What a woman can be and cannot be

8 07 2010


For the last year I have been intently following the story of Caster Semenya. (For those of you who don’t know who she is,see earlier blog post linked above).

Well at last the South African world 800 metres champion was cleared to compete in athletics – as a woman.  The IAAF have concluded medical tests to ‘prove that Semenya is a woman and she is now being allowed to compete in the sport she loved. Thankfully as well, the medical details of the case remain confidential and the IAAF will make no further comment on the matter! Three cheers for confidentiality and dignity.

To Caster Semenya – you are an inspiration to more people than you realize. Thanks for turning on its head everyone’s ideas of what a woman can be and cannot be.

Like a virgin

30 06 2010

Did you know…that the hymen is named after Hymenaios, who was the Greek god of weddings and marriages?

And do you know what thousands of young women in Sri Lanka are anxious about?
It’s virginity.

A young woman once wrote to me saying “I am a 19 year old girl. I’m getting married in three months to a boy that my parents have found for me. I am bit nervous about the marriage and the customs. Can you tell me how I can know about virginity?”

Working with young people, I get asked a lot of strange questions but this one was tough to answer, not least because this is something I so rarely think about! I was saddened to learn that even in this day and age women are expected to ‘prove’ their virginity. This involves having intercourse on a white sheet, (or on the man’s new white sarong, worn at the wedding). The sheets are later examined by the bride’s in-laws and the bloodstains will decide her fate. If the sheets are clean, there is a problem.

The very idea freaked me out, but more than that I was intensely disturbed that in the 21st century this sort of thing still happens. So I wrote to her saying that as far as I knew virginity refers to whether a person has ever had sexual intercourse. If they have not, they are virgins. The only real way one can know if a person is a virgin is if they tell you. Of course some people associate virginity with the breaking of the hymen in a woman.

People also believe that all women are born with a hymen. (The fact is that about 0.03% of women are born without a hymen.). And as the hymen has perforation anyway, it technically doesn’t need to be broken.

But besides all this scientific information about the hymen and virginity, I told her the real problem was how the concept of virginity is often used as a means of controlling women’s sexuality. People holding power over women’s lives including parents, older relatives and community leaders, often control how a woman proves if she is a virgin and how important this is in her life as well. This is dangerous because virginity is then equated with morality and virtue. People who have never had sex before marriage are not necessarily better, cleaner or more virtuous human beings than those who have. Virginity has always been used to  judge and control women and this cannot be just or right.

This was the real message I wanted to give her but I wondered how, even if she received it, she would deal with the inevitability of her wedding night blues?

Having lesbian babies: or looking at the sky through the eye of the needle

17 06 2010

There’s a lot of baby talk going around these days. I thought it was only us here, but there was our sister from lesbian neurotica commenting on the article in Time as well. I like babies in the abstract. Like, I want people to have them only if they want children. Like, it irritates me when people smoke with kids around. Like, it pisses me off when the state messes with the education system. There is all of that. But when the baby is in the room I can only admire from two feet away.

When I was straight, my mouth would set in a mutinous line when the boyfriend talked of children. But as a lesbian I felt I should support my partner if she wanted a baby. If she loved babies at least as much as I loved dogs, it was sad not to be able to have a kid. NOT a comparison. NOT. But. I can’t think of not having dogs in my life. So imagine seeing kids all around you and not being able to have one for yourself because of stupid reasons.

Like having to pretend you are married when you go to a hospital to get information on fertility. Can’t they just imagine you are a loose woman and still give you the correct info??

Like trying to find a gay-friendly gynaecologist who won’t have a fit when a woman walks in and says ‘me want baby without man around’. Needle in haystack, what!

Like not being able to adopt because you are not married to a man. And look at all those idiot families neglecting kids and those other kids who are in orphanages.

Like not being able to be artificially inseminated if you are not married and the husband hasn’t consented. What the fuck? Maybe the hospitals can start off a side business in marriage brokering.

I can’t even begin to say what a froth all this gets me into. But hey, we have our means.



