Becoming normal

12 06 2011

A friend living in a Scandinavian country recently told me of his difficulties in locating and meeting other gay people to hang out with. It is so normal to be gay in that country, he said, that they are difficult to find.

I found this highly amusing. What would happen, I wondered, if we actually became so normalized that we would disappear into the woodwork? Would we feel less special?

Lost in a crowd

I imagined life where you just walk into a pub with friends, queer or straight or whatever, and just have a ‘normal’ time with no complaints about people staring. Your commitment ceremony or marriage evokes the same tediousness as does your straight friends getting married now. Your queer friends have babies and you forget to visit them till the baby’s first birthday. You hold hands in public with your girlfriend and no one gives a fuck! There are few gay bars and not many gay parties (not secret anymore either), there is no need! Finding out if film stars are gay never occurs to you and coming out is a quaint thing that previous generations used to do.

Somehow, I can’t imagine my community of gay men and women enjoying that much normalization.





Groupthink

28 05 2011

Groupthink:
This occurs when a group sacrifices critical thinking (in order to have agreement on everything.) The primary socially negative cost of groupthink is the loss of individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking.

I have a big problem with Groupthink. And as far as I can see, it is everywhere. It starts in school, when you’re expected to believe everything you’re being taught, (even, as someone recently pointed out, when they were teaching us the big bang theory in the science class while simultaneously teaching us creationism in the religious knowledge class and no one was allowed to ask why).

Home is where you’re not allowed to cut your hair short and wear that hyper-miniskirt because of what the neighbours might say. Then we grow up and come up against dress codes, marriage rituals, sexual choices, political preferences and religious beliefs that all end up for the most part falling into the same old stereotypical categories because we’re all too scared or thick to examine just why we’ve chosen what we have in our lives.

Richard Dawkins protested about how we tend to automatically categorise children into their parent’s chosen faith.  He observed that feminists have succeeded in arousing widespread embarrassment at the routine use of he instead of she. Similarly, he suggests, a phrase such as “Catholic child” or “Muslim child” should be considered just as socially absurd as, for instance, “Marxist child”: children should not be classified based on their parents’ ideological beliefs. According to Dawkins, there is no such thing as a Christian child or a Muslim child, as children have about as much capacity to make the decision to become Christians or Muslims as they do to become Marxists (Wikipedia).

Groupthink is how we decide so many things with little or no analysis or critique. It is the brainless worship of the accepted norm, carrying with it the equally brainless sense of exclusivity and exceptionalism. It also helps reinforce prejudices, stereotypes and meaningless ritual which are often cruel, deadly or at the very least thoughtless.

Here in Sri Lanka Groupthink governs a great deal. From childhood to ancient old age we are told repeatedly to conform, to give in, to accept and to say the words ‘what to do’ in the appropriate tone of resignation. Since we have no recourse in most cases this is what we do. The punishment for rebellion is anyway quite severe, involving huge social and personal sacrifice and isolation. You only have to ask a queer person what it means to be gay in this country. Whatever their story, it will involve either persecution, exile or deception. But while the gay community has its own internal issues with Groupthink, it remains one of the bravest icons of rebellion, standing against conformity and mainstream views in this island. Because if you’re gay, you’ve already broken one of the most important rules.  You have broken out. You’ve been thinking for yourself.





Feeling Queerly this New Year?

2 01 2011

Never do I feel more resentful about heterosexual privileges than on Significant Days. Birthdays, New Year’s Eve, Aluth Avurudu are all designed to make me feel conflicted and low. It is family time and I love spending time with my family. But what enrages me is how difficult this time would be if I want to spend it with a partner – of the same-sex.

All around me, straight cousins and friends spend Significant Days with their spouses or with family, or both. If they don’t turn up at the family event on this Day, they are not asked why. If they do turn up, they are not expected to leave their spouses behind. If you are a straight married female, or even engaged, these are Days when you say ‘I am spending it with him’ and Society smiles fondly.

For those of us in this country who love women, such a scenario is a luxury. Unless you don’t have much to do with your family anymore (all too common in our community) or your family has accepted you just the way you are (I am happy for you. Really.) the day seems far away when we can choose to spend a birthday or Christmas with the woman we love without having to find excuses or feel guilty.

