[TW for mature and graphic content, explicit sexual references, feminine rage, gender-based slur reclamation, and graphic prose.]
I don’t want to be a girlboss. Wh*re to capitalism’s fucking whims I want to tear down all the power structures; Tear down all the skyscrapers; Tear down every last fucking corporation, With wildfires conjured by my hands.
Like Kannagi my sister, I too rip off my breast. Here it is!!!
I want to be a sl*t Fuck everything I want! And not be told to stop! I dare to strip; I dare to dress how I fucking want!
I am not your Madonna! I am not your exotic girl! I am not your toy! I am not your property! I am not your slave! MOST OF ALL I AM NOT YOURS!
[Editor’s Note: As we move closer to a new season with the Autumn Equinox 🎃, Preston offers up their playlist to usher in some fresh air into yours! Catch a new earworm – from Malayalam samples to K-Pop, this list has something for everybody!]
ASAP by New Jeans: The quintet of New Jeans has yet to put out a bad track since their debut in 2022. ASAP, like most other tracks in their discography, has an addictive hook but also manages to abandon the usual structure of pop music and in doing so successfully creates an eerie, techno-pop infused amalgamation. Growing up queer, girl groups and their music was pretty much most of what I listened to but it wasn’t “cool” to admit it back then. Through New Jeans’ music, which is heavily influenced by Y2K fashion and music trends, it truly feels like getting a second chance to celebrate all things girly-pop unabashedly.
Un Perai ft. Pritt by Reyan: English, Tamil and (a teeny bit of) Malayalam blend seamlessly in this great track where two people who have just met are not shy to proclaim their lust for each other. The lyrics are all about how they will treat each other to the best of what life has to offer but it’s the 90s-inspired music laced with drum beats that really sells this one for me. To me, this track is an updated version of the Tamil songs that used to play on television in the late 90s and early aughts – and the execution is just right.
Number Boy by Holland: This is the first track of Holland’s that I heard and was immediately captivated by his ethereal voice and the stunning music video (which also features a cameo from Kim Jiwoon). The song talks about how the queer artist felt like he was just another number rather than a person to his ex-partner, a feeling that I’ve personally experienced in the past. Watching it being portrayed so beautifully through his music just acts as a reminder of how important self-love is and how it can get you through the downs of life.
Rainy Days by V: A pop ballad heavily influenced by jazz music, this track acts as a love letter to an ex-partner. Stylistically, it’s not surprising to see V from BTS embark on his first full-fledged solo project with the likes of Rainy Days, but I was surprised by how much I liked it. The tone of the track is not something I would seek out but it works wonderfully well with V’s deep voice. The longing expressed to be with someone who isn’t physically close is something I resonate with and it is perfectly brought out through the lyrics.
Matsuri by Fuji Kaze: A friend suggested that listening to a particular song or album when on vacation will ensure that anytime you hear it again, you will be reminded of that trip. That’s precisely why I chose Kaze’s album ‘Love All Serve All’ when I travelled to Japan this year and Matsuri is definitely the standout of the track list. Not only is it a celebration of life and love, a reminder to live in the present, but it will forever remind me of the beautiful 2 weeks I spent in that country.
Oru Madhurakinavin by K J Yesudas: There’s only one tune I’ve ever heard my father hum, ever, and it’s this song. He only hums the chorus, over and over again, until he’s too consumed by whatever he’s doing, to continue. The last time I was home, I found the song on Youtube and played it for my parents. They watched it in silence, smiling. I play it often now, whenever I’m thinking about them.
ur so pretty by Wasia Project: Colours Of You by Baby Queen was the defining soundtrack to the first season of Heartstopper, while this one is my favourite from the 2nd season. The moment I heard it, while watching Nick and Charlie embrace each other, I was hooked. The heavenly vocals combined with the simple, yet beautiful, lyrics make this the perfect love song. It feels like a warm embrace every time I listen to it and I can’t get enough.
Thumbi Vaa by S Janaki: I play this every Sunday as I lie in bed, scrolling through my phone. The song is sung by one of my all-time favourite singers, but it’s more than just that that makes this one special. I heard this song for the first time when I was 5 or 6 and it has always managed to show up somewhere in the background over the years: on television, at the barber shop, a grocery store in Bangalore, the buses of Kerala and even as I’ve gone shawarma hunting in UAE. Nowadays, I seek it out every weekend. There’s a sense of comfort and familiarity there that’s incomparable.
City of Stars by Lee Dong Wook & Lee Su-hyun: I didn’t know this was a cover the first time I heard it. I did look for the original later but I’ve always come back to this version – to me, it’s unmatched. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s an unplugged version and there’s a subtle playfulness to the way it’s sung that’s missing in the original. Nevertheless, there are few songs where love and the yearning for it are expressed this well, both musically and lyrically.
Super by Seventeen: Let’s end this list with an absolute banger. K-pop, for all its glitz and glamour, hasn’t been very open towards its support towards the LGBTQ+ community. Seventeen is one of the few bands where the members have acknowledged their queer fans and this song is all about moving forward and achieving your dreams. The music lets you know from the get-go that this is a high energy track and the lyrics, which talk about showing solidarity with those sharing your life’s journey, and it is perfectly executed by the band’s vocals. If you’re looking for something to wake you up and give you a jolt of energy, this is it.
I have (and still do) struggled with debilitating social anxiety for almost 8 years. I got a diagnosis at 19, but I remember feeling intense anxiety in public spaces even when I was 17.
My social anxiety got particularly bad during my short stint at law school, where I was subjected to immense cruelty, sexual harassment, and public humiliation repeatedly. Everything that happened to me and everything I did became a topic of conversation and, eventually, controversy on the campus. I ended up dropping out in a year because things got to a point where I couldn’t even get up to go to my classes or the mess for food, which was merely a few meters away from my room. I did not want anyone to see me. If someone saw me there would be conversation about me and that conversation never felt kind. I’ll spare you the sadder details.
Even after I left, my anxiety continued to get worse. If I ever stood still in a public place and allowed myself to look around, I started anticipating what everyone passing by was thinking. I truly believed (and still do to some extent) that everyone who saw me thought something cruel about me and that they went ahead and told it to everyone they knew. So I simply never went out. I figured that if I don’t go anywhere and nobody sees me, nobody will gossip.
Even when I did end up going anywhere I tried my best to sit as still, as quietly as humanly possible. I never tried to socialize with anyone. If I saw someone whom I knew didn’t like me, I would immediately start having a panic attack thinking about every possible horrible thing that they could say.
But last year around May, I did something I am particularly proud of – I went to a public gathering that included someone I had a bad history with and I didn’t go through a panic attack after. I socialized, I spoke to new people, I had fun, and I came back happy. A year later I have gone to multiple such gatherings and I go out of my house almost daily.
Today I want to share how I manage my social anxiety in such situations:
I asked myself “why do I need to go?”
I sat down with a diary and pen and made a list of reasons I wanted to go. It was a heritage walk organized by a friend and I really wanted to support them. The walk dealt with urban heritage in Delhi and I found it very interesting. I hoped to learn to look at cities differently and hopefully use my new perspective to understand my own hometown better. I had never really walked around Old Delhi before, except for the popular spots and this seemed like a good way to start exploring the area.
Write down why you want to go to the event. Is it because you want to meet new people? Is it because the host is a friend and you want to be there for them? Is it because you want to see what it’s like? Is it because you don’t want to look at everyone’s insta story after and think ‘what if’? Writing down your reasons to go will help you visualize what a good time you can potentially have at the event. It helps channel your anticipation positively.
I put together an outfit.
This seems silly. This probably is silly, but I put together an outfit I would be excited to wear. I washed it, ironed it, and laid it out neatly the night before. This made me excited to wake up the next morning. I wanted to put on that outfit and go out somewhere. I don’t like meeting people or talking to people but I do like clothes. So I decided that the walk could be a good excuse to put on nice clothes and prance around.
You probably don’t like clothes as much as me or at all. That’s okay. You don’t need to plan an outfit. Figure out an equivalent to it. Do you like food? Is there a nice eatery on the way to the event? Maybe you can stop by before you go. This will help get you in a good mood before you even get there. It’ll also make you get out the door. When you have social anxiety, getting out of the door is the hardest part. This step helps make that easier.
It helps fool your brain. You’re not actually going to the big scary thing with lots of people. You’re just getting ready because the outfit is so cute. Now that you’re ready you might as well go out and take a walk in your pretty dress. You’re just going to have parathas at moolchand. You’re not doing a scary thing.
Think of it as a transitional or buffer activity between home and the goal event.
Made sure I packed my bag well.
I made sure that I had everything I could possibly need once I’m there. I kept a bottle or water, first aid, a book, a power bank and everything I could. This may seem like a doomsday bomb shelter kinda activity to a lot of people but knowing that your bag has everything you need can be very reassuring. It’s like a mental crutch. An aid within reach.
Here are some other things you may want to pack: ear plugs, sunglasses, stim toys, extra face mask, wet wipes, a deodorant, a playlist that you like and that help you ground.
Dragged my friends into it.
I asked a friend to come with me to the walk. I met them a little before I reached and stayed around them most of the time. It was nice to know that I’m not alone. I could hold their hand when I felt panic brewing. There was one person I trusted who didn’t dislike me and would never gossip about me at this thing. In case I actually ended up getting a panic attack they could be there for me.
Not everyone who dislikes me is cruel.
This I believe helped the most. Over the years with help from both professionals and friends I have managed to start being a bit less paranoid. A huge reason for my anxiety about meeting people is because in the past being disliked has been a real threat. People have said some very hurtful things and the gossip has been extremely cruel.
People, at least people in safe spaces, aren’t usually cruel. Yes, they may not like you. They may or may not have reasons for that but that doesn’t mean that they’ll go out of their way to make things difficult for you publicly. Most people don’t enjoy being needlessly unkind.
I was scared about things they might say or do at the event or afterwards but they didn’t say anything to me. I maintained my distance from them and so did they. The event ended and the world didn’t end.
Set boundaries with your friends.
I set a boundary early on in most friendships with regards to my various triggers. For my social anxiety I insist that none of my friends tell me about gossip that they heard about me unless I take the initiative and ask them.
Gossip is never constructive and it’s also not about you. The people gossiping don’t really talk about you that way because they want you to improve as a person or because they even care about you in any way. People gossip because it’s fun. They’ll talk about you and then move on to someone else who seems more scandalous. Nobody really thinks about anybody long enough.
This is not a bad thing but it’s also not something that warrants your attention. Knowing that you’re being gossiped about can cause a lot of strain on your socially anxious mind. If you get to know the specifics of the gossip you’ll dwell on it and if you don’t you’ll simply think about every terrible thing people can say about you. It’s much better to just not know if someone is being mean to you behind your back. If they wanted you to know they’d say it to your face.
Post the event a friend ended up ‘jokingly’ telling me that the individual tweeted something mean on their locked account. They refused to reveal anything more on account of the privacy of the individual. This ended up triggering me badly. Even though this was months later, I started spiraling in public view. It started as a spell of anger, then devolved into tears, and soon after I lost complete control of myself and started rage crying. Worst of all, they told me all of this in a public place at least an hour away from my house so I was overwhelmed in public and felt doubly vulnerable. My brain not only started thinking about every horrible thing that an individual could have said about me but it also, simultaneously, started thinking about how every single onlooker was judging me for making a scene. I was at the brink of complete insanity and I remember after a while that I began moving and talking on autopilot. I do not remember anything I said or did during that period except for crying furiously and my teeth vibrating and hurting badly.
This could all have been avoided had I not been told about something that this person didn’t want me to see anyway. Whatever they said was said on a locked account. If they wanted me to see it they could have said that publicly. Nothing really came out of giving me this information except gross violation of boundaries that two people explicitly set for themselves.
Reeling from a panic attack in a public place.