16 02 2010

I recently saw what is probably one of the finest films ever made with an intersexed person as the protagonist. XXY – an Argentinian film set in Uruguay, is the story of a young girl – Alex, 15. She is born with atypical genitalia and has both breasts as well as a penis. The story revolves around her decision not to continue with hormone therapy. She is wonderfully androgynous as she moves through the film, surrounded by a group of friends and family living in a small windswept coastal town.

The adults are petty and judgemental. The children, who are discovering themselves sexually, come across as flexible young people who come to terms with their identities in a more mature way than their adult counterparts. It’s a film worth seeing, not just for the performances by Alex and her father but for the realistic way in which the whole issue of being born intersexed is dealt with by the surrounding characters: her mother who wants to get her gender reassignment surgery, her father who thinks she is perfect just that way she is, a surgeon who comes to inspect her and a group of boys who use violence to force her to show them her penis.

In the end Alex triumphs. I left the theatre knowing she would decide to continue to develop as a boy even though she was brought up a girl and that her parents chose wisely by not attempting to surgically reconstruct her gender at birth or even at 15. In the end, that choice was left to the individual. The decision for genital “normalizing” surgery would be suspended until she was an adult and could decide for herself….

Made in Argentina
Written and directed by Lucía Puenzo.
Starring Ricardo Darín, Valeria Bertuccelli, Inés Efron and Martín Piroyansky.

XXY has received widespread critical acclaim, winning the Critics’ Week grand prize at the 2007 Cannes film festival, as well as the ACID/CCAS Support Award. It was nominated for eight awards at the 2008 Argentine Film Critics Association Awards, winning three of these awards including Best Film, and was nominated or won awards at a number of other foreign film festivals. It was chosen to close the 2008 Melbourne Queer Film Festival. It is distributed within the UK by Peccadillo Pictures and had a short run theatrical release before being released onto DVD.

The film’s title is a reference to Klinefelter’s syndrome, also known as XXY syndrome, a condition in which males have an extra X sex chromosome. However, the main character does not display Klinefelter’s syndrome.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Let’s get nekkid

2 02 2010

lesbos statue

Isn’t it fascinating, this idea of the naked? Many years ago, a girl cousin who was in East Europe was talking about getting used to a new culture. To a group of extended family members (open-mouthed shock and prurient curiosity) she described the lack of doors (oh my god!) in the shower rooms, and how she first felt self-conscious but later got used to it –‘if you wanna look, you look’ (with a toss of her pretty dancer’s head).

But is nakedness or nudity or whatever you want to call it really such a strange thing? Zip around history and what do you see but butt-naked Olympians and voluptuous goddesses. Are those two men clutching each others’ oiled bodies having sex or is it just sports? Did prohibitions on women in single combat sports have anything to do with the exposure of the female body? And as Wiccans and Naga mystics can show us, you can reach god without clothes as well as with clothes!

Who knows why it is such a problematic thing today? But it is a tantalizing topic. Which is why we asked you how you felt about naked and this is what you came up with. Of course, we started the conversation with this:

Vak: Ok. since no one else wants to comment, I am going to be honest and say that I love being naked, and it makes me feel free and silky and sensual.

Varad: vulnerable.

Vatura: Real. Who invented clothes and modesty?

And these were your comments:

Sean: mmmm… comfortable

Anon 1: Liberated, perceptive and anti-social 🙂

Anon 2: I guess it’s a broad topic. I will write my idea about it in 2 ways. In short.

1) Me being naked – I feel shy being naked. Only feel comfy with my girlfriend.

Love to stay naked in bed all day with my naked GF 😉 Feels so great.

I don’t do public naked – ex -saunas because it make me feel uncomfortable staying with other people.

2) Others being naked – Love it when my girlfriend is naked 😉

In TV, Movies (Media) – I can’t say i don’t like watching naked girls 😉

MC: naked makes me feel exposed! naked with my significant other makes me feel intimate!