Happy New Year everyone, and here’s hoping you can spend the next New Year queerly!





Shit happens to women everyday

30 09 2010

Everyday it happens.

The leering, the staring, the whistling. The jostling, the poking, the showing. The rubbing. Comments, suggestions, requests, assessments. The blaming, shaming, and naming. Four letter words and three letter words.

Some times you hear a woman talking back and writing back. Once in a while, a man agrees with the woman who talks back and writes back. And all around them the debate goes on. Like comments on the virginity test story.

Women should dress appropriately. No, we can dress any way we like. No, they should not dress revealingly, asking for trouble. And what if our elbows cause desire in a man? Don’t be silly, it is natural for men to be aroused so women should just not provoke the men. But, what if a man gets off on my finger nails? Or tries to masturbate next to me in the bus? Or in the car park turned towards me? You can just tell him off no? And what if the man starts shouting at me in all the words he knows and everyone around is looking at me accusingly or weirdly? What to do no, you have to face these things as a woman if you want your rights.

And if we are in a rage at the things that happen to all of us women at any time of the day or night? What is the appropriate response, you think? Write about it and shout about it? Keep on writing and shouting about it? Talk to the few women and men who think and act differently?

And keep laughing, I think. Loudly.





You might as well be straight!

7 08 2010

Strange things flash about your mind while doing the most mundane things. Like when I was toasting bread this morning and remembered me’s cartoon on the butch-o-sphere. And it struck me in one clear line why I dislike butches (and other women but mostly butches) taking butchness too far.

IT IS NOT PLAY

Half the time I can’t say why I am attracted to the women I am attracted to. I don’t know why, but I can say what I like. A woman’s body in men’s clothing. Make up on a butch woman. But when it gets to the point where the lines are too clearly drawn it is not play anymore. ‘Eeek this is girly’ and ‘oh you are wearing flowery prints’ and ‘eewww look at your hairstyle, it’s too femme’ becomes the same as masculine vs feminine becomes the same as male vs female. When you stop playing, you might as well be straight!





Lesbian or straight, here are your permutations

26 07 2010

I sat down once and listed the different kinds of relationships I see around me and was surprised at the size of this list. My surprise is probably because we are brought up with blinkers on to look at the first and last models here (preferably leading from first to last with no digressions in between).

relationship with person one is in love with = generally the stuff that films are made out of and expected to lead to a monogamous long term relationship.

casual relationship = this is when someone tells you “oh we are seeing each other but we are not serious about it”.

casual sex with one person without emotional attachment = you meet this person only for sex – no hanging out – which makes it different from the above.

friends with benefits = primarily friends and not in a romantic relationship with each other, but sex and other ‘benefits’ can be thrown in, i.e. shoulder to cry on, etc.

open relationship with a set number of other partners = other than your primary partner, you have decided who to see and where and there are limitations on this.

open relationship without limitations on partners or encounters = the primary partner is the only constant.

relationship with person you love but not in love with = you may not be in love with this person but there is much deep affection and sexual chemistry.

more than one relationship without consent of all parties = aka ‘having an affaire’. The primary partner either doesn’t know or doesn’t approve.

more than one relationship with consent of all parties = both primary partner and other partner/s know of each other. aka polyamorous relationships.

emotional intensity without relationship = intense emotional attachment but sex is not part of it.

committed monogamous relationship = the two of you and only the two of you and never the twain shall part.





Why I’m not a real lesbian.

17 07 2010

L Word irritated me and I can’t remember the bits I watched

I don’t keep track of lesbian singers and K.D.Lang’s music is just ok

Ellen de Generes is not always funny just because she’s a lesbian

Sometimes I would rather spend time with my straight friends than fellow lizzies

I never had a crush on my female teachers and classmates

I don’t think all girl on girl action in movies is hot

I don’t recommend stupid movies just because there is a lesbian in it

I won’t like you just because you are another lesbian

I like wearing my nails long





39 reasons not to be a lesbian.