Usually what helps me if I have a panic attack due to social anxiety is going to a quiet place. I couldn’t go anywhere alone at the moment because I was in a crowded area with no washrooms or quiet areas anywhere. A friend who was with me made me sit down on some steps at a stairway and waited until I had grounded myself. Then I washed my face, ate something sugary, and guzzled a litre of cold water – all activities that can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system and restore some calm. Afterwards, I called someone whom I consider safe and went home with them. I tried to sleep off the after effects of the panic attack but it didn’t work.
Navin Noronha started his open mic journey in 2014, and has spent years crafting his solo comedy show ‘The Good Child.’ The show is a testament to Navin’s skills as a stand up comedian and has turned him into one of the most beloved and well known queer comedic voices in the country. ‘The Good Child’ has been defined as Navin’s life story told through jokes and he has traveled the country and Australia in 2020 mesmerizing audiences everywhere. He also loves the queer energy of Kolkata and cities like Delhi which have designated spots like Depot 48.
The anecdotal nature of the show helps to raise the bar high for the laughs immensely, starting from him coming out to his conservative mom multiple times – as gay, as a stoner and as an atheist. It feeds right into his time with his boyfriend, the quirks of the gay dating scene, and all the while offering a glimpse into the everydayness of growing up in Mumbai. Another reason the comedy solo works is the emphasis on anecdotes is personal which leads to relatability and that is a sure factor that makes everything fun. The everydayness of growing up in Mumbai involves hilarious and outright bonkers experiences of using toilets and interactions between mothers, children, cousins and neighbours.
In a short interview, Navin mentioned how comedy focusing on a queerness for him is coming from a place of honesty and is all about owning up to who he always has been. Due to the personal nature of the show, it has been cathartic and therapeutic too since we come to terms with the harsh reality and even laugh at it at times. He also mentioned that he doesn’t put much emphasis on labels as people change and there is more to life than being in a box. Additionally, comedy has been a calling for him and he views it as art from a queer lens.
On asking about the making of the show, Navin mentioned that it wrote itself through a constant process of performing and practice while on the road, which can be daunting as a queer independent artist. Sometimes, you perform in a room full of people, other times, in front of three people. He compares it to cooking where you present the raw version, then work it, and then present the cooked version. And being receptive also helps a lot to shape the show. There was a lot of queer artists who Navin got inspired from including Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (which he calls a revolutionary experience for him), Josh Thomas (creator of Netflix’s Please Like Me), HBO’s Looking, and also drag artists like Bianca Del Rio and Jinkx Monsoon.
There is no stone left unturned as the element of audience inclusion and response also takes a spot for highlight. This directly shows that the show is reaching to both queer audiences who are enjoying it but also to allies for whom it’s a different spin on expression of queerness. Navin makes deft usage of the queer audience, using multiple gay culture references which often receive a roar from the audience. In addition, these references are also sprinkled with the differences between millennials and Gen-Z, which does elicit well deserved laughs. His favorite bits of the show always include interactions with queer audiences, many of whom have come out to him during and post the show. As a comic, he wants the people to know that comedy as an art form has existed since long and they are not enemies, they are just inclined to make a lot of changes.
The solo also paces really well, partially through Navin’s charm and partially through Navin’s ability to switch from serious topics to taking jibes at the church or politics to sharing an incident that would be featured in the likes of parody movies. A whole section of the show is devoted to church, convent school, scary nuns and cultural showdowns with people from other states. Surprisingly, it doesn’t hinge on the trope of stereotype and rather jumps right into unbelievably funny incidents from Navin’s life. The interaction with cousins, or dealing with a whatsapp group of families, or an epic incident involving a towel, a fat baby, and a high Navin are sure to cause a laugh riot.
And of course, being a queer stand up, there is much discussion on the dating apps including mention of Grindr, tinder, bumble, okcupid, Planet Romeo, and blued among others. It would be a disservice to not highlight how Navin ends up creating humor from the most over discussed topics of queer culture be it dating apps or preferences of sexual position. Finally, the last sections of the show focus on politics, pride being political, and the constant tussle between left wing queers and right wing queers. Walking on a thin line, the solo delivers its point without compromising being overly critical of anyone to the extent that they feel offended.
The poster of the show done by the artist Gilheri is also unique and queer in all its aspects. It captures the dramatic flair of Navin’s solo comedy show and guarantees that this is gonna be epic. In an article by Deadant on the rise of queer comedy in India, Noronha has shared in detail his journey about venturing into comedy and the landscape shift in the comedy scene in India in the last few years and what obstacles he and other comedians like him have faced. In his interview with Gaysi, Navin also addressed that comedy has been about pushing boundaries of people and humor in itself isn’t problematic but the intent can be. Further, there are different forms like family friendly, observational, and dark energy. He also said that today clips can be taken out of context, which do not represent the show completely. Having said that, comedy is not about punching down people and can be akin to a salad with different ingredients tossed together, which might not be for everyone.
‘The Good Child’ is a refreshing, well thought-out, smart, and above all, hilarious exploration of queerness through comedy. Its subversiveness is established in not being misogynistic or homophobic in its approach to generate laughs. Rather, the show is honest, charming, and outright bonkers in some sections, making it a treat for audiences everywhere, and a special treat for queer audiences due to its high nature of relatability situated in the everydayness of growing up queer, atheist and a stoner in Mumbai. The hard work of Navin Noronha clearly shines bright and as part of the audience, it makes me really excited and anticipatedly waiting for Navin’s next work.
You can check out the upcoming show on ‘Average Adult Tour’ by Navin here. Navin’s first comedy special ‘The Good Child’ can be accessed here on YouTube. You can follow Navin on Instagram, Twitter and support his work on Paypal and Instamojo here.
Apart from the plant growing out of the kitchen sink, everything in this house is proper. The tenants are in love, their dog is aged 2, and their bookshelves are dusted every other week. The wind that blows through the bedroom window brings in the smell of jasmines at night and filter coffee in the morning. As Rhea turns on the radio at 7, the sound of a honey bee buzzing spreads through the house. They drink their coffee while listening to new indie music and a spread of three Indian newspapers. When they leave the teapoy, Oliver reaches into the fridge for a jar of overnight oats and hands Rhea a yoghurt. When she gets back from walking the dog, he’ll be working on their thrifted work desk.
Everything is proper, but the body in the attic is a map. If you follow the blue lines – the ones that look like veins – you’ll reach where I’m telling this story from. I am old and wrinkled, like history, but I hold certain whispers in the folds of my clothes. This one, I had tucked between two silk sarees. Now that you’re here, let me show you around.
There’s a body that’s dead but not rotten, and it belongs to the couple. When Oliver oils Rhea’s hair in the evenings, a cigarette between her lips, it stays forgotten here – the body, with its long hair and manicured nails. On its neck is a silver chain with a rose pendant, studded with cut diamonds.
In the kitchen, Rhea pours a spoonful of ghee onto the dosa she’s about to flip. Sambar’s boiling in a steel pot on the stove and coconut chutney is already on the table. When she winds it up, Oliver will be out on a lunch break, and they’ll enjoy a good meal, followed by a glass of masala tea. Rhea puts away the dishes and Oliver washes them before heading back to work.
Usually, this is the time of the day when she reads a book, scrunched up on the bean bag next to the bookshelf, but today, she’s taking a walk.
“I feel like I need some air,” she says as she slips a bag onto her shoulder, but that’s a lie.
Oliver, with another meeting to get to, nods. “See you.”
She kisses him on the cheek and steps out. The streets are deserted at this hour, with only an occasional rickshaw or scooter passing by. The hotel down the lane is packing up leftover lunch and preparing for the evening, frying banana fritters and uzhunnu vadas in hot coconut oil. Further down is the salon where Oliver cuts his hair. Rhea hasn’t touched hers in years. It holds memories that she’s not yet ready to let go of, like the touch of her mother who used to braid it when she was still little. She now runs her fingers through it, closing her eyes to the recurring image of her mother in a field of daisies, surrounded by a thousand dragonflies. When she opens them, the sky is blue with puffy clouds chalked onto it. It is a beautiful day to have your mother by your side, so she puts her hair up in a bun.
While she walks to where she needs to get, let’s get to this body’s skeleton. Five letters, two syllables – that’s all that it has ever been; all that has been murdered. That’s all that’s been abandoned in the attic with its hands and legs untied, free to breathe. A name – something to mean something – a metaphor. But the body in the attic is not just a name. It’s an atlas of trauma, diphthongs muted where latitude meets longitude. In time zones that do not cross the couple’s, she remains dead – Esther.
Rhea pushes open the door to the café and sits down next to the window. She takes out a book from the shelf and flips through the pages, waiting impatiently for someone. The coffee she ordered arrives in a ceramic cup. The couple at the farthest end of the store shares a slice of red velvet, spooning out bite-sized portions from two corners.
It was at a café like this that they had met. Oliver had been there to cover a book launch for the literary agency and Rhea, to attend it. He snapped a picture of the girl frantically scribbling notes onto the margins of her book, and under the guise of wanting to share it with her, approached to ask for her number. Rhea, already falling for the woman in the red tank top, asks her out for coffee.
And like that, over coffee, their love builds, and in a few months, they move into an apartment. Over the years, Esther changes multiple jobs and Rhea shifts entirely to freelance. They move to a bigger apartment and then to a house. They buy, thrift, and craft it into a home. And then, Esther buries the body that she doesn’t need anymore – her name – because a name is a body with hands that touch and feet that don’t move.
When the receptionist walks in, Rhea jumps out of her seat and rushes to the counter. She hands her a package that she carries out with a swelling heart. Today is the day.
Her mother used to say that her relationship was wrong; that it wasn’t proper. But she loved him and he loved her, and they had made a life together. Today, she will propose to Oliver with a platinum lapel pin, and ask him to be her partner for life. She will say, “I know we can’t be married in this country, not yet, but I hope this is forever. You and me.”
He’ll take the pin, wrap his arms around her, and say yes because what is more proper than a love that feels right?
You wish you could crush yourself out of this void. It’s too painful sometimes, akin to watching a train – the one you need to catch – slowly depart from the station. You chase after it, stumble on a stone, fall, manage to stand up, and resume running. The train moves slowly enough for you to jump onto it, yet you find yourself relishing the rush, the restlessness, the sweat drenching your body, and you continue running alongside the train instead of exerting the effort to board it.
You feel miserable, not because you’re all over the place, but because you feel like you’ve just missed out on a lot. This void is deeply ingrained in you, often leading you to question why you are the way you are. While you appreciate the contemporary notion of self-love, you wonder if it alone is sufficient. You question it every night, as the day ends and the hustle to achieve doesn’t make sense within the four walls of your rented house where lines of all the volitional acts seem hazy.
Love, desire, and walks… You can’t recall the last time you experienced that fluttering butterfly sensation for someone, and even rarer, when someone who reciprocated it. The memory of strolling while engrossed in conversation, listening endlessly without glancing at your mobile’s notification bar, has faded. You can’t even pinpoint when you last allowed yourself to be unguarded, revealing the vulnerable side that now only the walls of your room witness. You’ve found yourself blending into the crowd, believing you don’t fit into today’s generation, where hookup culture has become the prevalent means of fulfilling one’s desires. Yet, at the end of the day, you find yourself opening that dating app, hoping to encounter someone appealing and desirable. You voice your discontent about this contemporary culture to your friends and colleagues, your tone carrying a tinge of sadness, but could it be that you too are entwined in this very culture?
You open the app and begin swiping left and right for a while. You examine photos of people who align with your expectations, a noticeable bias emerges in your eyes, favouring conventionally attractive individuals. This bias, however, renders your profile unreachable to those who desire you. A similar dynamic holds true in reverse as well. You’re well aware that your desires often fail to receive reciprocation from those whom you desire. This cyclic pattern seems inescapable, perpetuating its own momentum. In this new dating era, mutual feelings appear almost traditional; you even find it peculiar when someone puts in the effort to perform a small gesture for you. You pretend to appreciate letters and flowers, but do you genuinely value these gestures when someone offers you with utter love and care? You find yourself mocking those who display affection, dismissing their emotions as acts of desperation.
