked, touched, gave letters or arranged a secret meeting on the way to tuition classes with my classmates. Or I would have to listen to prim and snooty comments of ‘we’ were much better than ‘those girls’ who had boyfriends. I didn’t want to be in either group. Then in my early twenties, I had an intensely boring and terribly depressing relationship with a man for too long.
Life was much easier, though. It didn’t even occur to me that there would be a time when I would look wide-eyed at how joyfully people around me would greet news of upcoming weddings. Or that I wouldn’t be able to hold hands in a restaurant with the person I love. Or edit certain parts of my life when talking about myself. Or that half the family – the half that had tedious marriages and lackluster lifestyles – would be talking about me in horrified tones. When you are straight, you take these things for granted. I only had one complaint.
Men just didn’t work for me. Nothing to do with lesbian tendencies in denial. The men I was with blamed it on a home with ‘too much’ independence and an education that was ‘too feminist’. With women, my world fits together nicely.





We’re back!

18 05 2011

We’re back! And we’re sorry we’ve been away for so long. As you must have realized, our posting has dwindled over the last few months and has now come down to zero. That’s because we’ve all been caught up in the demands of work and home and have had no time at all to write.

But rejoice, devoted readers, we are back! We’re planning to get right back into the groove and start posting regularly again. Please send comments and critiques and most of all, keep reading.





And a partridge in a pear tree…

24 12 2010

These days, for most of us, Christmas is a festival of food, drink, glittery stuff and….presents! But how do you choose the gifts you give? How do you select from the dizzying range of gifties available in our shops, which go from sublime to kitsch to crap?

The JC Penney commercial linked here, is an advertiser’s guide to how not to approach the matter – for men at least. (The solution is –  jewellery!)

We found the whole thing disturbing in many ways….yet interesting as a view on what presses people’s buttons.

How do you buy gifts for the people you love and live with?

1.

When I go gift hunting I think quite carefully about the person I am buying it for. If they like Lady Gaga, that’s what they get, whatever my own opinion of the dreadful LG might be. Price is a factor too obviously, but I try hard to find something I can afford, that they will like too.

The other point I consider when buying gifts, (and this is why the man in JC Penney went into the doghouse) is to try and get something the giftee would not usually get for themselves, and certainly nothing – god forbid, useful. In other words, a little Luxury.

However, when buying gifts for one’s wealthier friends who have vast disposable incomes, this always becomes a major issue, because what the hell toys/treats/accessories can you get them that they haven’t already bought? This is when ingenuity has to be used, to pick out/ create and devise something no one else would think of, to bestow upon your unfortunately rich bud – a meal at Pilawoos or gift vouchers from one of those tiny shops in Pettah spring to mind…

2.

I have to say I am very bad about this gift giving business. I usually forget people’s birthdays, Christmas and New Year are upon me before I’ve remembered that I have to give gifts and sometimes, even after I buy the gift, I forget to give it till much later! Come to think of it, the only time I remember and make plans and buy gifts is when I come back from a trip abroad.

When I do buy gifts, though, I like to think about what would please the other person. There are times I’ve given useful gifts because at the time that I was buying it (usually in the middle of rushing around somewhere just before the event) I knew they needed and were looking for such a thing. Most times, I am boring and give books and chocolates – the easiest when you are surrounded by people who love reading and sweet things! Sometimes, I’ve given gifts that were useful but that others wouldn’t think of, like a little mortar and pestle as a housewarming gift. At other times, I just see things that make me remember a specific person, like random books and gizmos I pick up for my father or coffee for my coffee-loving friends. And at times, for people I love, I go looking endlessly for things that they will be amused and surprised by!

3.

When I buy a gift for someone I love, I try to think of what it is they need…you see, I am the practical sort. I bought my best friend a cutlery set when she moved into a new house, and this year was thinking of getting her a microwave but changed my mind! As for my partner, I usually buy her books. She loves books, particularly political books, so I guess I tend to buy her something I know she would enjoy. The same goes for friends. My friend who loves night clubs and is a DJ, will get a disco light; my sporty friend will get a sporty spray and my girlie friend will get another pair of earrings!

I generally try to avoid gift vouchers. Mainly because they have the value of the gift voucher displayed on them and somehow the gift becomes less personal. I have to admit that I have once or twice recycled gift vouchers I have received, i.e re given them to someone! Terrible I know! But so easy to do if you don’t know the person very well.  However, overall, I do love buying people gifts, wrapping them and sharing them. It makes me very happy!

for more partridge humour





The Moment

20 12 2010

We pinched this idea from one of our favourites – Smith Magazine: describing a Moment that transformed our lives. The Moment might be “a split-second decision, something you witnessed, a message sent or received, a literal or mental discovery. Moments can be serious or silly, as short as a tweet, as long as 750 words, told via a single image or illustration, series of photos, or a scanned letter or post-it note…” (Smith Magazine)

Here’s ours…

1.