17 05 2010

(especially in Sri Lanka)

  1. You can dress how you like (well, more or less).
  2. You can have a cool haircut without everyone having a breakdown.
  3. Your brothers don’t laugh at your shoes.
  4. Your sister doesn’t say ‘its so gay!’ around you.
  5. Your mother doesn’t send you bible quotations on email.
  6. No one minds you holding hands with your girlfriend.
  7. No one minds you having loads of girlfriends.
  8. You can surround yourself with beefy men – so useful for mending the roof, driving you places and carrying heavy boxes up the stairs.
  9. You get to walk into rooms full of men with your boyfriend.. so no funny stuff.
  10. You can hold hands with your lover in public.
  11. You can flirt with your lover in public.
  12. You can kiss your lover in public (Well…you could try).
  13. You can walk into any really straight environment and no one looks twice.
  14. You can have pictures of your partner and children on your screensaver.
  15. You get to wear a wedding ring without anyone asking questions.
  16. You don’t have to hide your books when the kids come over.
  17. You don’t have to hide your DVD’s when the kids come over.
  18. You can sleep-over at your girlfriend’s place without raising eyebrows.
  19. You don’t have to lie when someone asks who your friend is…. that one who’s always hanging around…
  20. You don’t mind wearing a sari to work.
  21. You can use the women’s washroom without other women looking at you funny.
  22. You don’t have to explain why you live with a woman.
  23. You don’t have to explain why you don’t have a boyfriend.
  24. You don’t have to feel like the freak in every gathering (At least until you realize there are other women like you).
  25. You don’t have to know your parents are worrying themselves sick over something you couldn’t change even if you wanted to.
  26. You don’t have to unlearn virtually everything they told you.
  27. You don’t have to spend years of your life feeling guilty about loving someone.
  28. As a little kid you don’t have to spend a lot of time wondering what’s wrong with you.
  29. You don’t have to be the spokeswoman for your entire community.
  30. People don’t define you by your sexual choices.
  31. You’re not obliged to defend/hide your sexual choices.
  32. You can take out a loan with your partner.
  33. You can marry whomever you love.
  34. Your parents love your partner.
  35. You can plan your wedding.
  36. You can tell everyone you’re getting married and they will be thrilled.
  37. Once you’re married you can tell everyone you’re having a baby and they will be even more thrilled.
  38. You can adopt a child.
  39. You can name your partner as your beneficiary.




And everything in between

8 03 2010

“Butches are known by their appearance, femmes by their choices.” Joan Nestle

I like girls. The experts around me sometimes tell me I am a butch dyke. I intensely dislike being told who I am and what my own little personal definition is going to be. I am extremely wary of being defined at all but writing this forces me to look at this matter of identity.

I am not very keen on anything that categorises people although I know it is inevitable. (Virtually every choice in life puts one into some demographic or the other after all). But I don’t think that the relief of conformity that comes with embracing these groupings is worth the blocking of other information that goes with that decision…like evangelical christians and gay people, who often seem to have so much in common – we tend to interact with our own groups almost exclusively and so continuously reinforce what we already choose to believe and feel. I do not choose the titles of butch or femme or any other for myself. But I do see that people very consciously choose and need religion and other groupings to belong to and that they may also need the reassurance of clear definitions of identity in their lives.

Years ago, I have to admit to doing my share of clomping around in Doc Martens, jeans and shirts in the fiery heat of Colombo, simply to broadcast the point that I was a dyke and I would dress as I pleased. But now I really don’t care about any of the accessories, for myself or for others. I like girls…femme, butch, whatever they choose to call themselves. But I like them for their characters, their humor, their strength and their tenderness to me. I am attracted to butch girls’ androgyny and the huge energy they have, which I do not possess myself. I am also attracted to femme girls’ knowledge of their own power, their lack of need to explain themselves and their desire for butch girls. It is these things that I love, not their definitions of themselves.

Here are some generalizations of my very own. Butch girls are sometimes thorny, controlling and insecure. They are also competent, logical and sometimes dearly loved in the mainstream world where they could have close male friends. They are resilient, having spent lots of time trying to lure girls into bed and have a good sense of humor from learning to handle rejection since they were ten.

