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.





Christmas toys: a rethink on pink?

7 12 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/dec/03/christmas-toymakers-rethinking-pink

Rejoice, feminists everywhere. Ding dong, the wicked pink princess is dead. Well, not quite. But almost. This week the campaign group Pink Stinks launched its conclusions a year on from its “anti-pink” crusade against the Early Learning Centre (ELC). It reports – with cautious optimism – that the pink tide seems to be receding in this year’s Christmas catalogue.





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.

wink





Starting over

26 05 2010

It’s like starting over.

Like being born again.

Not like an evangelical Christian, although I have heard that many lesbians are Christians too. Seems like a paradox to me, considering all the ways in which a lesbian just is, all the ways in which you find yourself defying, denying and redefining what it is to be a woman, most of which are surely contrary to any christian teaching? I couldn’t imagine going into church and lining up good and proper, ready to join in the singing with all the other straightfaced, straightlaced, straightpeople – husbands leading, wives following, children and pets bringing up the rear. After fucking a woman you love, can you really imagine straightening yourself like that?

I couldn’t.

All that mad lust and abandonment. And that’s besides the abandonment of practically everything we’ve been taught to honor, respect and obey; all those lessons we spend practically our entire lifetimes unlearning?

But anyway. As I was saying.

Oh yeah. The starting over thing. It’s kind of like when you realize finally, or maybe like some of us, very slowly and hesitantly over a very long period of time – that that’s what it was all about. That all those years you spent trailing around the schoolyard behind that one, to-your-dazzled-eyes abso-fucking-lutely beautiful girl – just watching, (stalking probably,) actually meant something? When you actually start thinking – I like, no maybe I love.

Her.

Agh.

Better not share this information with my mother or sister. Not when I’m twelve and all they’re hoping for is that I’ll win the English prize this year too.

I remember spending every single break at school, munching on a Chinese roll and following the adored one and her noisy gang of friends, everywhere they went. I would watch their games, trail along the edge of the wall as they galloped along, absorbed in their own pursuits and never noticing me. Which was a very good thing too. They would have crucified me if they had guessed what I was doing. But I didn’t really know what I was doing myself, so how could they?

Or maybe like some of my friends who shall remain nameless for now- maybe you had all these furtive but delicious boarding school experiences that put you on the right track since you were six…?

O lucky, lucky.

Falling in love with the little girl in the next bed. Or next desk in class. Meeting behind the rosebushes at the corner of Block C. Exchanging notes. Whispering ‘I love you!’ Holding sweaty hands and feeling terrified but not really knowing why. Kissing.

It just feels so good it has to be wrong.

But as I was saying.

Like starting over. From like, zero. You have to re-learn everything. Everything. The clothes, the shoes, the hair, (Oh the hair!), the whole look. Then there’s the stuff inside your head. All the anxiety. The guilt, the rage, the fear… and maybe hardest of all – the becoming aware. Your eyes open, your body changes, your skin feels different. And all this takes years to get used to. Years of fears. And tears.

And everyone around you behaves differently. Didn’t they?

No? Well maybe you had a smooth transition! Maybe you’re from London or San Francisco or Sydney or some other superfucking cool, self-consciously liberated city like that. Mardi gras and dykes on bikes and everyone out and proud and free. Maybe you grew up with queer parents even. Maybe it was easier to be queer than straight in your neighbourhood. Maybe it was all sharp haircuts, tattoos and piercings everywhere you looked, and lots of great footwear. And everybody fucking absolutely everybody else since they were practically twelve.

O boy.

(Or maybe you’re just too smart to let on to us brown, timid, south asian girls that your experience was pretty much and awkwardly the same. White people/brown people living in white places….must be cool above all, after all. Ha.)

But we’re no hothead paisans…not me, and not my friends. We had to claw our way into the space we have made and a small fucking space it is too. And that’s what I’m writing about, I think. Our space and how we got here. In this third world, war torn, poverty stricken, uneducated, nationalistic, moralistic, feudal, homophobic, chauvinistic, self-righteous, corrupt, militarized, paradoxical, sad and crumbling beautiful city, we huddle together, hoping that no one of us has to leave for any reason, yet unable to withhold support from any one of us who’s lucky enough to go.