PP: on these days, cold 😀

Buwa: Being naked for me is more connected to being unrestrained,  free and light hearted  in my mind.  So I can attain the feelings Vak describes if I want to, even when I am fully clothed. 🙂

REPLY by Vak:

But that is not exactly the same sort of free and unrestrained that you have WITHOUT clothes! That is a free and unrestrained WITH clothes on no!

John: Vulnerable. It’s probably ‘cos I’m fat though!

REPLY by Varad:

Naa, most people think they are fatter than they really are…besides thank god we are all different sizes!


beautiful – whatever my body may look like, even on bloated fat days, I FEEL more beautiful the instant i shed all my clothes.

So many different things we feel when we ‘shed our clothes’ as Delilah would say, and I am sure there are many more voices that were silent. Keep writing to us. We like it.

The need to pee

7 12 2009

Sometimes, when I need to pee badly and have no access to a toilet, I find myself wishing I was a man. It’s the only moment in my life that I really and truly wish I was a man and could piss while standing up. However, having said that, I must admit that whenever I see a man standing by the road with his arse half bare, pissing onto the stump of a tree or someone’s white wall or the foot of the road sign, I’m tempted to shout “Chee, chee!” (and I have often done this, to the dismay of my friends.)

But seriously, why do so many men piss on the roads as if they were in a public toilet? There are some corners of this city where the smell of human urine is so overpowering one can hardly keep from gagging. Yet, it is a perfectly accepted activity with no shame or penalty attached to it. So how can we get men to stop pissing on the road in public view as if the city was one big public lavatory?

I grant the fact that the rarity of public toilets in this country is the major factor in this problem, but is that good enough reason to expose oneself to every passerby? Surely women need to piss as often as men? But can you imagine the uproar if one of us decided to squat on the roadside and piss?

So what’s the difference? Apart from the fact that it is one of those gross things that men just like to do (along with gaping, belching, farting and scratching their balls in public), it is also because men are free to please themselves in this as in so much else, whereas women must be constantly responsible, well-behaved and submissive to every rule and tradition – social, political, personal. However idiotic, irrational, cruel or unjust, we must toe the line. The rules and regulations, such as they are, are all designed to privilege the male over female in all things great or small.

Now this is not an argument for women to win the freedom to piss in public. We wouldn’t be using that particular freedom even if we were encouraged to. But it is just one more example of the numerous ways in which South Asian Men are privileged over women, with no sense of responsibility or accountability for virtually anything they do.

Words of wisdom on sex for…(who knows!)

8 10 2009

Flipping through a book recently, I came across Ward’s words of wisdom for husbands and wives (heavens, not another good wife’s guide!!! I thought).


Have it first, then get married. But remember that as soon as you get married it’s going to change, because somewhere along the line one of you is going to realize that where once you were having a wholesome sexual relationship with somebody, all of a sudden you’re sleeping with a relative.

And immediately I was struck by a series of questions which I present to you in the order they came to mind:

The first one is, how much does starting to live with the person you are having sex with affect your sexual relationship? I mean, assuming that you now know what she looks like early in the morning before she (or if you are with a man, he) washes her face, assuming you hear her snoring in her sleep, assuming you don’t wear sexy red lingerie every night now, what other changes come along? It’s something I’ve always been curious about and discussed with friends. The most comfortable answer I’ve got is along the lines of ‘yes, the sex loses its intensity but it also brings about a lot of commitment and intimacy which is the good part of living with (or being married to) your partner’. Other answers differ, going from ‘we don’t have sex now but we love each other and sex shouldn’t be such a major part of a serious relationship’ to ‘as the relationship matures, there are other things that are more important’ to ‘oh we still have a lot of sex and use different techniques to keep ourselves interested in each other’.

So fine. But let’s say the sex is not there or disappearing as slowly as the smile of the Cheshire Cat, what is the next step?

Do you immediately call it a halt, part amicably, fall in love (and sex) again and do the cycle again?

Do you let each other veer away towards an open relationship?

Do you state that if you are not having sex, 10 years into the relationship, you are not in a romantic relationship anymore, and go back to step 1?

Do you continue as is because change is difficult and you love each other?

What say you?