Butch girls are usually strong and are frequently into competitive sports. They are ferociously attached to their personal fashion choices and wear their pants and shoes and hair like weapons against a hostile world. Since they are visibly different, they have to fight harder.

Femme girls are delightful. They are quite aware of their massive power which they are capable of using quite ruthlessly when necessary. They also possess the softest hearts and can be persuaded into the wildest activities, sexual and otherwise, by smart butches. Since they do not have to deal with the battle against the mainstream world as much as butch girls do, femme girls are often more relaxed about themselves and their choices. But this also means they are not always forced to think too deeply about these choices and what they imply. Femme girls are usually gorgeous and funny and in many ways are quite like straight girls, except that they are fatally attractive to butch girls and they know it.

Femmes are perhaps best described as lesbian, bisexual, and queer women whose manner and style falls along the lines of what is traditionally considered feminine. Whereas butches are sometimes accused of trying to be men, femmes are sometimes accused -by other lesbians -of donning accoutrements of traditional femininity to pass as straight in the mainstream world. Actually, however, femme lesbians subvert prescribed sexual and gender roles by co-opting conventional ‘womanly’ traits to indicate their attraction to other women.

(http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/butch_femme_ssh.html)

This may not always be true in real life but it is a revolutionary idea so I like it.

And then there’s all that lies between…the soft butch girls sexy in short skirts, the strong femme girls in charge of their lives – and all the physical and emotional characteristics that we lesbians exchange and share. And in the end I don’t think there is any final definition of femme or butch that covers it all anyway. How could there be?





It’s so gay!

23 01 2010

This is such a handy phrase – short, cutting, perfectly capturing the strong emotions it evokes while subtly implying that the speaker possesses infinitely superior judgement, sophistication and style than her unfortunate victim. (‘Her’ victim because “It’s so gay!” is so often the property of sophisticated teenaged or young women. No one else can quite achieve that tone of crushing disdain and the scornful delivery required by this, the ultimate put-down).

The phrase is popular though not new, and has traveled to this region along with the clothes, music, technology, accessories and everything else important in the pursuit of being cool. The interesting thing is however, that most of the It’s so gay! fraternity if reprimanded would indignantly chorus: “But I’m not homophobic! I have lots of gay friends…!”

Or: “It’s just a thing that we say. What you getting all worked up about?”

Sigh.

Anyone who doesn’t spend much time around young people and who has not yet experienced this phenomenon could visit one of Colombo’s high-end clothing stores, where a few moments of cruising around the men’s section (at the risk of being accused of being a pervert and/or gay), will almost certainly yield results. First you will hear a male voice ask hopefully: “Sonali, what d’you think of this shirt/shoe/tie/belt/sarong?

The reply will arrive after a moment of deliberation or in really dire instances – instantly: “Oh no, Ravi, – you can’t possibly wear that pink colour! It’s so gay!

After which Ravi will meekly retire to try his luck again with a more conventional colour/style/design of shirt/shoe/tie/belt/sarong. It’s as if in the great Sri Lankan drive towards universal conformity and general homophobia,“It’s so gay!” is now the official battlecry.

The identical conversation could also take place in the women’s section between Sonali and her best friend Kanthi, when they go shopping together. Each will successfully use the same phrase in order to dissuade the other from buying any item of clothing, jewellery or footwear that doesn’t meet with approval because “It’s so gay!” means it’s uncool, weird, cheesy, effeminate, kitschy or just plain Bad Taste.

Poor Kanthi. She will never get to buy that mad yellow floral tshirt she liked so much because it was too gay. And poor, poor Ravi. Long may he wish to stand out in the crowd wearing wild pinks, cool greens and fabulous flowers across his shirts and sarongs. Sonali will make sure this never happens, certain in the knowledge that pink will ensure the end of her boyfriend’s position as one of the most eligible bachelors around town, while making him vulnerable to the constant danger of appearing thus clad in one of Colombo’s society magazines. Because then, god forbid – everyone will think he’s gay.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVicCD8FmMs