Queer is normal – Payal Dhar’s Eternal World

3 07 2011

“Well, irrespective of what anyone says,” said Noah, “Stephen’s family consists of Jan. All right? Stephen and Jan.”
[13 year old] Maya digested that. “Stephen and Jan?” she repeated. “Are you sure? They’re always fighting”.
“Absolutely sure. They’ve been together for twenty-five years or so
[…]
“I mean”, said Maya thoughtfully, “like, are you sure? That’s a funny kind of family.”
Noah shrugged. “There are all sorts of families. Parents and children, husband and wife, brothers and sisters, friends. All sorts.”
“Oh”, said Maya. “I thought you had to be related.”
“You do. You relate through love and responsibility, and a commitment to take care of each other.”
Maya nodded reflectively. “Stephen and Jan” she said. “That’s good. I like them both”.

Now, you may not be one of those people who like to read fantasy fiction. But I am. I read a particular kind of fantasy fiction – mostly written by women and preferably with leading female characters. The kind that has witches and wizards and dragons and enchanted things and different worlds. Nothing gory or bloody. Basically, books that my friends’ children would read.

I read them mostly because I lurve these alternate worlds of magic and colour; it is a kind of utopia for me. But I am also interested in how fantasy fiction is written. And while I read, I keep an eye out for characters that are not resoundingly straight. Recently, I re-read A Shadow in Eternity, The Key of Chaos and The Timeless Land – a set of books written by Payal Dhar – and was again struck by how simply and sweetly she has introduced a gay relationship and a non-homophobic world to her young readers. It is ingenious because there is no sudden and didactic introduction of homosexuality into the story and no admonitions to refrain from stereotypes or name-calling.

Instead, what you find is a gradual unraveling of how Jan shares life and home with Stephen, Maya’s Healing teacher and Noah’s friend. We, along with Maya, see the two men cooking, sharing household responsibilities, arguing about life, and caring about each other and the people around them. It is the only family shown up close – other than Maya’s own – and the most ‘normal’. And Maya gradually (and sometime after the conversation quoted above) understands and is told about the relationship between Stephen and Jan.

Gay characters are not unknown in this genre of writing, though queer female characters are rare. Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and Trudi Canavan’s The Black Magician Trilogy are two other instances that come to mind. Maya is an inhabitant of both our world and the Eternal World and there is much interaction between the two worlds. This is different to Le Guin’s and Canavan’s alternate worlds which are very different to our world in geography, climate, customs, etc. The similarity and interaction between our world and the Eternal World normalizes different romantic relationships to the Maya and the reader. The acceptance accorded to queer relationships is highlighted by the questions that Maya asks because of her own realization that it is not possible ‘back home’, which is a successful literary device in this instance. Jan and Stephen stand out for me because they don’t stand out in the story.





Everyone wants to be a lesbian

15 06 2011

So what’s going on with all these men pretending to be lesbians online? Like we don’t have enough trials of our own to be going on with, now we have to spend time trying to figure out if that increasingly interesting online chat is being conducted by some hairy fat man in a vest with a good line in conversation and nothing better to do with his time.

Like we’re not all paranoid and defended enough as it is. It’s enough to make one want to give up on the internet altogether, I tell you. After all, there are loads of us, who like many in the mainstream world of online chat, have much deeper and more intimate relationships with our online lovers than any we do in ‘real’ life. It’s one of the few spaces we can feel alone, intimate and unobserved, especially if you’re queer and live in this particularly bigoted region of the world.

So what the fuck? Last week we followed with increasing interest, the story of a blog that we carry on our links which seemed to reflect many of our own anxieties and fears – the story of a young, lesbian activist being threatened and finally kidnapped in Syria. The discovery that the blog was written by a ‘middle-aged, married American man’ aroused varying emotions across the homosexual world, ranging from outraged fury and paranoia, to amusement.

Later the same week, Paula Brooks, executive editor of the US-based lesbian and gay news site LezGetReal, was exposed as being a fake identity created by Bill Graber, who now says he is a 58-year-old from Dayton, Ohio.

Eek.

So who else is out there, (presumably) hiding from his wife, scratching his balls and busily typing away?

And why? What is it about our poor persecuted demographic that makes men want to BE us? We already know that most straight men’s top fantasy is to watch and/or participate in a lesbian encounter and we find that creepy and humiliating enough. And while we’re all for freedom of speech and would be the first to support great fiction writing, this weird and deliberate deceit of gullible women (never mind the general public and the damage done to the queer cause everywhere), ends up being just another sample of male arrogance and entitlement .





Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man

13 06 2011

Tom MacMaster’s wife has confirmed in an email to the Guardian that he is the real identity behind the Gay Girl in Damascus blog

 

Also see his interview with the New York Times here





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.





The sucking sound of lips

26 05 2011

“I leap to attention an inch from her face”

“the sucking sound of lips on lips, with saliva exchanged”

“she entered the cinema and felt a line of current run through her body”

Once you’ve read Rajpal Abeynayake and A.S.H. Smyth on Blue, there really isn’t much more to say. Sri Lankan English writing is generally amateurish and there is no reason to expect anything radically different from this. There are a few interesting stories in it – Marti’s and Ameena Hussein’s stories for instance. But beyond that, the critics’ views hold hold true. We can’t be expected to like anything and everything in the name of erotica and there is a reason why sites such as Writing World and The Erotica Readers and Writers Association give you advice on writing erotica.

From a queer perspective, however, Blue is interesting – it is the first time that a number of queer short stories have appeared in a collection of Sri Lankan short stories. In a collection of about a dozen short stories, four stories bring us sex between women and one describes a sexual encounter between men (albeit one very young one). Even if you consider Blue only as “fiction” and ignore the “erotica” side of it, this is significant in the Sri Lankan context, because queer desire is represented rarely in literature.

Whatever its literary merit (or paucity of same) it also raised a discussion on the nature of erotica as a genre. I have heard various questions consequent to Blue: is erotica the same as porn? Is erotica as explicit as porn? Should erotica have a storyline? All I can say is that I need a lot more sex, a lot less purple prose, a lot more finesse and a lot less description of the setting for it to be erotica.

‘Scorching’ the publishers claim it to be. The wrong adjective I think.





Don’t talk, just kiss

16 04 2011


Hundreds attend kiss-in outside John Snow pub after venue closes its doors.
Soho pub which ejected gay couple for ‘obscene’ kissing closes in bid to thwart protest – but kiss-in continues right outside.

Follow today’s developments in our kissing in public live blog