Hash And Manga On Love In Sri Lanka

[Editor’s Note: This piece is a part of the ongoing series on the Lesbian Day of Visibility for the month of April 2018. The series is an attempt to create discourse on topics that often do not appear in mainstream conversation. To visit all pieces under this theme, visit : https://gaysifamily.com/tag/lesbian/.]

Hash and Manga are a lesbian couple based in Sri Lanka. Both designers and mural artists, they are also the founders of Kings_Co that focuses on mural art, photography, videography, content creation, fashion design and branding. Most recently, they have started Sri Lanka’s first Skateboarding brand, ‘Push Skateboards’, in an attempt to promote the skateboarding culture in Sri Lanka. Pooja Nair talks to them about their journey being two artists in love, and painting the town rainbow through their work.

Q. How was your individual experience coming out?

H: I came out to my dad first. Few days later, to my mom. That’s when whole hell broke loose. I ran away to my friend’s place. The same evening, I found my mom at my friend’s door and she said “Come back home.We don’t care about who you get married to” And that was it. It was quite an experience.I’m blessed to have parents who understand and love me for who I am. And as for society, I have always been quite open about my sexuality.

M: Who comes out? Why do we have to come out? If heterosexual people don’t come out, why do we have to? So I never came out. But I took my family to pride events and through my work I conveyed the message to them & everyone else. Since I started dating my girlfriend & she was always open about her sexuality, I automatically came out to everyone else.

Q. How does Sri Lankan society view women who love women?

H: I would say that there’s a small percentage of people who supports Lesbian relationships. Our friends and family do belong to this small number of people. But the mass seems to be uneducated about any form of sexuality. And believes that LGBT relationships are uncultured. Some may believe that it’s sin or it’s abnormal. Mostly, these people don’t understand the fact that there are emotions involved in our relationship. In their minds, we are together just to have sex and not because we love each other.

M: For me, I think Lesbian relationships are more accepted than other queer relationships by the masses not because they understand the relationship.But only because they feel that it’s fun & hot.

Q. How do you negotiate who you are in open society? Do you care?

H: I DON’T care. Some people think I’m a guy. Some think I’m a girl. That doesn’t matter either. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.

M: No. It doesn’t matter. I don’t go out as a queer person. I go out Umanga the designer/artist. My sexuality doesn’t and shouldn’t define me.

Q. How long have you both been together?

H: 11 years for this November. (We did have rough patches in the beginning. Took a break once.)

M: Almost 11 years.

Q. Society’s idea of commitment remains to be ‘marriage’ . In a country where you do not have the choice to marry, how do you two choose to express your commitment to each other?

H & M: By being there for each other & loving each other the way we do, I don’t think we have to prove it to anyone. We are stronger together and people see that.

Q. Relationships are considered to be ‘fragile’ when it comes to queer people. What are your thoughts on that?

H: Well… We have been together for almost 11 years and our relationship is getting stronger each day. I think it’s a shallow to consider it to be fragile. In today’s world every relationship seems fragile. Not many people believe in love.

M: I think every relationship is fragile. It depends from person to person.

Q. What are some of your experiences with those who do not know anything about women who love women?

H: Most of them see me as a guy & think that we are a straight couple. But if they figure out that I’m a girl we get the stares, occasional chit chats. But with people who genuinely want to know about lesbian relationships, those conversations usually go like this-

The person: What? Girls can date girls? Why don’t you want to get married to a guy?

Me: Because I’m not interested in guys.

The person: Why? Women are supposed to be married to men? Don’t you wanna grow your hair, wear make up and dress like a girl.

Me: How do you dress like a girl? Which law says that girls have to dress a certain way?

The person: Awkwardly changes the topic to “Can you guys make babies?”

M: Some think that there’s always a butch and a femme girl in a lesbian relationship. And they want to know who’s top and who’s bottom. Or think it’s a phase, or it’s a choice. Mostly, they don’t even know that it’s a criminal offence to be in a same sex relationship in Sri Lanka.

Q. You have been out and part of Sri Lankan society for a while now. How have views on homosexuality changed, or have they?

H: From 10 years ago to now, it has definitely changed among the youth. But it’s again a small percentage compared to the masses. And we see a lot of Sinhala clickbait music videos being created lately using same sex couples/stories. Some of these singers speak about equality simply to be apart of the conversation and not because they genuinely support this cause.

M: The youth is more open towards homosexuality. The government and the masses of the country speak about this topic more than before. But none of them seem to have a clear understanding about homosexuality (the Minister of Health openly mentioned at a press conference that Homosexuality is a mental illness). Sexuality isn’t a subject which is openly taught in the government schools in Sri Lanka and this seems to be the problem. The Sri Lankan government has rejected decriminializing homosexuality last year but they did ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Q. Do the changes taking place on LGBT rights in India have an effect on policy in Sri Lanka?

H: I don’t think so.

M: I don’t think so. Also in India it’s civil societies speak more on this matter more than the government, and in that case, I think the Sri Lankan LGBTIQ community is less active compared to India.

Q. How do you see the future of LGBT rights in Sri Lanka?

H & M: It would take us a long time to change the perception of people towards homosexuality. In order to achieve this goal, we do have to thoroughly educate the young generation on homosexuality. And include it in the school syllabi.

That’s all for now, folks! Follow Hash and Manga on their instagram.

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Jo Krishnakumar is a trans queer researcher interested in all things sex, sexuality, gender and how different groups/people experience these wor(l)ds. Their work is informed by their constant learning/unlearning of the privileges they have due to their social location as a dominant/oppressive caste person (Nair) while also occupying space as a (mentally) disabled trans person of colour. Find them on their unfinished webspace www.waytojo.com.

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