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.





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.





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!





Pass me the plate with a red herring on it

19 10 2010

I read comments with more interest than the news itself! It happens all the time, like this morning when I read about the GMOA statement that male nurses shouldn’t enter labour rooms and that (female) patients should be able to choose. We don’t seem to have moved far from the time Elizabeth Blackwell tried to become a doctor. Many things about this news article bothered me.

If we ask for gender equality/equity  in employment, male nurses must be as acceptable as female doctors, engineers and mechanics. If one kind of trained employee (i.e. nurse) is not acceptable in a specific setting (i.e. labour room) because they are men, then shouldn’t other trained employees who are men also be asked to exit that setting? How is it ok for as many males to enter the labour room as gynaecologists but not even one male to enter the labour room as a nurse (or heaven forbid, an attendant) ?

It appears to me then, that this is what we must do. Let us allow the more privileged male to enter labour rooms but not the less privileged male. And let us not even point out the heterosexist nature of that discussion that has taken place because the next thing we know, the GMOA will want every nurse – male or female – to report on their sexual behaviour.

And above all, let us not encourage or demand professional behaviour or better systems in place to prevent abuse of patients in case we lose sight of that lovely red herring called ‘women’s dignity’.





Vasopressin shots for ALL lesbians, please!

13 08 2010

I am a little put out. I was reading up on this Casanova gene: the VASOPRESSIN RECEPTOR GENE. Yep. You don’t know what that is? These Casanova dykes are hiding it. That’s why you never heard of it. Here’s what it is: a vasopressin receptor is a cell surface receptor which binds vasopressin, which is a peptide hormone that controls the reabsorption of molecules in the tubules of the kidneys by affecting the tissue’s permeability and affects the central nervous system in such a way that it initiates and sustains activity supporting pair-bonds between sexual partners. Righti-ho.

Translated, it means the vasowhatever is a gene which makes you either stay faithful or fuck around. Men may be influenced by it and voles definitely have it (sounds absolutely perfect, that vole-male connection). Lady voles, on the other hand, have Oxytocin (fondly called OT by scientists) that make them prone to such things as staying with their first love and looking after everyone (i.e. men and babies).

But we need research to be absolutely sure that we humans have it too. So some committed scientists have patiently got hold of a number of Swiss men, unravelled their DNA, asked them and their wives/girlfriends questions like “How often do you kiss your mate?” and “Have you discussed a divorce or separation with a close friend?” and voilà! Link found between the vasowhatever and human stable long-term relationships (as in over 5 years). That’s us baby, humans.

My non-lizzy sisters. Now you know. You thought it was some woman’s short skirt and the famed 64 seduction techniques, but you don’t have to blame it on your fellow women anymore. Neither do you have to castigate yourself for his straying. Some of these poor things have the short end of the gene and it makes them absolutely need to have sex with someone nice that they see. (If you are already with one of them, don’t worry, I think an antidote is being developed).

And this is when it started smelling fishy. For my lesbean self, that is.

Lizzy sisters. Some honesty is in order here. That dyke you said can’t stay with someone for more than a year? And that really hot woman who just had to hit the dance floor to pull a girl (in a straight nightclub, for fuck’s sake!)? What about the lizzy friend you caught making eyes at your girl? Obviously there is a place I can get these vasowhatever shots in our community. Put ‘em on the table, girls! Not fair.





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.