You’re tired of the small talk on dating apps, but do you have another option? An alternative to find someone to talk to or share the same energy with, because queer culture develops on the internet, right? Unlike your friends, who fall for someone after seeing them in class or at the chai tapri, you don’t feel like you have the same privilege. Your approach to love must be cautious, ensuring that those around you remain at ease with your presence. You can’t merely spot someone and feel an instant urge to engage, owing to your identity. You love carefully, and with utmost care, you desire.
But that carefulness sometimes makes you a bit ‘picky.’ You have certain expectations from love, desire, and the concept of a date, often causing you to reject everything that comes your way. However, where do these expectations originate? You can’t simply create an ideal version of something without drawing inspiration from somewhere. This is where the role of the media comes in. Here, too, you are quite selective. Instead of watching what’s trending, you opt for films and series that you consider ‘hidden gems.’ You watch films like ‘Happy Together’ (1997), ‘Your Name Engraved Herein’ (2020) and ‘Joyland’ (2022), where queer love is portrayed as more complex, extending beyond the confines of coming out, perplexity, and society. In these narratives, queerness transcends, both within and outside. Beneath the surface, a latent yearning for a felicitous culmination resides, a depiction that encapsulates the enchantment akin to butterflies, much akin to the allure of the show Heartstopper (2022- present). You find yourself obsessing over that fictional couple. You realise that you may never experience what they share and how they love. It’s a utopian world where everything manages to find its place, but you’re not part of that narrative. Nevertheless, you persistently attempt to find your own space within it. You desire someone to be your ‘Charlie,’ someone who prioritises your well-being above all else. You long for that cosy, comfortable room where you, your dog, and your partner can sleep peacefully. And as you ponder this longing, you continue to reject what surrounds you.
You are in a constant state of oscillation between these two realms – one real and one ideal. You have an understanding that your perception of love and desire is derived from a utopian existence, yet the intense longing to attain that idealised state is so potent that the realm of void feels almost innate to you. You are akin to everyone, embodying them, me, and an entire generation that is entranced by this void. Within this void, the boundaries between queerness and heteronormativity gets blurred, and the emotions associated with it feel intimately known, echoing with familiarity and shared experience.
Gaysi Family and Studio Kohl are delighted to announce their first collaboration on ‘House of Cards’, a zine written and illustrated by Lisa A. Nazareth.
‘House of Cards’ is about the importance of friendships and platonic relationships in a culture ruled by romance and sex. In this zine, we follow a group of literal Aces living in the Kingdom of Hearts as they deal with the culture of romance and sex all around them. It speaks through the lens of the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ which is so often overlooked. In the author’s own words, “House of Cards is my attempt to make the A-Spec community slightly more seen, accepted, and recognized. Growing up different from society was a terribly isolating experience for me, and through this zine I hope for both A-Spec* joy and pain to be acknowledged, as well as for us to feel seen and represented.”
Lisa A. Nazareth (Lex) is an Agender, AroAce** person (he/they). Discovering their identity was a long process in a society that places too much importance on “relationship status”. Born out of personal experiences of the author and their friends, the zine was made in close collaboration with others from the A-spec community, and aims to talk about amatonormativity and the struggle to survive in such a society.
Editor: Aarthi Parthasarathy, Mira F. Malhotra
Illustration: Lisa A. Nazareth Design Mira F. Malhotra, Priyal Surana
Inputs: Priya Dali, Sakshi Juneja
Sensitivity Reader: Tejaswi Subramanian
*FOR INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING PLEASE EMAIL US AT – GAYSIFAMILY@GMAIL.COM
Refuge for me has been a discovery; it’s not something that I had inherently, not for the reconciliation of my gender identity, never. So I came out. Coming out as a transwoman to my conservative Muslim family was a ride in a wasteland, of elation for me and misery for all of us equally, more or less is best known to the respective individuals.
The thing about pain that such misery brings is that it changes your worldview, you begin to attract more of it, and you identify with it, it asks you for a call to action. I told a joke.
However, to tell a joke I needed a stage. Act two was where I met the stage. The world’s a stage and we merely play a part, I played my part without my character (before accepting my gender identity). Now that I trace back I see things that affected my being, but not me, because I simply was not there. However sometimes you have to break the fourth wall, and say that person is not me, I am someone else, and right here. To break such fourth wall in a conservative Muslim family is to be excommunicated not out of hatred, but out of worldview. I remember trying to imagine how the down spiral of chaos visually happened within this short span of time, when I moved out of my home during a wedding. The stage was set for my reckoning my sister outed me to almost every relative. I was in a place where everyone had their own wisdom, opinions, and judgments to give.
‘Stand-up began from a desire for a stage, to walking up on it with one leg shaking and not knowing whether it was anxiety or my Muslim tingle (of a ticking sound under the stage)’. That roughly sums up the intro for the act that elicited a conversation with humor for a comedian with her audience.
‘Hi my name is Eeva I use they/them and she /her pronouns, and the events of my story are true and all bollywood, because in my family we don’t call patriarchy, patriarchy. Instead it’s duniya ke liye aadmi, aadmi ke liye aurat, and I’m not an aurat.’ I said that at an event where trans people got a platform to tell their stories, where people like me, who shared struggles, battles that I could resonate with deeply, on a stage to an audience stranger and not, because it didn’t mattered. My story, the humor and the poetry of it was and is a reminder of my queerness, but the seemingly bizarre had no place for it on such a stage as this one, there was no coming out anymore. I already had a transcript on all that I wanted to say and in the manner I wanted it to reach the audience, but the surrealism of the event’s entirety, made my storytelling into a journey of rediscovery and reaffirming my identity, a journey of finding and loving my humanity. I realized that gender becomes irrelevant when one’s humanity is challenged, and all this time it was never about whether my own family was in acceptance of it, but I rather no longer appeared as human to them because of it.
I was taught that families stick together, but do they stick together by living together or by trusting each other, no matter how far or how different or distant circumstances seem. I know that it’s not their fault to be conditioned to react in the way they often do. To react in the way that strips me of my human desires, of my expression. The audience of the event changed it completely, I was no longer at mercy of people who were tolerant of me, and I felt equal and no more a misfit, among the beautiful I finally felt gorgeous for the first time in public.
The beautiful facticity of an audience in the first place was that they accepted the tremendous beauty of our individual stories, by simply choosing to be an audience. It meant that my story mattered, simply for the fact that I could share it with people. The stage was where I actually transitioned, and knew that the struggles haven’t ended, and that life can be rebuilt from who and what stayed after the show. In the end all I could do was show how grateful I was for them, that in this refuge they made me meet myself, and so my set ended with the lines, ‘mei aap sabki shukr-guzaar hu, aaj aap sabne mujhe meri chahat aur meine khudh ko apni pehchaan se milaya hai, thank you very very much, aur aaj iss baat pe yakeen ho gya ki ant mei sab theek ho jata hai, happies endings! Aur agar theek na ho, to wo the end nhi hai, transition abhi baaki hai mere dost…’.
As I sit here, writing this article, I can’t help but reflect on the incredible journey that brought us here to this moment. Growing up, I never imagined a world where trans women like myself could occupy the spaces I now find myself in! An interview with trans women working in Corporate India? The very notion seemed unfathomable, like an unattainable dream hidden behind a thick veil of societal norms and binary expectations.
As someone who only transitioned as an adult, I have navigated life with an undeniable sense of disconnect. I felt trapped within a gender binary that didn’t align with my true self, constantly wrestling with a suppressed longing to express my gender in a way that I felt was authentic to me. Yet, the world around me seemed to whisper words of doubt and limitation, suggesting that certain spaces were reserved exclusively for those who fit neatly into predefined categories.
But today, Zainab Patel (She/Her), Anubhuti Banerjee (She/Her) and Kavya Jaiswal (She/Her) are some of several incredible trans-women breaking through those very barriers and defying the limitations that society imposes on transgender folks. Kavya Jaiswal is currently employed at Godrej Properties as a senior customer relationship manager. Anubhuti Banerjee is Senior Manager IT, executive of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and leads Digital Transformation and Strategy at Tata Steel. Zainab Patel, who is one of the petitioners in the NALSA Hearings and in the Marriage Equality hearings in the Supreme Court, works with Pernod Ricard India as the Chief of Inclusion and Diversity.
What motivated you to pursue the career you have?
For Kavya, it was word of mouth, and a conversation with Zoya, the diversity and inclusion specialist at Godrej Group of companies, that motivated her to take on the position. She already had the relevant and required experience for it. Kavya elaborated on how the inclusivity she witnessed and the respect she received during the interview process helped her decide. The safe space created by her organization had her convinced: “I can be who I want and still rock the corporate world”.
“When I was first hired at my initial organization, I encountered substantial discrimination, which made me acutely aware of being treated differently than my colleagues.” Kavya continued, “In those early days, I was grappling with numerous questions about my own identity, feeling isolated and alone in my quest for self-discovery. I have noticed a shift in how people perceive and approach me now. Individuals engage with me directly, seeking out conversations and interactions with respect.”
For Zainab, a trailblazer by all counts, the very fact that there were barely any people that she could look up to in these spaces motivated her to be the person who could potentially be someone that other queer folk would find inspiring. After working in health and human rights for almost two decades, she joined KPMG as the Diversity and Inclusion specialist. Through her work, she is opening the doors of many others to gain access to these spaces.
Anubhuti shared that, “Since my childhood, I have known deep within me that I am a woman. Being a self-made woman was something I chose as some sort of a goal, an ambition. And workplaces, and financial independence – along with social and emotional independence – were essential to be able to achieve that.”
“It is absolutely amazing, you know! When you are included somewhere, and when you speak others value you. That you are a part of the company, part of the people you know.” Kavya exclaimed.
What are the challenges you faced as a trans woman in the workplace and How have you overcome these challenges?
For Anubhuti being the first trans woman to openly transition at her place of work came with a unique set of challenges. Emboldened by the landmark NALSA judgment in 2014, she recalls joining a renowned group in India that has been around for 100+ years “I was expecting other visibly queer folks and maybe policies that are inclusive, only to find that LGBTQIA+ representation and awareness was scarce, if any.”
As a pioneer, she faced challenges that she didn’t wish others following in her footsteps would have to experience. Recognizing that her own coming out would contribute to this goal, she engaged with the chief diversity officer, discussing concepts of gender identity and expression. Although these terms were initially unfamiliar to the officer, they offered their full support and committed to minimizing any difficulties she might face. This support at that time meant a lot to Anubhuti.
Prior to the NALSA judgment, the legal and societal barriers were too high for trans-persons to overcome and be out at the workplace. Zainab, someone who was a petitioner for the NALSA judgment recalls working with NGOs and within the UN system prior to the Trans Act being passed; “at that point of time, gender transitioning, equal opportunity policy, and gender neutral washrooms were unheard of” During her transition, she encountered issues such as deadnaming, misgendering, body shaming, and pressure to conform to traditional gender norms.
Zainab experienced reverse-stereotyping/counter-stereotyping, “on literally a day-to-day basis.” She continued, “People have said it innocently, without understanding what the implication of this is – ‘Why don’t we see many such people like you, Zainab?’”
People often expect transgender persons to fit into their idea or image of what an acceptable and respectable transgender person should look like or behave. This can be a painful hurdle, for instance, if a transgender woman is expected to conform to traditional feminine appearance and mannerisms, she may face barriers to leadership positions or client-facing roles if she doesn’t fit those expectations. This type of reverse stereotyping can prevent transgender individuals from fully expressing their authentic selves, while hindering their professional growth and development. Something Kavya experienced in her first place of work.
Since Kavya did not look like their average employee (who fell into the gender binary), she ended up facing a considerable amount of discrimination. She ended up feeling really isolated and it sent her on a whirlwind of second-guessing and body image issues. Recently she saw someone going through the very same hurdle and was able to step in and support her. A new colleague at her workplace was facing difficulties in adapting to the formal corporate environment, as someone from a different professional and economic background. Initially, the person felt isolated during her joining period, but Kavya was able to offer her support and assistance, professionally and personally.