I think my moment was when I said yes to adopting a kitten this year. I was sold the idea after some effort, involving pathetic descriptions of how pitifully she was found, sheltering from the pouring rain under a car until M picked her up and brought her home and now she needed to be adopted, poor thing. An innocent question about what colour she was, brought a hail of abuse upon my head, featuring the words ‘appearance based discrimination’ and ‘how cruel’. So I hastily accepted the tiny creature who has turned out to be a strong minded individual (more than most, and I should know, having had many) who never moves slower than a dash, usually speeding from place to forbidden place, who is oddly more interested in investigating exactly how the loo flushes than in her next meal, is voiceless, but still communicates her wishes perfectly, never answers to any name, doesn’t mind getting wet but hates being laughed at above all things.

My cat is a frequent troublemaker, constant entertainment and perfect companion, who has definitely transformed my days. Saying yes to adopting her was one of the best moments of my life.

2.

When I left Sri Lanka for the United States I knew I would come back. Gut feeling in the face of ‘you might want to stay’, ‘it’s the kind of study environment you will like’, ‘everyone says they will come back but when you go there and experience the comforts you will think differently’.  Even, ‘when you come back you will want to go back because it is so dirty and dusty and chaotic here’. So I went to the States, and I loved it there. The parks, the cafés, the hundreds of books, the people not staring, the freedom of walking back home alone at 3 in the morning without much fear. I immersed myself in that. But I was waiting to come back because I found out what it is like to not have a patch of garden to walk on, not talk to neighbours over your wall, not have friends who will flock to you whatever time of day or night if you are in trouble and not to be able to get to a hot beach in a couple of hours.

And I still remember the moment when I realised that the sunshine was an illusion – you can walk in it but it wouldn’t warm your skin. My entire two years there was one long Moment.

3.

My life changed completely – for the worse – last week.

I switched my mobile phone brand from a Nokia to a Blackberry. Ever since owning a mobile phone, I have embraced the easy to use and functional Nokia. Last week I got carried away by the messenger service of the Blackberry (BBM) as my family lives overseas and  I wanted to communicate with them more easily and for free, so I went out and bought the 9300 Curve 3G.

Firstly, it took a whole day for Dialog to activate the Blackberry service for me, and then I learned that it would cost me an additional 1,100 rupees per month on top of my current mobile bill.

Then I made the mistake of linking my personal Gmail account to my hand held device (after all that’s what its there for, right?) I now receive emails all day (and night) – on the device and on my computer. It hasn’t stopped making burping sounds since it was activated. Worse, I can’t tell the difference between an SMS, an MMS, an email alert, a Facebook update and the phone ringing. They have all merged into one big belch!

What really took the cake was when this afternoon my mother sent me a BBM message asking me what I had for lunch!

This is the beginning of my end…





First love…

2 08 2010

1.

I had two first loves. The first first love happened when I was 13. The second was when I was 25. The second first love had more of a life impact on me, so I will make that one the subject of my contribution to this post….

I was 25 and she was a year older than me. It was the first lesbian experience for both of us, so it was all very intense and consuming. We were good friends before we became lovers. We were both straight at that time and we both had boy friends. None of our friends knew and neither did our parents. (However her mother found out towards the end of our relationship.) We were together for two years before we broke up. During our relationship we read sad lesbian stories and books where the gay or lesbian character would often die at the end. Our favourite was ‘Lihaf – the Quilt’ – a short story by Ismat Chugtai. We both loved the sea and spent a great deal of our leisure time in the water…

It took us an age to break up…and even when we stopped being lovers, we continued to see each other as friends. Trying to keep up a pretence of friendship when you still desire someone is not a good idea. It was very difficult and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

(Next time it has to be a clean break and no seeing the ex for a good while I told myself!)

Are we still friends? Yes we are. Not the best of friends but friends nonetheless.

Sometimes when I see her I am reminded of our old relationship, but we never talk about it or discus it. I think an old flame is easily rekindled, especially the first. But we have never gone back. Some things are best left alone.

2.

As above, I have two first loves. Or I should, because I came to loving women later in life. But I spent the last few days trying to remember which boy or man I first fell in love with, and I can’t! I suppose falling in love with a boy is not really a life changing experience.