This is our life. We chose it, we live it. This is our country. We complain about everything. The people, the politics, the war, the foreigners, the locals, the food, the cost of living, the war, the roads, the men, the women, the neighbours, the schools, the war the war the war. But we love it. Like our horrible Siamese twin, we are attached to it and would miss it if we lost it. You could offer us any city in the world and we might even go. Some of our merry little band now live in Australia, after all. Freezing their asses off, working like slaves and missing home – but loving the law and order, the freedom and anonymity of life in a first world city.

We, on the other hand, are the stay-at-homes who would always want to rush back.

Now we have peace. And here we all still are.

Starting over. At home.





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!

Delilah

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.





Calling all Butch Lesbians

14 12 2009

At least one criterion under Checklist 1 must be fulfilled as a pre-requisite by Candidate for above post, in addition to the criteria under the Secondary Checklist.

Checklist 1

Please select a minimum of one of the following categories. It is not possible to pre-empt, circumvent or vent them in any way:

  1. You were born a lesbian
  2. You realized you were a lesbian later on in life. However, you have documentary proof that you never liked men
  3. You liked women before identifying as lesbian. However, due to unmentionable but understandable pressures, you were in the emotional state frequently described by professional lesbians as ‘denial’*

Secondary Checklist

Please check at least 8 (including 1 & 2)

  1. Wear men’s clothing or unisex forms of dress (e.g. of unisex clothes: kurta, skinnies, linen pants)
  2. Exhibit  walk with no signs of movement that can be classified as swing, sway and/or sashay
  3. Wear your hair short cut in a men’s hair salon and/or the men’s section of a unisex hair salon by a male hair stylist
  4. Walk disdainfully past the women’s clothes section and shop in the men’s section in clothing stores
  5. Store  enough stationery in wallet to enable one bulging butt
  6. Indicate revulsion when asked to wear make-up, sari, skirts**
  7. Socialize with men at the level generally accepted as ‘buddy’
  8. Demonstrate very little cooking  skills OR level of culinary skills considered near professional
  9. Prove regular attention from attractive non-butch females at social events
  10. Sport accessories in the following categories: leather or steel arm bands,  rings without flowers or heart designs, wristwatches preferably 1’ in width

PLEASE NOTE: Bonus points will be given to the candidate if she was refused entry to a popular nightclub on Duplication Road, Colombo 04 at least once (conditions apply***)

*Reports of candidate liking men during the period of denial will not be taken as evidence of being a non-butch lesbian at present

**If in doubt over a particular item of clothing, it must be submitted to unanimous approval by a minimum of 3 Butches

***Candidate must have been refused entry without any explanation and must be able to name witnesses to the event





The long-stalked

23 11 2009

The long-stalked,

stiff and strong.

So beautifully soft,

long-petalled.

Half-petals

feather-like.

So many memories.

Laughter,

holding hands,

throatful of

tears,

looking out the window,

the blue curtain,

love on the floor,

silent passions.

One for each petal,

these many memories.

Each time I see

these luscious flowers

vivid colours

of remembering.

So many memories

that no one else got

these

long-stalked flowers.





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).

Sex

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?

-Vak-





Gender test?

4 09 2009

A South African athlete Caster Semenya has been asked to take a gender test by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)….

Now what is a gender test?  Isn’t it a sex test they are trying to do? They want to know if she is a man or woman. Why don’t they just ask her and her parents (since she just turned 18) – is Semenya a girl or boy?

The same thing happened to the Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan – she –  unfairly and unjustly – was stripped of her medal in 2006. What did she do? She tried to kill herself. That’s what this kind of public scrutiny makes people do.  And we all know how easy suicide is as an option amoung young sri lankans.

If Semenya has grown up a women and she believes she is a woman then she IS a woman – this has nothing to do with her gender – which is separate from her sex. If the IAAF had any doubts as to whether she was a man or woman, they should have done their tests BEFORE she was allowed to compete insead of embarrasing her and making a big deal out of it.