“The blanket statement of support” from the organization she worked in gave Anubhuti a significant boost in confidence, especially as someone who had previously doubted whether the world truly saw her. And if they did, did they see her as someone who offered value? The support from her place of work helped give her some much-needed determination. She organized her resources, sought legal advice, and began the process of sharing her authentic self within the workplace. Something that would have likely set a precedent for others who worked there or would work there in the future. Making their journey considerably less stressful.
The support that each of these trans women has been able to find within their places of work or outside of it has arguably been their greatest ally in overcoming the challenges they face in corporate India. Although Zainab believes that progress has been made, she acknowledges that there is still a long way to go in order to ensure that everyone feels accepted and included. Zainab mentioned the concept of “othering” queer individuals, where they are expected to leave activism at the office doorstep and conform to the status quo. This expectation undermines the potential need for advocacy and social change within the workplace and society.
Did you have access to Employee Resource Groups, support from HR or other transgender folks you could potentially discuss issues with?
“No!” laughs Zainab good-naturedly before continuing, “I mean, look at it in context to the time I am talking about – 2008 to 2014. Which is when I was socially and medically transitioning. Back then, I was working with NGOs or within the United Nations system, where there were no employee-resource groups.”
Change happened slowly for Zainab, “Only when I only joined the Bangkok regional hub in UNDP, as a policy analyst of human rights in 2015-2016 did I see representation. That’s when I met with the Global Group of LGBTQIA+ individuals, which identifies as the Pride Network within the UN. That’s when we first started talking about affirmative action.”
Zainab admits that things have come “full 360 degrees” since then. “I now lead the Employee Resource Group at Pernod Ricard India.” Even at her previous position in KPMG, she was the co-lead for the Employee Resource Group for Women, both in India and globally. “In fact when I was part of the ERG in KPMG, it changed the conversation and dynamic around gender equity for the group. I brought my experiences as a New World Feminist to the group.”
Anubhuti would have loved to begin this interview by talking about the wonders of ERGs. In 2016-17 she sought to have discussions with people from different organizations who were also driving the change for LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace. She managed to meet Parmesh Shahani (Godrej), Ritesh Rajani (IBM, now Target) and Ramkrishna Sinha (then Intel, now Pride Circle). However, at the time, she was yet to meet a trans woman in corporate India.
“Initially, I didn’t have any visible trans-women as colleagues at my workplace. Honestly, I couldn’t find any visible trans women in all of corporate India.” She felt it was important to form an LGBTQIA+ employee resource group “called WINGS and it was one of the first if not the first LGBTQIA+ employee resource groups in the Tata Group and the wider manufacturing industry of India.. although I’m hesitant to use the term ‘first’ because the terminology is not clear.”
“Knowing that other organizations were also striving for change gave me a sense of solidarity that Tata had a parallel journey. We started the employee resource group. We ensured gender-neutral restrooms were available early on, and now they have become the norm in almost all our facilities, developed inclusive policies, and conducted a significant hiring drive specifically targeting LGBTQIA+ individuals. Having transgender individuals in our organization became a litmus test for inclusivity,” Anubhuti explained.
Anubhuti and the group’s efforts were recognized by the World Economic Forum, naming them one of the global lighthouses for diversity and inclusion. They were the only Indian company and one of the top 8 worldwide to receive this recognition. “One of the happiest moments for me was seeing the positive impact of having queer and trans women in the organization, particularly on the women already working there. I observed a significant transformation among women as we embraced inclusion. They felt encouraged to be their authentic selves at work, and this positively influenced their overall experience. It wasn’t solely due to our efforts, but it played a significant role in transforming the workplace.”
Kavya shared the same joy when she spoke about her involvement in an LGBTQIA+ resource group at Godrej Groups. This involvement allows her to support other LGBTQIA+ members and participate in and help with planning monthly calls and fun engaging activities aimed at educating people and encouraging them to be better allies to the community. She believes that taking such initiatives is crucial to fostering inclusivity for individuals with diverse identities and gender orientations. She expressed gratitude for the brilliant allies and colleagues in her organization who actively engage and work towards creating a more supportive and inclusive workspace.
Kavya recounted a moving incident she experienced when speaking at an event in Nasik. A woman in the audience felt emotionally touched by Kavya’s story and was moved to tears. She opened up to Kavya about the time her gay son came out to her. The mother found solace and strength through Kavya’s narrative, as it was one that reflected joy in it. Kavya feels that sharing her story allows folks to humanize trans-folk and our experiences, thereby allowing harmful and negative stereotypes to come undone.
Why is it significant to the LGBTQIA+ community that you are a visible trans woman?
“That’s a fascinating question, and one I’ve found myself wondering about” replied Anubhuti. “The two aspects of society that have the most profound impact on the everyday lives of transgender folks are the public forum, including government and societal debates, and the legal status. However, there are also private and public institutions that operate within our society. These institutions are governed by various policies, such as HR policies in corporations or educational policies in schools. These policies often take time to change and are most often influenced by individuals within the organizations. By being visibly present in organizations, like we are, makes it possible to initiate change from within.”
She continues with the fervor of someone who has spent many a night pondering: “From an external perspective, corporate positions or issues may not receive attention unless there is a stakeholder or someone within the organization striving for or directly affected by that change. Therefore, it is crucial to have trans/queer people visible in these spaces.”
Zainab illustrated how people seek examples of growth and success to identify with. “When they see individuals like Zainab, Rayyan, Trinetra, Anubhuti, and many others being visible and achieving success in various domains, it creates an aspirational roadmap for others. It’s not necessarily about becoming role models, but the visibility itself is important. While my journey may not be the same as yours, when you see someone out there in the world, it gives you hope that if Zainab can make it, then perhaps I can do even better. It took me 23 years to reach where I am today, so it’s not an overnight process for sure. But I’m here.”
In Zainab’s context, her recent entry and acceptance into the corporate world is atypical to her much longer career. “Five years ago I came to corporate, I joined at a time when inclusion was finally being taken seriously. Today, with the attention on diversity and inclusivity, people will have even greater chances of success when they immerse themselves in it. Moreover, there are more opportunities available today.”
Zainab Patel happens to be someone Kavya looks up to. Kavya was inspired by Zainab’s story, saying it gave her hope, and drive to imagine such realities for herself. Pushing her to take the current job up despite the self-doubt, “Initially I was unsure whether I would be able to pull this off, that is being in a client-facing role as a Relationship Manager. Having faced so much discrimination and internalized so much stigma, there was self-doubt.”
For Kavya, the meaning she derives from being able to support the community is fulfilling. “Fulfillment comes when you are fulfilled with yourself”, and being a support to other transgender folks and someone of value in her organization is something that has helped her find a lifelong yearning for purpose. “Today I am the only Relationship Manager who is a trans woman here. It occurred to me, if I didn’t do it others may not have thought it possible. Zainab really made it possible for me. Today I know where I stand and am able to talk to any client, any senior manager with confidence.”
Anubhuti also added, “Workplaces can undergo transformation simply by having trans individuals present. As you rightly pointed out, the mere presence of trans people challenges the preconceived notions we have grown up with. It helps break down myths and normalizes the idea that being transgender is perfectly normal and acceptable. By working together as colleagues on a daily basis, we can dispel these misconceptions and pave the way for positive change from within.”
Zainab left me with this parting thought, one I relate to: “I am 43 years old now, and when I started my journey, my only reference point were [trans people who were pushed out on the streets. However, today I no longer need to look at them as my sole reference point because there are even more visible examples of lived transgender experiences.” Zainab is one such example for this writer.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job/ stability/ working in corporate India? How has your experience as a trans woman in the workplace contributed to your sense of joy and fulfillment?
“Let me clarify unequivocally, that the monthly financial remuneration deposited in my bank account on a designated day ensures stability and allows me to pursue my activism and social work unhindered.” stated Zainab honestly, “I refuse to hide behind the pretext of claiming that I love my job simply because I love it. Yes, I do appreciate certain aspects of my job, but I also value the monetary compensation it provides. My job secures my physical well-being, which is its greatest advantage.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the ability to live a life that was once unimaginable for me.” Anubhuti observed introspectively, “As someone who knew their true gender identity but was not seen as a woman by others, I aspired to be a self-made woman. Today, looking at myself, the work I do, and the way I present myself fills me with immense PRIDE. It makes the 10-year-old version of me proud as well, considering the limited visibility and opportunities we had back then, which unfortunately still hold true today. However, it is heartening to see people advocating for change in our society and organizations.
“I have been able to support my family” Kavya explained how her job and position has allowed her to support her family for whom she feels responsible. In addition to financial stability, it allows Kavya the opportunity to support the community through her work in diversity and inclusion – something that she finds deeply fulfilling and rewarding. Her position also contributes to her idea of herself and her identity.
Kavya explained that as someone who has faced discrimination and lives with the stigma that society holds around the transgender experience, people often see you for your gender identity using it to stereotype your personality. Kavya does not believe one’s gender identity constitutes their entire personality. “I just wanted a company to see me and say, I don’t care if you are trans man, woman, non-binary, whatever. We just care about your skills and what you can bring to the table for our organization” At work, she is seen and acknowledged for her work and the value she adds to the business. This contributes in positive ways to her own idea of self. “We are not just our gender identities, sure that is a major part of us, but besides that we have so much more to offer society.”
Zainab echoed the same, “No matter how low I may feel in my personal life, entering a workplace that embraces me for who I am, brings me immense joy. From the drivers, receptionists, hospitality and cleaning staff, to the kitchen staff and senior management, everyone recognizes and acknowledges my presence.”
For Anubhuti, “Being part of a company with a history of pioneering efforts is gratifying. Through my talks and engagements in various corporate settings, I witness the positive transformation happening in many workplaces. Knowing that I have played a role in this movement brings me great joy and a sense of fulfillment.”
Anubhuti’s experience allowed her to explore leadership opportunities and venture into new territories, “Even in my current role, I work with cutting-edge and niche technologies, shaping positions and strategies. This role was entrusted to me because I demonstrated a willingness to take risks, embrace change, and understand the evolving cultural landscape.” Anubhuti believes that transgender individuals possess a unique perspective on societal shifts due to the challenges we face in a world not built for us.
Zainab spoke about an ex-colleague who reached out on Linkedin to say, “I always looked up to you because you chose to dress in a way that was different. You brought color into the office, wearing sarees, while others wore business suits or muted colors. Even your attitude was vibrant. In my mind, whenever I saw you walk, you personified Durga. You exuded empathy, strength, independence, and articulate expression. You never hesitated to voice your own opinions or stand up for others.”
Durga is often considered symbolic of feminine strength and power. “Reflecting on this encounter, I realized it was a profound comparison. In the past, during a war between Pakistan and India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee referred to Indira Gandhi as Durga, a symbolic representation of her strength. Now, someone else was calling me Durga, and it deeply impacted me. Whenever I feel down, I revisit that message because sometimes, just being oneself silently empowers people who may not even be consciously aware of it.”
Regarding personal fulfillment, Anubhuti said, “The greatest happiness that I have found is simply being true to myself. Over the years, I have experienced moments of gender euphoria, both from creating the conditions for it and from unexpected encounters. I consider myself fortunate to have had opportunities to contribute and pursue my desires. While challenges still exist, such as finding housing as a trans woman … every small victory, like being called “ma’am” or finding love and friendship, adds to the happiness and fulfillment I feel. I hope to continue experiencing such revelatory moments and embracing the responsibility that we have to set an example for others. By sharing the spectrum of our realities, we humanize ourselves and strive for a more inclusive world.”
What advice would you give to other trans women who are looking for fulfillment in their careers?
“I am not going to lie, but it’s going to be difficult, especially if you are someone from outside the corporate culture and moving into the corporate culture. You may have to adapt aspects of your personality or feel pressured to do so.” advises Kavya. She feels it’s best to try to leave our baggage from our earlier experience and give it a fair chance. But for this you need to first accept and give yourself a chance, and believe that you can do it. She believes that through perseverance, hard work and some luck you can achieve stability and independence through your work, which is rewarding in and of itself.