When I first met the woman I fell in love with I had no idea I would fall in love with her. If someone had told me at the time that I would fall in love with a woman half a dozen years later, I would have laughed. Some things become significant only after events have unfolded. Memories are strained through a sieve then. The sand is allowed to fall through and checked for specks of gold. The shiny stuff is kept separately.

What is chronological time when you measure feelings? At the time I used to think that we went our separate ways too soon, but maybe it was just right, that time. When the beautiful die young they are forever beautiful. Pardon my macabre sense of humor. But because there were beautiful things in it, we could remain friends. The shiny flecks could be sifted for gold and it didn’t have to be all thrown away. Why would you want to send away someone who knows you far better than most people around you, listens to the stupidest things you’ve done without judging you and gives you a hug when things are really bad? Such friends are fine gold, and I keep them close.

3.

I remember the first time I saw her.

It was such a long time ago, or so it seems to me now. Maybe that depends on the event too…and on the person. The distance and space it all acquires as time passes and you move on from your self. From the way you were then, the thoughts that passed through your head and the feelings that moved your heart and hands. The way you remember things sifting, shifting and maybe taking on qualities they never had at the time.

I couldn’t swear to any of it. What I am now is so different in every way, it could have all been a dream. There are doors in my head though, that were not there before, and I have to open a great number of them, one leading to the other like Russian dolls, deeper and deeper, into the very heart of myself, till I reach that place where I look at what I saw once and then lost and I feel the first tear burn my skin like fire.

But the pain that I imagined infinite then, has passed of course and I remember all of those events as a learning experience only, as a time in my life when I was transformed, and that is enough. I do not ask any more of it, of her, of myself now. It has been such a relief to forget, to cease wondering, to enjoy every moment of every day without waiting for the day I look up, look around and see her there again.

But when it was happening it was a continuing story in my mind, with all the passion and fire of any script, any song, any poem, any tale told to any child or lover. For it is mine, you see. It is part of my story and I am it.





All time favourite books…

26 06 2010

1.

A word child Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch is possibly my favorite writer and this may be my all time favourite book. It is the first book by her that I ever read, and I like it because it deals with obsession, guilt, human nature, time and love. It is the story of an (anti) hero – a man who works with and is fascinated by words, who is doomed to repeat the most significant mistake of his life. Murdoch writes brilliantly as always, and she always lets her readers draw their own conclusions.

Written on the body Jeanette Winterson

I like Jeanette Winterson’s preoccupations with love, loss, magic and quantum physics. But also because this is one of the few books that ever made me weep.

Tortilla Flat John Steinbeck

This review says it all.

“What it’s all about are friendships and the dynamics of interpersonal dealings between immortal characters. Immortal in that every generation has their Pilons and Dannys, and of having things that you can hold in your own hand versus things that cannot ultimately be bought or sold. The appeal is due in part to the similarities in our own lives and in the lives of others. In every Steinbeck novel is a little gift of insight. This has many.”

Also although the book is set in California, it always reminds me of Sri Lanka and people I have known.

2.

John Irving

Lets just say I love all his books – I love the bears, the sex workers, the boxers and the struggling authors that live in every one of them. He is a master story teller and wonderful entertainer. I loved The Hotel New Hampshire most of all: it made me think about the attraction of the forbidden.

Graphic novels

I love graphic novels. My three favorites are The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel, The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman and Kari by Amruta Patil. Although very different, they each deal with something close to my heart or something I am fascinated with. There is something wonderful about this art form that appeals to me. It’s like reading a movie. When I was a teenager, I read the movie “Grease” as a comic and ever since then I have actively searched for this form of writing/drawing.

Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides

I loved this book because it made me question my assumptions about sex and sexuality. I read it early in my coming out days and it threw open a whole plethora of questions. The fact that I still remember the story line and can easily recall some of what I felt when reading it, reminds me that it was one of my favorite books!

3.

Daughter of Fortune Isabel Allende

Most times the books we read resonate because of the particular moment we read it in I think. Every time I think of this book, I remember the road to the library in Harlem and the book’s beautiful thick cream pages with large letters. The prose is lyrical; it makes you want to visit Chile, and is sweeter and more romantic in mood than The House of the Spirits. I discovered my love for magic realism with this book.

The Harry Potter series JK Rowling

I love the magic in these books – witches, wizards, beasts that talk, spell making, all of it. I like the author’s use of the many classical mythological references in the naming of things, it adds layers of meaning. My favorite book is the first one and I don’t think the entire series is perfect, but it is still a series I read over and over again, especially when I feel sad.

A short history of nearly everything Bill Bryson

If you are wondering why I am including a pop-science book in this, the answer is I am a geek. The other answer is that it is a well-written book on science and makes things from super-volcanoes to atoms to black holes seem more titillating than porn.





