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.





Becoming normal

12 06 2011

A friend living in a Scandinavian country recently told me of his difficulties in locating and meeting other gay people to hang out with. It is so normal to be gay in that country, he said, that they are difficult to find.

I found this highly amusing. What would happen, I wondered, if we actually became so normalized that we would disappear into the woodwork? Would we feel less special?

Lost in a crowd

I imagined life where you just walk into a pub with friends, queer or straight or whatever, and just have a ‘normal’ time with no complaints about people staring. Your commitment ceremony or marriage evokes the same tediousness as does your straight friends getting married now. Your queer friends have babies and you forget to visit them till the baby’s first birthday. You hold hands in public with your girlfriend and no one gives a fuck! There are few gay bars and not many gay parties (not secret anymore either), there is no need! Finding out if film stars are gay never occurs to you and coming out is a quaint thing that previous generations used to do.

Somehow, I can’t imagine my community of gay men and women enjoying that much normalization.





We’re back!

18 05 2011

We’re back! And we’re sorry we’ve been away for so long. As you must have realized, our posting has dwindled over the last few months and has now come down to zero. That’s because we’ve all been caught up in the demands of work and home and have had no time at all to write.

But rejoice, devoted readers, we are back! We’re planning to get right back into the groove and start posting regularly again. Please send comments and critiques and most of all, keep reading.





The Dish Campaign

25 02 2011

Dear Owner of the Elliptical Reflector Dish,

Congratulations. You must be feeling quite smug now!

I am writing to ask if you can tell us where to buy this Dish? It seems such a good idea!

I am not sure, of course, that we can use it regularly here in Sri Lanka. Our problem is a little different to yours. Most women who have sex with other women can’t make any noise, leave alone a gasp and a screech. Either they are living with their family, in which case, sex is really silent. Or they are boarded in someone else’s house, which is not very different from living at home at the end of the day. Which leaves a few lucky women with their own space who still have to be mindful of the neighbours. And believe me, those neighbours will dislike the screaming for an entirely different reason than you did.

So you can see now why I am asking for information about this Dish. How wonderful it would be to use Elliptical Reflector Dishes, at some pre-arranged time with all the other women who can’t sigh, gasp and scream loudly during sex. We could just flood, flood the country with the noise of women having sex with each other. Sigh.

Sincerely,

Vak





Since when did the lesbians colonise merging?

10 02 2011

I am constantly struck by how self-obsessed we are as a community, we lesbians. This time the moment came on when I was surfing online and saw the words LESBIAN MERGING.

‘We are lesbians. We have to beware of merging. You don’t want to wake up walking, sounding, dressing like your girlfriend. It is like a sickness, this dreaded merging that happens. It kills your romance and turns you into two old aunties.’ Since when did the lesbians colonise merging?

People merge all the time. Some groups of people – children, women wearing chador, people in uniform – are forced to merge. Some aspire to it – when you are a teenager you want to look just like your two best friends, same hairstyle, same skirt length, same brand of jeans. Have you seen those generic young men walking around Colombo wearing their hair like they were electrocuted?

Then you become a lesbian and discover lesbian merging. You want to get your navel pierced while you are staring at it?





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 way they look at women…

14 12 2010

I’ve always thought that nothing can cause more teeth-grinding than men being lecherous about women. Staring hard at the line of hip of a woman in a sari. Leering at women in shorts. Commenting greedily on the way the woman who passed by ‘was wagging her bottom and asking for it’. Sharing pictures via blue tooth of women with their boobs out. When I finally met the phrase ‘male gaze’ I was delighted. An actual name for these demeaning actions!

And then, imagine my relief when I started spending more and more time with women, away from those lecherous eyes and comments. Imagine my delight when I started spending more and more time with women who desire women. Now I would be far away from the ‘I sent you that photo, the one with all tits out’, ‘check it out, check it out, the piece in the short skirt’, and ‘she’s like a bicycle machan, anyone can ride’.

But no. Obviously, some women look at other women the same way most men look at women, because I still hear these comments and I still see these looks and I am still invited to gather around and look at the bodies uncovered by the bikinis and advertisements with luscious women. What a way to find out another example of the use of the masculine as the universal third person pronoun. Male didn’t actually mean male. Only. Lesbians can also do the male gaze.





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’.





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.





Shit happens to women everyday

30 09 2010

Everyday it happens.

The leering, the staring, the whistling. The jostling, the poking, the showing. The rubbing. Comments, suggestions, requests, assessments. The blaming, shaming, and naming. Four letter words and three letter words.

Some times you hear a woman talking back and writing back. Once in a while, a man agrees with the woman who talks back and writes back. And all around them the debate goes on. Like comments on the virginity test story.

Women should dress appropriately. No, we can dress any way we like. No, they should not dress revealingly, asking for trouble. And what if our elbows cause desire in a man? Don’t be silly, it is natural for men to be aroused so women should just not provoke the men. But, what if a man gets off on my finger nails? Or tries to masturbate next to me in the bus? Or in the car park turned towards me? You can just tell him off no? And what if the man starts shouting at me in all the words he knows and everyone around is looking at me accusingly or weirdly? What to do no, you have to face these things as a woman if you want your rights.

And if we are in a rage at the things that happen to all of us women at any time of the day or night? What is the appropriate response, you think? Write about it and shout about it? Keep on writing and shouting about it? Talk to the few women and men who think and act differently?

And keep laughing, I think. Loudly.