“You might need to remind yourself, I’m doing this for me. I don’t want to live the stereotypes or be a statistic, that I’m going to be myself and rock this corporate culture.” Kavya also recommends doing research and looking up the organizations that you are considering working with or those that are offering you a job. Check their organizational policies, do they have a gender equality policy or an Employee resource group? What is their health coverage policy, do they cover gender-affirming procedures? “For example in Godrej Group they reimburse you for medical expenses incurred during certain gender-affirming procedures.”
Anubhuti too emphasizes on the importance of doing research into where one may plan on working. For instance, some organizations hire transgender/ minority representative people to fulfill diversity quotas into roles with limited career prospects. Anubhuti continued, “As trans individuals, we have the power to choose inclusive organizations and careers that genuinely fulfill us. Don’t settle for inclusion for the sake of it. Take ownership of your career and decide who you want to be.”
Zainab stated, “I believe that it is important to go beyond our current limitations and conditioning. Sometimes, due to our life experiences, we may have developed a sense of defeat. As trans individuals, we need to dare to be ambitious. No one will hand us a clear roadmap. The challenges we face may take different forms, and we need to have foresight, resilience, and a willingness to embrace change. These are things that are rarely emphasized for women in general, and especially for transgender individuals. We are often told to be grateful for the opportunities created for us, to wear our PRIDE on our sleeves, and simply go to work.”
Anubhuti observed that trans women often face economic exclusion, which can lead us to believe that we are indebted to educational or professional institutions for allowing us to be part of their organizations. “This belief is entirely false and misguided. We belong there because we deserve it. We are just as capable as anyone else, regardless of outdated notions of merit and educational qualifications. Embrace your own worth and stand up for what you deserve. Remember, it’s not a favor that anyone is doing for us.”
Despite the lack of a defined and clear path, Zainab advises that,“We should continue striving for our aspirations. We should never let anyone define our worth or limit our potential. Let’s challenge the norms, break barriers, and create our own success stories. It won’t be easy, but the journey toward fulfillment and accomplishment is worth it. Remember, as trans women, we are capable, resilient, and deserving of the highest achievements.”
Anubhuti, in conclusion, also reminds us to not take it all a whole lot seriously, “If you have a creative vision after working in the corporate world, go for it. Don’t let obstacles, insecurities, or fears of inclusion hinder your true self because we only have one life. Keep moving forward and choose yourself. Believe that you are ready for the responsibilities ahead or that you can grow into them. Whether it’s a career switch or becoming a parent, if you feel prepared and eager, don’t allow societal norms or legal institutions to hold you back. Every day brings new opportunities for us to be valued and equal parts of society. We deserve to experience not only the challenges but also the JOYs that may come with living in this world.”
Her eyes searched for something in my face. And when she couldn’t find what she was looking for, she lowered her gaze, releasing a sigh she had been holding in.
A cold rush grips our memories, almost choking the life out of them. She stares away at the horizon. Time pauses, as I look at her cheek, the wind gently blowing a few strands of her hair. A calmness descends on her.
What a tragedy, she blurts out, breaking the silence which was neither heavy nor avoidable. Her attempt at bringing in humour during serious moments remained the same. It used to make me smile.
Well, I am glad that I got to know somebody like you. I see a disappointment pass through her eyes. It’s true. I repeated.
I would understand even if it’s not. Finally, a smile appeared on her face, but disappeared just as fast.
Those moments were the hardest to process. When you know it’s awful, but every bad thing surprisingly reminds you of the good, what it used to be. Like hunger for a precise taste, but you can’t figure it out since it has grown unfamiliar.
She takes the cab. I take the train. To different ways, different lives. And thus, we begin letting go.
As the door closes, I am moving again. The train leaves the platform and as its engine noise surfaces, I see the light slowly withdraw from its source. I think about the morning sun rays as they fall on my window, and I try catching them with my bare hands. Silly of me to think I could ever fit them into the cusp of my palms. They were fleeting, like every moment that encompassed us, vanishing into thin air.
But how often do we come to realise that each of those moments has been specifically personal to our own language, to our understanding? Bounded by worldly expectations, a need for a soulful connection, preserving it for the future; how do we decide the terms on which life moves forward? There is a distinct sound of the universe that makes your heart recoil, where you retreat from a possibility of chaos. To think of how, from that very universe which was formed out of a chaos, I found someone like her. I would run too much, breathe faster than usual, make myself wander more than often. Something had been chasing me. I didn’t know what it was then. Now when I think of it, maybe it was time.
I have tucked away so many folds of memories that each one decides to unfold itself in a manner that is not strange, but surprising. A denim jacket lies in my cupboard, untouched, which I wore when we met for the first time. To this day, I still find myself getting lost in her remembrance. I would be lying if I said it makes me travel back in time. Instead, I want to run, all the way up into those alleys where light does not reach. To hide with her in corners where these fatal worldly rules will not bind us. Where we are not meant to part because we aren’t powerful enough to control the wheels of our fate.
My wants were so, so small. How often did I come across the idea, and also, how people hinted at dropping that attitude, to stick to a standard, because I deserve the best. I gave in to it, but a small voice in my heart had put forth a question, that unless you try and learn, how will you know? Since then, there have only been questions regarding the idea of love. To seek for something that is right. I want to know what was right—being happy that I chose someone who liked me back, or letting go because I can only settle for something that can preserve my sanity. I let myself flow along with the current, taking what it gives me. Not asking for more. Even if I did, what difference would it make?
When the train follows into the dark tunnel, I think of you and surprisingly, you are here. That instance feels surreal. You are right here. And there is nothing else. Perhaps that is how it is. You and I, and a dark tunnel into the abyss. Maybe I should stop. Stop seeking for care that comes on the run.
My eyes wander across your face. There is a mole on your right cheek, another one on your neck. The distance between them is unbearable. I remember when we sat on your terrace under the sky, smoking cigarettes, and I had gently whispered, you look like a dream. And in that same instance, we noticed two stars in the sky. The distance between them is the same as the moles on your cheek and neck. Even if I could not touch the stars, I had touched your face. Traced the space in between them.
Perhaps during intervals when we fought, we both chose to stick to ourselves. We laughed even after being mad at each other. Perhaps, it wasn’t about choosing, but more about being. That we could just be without any hesitance. All I will ever carry with me are these, and some moments of our belonging to each other. When I whispered truthfully in your ears, I love you. When you believed my words and held me tightly against yourself. When there was a hope of not hiding anymore.
If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t write. And if it weren’t for you, I would have never understood this feeling without writing about it. So when we finally reached the crossroad, we didn’t exactly let go. It was rather a promise, to keep our existence immortal, even if we were away, far away from each other. To exist with you, your head on my shoulder, your sighs, your breath on my neck, was the mass and matter enough to build another universe itself. Everything emerges from a chaotic core, and this isn’t the first time a galaxy had collided into another to change its form.
You left a spot. It passes through everything, but never lets anyone settle. And nobody can see it. You are an experience of a forever that haunts; a ghost in my life.
I remember spending most of my late teens/early 20s feeling rather flummoxed and more than a little annoyed at this all-consuming obsession with sex that everyone around me seemed to revel in, quite loudly, if I may add. Not a lot unlike young Isaac (Tobie Donovan), a high schooler from the very queer, very loved up Heartstopper gang that has been all over everyone’s social media feeds since the second season released on August 3rd, instantly becoming a global fan favourite, just like the first time around. The kids love it, and they’re shouting it from the rooftops of the interwebs, not unlike Nick at the beach last season.
And why wouldn’t they? How many fictional portrayals of queerness have we seen where we get to witness queer joy effortlessly co-existing with the quintessential queer struggle that is usually the sole focus of most LGBTQ+ stories? Watching a bunch of teenagers simply go about their everyday lives, owning their queerness (with obvious hurdles, of course; it’s not all rainbows and sunshine) and most importantly, laughing with and holding each other through their journeys with unbridled empathy—oof, that is quite the treat for sore, jaded hearts, as one of the older gay characters in the show points out in a poignant, wistful scene.
However, just like real world queer culture, the manifestation of queerness in the show is largely rooted in their romantic and sexual lives, with Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor) as the infuriatingly sweet boyfriends, Tao (William Gao) and Ellie (Yasmin Finney) exploring their newfound friends-to-lovers spark and Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) being their lovely chaotic lesbian selves. All the while, a mildly bemused Isaac casts them equal parts endeared and exasperated glances as he makes his steady way through an entire library rack worth of books, most of them delightfully queer titles. He even suggests a bookstore meetcute when Tao is hunting for perfect date ideas, mirroring my own dream date aspirations after years of being on a steady diet of romcoms and cheesy fanfiction. There’s a scene where Isaac wants to know how Charlie realised that he liked Nick like that, which brought up many a conversation I’ve had with my friends about this seemingly obvious, universally known difference between platonic and romantic attraction that continues to evade me still. But when it is finally Isaac’s time to step into the shiny pink spotlight of teenage romance and animated fireworks à la Heartstopper’s other leads, Isaac has no idea what he’s supposed to feel and why his heart just doesn’t seem to be in it. While hiding in a hotel corridor after escaping an overwhelmingly couple-yTMparty (been there), Isaac shares a short kiss with his fellow bookworm and potential crush (or so he hopes), James (Bradley Riches), who definitely likes him like that. But Isaac ends up walking away, even more confused and anxious about his feelings (or lack thereof). All I wanted to do was walk right into the screen to give our boy a tight hug and say, I know, babe. It really, really sucks when everyone around you is caught up in their own private bubbles of coupledom due to which friendship ends up taking a backseat, even with the best of intentions. Somehow, Isaac’s closest friends never really seem to ask him about what’s going on with his life, engrossed as they are in their own romances.
Later, Isaac and James aptly meet in the gorgeous bookstore where James works and Isaac confesses that his beloved books never quite taught him what it actually feels like to be “in love”, so perhaps, there’s something wrong with him. James promptly reassures him that that is most certainly not the case and he probably just hasn’t met “the right person” yet. Another conversation that felt like an extract from the lives of everyone I know who is on the asexual-aromantic spectrum (aspec), and the number of times that people have told us the exact same things, often even going as far as to kindly suggest that there might indeed be something wrong with us. A closer look at this scene reveals Heartstopper creator Alice Oseman’s aroace novel Loveless placed just behind the boys in a subtle ode to Oseman’s own ace-queerness.
So when the very next scene sets the premise for Isaac’s queer awakening through an art installation by an aroace creator who introduces this reality to him, my own little aspec heart flooded with relief and mourning all at once. While I was immensely thankful that at least this fictitious 15 year-old would not have to spend his foreseeable future struggling with a largely invisibilized identity crisis, I also felt a piercing grief for the many, many aspec teenagers who do not have access to this vocabulary and struggle to find words for their reality in a world that revolves around sex and romance as the very foundations of human communion. In the final episode, Isaac finds a copy of Ace by Angela Chen in the library, hugs it to his chest with a soft smile and is surrounded by the show’s signature graphic leaves, this time soaring to celebrate his own budding journey of self-exploration and acceptance, a love story of its own.
I’ve spent the better part of the last two days scrolling through reviews of this season, and surprise, surprise, while they all applaud the show’s brilliant queer representation, very few of them mention Isaac and his quiet liberation. Even on the show, Isaac’s story is more or less sidelined, and his own friends simply assume that he’s into James. As Isaac himself says in an outburst that never gets addressed later, his lovestruck queer besties do not find his life interesting unless there is some “romantic drama” going on. Quoting Oseman, “If you don’t have [sex and romance], you feel like you haven’t achieved something that’s really important.” The alienation of aroace folks within the queer community, a reality that has saddened and enraged my aspec friends and me to no end, is thus reflected in this show, as well as a hundred other queer stories that don’t even acknowledge our existence, let alone celebrate it. According to GLAAD’s 2021-22 Where We Are On TV report, out of 637 queer characters, only 2 identified as asexual. Art imitates reality, clearly.