No one could accuse me of…

27 04 2010

Being the life and soul of the party.
Having too much energy.
Being too loud.
Not reading enough.
Being tone deaf.
Remembering everything.

No one could accuse me of…

Not being bitchy.
Being nice to men.
Not loving enough.
Ignoring soft butches.
Not getting off on a mindfuck.

No one could accuse me of…

Hesitating to write letters of complaint.
Not having enough (ex) girlfriends.
Not being willing to try almost anything at least once.
Keeping a lizard as a pet.
Not enjoying renovations.





Coming out

23 02 2010

1.

I don’t have a coming out fetish – I know some people do. They have to come out to everyone. For me it’s not like that. I think it’s important to think about how my coming out affects the other person while I am thinking of the relief (along with the more painful consequences) it may give. Neither can I think of coming out as one side of a binary: out vs not out. Is anyone really completely out or completely closeted? I don’t think so. I think most of us go through life being out to different people and to different degrees. I am out to friends at work, I am out to some cousins and not others, one person in my family is oblivious to my love for women and with another I have a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy!

The first people I came out to were my group of immediate friends. I didn’t have to tell them anything. When I first fell in love with a woman in my late twenties, it was right in front of them. And they surrounded me with a safety net, without being told anything. What would our lives be without our friends! I had such good luck coming out to friends that I thought all my friends would be accepting. I was right. The people who were important to me were accepting. What I didn’t see was that people who were important to the people who were important to me, would find it difficult to deal with. So when my best friend started avoiding me, it was a shock. Obviously, she would put her relationship before her friendship with me, but how could such a wonderful, sensitive, open-minded person be with a conservative prick who thought being friends with a lesbian was bad??

There is nothing I would change about coming out to the people that I have come out to. But that doesn’t mean I have to follow that up with coming out to everyone in my life. You choose who you come out to (when you can choose). You try to think if this person is important to you, if it is important for this person to know this part of your life, how much good or damage it will do to your relationship with this person, and so on and so on. You have much to lose by coming out in our kind of conservative society with taboos against same-sex love, but there is also much to gain. You are yourself! No more pretending that the person you love is a man, no more pretending that you find the penis desirable and best of all, no excuses needed for crying when your ‘friend’ suddenly leaves!

2.

I came out at 13. But not to myself…I just came out to the older girl I was in love with at that age – she was 15. I told her I wanted to be with her forever. I meant it wholeheartedly. Later in life, I married (a man). My childhood sweetheart told me I was making a mistake. The only person who had the balls to tell me that home truth! In my heart I knew she was right, but I never had the courage to act on that knowledge.

I came out again when I was 26. This time to myself and to the girl I was in love with at that time. My mother said “I should have known.” and “Why did I let you marry a man!” There was much drama. Then we broke up and she married – a man!

I was very sad and confused and lonely in those days – I think it lasted at least a year. Nothing could lift me out or up. It was one of the hardest times in my life. Until I finally met a few women like me… dykes! Hallelujah! What bliss… mad, confused, wonderful, strong women – the bravest women in the world. Finding this community was the best thing about coming out.

Since then there has been no turning back.

Of course this is the abridged version. If I were to tell it all like it really was, I could fill a book. But in the end I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Now I can truly say “Been there, done that and now I know what I really want. So there!”

PS: A cardinal rule in life: Be true to yourself first.

3.

I came out very late in life – I must have been around 30 at least and it was sort of involuntary but also very definite. I was married at the time and hadn’t really thought about being a lesbian (I had trouble with the word, even) and certainly was not identifying as such. But nevertheless I ended up having one of the most spectacular coming out stories of all…involving falling in love with my best friend (at the time), while many other people – friends and family – contributed to much general drama and gossip that went on for months, ending in a divorce.

Looking back, the best thing about it was the fact that I was finally forced to deal with the elephant under my bed – the fact that I was a dyke and had plenty of evidence for this from childhood but never really took it on board for all the usual reasons – religious upbringing, family background, social condemnation, guilt, fear and all the rest of it.

The worst thing about it was that I hurt someone I cared about, who had never been anything but good to me, which I regret to this day, although I know I have been forgiven.

What I would have changed: I wish I had had the courage to know myself and come out when I was a teenager, which would have been a much more appropriate time and would probably have caused far less trouble all round. Today I am out to my family and I would be out to my parents if they were around. I am not overtly out at work but neither do I trouble to change anything about myself in order to inhabit that environment.

I have changed so much since then I think I am an entirely different person today. I have this idea that coming out marks the end of one life and the beginning of another. I am proud I took this road and though it has often been painful it has also been the source of the most joy. It is certainly the most real thing in my life. I have never regretted it.





