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.





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.





Love the sinner hate the sin

24 11 2010

Every God fearing Christian has surely heard these words.

I don’t think there is anything that irritates me more than this line, especially when used on gay people. It’s like saying “we don’t hate you we just hate the act.” Like being gay is only about sex. (But I knew I was gay even before I ever had sex with a woman!)

Every other aspect of the relationship – the love, the sharing, the emotions

and the caring are all discounted. To me it’s like saying its ok to be Sri Lankan but don’t behave like one! So don’t eat with your fingers, and don’t drink tea with three spoons of sugar in it. It’s not a separate thing: to be and behave. How can it be? It’s just the patronizing attitude of people who haven’t experienced certain situations or emotions in their lives.

I just read the story of an Irish Catholic priest who was has been banned by the Vatican from publishing any more of his writings after he suggested that homosexuality was “simply a facet of the human condition”, and that same-sex attraction and acts have been a consistent feature of human life. The Church says it’s “not wrong to be gay but it is wrong to act gay”.

Can someone please tell me how the fuck I can separate the two?





Come out and play

4 10 2010

It’s the eve of the opening of the Commonwealth Games 2010 and I can’t help thinking that the slogan for the games is so GAY! And I mean ‘That’s so gay’ in a wonderful way. The slogan, ‘Come Out and Play’ means only one thing to me…that too many athletes are in the closet and its time to come out of there and join the play!

In fact, when the Solidarity Gaymes was held in Sri Lanka in 2008, the same slogan was used to promote the event.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=30385828330

I’m not sure which came first, the CWG slogan or the Solidarity Gaymes one, but which ever it was, the same words have totally different implications, depending on the reader.

But then I can’t even think straight.





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!





What slang words are used to describe lesbians in your country?

5 08 2010

Here are some from Asia.

From North India:

  • Chapat Baaz – meaning stuck things. For more on this read Ruth Vanita’s book Same sex love in India.
  • Ran Chandi – the word denotes an angry butch warrior like woman. Hmm, I think the Daily Mirror would like this in referring to us as man haters!
  • Bhayada – Hmm, I like this one. It literally translates as ‘androgynous’, not a man but not a woman either. The world needs more of these!
  • Babu Baai – meaning ‘man-woman’. Or sometimes just ‘babu’, meaning man but by calling a woman that, it implies she is not a woman.

From Sri Lanka:

  • Aappa – ahh! our favorite and the name of our blog!
  • Kello-Kello – meaning ‘girl-girl’. Pretty tame.
  • Thori – ‘thori’ is the feminine form of ‘thora’ which is the Sinhala word for Kingfish or seer fish. So lesbians are basically called fish. Great (must admit I do like the water!)
  • SLS – this one is a classic. It stands for ‘Sama Lingika Sevavan’, or ‘same sex services’! It can also be used to describe gay boys. I believe it is very popular in universities around here..

From Jordan:

  • Is she a taxi? – apparently taxis in Jordan are green and yellow in colour, and in conversation, when you ask “is she a taxi?” you are actually asking “Is she gay?” Green And Yellow = GAY, get it? Of course in Bangladesh calling someone a taxi is calling someone a prostitute.

I am fascinated by these words and expressions and wonder where they come from. I think of taking pride from these expressions and in re-owning these words. They take on a different meaning in a different place and time…. Of course there are more slang words for gay boys but it’s interesting to see what gay women are called.

Please feel free to add words from your countries.





Can the newspapers take a stand on the homos, please?

29 07 2010

If we had ever thought the media in Sri Lanka was showing some signs – SOME – of turning around and being supportive of lgbt rights, today’s ‘Editorial’  in the Daily Mirror puts that to rest. Seriously. By sounding like the rant of a disappointed misogynistic male who has it in for not only the lesbians but also the women’s organisations.

In case the recent blitz of pride photos in the newspaper made you think otherwise, no, this is NOT the first time that lgbt organisations worked with the media. Many years ago, a regular FAQ column was run in a Sinhala tabloid which discussed issues of sexuality. Several years ago during pre-election times, national dailies ran advertisements that asked voters to think whether the chosen candidates stood up for rights of lgbt people and people living with HIV/AIDS. That was before newspapers stopped printing such paid advertisements for fear of ‘problems from above’. So yes, we have regressed. This is how it is – you take two steps, slide three back, but you keep walking forward.

Now, the problem for me is not so much newspapers refusing to publish anything on lgbt or sexuality rights issues. The problem is that they are inconsistent. What’s with putting out publicity articles on pride celebrations, pseudo-celebrity interviews, surprise comments by state representatives, and then writing an editorial like this?

Is it too much to ask that

1. an editorial actually reads like a piece of sound content written by the most senior journalist in the newspaper?

2. the newspaper takes a fucking stand on an issue?





Beyond gay

5 07 2010

Last Thursday evening we were all invited by the Deputy British High Commissioner to a reception hosted by him as part of Colombo Pride. Now for those of you who are wondering what Pride is, it’s a huge celebration of being gay/lesbian and everything in between – an event held in the months of June and July, all over the world.  The concept is new to Sri Lanka but many people at the event last week were quite aware of what Pride was all about.

In between the rush for the fried prawns and the downing of unlimited refills of red wine, we watched a film called  Beyond Gay; The Politics of Pride. This documentary takes a good look at the role of Pride events all over the world. The narrator – Ken Coolen from Vancouver takes us on a journey from Sao Paulo in Brazil, where 3 million people join the flamboyant parade, (most of them shirtless); to Warsaw in Poland, where the shirt wearing Catholics, nationalists and skinheads vastly outnumber the handful of courageous marchers. Things are far more exciting in Moscow where Russian activists risk their lives and eventually get arrested, but do it just to mount their 10-minute demonstration.

The highlight of the film for me and for many others was the coverage given to Colombo Pride. The biggest surprise was to see someone we were all acquainted with onscreen and a long section on Pride in Sri Lanka! I was so happy to see Mount Lavinia beach and a gang of familiar brown-skinned people flying kites by the sea…

The movie is somewhat grim in parts (the Sri Lanka bit was grim, grim, grim) but also jubilant in others. I left the room holding hands with my queer brother who had tears in his eyes! Oh these drama queens! But speaking of queens, it was great to see a large turnout of men in drag, some of them so beautiful they put the women present to shame.

It’s not surprising that many people don’t know about Pride or the events in Colombo, after all Pride events here are only advertised in the mainstream media, after they take place, in order to protect the identities of the participants. Also, Pride in Sri Lanka is obviously not conducted exactly as in the West. Here it is a closed affair, mostly patronized by city-based English speaking people who can afford to attend many of the events organized. But it is still a valid celebration of what and who we are. And the courage and passion of every participant is very real. We hope that this event will one day be more inclusive and reach a wider audience around the island as well.





Citizenship, homosexuality and equal opportunities

20 06 2010

“For those of us who are heterosexual and conform to the sexual behaviour expected of us, we enjoy the perks of citizenship without much thought. But the recent events held to commemorate Pride week, and discussions held around issues that haunt the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) communities in Sri Lanka, brought up the fact that, for these communities, citizenship remains a vexed legal, socio-political subject….”

http://catseyesrilanka.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/citizenship-homosexuality-and-equal-opportunities/