I do have hope, though. Twitter is overflowing with flocks of my overjoyed aspec brethren talking about how they finally feel seen and how Isaac’s journey gives them the courage to embrace theirs. I truly hope that the next season builds on the wonders of platonic love and found family that the show already portrays, and extends that beautiful support to our boy Isaac, to make him feel part of the main gang’s queer euphoria even if he doesn’t adhere to their ideas of romance and sexual attraction. I hope they write a story for Isaac that goes beyond merely his love for books and tells us more about what it’s like to be a queer teenager who doesn’t want to live the same life that his found family does, but has a lot of love of his own to share nonetheless.
I’m 26 now, and I wish I had an ace character to make me feel less alone when I was growing up and didn’t quite know why I felt differently, or never really wanted these “crucial” teenage experiences that most people around me seemed to crave and enjoy. Someone I found in my books, who’d say, hey, you’re okay, there’s a lot of us out here, and all our experiences are valid and wonderful! Representation may not be the end all of queer liberation, but when done honestly, it can be all sorts of life-altering. Isaac is going to be remembered and cherished by many aspec folks, young and old alike, on our own queer journeys that can otherwise be incredibly lonely and confusing when even our own community hasn’t fully taken us in.
Of course, there’s no singular way of being asexual and/or aromantic, and we have an entire constellation of unique stories to share with the world. Stories of joy, grief, friendship, freedom and so much love, because contrary to popular belief, love and intimacy exist infinitely beyond the boundaries of romance and sex. And I hope you’re all ready to witness our lives and loves in their full glory, purple-green hearts blazing.
Where does it end? It’s not that I don’t have an answer to this, but I wonder what kind of answer they are seeking. As a trans-woman from a Muslim family, I have been asked this question often by my parents, relatives and even a few friends. As with any coming out story, the reaction of my family members in a manner of haste was denial; part of the reason was my lack of articulation, and part of it was because the word transgender itself became a novel concept when I explained what it actually meant.
Novelty often incites fear more curiosity, and fear leads to control and abuse. Inherently, most of us aren’t really evil but scared. I was scared and still am that my loved ones are never going to accept me for ‘who I am’, and they were scared to lose me just as much. I believe I have begun to understand what they mean when they say that they are indeed afraid to lose me. There’s grace in their statement, although grace doesn’t mean that subjugation or conformity is acceptable in the matter of one’s identity. What it does reflect is that they are vulnerable just as much as I am.
For me my identity as a woman and coming to terms with it has been in itself a toll on my mental and physical health, but it brought a whole new meaning to live for and as. Coming out certainly is bravery, but on the other hand societal acceptance becomes a luxury dependent on a variety of factors. To simply put it, the acceptance of novelty without collective support strips away the very power to say, ‘Yes you’re my child.’
Rebellion is an act of appreciation, but it can also cause disdain and embarrassment. After all, we live in a transphobic world. My family and relatives have confused my rebellious spirit with indoctrination, manipulation, and even being brain-washed. Perhaps the grace present in their response is them trying to cover up for the lost sense of meaning or their understanding of the very reality we all share.
In the beginning my act of rebellion (moving out from my parent’s home) garnered all the obvious reactions. I was outed to my relatives; perhaps my honest heart and my charlatan mind trying to keep up with a man’s persona was the reason why they were not abusive in their own ways. While it doesn’t mean they were not toxic – they indeed were and are – but the fact of the matter is that they wished otherwise. They said: “if we were not Muslims we could’ve supported you.”
It became clear that I must offer a valid Islamic perspective; perhaps then acceptance could take place. I told them that yes people like me have existed even in Islamic culture in the name of ‘Mukhannathun’, which roughly translates to men who are effeminate and take the many roles assigned to women. Scholars have argued that the term was actually a reference to intersex people, but its interpretation changed for me when I found another word, ‘Murtajalun’, which roughly translates to women with masculine aspects and traits. It proved to me that gender-queerness differed from the binary sexes just as much as from being intersex, and hence 2 separate words. I was right in assuming that Mukhannatun were assigned male at birth; this alone should’ve been enough but it wasn’t. During a phone call with my mamu, I remember him saying that he agrees, ‘but, WHAT NOW?’ I had no answer to this then, and I don’t have any answer to it now, maybe all I wanted was for them to truly just see me.
Looking back I believe they indeed saw me, and that they agreed with the genuineness of my experience. Let me be clear though, it’s not whether they did the bare minimum or not. The fact is that circumstances decide the bare minimum. Days passed by and now we don’t debate anymore. Deep down we have realized that it was never about their capacity to accept, but what was at stake. Not everyone has the capacity to accept, but acceptance can come from anyplace. What I mean by that is that acceptance is not the luxury of the elites and rich, but rather the luxury of people whose life and its meaning isn’t affected by such. So whose fault is this patriarchy, the sex binary, and religion? The truth is that I couldn’t blame it on my parents, when all they knew (and continue to know) was that such is life for reasons not obvious but best known to them.
Does it mean that they are right in their own regards? My belief is that life is lived, and not given, while they believe the opposite. The answer is rather simple, no one is right, but no one is at fault either. It’s a labyrinth, isn’t it ?
A few weeks ago, I caught up with Saumyaa Vohra to talk about her debut book, One Night Only, which was released in May this year. I was more than excited to finally be able to discuss a book that I related to on so many levels with the author themself! The piece I have written as a result is neither an interview nor a review. Instead, I will leave you with 4 reasons that will help you decide if this is a book you want to pick up.
Read One Night Only for the…
… Bisexual protagonist!
One Night Only centers the story of Rubani, a bisexual woman and her friends, who have a certain degree of privilege and hail from an urban social setting, similar to the author’s. “I didn’t want to write this story set in a sort of heartland of India setting, because I don’t know that and it’s not my story to tell,” Saumyaa, who is Bengaluru-bred and Delhi-based, explained. “I firmly believe in people’s agency to tell their own stories. It bothers me when cis-men will call me to write articles about bisexual women.” This gaze often relegates bisexual people’s stories to inspiration porn about coming out and embracing their “true selves”. Obviously, there’s a lot more to our stories than just the labels.
Despite this privilege and freedom, there is still a lot that is buttoned-up in this section of society, and that is exactly what Saumyaa hopes to unpack through her book. “That’s part of what holds us back in a lot of ways, in the same way that I didn’t believe that I could have written this book earlier. We don’t expect there to be judgment-free spaces that can hold our muddled thoughts or our questions about the constructs of relationships. I wanted to write this book as a sort of safe space for readers.”
In our conversation, she also pointed out how bi-erasure often means that bi people end up coming to terms with their bisexuality later in their lives (as opposed to during adolescence, the traditionally-assigned period for self-discovery). “Most bi people do not pay attention to that feeling of ‘different-ness’ from the norm for a long time, because you’re also the same. Besides, queerness is deeply linked to suffering in all our heads. So, as a straight-passing bisexual person, I would often feel like I had not suffered the way others had been persecuted. So we tell ourselves that we are not queer enough, because we don’t have to deal with the rigours of navigating society as a queer person, the way, say a trans-person would. I put that into Rubani’s story as well, and it was meant to be cathartic to readers contemplating their own sexuality in a similar way.”
… Friendships that form the chosen family!
“In my own life, my friends have played an important role. This is quite intentionally reflected in One Night Only where although the characters’ families are described, they are never really part of the book,” Saumyaa pointed out while speaking with me. Her queer ethos about finding chosen family through friendships is something that people will likely resonate with in the community.
While pitching the book, Saumyaa was insistent that ONO be published by a mainstream publishing house, as she wanted them to invest in telling stories beyond the normative. “I am tired of books with queer characters being relegated to indie publishing houses. I wanted my book to be out there across bookstores. Some publishing houses told me that [Rubani] doesn’t have a happy ending because she doesn’t end up with a man! Some felt that their readers would not resonate with a bisexual protagonist.”
Saumyaa’s story about finding a suitable publishing house does have a happy ending though – she ended up finding 3 publishing houses after 7 long months, before she settled on Pan Macmillan.
The controversial ending in question? “The ending doesn’t wonder if Rubani will find a man or learn to love again,” Saumyaa clarified. “I don’t know if she will and I am not invested in that! But through the course of taking a vacation with her best friends, she comes back having questioned certain ideas that she had of herself, and having deepened the connections that really mattered to her – that with her friends! The big romantic gesture in the book is that 3 friends put aside their lives and took off 9 days to take a vacation to Goa with [her]. Who does that for you in this day and age?”
The dynamic in the women’s friendship is delightfully layered, without merely depicting feminist camaraderie as extremes of yas-girl!-ism or frenemy-ships. It also explores jealousy as an emotion that rears its head even outside of romantic relationships, which is rarely acknowledged! “The idea was to portray female friendships in a more real way than pop culture currently does. I have felt jealous of my friends at times or compared myself with them, and felt a little pinch when I haven’t been able to rise to the same level of a friend’s success. It’s the most normal thing in the world for friendships to be layered with insecurity, jealousy, comparison, to feel threatened by their other friendships, to feel a certain claim over someone you’ve known longer… possessiveness is not purely romantic! It’s an organic part of friendship and it makes them stronger for that – to feel all these emotions, because you’re emotionally invested and love each other.”
In her book as in her life, Saumyaa challenges this hierarchy by developing a dynamic between the characters that keeps you hooked. “Very often friendships are treated as a ‘side-thing’, an accessory to your life. It’s supposed to be understood that if you have to do something with your husband or partner, that will take precedence over friendships. People disappear into their marriages or return to their friendships once they’ve broken up. My own long-term partnership has never diminished the close friendships that I have, and I wanted to represent that in the book. My friendships are a source of strength that nothing else can parallel, including romantic partnership. The happy ending of this book is that they all come back closer.”
… Self-exploration beyond coming out!
How do bisexual people, especially women, explore their sexuality in a society that slut-shames them and stereotypes them? During our conversation, Saumyaa and I traded stories about how people like cab-drivers and policemen had tried to shame us for being in public spaces at night or in the company of men by calling us “prostitutes”. Both our responses in these situations was to defend sex work as a profession worthy of dignity and respect and therefore not something to distance ourselves from, leaving these men befuddled.
In the book too there is a conversation between friends about how hookups are associated with “that type of a girl”. Saumyaa explains: “That conversation was not about the women distancing themselves from the concept of being sluts. It was them feeling peeved with the idea of being shamed for being [sex-positive]. There is this construct that there are 2 types of girls – girls who don’t do ‘that’ and the girls who do. We should all be [glad to have the privilege] to be ‘one of those girls’.” After all, the rights that several waves of the feminist movement have fought hard for are not mere trophies to be displayed, but fruits of generational labour to be relished.
Saumyaa elaborates on this: “Rubani comes from a privileged household where her parents are accepting of her sexuality. They did not raise her with threats of abuse or violence if she chose to explore it. Even then she has this idea about ‘that type of girl’ and it’s her own construct of acceptability, and her friends challenge that! Her friends have different identities, there is somebody who has been single all her life and who is now in a monogamous relationship, somebody who married young and is in a consensual non-monogamous relationship (happy endings don’t have to be monogamous! Why isn’t popular literature reflecting that?), somebody who is seen as ‘chronically single’ – I wanted to normalize being friends with people whose relationship style is different from your own! Our friend group does not have to be homogenous. Through her friendships, Rubani learns to embrace sex-positivity for herself.” It’s worth noting that bisexual people are often labeled as hypersexual, promiscuous, or as unable to commit ‘to a side’, which may drive some of us into hiding or shunning our own sexuality.
… Genre-busting vacation read that it is!
“My issue with the traditional chick-lit genre is that there are a lot of tropes. The heroine is usually this bubbly, lovable character, and then there is this man who is always rich and handsome. And she starts off by saying something like not him, anybody but him[, but they end up together]. It’s 2023, this is not our story and this is not our happy ending. The people who are looking for these kinds of happy endings have enough and more of that! It’s the easiest genre to find. But where is that book about those good moments [in a relationship] that doesn’t result in forever. Why is ‘forever’ so important and stuffed down the throats of women, in particular? For a lot of women, marriage is a major milestone, but I don’t know any men who have been raised with that goal in mind.”