Besides, this notion that sex is only dual is so archaic and not in touch with the reality of today. What about the hijras in india – are they male or female? This idea that people have to either male or female is old fashioned and redundant. Only nations and organisations who live in the last century think along these conservative lines. Today’s world is much more complicated and we need to accept this and get with the programme…

more on Semenya: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/08/is-the-south-african-runner-a-man-or-a-woman.html





What does it mean to be a man?

11 08 2009

There are some dominant characteristics that constitute being a man in south Asia. Being physically strong and attractive, being the protector, the leader, the chief decision maker, being sexually successful and being heterosexual are just some of them. These definitions are commonly referred to as Masculinities. The plural form “masculinities” conveys that there are many definitions for being a man and that these can change over time and from place to place.

These dominant forms of masculinities are instilled in men from birth onwards and perpetuated by men and women, mothers and fathers, in schools and on the streets, throughout a mans life. Once instilled, men are required to constantly prove their manliness. Men are taught from an early age that to be a successful leader you must be ready to put up a fight. Adolescent boys for example think they are proving their manliness by engaging in risky behavior, like driving too fast and too rash, or drinking and driving, or proving them selves to their friends by going through with certain dares. Ragging in universities is a good example of this in Sri Lanka. Some men consider beating their wives an expression of their manliness. Many young men are initiated into sex by their friends. Some are forced to visit sex workers whether they like it or not and rarely refuse for fear they will be considered less of a man.

These aspects of masculinity are encouraged to prevail for a man to be a “real man” and are endorsed by key institutions, such as in business, politics, the military and in sports. Such institutions are structured and designed around these masculine roles making it extremely difficult for women to play a leadership role. We see this from the few number of women in parliament in Sri Lanka for example.

However, these behaviors have a cost to society. Ragging for example has lead to countless closures of our Universities and even to the death of some students, most notably S. Varapragash in 1997. Drunk driving and the resultant injuries and deaths from road related accidents amount to millions of rupees in losses. These are costs that can be easily avoided, lives that can be saved.

What if a man were to develop and take on characteristics that are not those of the dominant man, if he were to become for instance a secretary, or a kinder garden teacher, or a nurse, would that make him less of a man? At least as women we are given the choice today to either wear pants or skirts, to work and pursue a career or to stay home and bear children or both. A young girl can be a tomboy and get away with it, but a boy who is sissy is called a “sothiya” a “ponnaya”, laughed at and taunted. A man who is not naturally aggressive or competitive is forced to pretend to be or face scorn. In fact, “feminized men” are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Studies in our neighboring countries India and Bangladesh show that feminized men are more likely to be abused as adolescents, most often by members of their own family. They are also more likely to harm themselves and commit suicide than their peers. It seems like the worst insult one man can hurl at another is the accusation that a man is like a woman.

One reason for this is that women are less valued than men in our society. We know from the rates of female infanticide across the region that this is true. The girl child is seen more as a burden and liability to the family. When compared to boys, girls are less valued hence less educated, less fed, given less opportunities, confined and treated as less than human in many instances. Our culture and the rituals associated with it celebrate the male child, while a daughter’s arrival is not half as jubilant.

Certain jobs associated with caring and rearing, are considered too demeaning for men to do, almost unclean and dirty.

But no man can possibly live up to the dominant characteristics of being a man all the time and still be human. As a society we expect too much from men. We expect them to be super human; men are looked down upon if they show emotion or if they cry, men are expected to do tough physical jobs, they must succeed at all costs, they are expected to be assertive, to know all about sex and how to perform in bed (in reality young boys get even less sex education that young girls[1])  We place too much pressure on men. And if men cant live up to the pressures we place on them, they turn to other ways to vent their frustrations like drinking, violence, abuse and the like.

As a society we need to redefine what it means to be a man. This will not only allow men to develop deep and rich connections with others, including women and children but also with other men. These connections are what make life full and rewarding, but they require vulnerability. We need to allow men to explore their softer side without being ridiculed and tormented instead of narrowing their emotional range and depth. This will be good, not just for men, but for women too. By redefining what it means to be a man, there will be less violence against women and more harmony between the sexes.


[1] In a recent review of the Millennium Development Goal indicators for young people from 9 countries in Asia, no country reported more than 50percent level of sexual knowledge among boys with some countries reporting as low as 3percent. Redefining AIDS in Asia, 2008