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.

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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.





Blogging: The fine art of the confessional

11 06 2011

For most of us, the idea of sharing the intimacies
of our life with a stranger would be anathema.
Yet confessional bloggers feel compelled to reveal
everything to everyone. Why do they do it?

And what are the private costs of living a life so publicly?
Plus, three bloggers explain their passion for posting





The Real L word

20 05 2011

5 reasons why the reality TV show, the Real L word, gets on my nerves!

One – are there any women of colour in LA? Any blacks and browns? I don’t know since I have never been there but maybe someone can tell me how come not one of them were “real” L word people?

Two – what is this obsession with mothers? I mean, I know we all love our mothers, biological or not, but what’s the acute obsessiveness with them also being your best friend? I am not sure if that’s healthy! I mean, my mum is my mum and my best friend is my best friend – I don’t confuse the two!

Three – The Real L word couple planning a wedding and getting married were like “oh my god!” They woke up in the morning and got on to their identical matching macs and started planning the wedding? Every day?! Jesus. What on earth will they talk about and do once the wedding is over? There surely is more to their relationship than that! Well if there was, we sure didn’t see it. Oh and don’t forget the chandelier!

Four – does anybody have, like, a “real” job? I mean, yes, fashion and TV production are jobs but does any one work in more regular industries? Or regular hours? Or hours at all? Is anyone a teacher, a nurse, a social worker or something a little more regular than producers of LA fashion week! (“My biggest and largest production ever”, we were reminded over and over again!)  I mean the world is in recession and people are starving everywhere not to mention the hundreds of natural disasters that occur every year, and you are worried about what to wear? Jeez, just be glad you have clothes!

Five – what is the obsession with small rat-like dogs and where are the lesbian cats? Lesbians have cats, don’t they? But obviously not in LA! And who the f*** will let a dog lick the inside of your palette! Dogs don’t use toilet paper remember!

But yes I watched it all – just so I could rant on this blog. Hope the second season is better!





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!





The art of letting go

10 10 2010

I have never known the art of letting go. The art of losing, yes. But not of letting go, of people and spaces that I have greatly loved.

It is hard to know if this is the moment to let go of someone or some space, walk away from things you believe in, things you like to do, the spaces you embraced. It is difficult for me to judge if I should let go right now or if I should stay till tomorrow. How do I know if my staying in that space will make things better and if I will regret walking away? Am I not letting go because I truly see the worth of being in that space or because of my fears and needs? Or because I want to stay addicted to the love and the laughter, the adrenaline and the driving energy?

And so, it has always been hard for me to see that moment when you have to let go and walk away. If I were Lyra’s Will I might not have seen that little patch of air which is the entrance to another world. But sometimes, suddenly there is a moment when I feel detached, when I can step away from it all, see the snag in the air and slip in.





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!