Read the book for the sensual descriptions that are affectionate and even erotic (not necessarily sexual!) without pandering to the male gaze. Affection, to me, is innately queer in most, if not all, of us. And it does not have to always turn into lust, regardless of the sexualities of the people involved. Even if it does, the people don’t always have to act on it, unless it is consensual. This theme of erotic affection emerged time and again in the dynamic of the characters that Saumyaa has created.
When asked about it, Saumyaa said: “This was intentional because the reader is often told things like a character is ‘beautiful’ or ‘stunning’ by the narrator. This bothers me because whose standards are we judging by? I wanted to give the reader some imagery to work with based on how I had imagined the characters as well, without passing judgment on it. There was also a very specific reason for the women describing each other. When women look at themselves, they are usually self-critical, because we are taught to do that to keep our bodies in check. Self-confidence in women is rarely well-received in society. But the way the women who love them would describe them would be very different… it would be with fondness. I wanted to write the characters through the gaze of their best friends who love them.”
The intercom is answered quickly. He hugs his coat around himself and waits for the buzzer to go. An old woman waddles up behind him, prompting him to hold the door open for her. She passes him wordlessly.
In the lift, he makes use of the mirror to check his appearance, inviting the woman’s judgmental glances. When he walks out of the lift a few floors before her, he makes sure to offer a respectful bow in her direction, as if out of guilt. She simply looks away as the doors slide shut.
Must be special, this building, Han muses. All the residents are hard to please.
“You can eat, right?” he lifts a bag up between them, then walks past his host without waiting for an answer. He’s too hungry and too tired to be polite.
“I mean,” Kim snorts, following a few surprised seconds. “Do I have a choice?”
“No,” Han calls out. He serves each of them a piece of fried chicken, setting down a large bottle of coke to share. Work has been shit. The weather has been shit. And as if that weren’t enough, his mother’s nagging for a daughter-in-law has taken on a new intensity in recent weeks. All thanks to his “successful” cousins.
Before either of them takes a seat, he turns to Kim with pleading eyes. “Tell me you have beer.”
Kim’s face is sympathetic for a moment before changing into something wilier. “Tell me you’ll stay the night,” he demands with the confidence of someone who knows he’ll get his way no matter what. The last time Han had tried to go against that edict he’d suffered cold shoulders and blue balls for three whole months.
“Do I have a choice?” he counters, projecting a boldness he does not possess.
Kim tilts his head in a what do you think way, before heading to his fridge.
Past this point, there are only two outcomes to the night: Kim getting blind drunk and forcing Han to stay up watching him overnight, or Kim bawling his eyes out and forcing Han to stay up watching him overnight.
As much as he wishes it were the case, there is no conclusion where they sit down for a nice meal and an intellectual conversation. Candlelit dinners of steak and wine are a faraway dream. They always eat in silence, then drink in silence.
A k-pop show of some kind plays on TV, idols crooning, fangirls chanting. Neither of them pays it any mind, it’s just background noise. Kim scrolls through updates on his insta, Han tries not to think of the presentation he needs to lead tomorrow morning.
The large greasy box of chicken is gradually emptied. The beer bottles start to accumulate to one side of the kitchen island. Once or twice, the sonic boom of a flight is heard from the direction of Gimpo. Once or twice, an ambulance snakes through the streets twenty storeys below. A newsreader temporarily occupies the screen for an update on the election.
“Oh, right. I heard they might start the air-raid drills again,” one of them mutters.
“Hmm, really?” the other answers. “I didn’t even realise they’d stopped. I should find a shelter close to my work.”
With that, their short exchange comes to a quick uneventful end. Han whistles while doing the dishes. Kim wipes the table clean. A bowl of fruits is produced, another pack of beers is offered. They take turns brushing their teeth and showering, walking out to the balcony for a smoke or just to stare at traffic. One wonders aloud if it’ll snow soon, the other answers with a noncommittal hum. The night continues to roll forward, unimpeded by either man.
Han has no one else to blame when he wilfully steps in shit.
“Is this what being married feels like?”
Kim is suddenly on guard. “What?” he frowns.
“I keep thinking. If all my friends are doing it there must be something really special about all that. But if it’s just… this,” he gestures around them. “Then I don’t get it. What’s the appeal?”
“Some people actually like just this,” Kim replies. His tone is oddly sharp, almost annoyed. On occasion he jokingly calls Han silly names but anger is a rare emotion between them. Sure, they argue—over what to eat or where to park or who’s going to win the National Song Competition. They argue over meaningless things, inconsequential things. Kim has never shown Han any form of ill temper. Perhaps because, as Han guesses, to direct any real emotion at a person one must care about them. And what does Kim reserve for him except a passing thought or two?
“Well. I’m not one of them,” he stretches and slides lower on the sofa, turning his attention to the TV. In the corner of his vision Kim is watching him. Studying him. The stare is a pair of obsidian fires branding a trail along Han’s limbs. Sometimes, when this apartment falls completely silent; when there’s no trace of sound except the occasional buzz of the fridge condenser, Kim’s wordless gaze rings aloud. It takes all of Han’s self-restraint to not meet its path.
The sight of a girl group eager to hear voting results is suddenly obscured by Kim’s waist. He stands, just a few inches away, a tower built from quiet demands.
A sip of beer. An indifferent shrug. “Nothing.”
“So why’re you blocking the view?”
Kim moves closer in response. He smells like he always does—of room freshener and sesame oil. The first time Han had woken up with his nose buried in the other’s hair, he’d been surprised at how ordinary the man smelled. Considering the amount of time Kim spends grooming himself one would expect him to hold a more elegant fragrance.
The contrast isn’t off-putting, not in the least. If anything, Han had pressed himself closer, hoping some of the odour would rub off on him. It didn’t, it never does. But he continues to hope.
“Ah, what…?” he demands.
With perfectly calculated movements, Kim proceeds to straddle him. It’s not a sexual advance. It seems more like… a detective leaning in for a closer look at an important clue. As if Han is a strange mystery that must be solved.
I wish, he thinks to himself. There’s nothing remotely riveting going on inside him at the moment. There are no wild thoughts or abrupt fantasies. He just wants to cuddle and fall asleep. Really, there’s no other reason why he visits so often. If they fuck, they fuck. But what he looks forward to most is the peace of having Kim lie next to him, watchful and silent.
A hand slowly winds its way up his side, sliding over his arm, turning corners at his shoulder and neck and jaw. When Kim is at his temple, a thumb traces slow arcs on Han’s eyebrow. “So what do you like?” he finally asks, followed by another sip from his bottle.
Han cups his hands under the other’s elbows. This temperature, he wants to say. This proximity. This calm. This certainty of not wanting to go anywhere else, of wanting to stay as long as I’m welcome. He wants to speak his mind, wants to say how much he likes when Kim’s attention is for no one else, or when Kim’s hands rest on no one but him. Instead, he closes his eyes and leans his head back in submission.
“Doesn’t matter,” he murmurs, then chuckles. “I’ll just end up doing what you want, anyway.”
“Is that right?” Kim challenges, setting his beer aside. Long fingers cradle Han’s face. Bow lips descend and leave a kiss against his teeth, a recently developed habit. “You won’t regret saying that will you?”
“That’s up to you, isn’t it?”
“Hmm,” Kim nods slowly, combing through Han’s hair. “So…”
“If I say, marry me. Could you do it?”
A rush climbs the length of Han’s front, starting at his stomach and covering several miles to reach his face. He blinks in worry, trying to find any trace of mischief in the other’s expression. When he’s really drunk, Kim can be cruel. He can say things that hurt his closest friends. He can sever any tie with a few swipes of his sharp tongue. Han tends to avoid being in the crossfire when the other is in that kind of mood. But tonight there’s nowhere to hide.
“Stop joking around,” he frowns.
“So you do care about that stuff,” Kim concludes, shifting positions to dump his weight a few cushions away.
“No, that’s…” Han struggles. “That’s not the point. What you’re talking about is impossible. Look at where we live.”
“So if we lived somewhere else,” the other counters. “Are you saying you’d do it then?”
A huff of breath answers the challenge. “Listen. It’s late. Can we please—”
“If I say we can’t sleep in the same bed anymore. Not until you marry me. Would you do it then?”
“Man,” Han groans tiredly. “Why are you being like this today?”
Kim shrugs. “I just want to know what you think.” He crosses his legs and arms. This is definitely not the evening of intellectual conversation Han had envisaged them having. This is Kim pushing buttons he shouldn’t push. This is Kim playing games he shouldn’t play. This is Kim assessing just how far he can take something until the other person reaches a breaking point and decides to walk away from him. He’s not doing this to entertain himself, no. He’s subjecting Han to a difficult test.
On his part, Han has never been smart enough to ace anything in his life. This won’t be an exception. “OK,” he admits, attempting to back away from the shit he has knowingly stepped in. “I’m sorry I said anything. I’ll keep my mouth shut from now on. Alright?”
“You.” Kim’s face takes on a surprisingly hurt expression. “If you think that’s what I want, I won’t see you again,” he warns.
“OK, OK,” Han raises his hands between them. “I’m sorry.”
There’s a fragile pause in the air before Kim sticks his arms out between them. Han finally allows himself to relax, moving into the offered embrace. As he settles his hips between a ring of the other’s legs it dawns on him: he doesn’t need to marry Kim. They don’t need to be living different lives in a different country. What they have is already enough. And he knows he’ll feel the same way tomorrow, when he wakes up smothered in Kim’s smell, when he asks if they can shower together, when he orders them a large serving of hangover soup. He knows he’ll be satisfied with just this for years, maybe even decades.
(But if Kim asks again, he might just say yes.)
“Are you going to keep drinking?” he asks between kisses to the side of Kim’s face.
“I don’t know. Are we fucking?”
Han lifts himself up a little, raising his eyebrows in question. “Mr. Kim. Are you telling me what you want to do?”
Kim makes a fed-up face. “I don’t know why I like your dumb ass so much.”
“I’m cool, aren’t I?” Han prompts, playfully nipping at the other. “Tell me I’m the coolest.”
“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope” – Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
I sometimes find myself pondering if intimacy has gone out of the window. To let one be, the way they want to be. How vulnerable can we be with friends, lovers, family or the world in general? I constantly wonder how one can become intimate with oneself to be the same with others. The self-love that we talk about. Is it a continuous will or a pressure or some blocks? Many questions are still unanswered, but I will keep looking for them. It has been 25 years since I have been getting young and am still discovering what my senses say and my sensuality addresses.
I have realized that I have severe daddy issues. I like people who are unavailable, toxic, abusive and cis-men or men who are more dramatic than the stereotypical queers. To break this pattern, that is what it is!
How many of us know about our senses? The intuitions, the instincts and expressions? According to the Oxford Dictionary, sense (noun) means a sensory organ in the body that includes the faculties of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. And, sensuality (noun) means – the seeking or enjoyment of physical pleasure, especially sexual pleasure. These are words of subjection. What about being sensual emotionally or mentally? I have been deconstructing the meaning for myself to feel and seek what I feel. Also, like all incidents, this one made me question things even more.
Just before the winter ended in Guwahati before February, I went out with a person. Chats with them were intoxicating. It was as if my nerves were crying out to marry them. I could not express it though, as we all get a little comfortable about seeking comfort. I was there too. The morning meeting went on till midnight and later. We texted regularly, their texts also pulled me towards them more. Soon after the first few meetings, another event altered my thinking. It was April, before my birthday and after theirs. We went to a bar and that night seemed magically sensual itself. As if something was conspiring against us. We were seated on the roof top when the speed of the wind rose suddenly. My teal shirt hung loosely on me and started dancing with the wind. I was trying to calm it down because now it was not only the strong wind, but my emotions were running high too. I told them that it was gonna rain. The bar was out of time and we planned on sticking together for a little longer. They got their car out and we went for a drive. It felt like December in April all of sudden. The rain and the temperature fell so bad that the glass of the car got steamed and nothing could be seen. We decided to stop. The road was lit with white lights, while the rain crossed the beam of artificial rays and the tall trees covered some area of the road. The road looked relatively empty, of course, since it was 3 AM. The car started freezing up on the inside and suddenly the song Gravity by Sara Barellis came on. That track is super close to my heart since the time I regularly began watching ‘The Vampire Diaries’, where Stefan kisses Elena for the first time.
