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.

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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.





The infamous queen

4 02 2011

One thing that always irritates me is the lack of diverse sexual practices in our historical accounts. What I mean is, most of the historical texts seem to be devoid of anything other than kings with many wives and extra-marital affairs by royalty.

The only person of interest seems to be the queen Anula (47-42 BC). She doesn’t get much coverage in historical texts, the Rajavaliya refusing to even name her. The Mahawamsa is the only text that gives a detailed description of her and has this to say:

“After his death king Mahacula’s son ruled three years as king, being known by name TISSA. But Coranaga’s spouse, the infamous Anulá, had done her infamous (consort) to death, giving him poison, because she was enamoured of one of the palace-guards. And for love of this same palace-guard Anula now killed Tissa also by poison and gave the government into the hands of that other.

When the palace-guard, whose name was SIVA, and who (had been) the first of the gate-watchmen, had made Anula his queen he reigned a year and two months in the city; but Anulä, who was enamoured of the Damila Vatuka, did him to death with poison and gave the reign to Vatuka. The Damila VATUKA, who had been a city-carpenter in the capital, made Anula his queen and then reigned a year and two months in the city.

But when Anula (one day) saw a wood-carrier, who had come to the house, she fell in love with him, and when she had killed Vatuka with poison she gave the government into his hands. TISSA (Daru Bhatika Tissa) , the wood-carrier, when he had made Anula his queen, ruled one year and one month in the city. In haste he had a bathing-tank made in the Mahameghavana. But Anula, enslaved by passion for a Damila named Niliya, a brahman who was the palace-priest, and eager to be united with him, did Tissa the wood-carrier to death giving him poison and gave the government into (Niliya’s) hands. And the brahman NILIYA also made her his queen and resigned, upheld constantly by her, six months here in Anuradhapura. When the princess Anula (who desired to take her pleasure even as she listed with thirty-two of the palace-guards) had put to death Niliya also with poison, the queen ANULA herself, reigned four months.”

I can only admire a queen who lived the way she wanted and didn’t care for the conventions of the day. The descriptions of her numerous consorts of varied origin serve to distract us from the fact that even though she took the throne after a tumultuous time in the country’s history, no wars or rebellions are recorded in her time. We can only imagine what this might mean.





Porn you said?

15 01 2011

I went to my first porn book launch last night. Before I left for the event, I told two friends, who were not so fortunate as moi, how I was going to the FIRST PORN book launch. They were awe-struck of course – “in Sri Lanka?”

I should say ‘adult stories’ but porn is so much nicer a word, don’t you think? The word has such a seedy, sordid, lascivious feel to it. Wanton, depraved, libertine connotations. Red drapes and billowing lace curtains all around, I thought. Black and red silk somewhere around. Erotic images surrounding me. Darkened audience and mood lighting on the stage.

Instead I walk in on a launch that could have been of any other book in English published in Colombo. Groups of people walking sedately around greeting friends. No billowing drapes of any colour. Yellow lights glaring on audience and readers alike. Some small photos on the far wall. And Blue wrapped in newspaper.

I suppose the entire burst of creativity was taken up with the publication of adult stories. It is the first after all. One hopes the stories don’t emulate the mood of the launch.





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 Moment

20 12 2010

We pinched this idea from one of our favourites – Smith Magazine: describing a Moment that transformed our lives. The Moment might be “a split-second decision, something you witnessed, a message sent or received, a literal or mental discovery. Moments can be serious or silly, as short as a tweet, as long as 750 words, told via a single image or illustration, series of photos, or a scanned letter or post-it note…” (Smith Magazine)

Here’s ours…

1.

I think my moment was when I said yes to adopting a kitten this year. I was sold the idea after some effort, involving pathetic descriptions of how pitifully she was found, sheltering from the pouring rain under a car until M picked her up and brought her home and now she needed to be adopted, poor thing. An innocent question about what colour she was, brought a hail of abuse upon my head, featuring the words ‘appearance based discrimination’ and ‘how cruel’. So I hastily accepted the tiny creature who has turned out to be a strong minded individual (more than most, and I should know, having had many) who never moves slower than a dash, usually speeding from place to forbidden place, who is oddly more interested in investigating exactly how the loo flushes than in her next meal, is voiceless, but still communicates her wishes perfectly, never answers to any name, doesn’t mind getting wet but hates being laughed at above all things.

My cat is a frequent troublemaker, constant entertainment and perfect companion, who has definitely transformed my days. Saying yes to adopting her was one of the best moments of my life.

2.

When I left Sri Lanka for the United States I knew I would come back. Gut feeling in the face of ‘you might want to stay’, ‘it’s the kind of study environment you will like’, ‘everyone says they will come back but when you go there and experience the comforts you will think differently’.  Even, ‘when you come back you will want to go back because it is so dirty and dusty and chaotic here’. So I went to the States, and I loved it there. The parks, the cafés, the hundreds of books, the people not staring, the freedom of walking back home alone at 3 in the morning without much fear. I immersed myself in that. But I was waiting to come back because I found out what it is like to not have a patch of garden to walk on, not talk to neighbours over your wall, not have friends who will flock to you whatever time of day or night if you are in trouble and not to be able to get to a hot beach in a couple of hours.

And I still remember the moment when I realised that the sunshine was an illusion – you can walk in it but it wouldn’t warm your skin. My entire two years there was one long Moment.

3.

My life changed completely – for the worse – last week.

I switched my mobile phone brand from a Nokia to a Blackberry. Ever since owning a mobile phone, I have embraced the easy to use and functional Nokia. Last week I got carried away by the messenger service of the Blackberry (BBM) as my family lives overseas and  I wanted to communicate with them more easily and for free, so I went out and bought the 9300 Curve 3G.

Firstly, it took a whole day for Dialog to activate the Blackberry service for me, and then I learned that it would cost me an additional 1,100 rupees per month on top of my current mobile bill.

Then I made the mistake of linking my personal Gmail account to my hand held device (after all that’s what its there for, right?) I now receive emails all day (and night) – on the device and on my computer. It hasn’t stopped making burping sounds since it was activated. Worse, I can’t tell the difference between an SMS, an MMS, an email alert, a Facebook update and the phone ringing. They have all merged into one big belch!

What really took the cake was when this afternoon my mother sent me a BBM message asking me what I had for lunch!

This is the beginning of my end…