Three things I love

21 02 2010

1.

1. Sri Lankan food.

My idea of a greedy food experience would be on these lines:

(Yellow, red or white) rice.
Dhal with coriander leaves.

Beetroot curry.
Salmon curry.

Potato curry.
Gotukola sambol.

Brinjal pahi.
(MD) Mango chutney.

A fried egg and butter chillies on the side.

Bliss.

2. The sun (but only in Sri Lanka.)

Sri Lanka’s sun is surely one of the loveliest natural characteristics we have to offer. I’ve never experienced sunlight quite like ours anywhere else I have been – its always too blinding or too weak. Ours is really hot, yet mellow enough to lie in, especially if you’ve just been in water. I also love the colours of the sun in Sri Lanka…our sunrises and sunsets are always spectacular.

3. Sex.

Maximum pleasure for the maximum time. (Being in love helps).

2.

1. The sea/beach

I love the sea, and especially the Indian Ocean. I can spend hours just watching out into it and listening to the waves come into shore. I also love swimming in it too, especially without clothes on (some days it’s like a warm bath.) Sadly though this is not always possible!

2. My girlfriend

She may not be perfect, but she’s perfect for me. I thank god – who is definitely female – and my lucky stars for each day together.

3. Thriller movies

Especially those with some action and suspense. I don’t like horror movies even though some suspense thrillers border on horror. Thrillers absorb me completely while I escape into another world, biting my nails and staring at the TV!


3.

I realize they are all things to be consumed, so let it be known that I love looking at the sea as well!

1. Books

I don’t just love reading books. I love looking at them, touching them with my fingertips, and the ultimate – owning them. All of them. My mouth waters when I see books of many colours, textures and prints.

2. Sex

Something to be explored with the person I love. And ‘explore’ I think is the key word. But sex without sensuality has something missing as far as I am concerned.

3. Rhythm

Music and dance. They do things to me. Beautiful music, from the Carmina Burana to Lady Ga Ga sends shivers down my spine, and dances from anywhere in the world can make me feel the rhythm. I can fully understand why music and dance are part of mystical and religious ritual.





Two things I hate

5 02 2010

Papaya: supposedly the most nutritious fruit ever known to Sri Lankan kind: totally repellent to me and my worst nightmare – and one I share with my sister.

Once we went to a beauty salon and were lying side by side while having a facial. We were totally relaxed with our eyes shut when the time came for the face mask. Guess what came out? A papaya mask! We both leapt up, ran to the washroom and nearly threw up together.

And geckos: I hate them so much I find it difficult to think about it long enough to write a few lines about them. Also a nightmare but more from a sense of fear than of repulsion. Once I walked through a doorway, closed the door behind me and a gecko fell on me. And it was just the upper part of its body. The bottom half lay on the floor in front of me, writhing.

(Story ends here because our writer couldn’t bear to finish it!)

Two things I hate

This was not easy for me….i guess I don’t have too many pet hatreds! But I did realize I dislike clutter and dirt in my environment. And this is not just at home. Even when I’m out in some parts of the city sometimes I find myself wishing I could clean up all the drooping telephone wires, broken pavements, overflowing drains, torn posters, hideous billboards and crumbling buildings and redesign the spaces to be cleaner and greener. I’m sure it will happen soon though.

Something else I do not like is what I can only call decoration. This includes china dolls, china animals, dwarves, nodding puppets, soft toys in the rear windscreens of cars, shiny dangling items in the front windscreen of cars, spoilers, brassware, flying ducks on the wall, macramé, pottery, carved furniture….

Thank goodness garden gnomes haven’t really made it big here yet.

Two things I hate

Inane programmes on tv. I. hate. them. Chief among these are the tele-dramas which include a parade of women in beautiful saris with immaculate make-up (even when they come out of a dirty kitchen) and start fighting with their mother-in-law, brother, brother’s wife and newly discovered half-sister. A close second is the generic VJ in the music programme with the fake accent and flapping hand motions. AAAArrrrgh.

Public bodily motions. Can people not walk the roads without spitting, coughing up phlegm, blowing their nose, picking their noses and peeing in public – trying to make sure that as many people see them as possible? Not to mention the S.A.M. adjusting his thingies and scratching away at them in full sight of everyone.

Phew. This was actually a very difficult exercise for me. I thought long about which two I want to pick out from my vast universe of pet hates. What makes me virulent? What irritates me? And now I’ve picked two that have just floated to the top of my mind. These are, of course, in addition to my intense hatred of S.A.M.s.