The person saw me rubbing my hands and calming myself because the AC chilled the car and we could not roll down the windows because of the incessant rain. They suddenly turned the heater on. The fog in the glass started fading, the temperature inside became warmer and the song reached its chorus when I asked if they would like to kiss me. That kiss triggered certain senses which made me want it more. We stopped until they kissed again. My head was pressed on the left glass near the driving seat while their lips were pressed on mine. They were on top of me, the rain, the song and those finger prints of mine in the glass of the car. Sounds filmy and yes, I realized I like it that way. We did not go much further, as now the rain was starting to slow down and we headed home. They dropped me off. However, the after-care was missing. Like the care, to talk about it – no such thing happened.
Ever since then, it has been replaying in my head. Those touches, those wet lips caressing my lips that reflected in the soul. My lips wanted more, I needed more. The kiss ignited all the cells in my blood. As I realized, I thrive on skin-to-skin touch. By my friends or my mother or my pets, but I don’t know how to break the blocks while communicating to lovers. I could never ask what I needed, like those touches and not penetration but kisses and cuddles. I thrive on that.
My mind restlessly needed attention since that cupid encounter. Each night as I scrolled through my phone lying in my bed, wearing my usual satin nightwear, I would tease myself and caress my neck. I realized that I was having flashes of that entire episode. My head was tilted back as I started changing the color of the lights in my room. All those images started flooding my head, one after the other. Insinuating my thoughts, driving me crazy. My satin pants slip on my thigh always as if it cannot hold the skin longer. My shirt started clutching my curves and my chest as the fold revealed some skin. Keeping it bare, exposed to the sensuous vibe I was releasing. I held a hand against my heart feeling the beats fastening. My breath became heavier and my own breath started turning me on! Damn! I pulled the bedsheet with both my hands as If I wanted to cry in untold pleasure.
The heat of the body could be felt in the room. I turned my face to the right as I bit my own skin to feel the urge surpassing my limits. I drive myself crazy with my feelings. I craved that kiss where I felt wanted. Where I felt needed. It took me months to convince the person to start being intimate with each other. Their kiss still feels different.
I realized how my past experiences shaped me to become so under-confident but this lifts me. For years, people have been shamed for being sensual with their senses. That ‘umm’ while having a meal could be sensual too for some. It is just perspective. But years after years, there were blocks that stopped us from accessing intimacy, be it our own self doubts on inflicted ones. We do hesitate to tell things openly and want the other person to understand. At times one has to take a step forward or back, depending on other factors! But sensuality is a boon that one cannot be ashamed of. They told me once, “Prasant, you are very convincing.” I am, I have become that recently. I wanted to make them feel wanted too, so I explained time and again why I need it in a certain way to feel in a certain way. I realize pleasure, intimacy, senses and sensuality are all interlinked with 1000 other emotions. Where do we run from those nymphs which are inside us? Wanting attention, wanting care and above all – love.
When you left me alone during break time to eat, I kept staring at the wall as if it could finally answer my questions. I felt it comforting to know that there’s a parallel universe around me glossing. To know that love and friendship are often the coat of silver on a rusted wrecking ball. To know that I don’t belong.
Every time when you all giggled in the corner, telling stories, my 11-year-old version thought one day I could also be one of them and talk to my friends in that manner. It felt as if there was a hollow trench in my heart waiting to be seen and felt. Those who talked to me gently felt sympathetic mercy.
When you told me how my ponies looked so nerdy, I thought it was me. It was a part of my personality then scraped from the surface. You made it clear that to belong you must be good-looking, with pretty eyes and a lovely smile.
Sun rays wrapped around my head signifying the crown I wear. I always thought my touch was a single, a burn. It was the dusty ash flying around the center of the universe. You made me believe that was true. I left pieces of me on the glass tray that you served because I was afraid I wasn’t enough.
When you left me in the crowd I felt lonely. There were a zillion faces passing by each second. Every known glory contains a pathetic story. I saw sonder in the eyes of gloomy faces. There were so many people but I was all alone. It felt like the worst way you could let me down.
When you included me in your group at the fair and left me in the crowd, I imagined myself as an ant in between zillion others, moving at their pace of life. Every known glory contains a pathetic story. I saw glimpses of sonder in every eye of the jostling crowd. There were so many people but I was all alone. It felt like the worst way you could let me down. Say I am a part of somewhere that I don’t belong. In front of all those I don’t know and I will never know.
Once someone asked me my favorite school year and I wondered if it was the one when I was least social or the one where no one made fun of me. Was it the one I really didn’t cry about or the one I wasn’t struggling with money? I realized that having every year as a better one was a privilege I didn’t see. They say time heals wounds but the older the unattended wound, the more it’s likely to get infected. I couldn’t answer the question. Every year I survived a room full of experiences I never lived.
When you told me I didn’t deserve it, I thought the same. I was put on the pedestal you made me climb. The center of attention and the eyes glanced at me. It quickly scanned my dress, my moves, and the way I expressed it. Their poison tongues spit criticism like verses of righteousness. Sometimes it does more harm than good to have your flaws pointed out.
The way you looked at my success made me think for once that I didn’t deserve it. But the second time you looked at me made me want to do it again. To relive the moment, to do it again, to show them that I can do it.
The parallel universe I didn’t belong to eventually kept running away from me. At a point, I accepted I can never be a part of the groups. It was fairly because I didn’t want to miss out on the part of me no one saw. I wanted to protect my inner child from the poison. I knew I couldn’t control their naivety being a threat to my identity.
Epiphany hits me like an elephant walking on an empty road. The elephant’s tusks are ivory, the devil makes things shine. I have adorned myself with the best of me, my dreams, my passion, my belief. I have shielded every part of me from those who hate me. At the end of the day, it’s always the cliche, when will I have a happy ending? The race is long and there are far too many barriers they say, but when the sun sets and I see my eyes in the mirror I can say that it’s who I believe is true and no lies in disguise. Am I the sin that they, the devil, tell me? They talk about blasphemy when they are the ones trading tusks of ivory.
Pride Month is a time of celebration, activism, and community-building for the queer community. Content curators, artists, and entrepreneurs within the LGBTQ+ space invest countless hours throughout the year in organizing events, fostering representation, and creating safe spaces. While Pride Month brings excitement and visibility, it also demands a significant amount of physical and emotional labour. As the month-long festivities come to a close, it becomes crucial for queer individuals and businesses to take time for themselves, to rest, recharge, and reflect. In this article, I delve into the concept of “queer rest” by listening to the experiences and insights of three individuals who have played essential roles in curating events and promoting queer art and business.
Juggling Queer Events Throughout the Year
For Inder Vhatwar, an entrepreneur and LGBTQI event organizer, Pride Month is just a part of their year-round commitment to organizing queer events. From hosting multiple parties every week to collaborating with various venues, the demands can be overwhelming. “What happens during Pride month is that we get calls from other brands that might not be involved in LGBTQ events otherwise, and so there is a larger number of events during that one month, but we are busy throughout the year,” he says.
Over the course of 12 years in this space, he has seen the number of events increase multifold. “Now, every 2nd venue wants an LGBTQ+ party. They will connect with us, or their clients who might be LGBTQ+. The problem is that when we organize, there is a pattern. Having done this many times, there is an order to things, but when they don’t reach out to organizers, it is not done as well. Sometimes, the staff might not be sensitized as well, which can lead to issues,” he shares.
This has disrupted any chance for rest for Inder. “The different event curators divide our weekends and venues so we are coordinated. This ensures that the events are not all happening simultaneously and ensures that the events see enough crowds,” he explains. This also means they must constantly be planning and thinking about what to do next.
Inder, along with their partner, rarely finds time to take a proper holiday due to their contrasting work schedules. “I work weekends, and he has weekends off. I work late nights, which takes a toll on my health, but I have to keep going,” he shares.
The absence of designated queer spaces on weekends drives them to continuously create and curate events, even when they yearn for a break. “There are not many pubs or clubs specifically for us. So we have to keep making those spaces- we have to create that space on weekends. When nothing is happening, we get so many calls, asking what they can do. So, it’s our duty to keep options open,” he explains.
Queer rest, for Inder, if he were able to make space and time for it, entails a simple desire – to be fully present in the company of loved ones, without the weight of constant responsibilities. “I want to go out somewhere, where I am not looking at my phone, with my partner, and close friends, and just catch up and connect with them,” he adds.
Fostering a Restful and Supportive Collective
As an artist and part of a queer artist collective called Stale Rumours, Koshy Brahmatmaj understands the importance of community support in practicing queer rest. “In a more theoretical or philosophical sense, queer rest is all about community and I see that between my friends and me. We communicate when we are tired or can’t do things, and because we are a collective, there is somebody to help, to have your back, and that allows that opportunity to take some time to rest and recover,” she explains.
She also adds that in a more practical sense, queer rest might look a little different. For her, queer rest involves a period of disengagement from socialising and social media. “After all the socializing that goes into being involved in participating in events, I run out of social battery. So, for a week, I need to recuperate. I will not talk to anyone, check social media, or even respond to messages,” she shares. Dealing with chronic illness, rest is a big part of her life, and it is something she ensures she makes time for. “I turn to K-dramas and SRK music videos. I am not an active person. If I had to choose between staying in bed or dancing, I will choose the former but there is strangely something about Chaiyya Chaiyya that makes me want to get up and dance, and it helps me relax,” she shares. Hula-hooping and embroidery, which also happen to be her source of bread and butter, help her relax, she adds.
However, the pressure of capitalizing on Pride Month for financial gain sometimes pushes them into overworking. “We run a small business, so there is financial pressure, and the pop-ups are where we make money. We have one month when people remember queers exist, and to get an opportunity another time during the year will be hard. I find myself overworking and I have to have a conversation with myself and remind myself that while I am tired, I need the money,” she shares.
How does she keep herself going? “I like monsoons. I dream of visiting Kanheri Caves. I plan for it. I tend to go by myself and have a day of revisiting my childhood and experiencing monsoon,” she says. However, she adds that she makes it a point to not get to the point of burnout. “I do have to force myself to stop sometimes. You need the energy to rest as well. If you are burnt out, you are recovering and not resting, and I want to be resting and not be in a space where I am constantly recovering from something,” she says.
They emphasize the importance of creating more equitable opportunities for queer artists throughout the year, which would alleviate the pressure during Pride Month. “Giving queer artists the same opportunities across the year, I think, would make June less pressuring,” she shares. Additionally, people who organize events should have better skills. “A lot of things tend to happen last minute, because of which the environment tends to be less accommodating. I was set up pop-ups in venues with no proper ventilation, which takes a huge toll on you,” she adds.
Prioritizing Self-Care for their Queer-Owned Business
Utkarsh and Syed, the co-founders of Cosmic Jalebi, a queer-owned business, experience the intensity of Pride Month both emotionally and operationally. The influx of opportunities and demands forces them to prioritize themselves and their well-being, even if it means saying no to certain events. “This year, it took us a lot of time to recover. All the opportunities were bombarded at once, and we had to say no to a few because it was not physically possible to do so. But, we still travelled and participated in events back-to-back. As a result, we even fell sick,” explains Utkarsh.
“It is important to take time, rest, and listen to our bodies. We have made it a point to listen to our bodies and nourish ourselves. As a small business, we don’t have a team working behind the scenes, or the structure in place to take on the operational and logistical aspects of handling multiple events in multiple cities. We have had to give up on sleep and worked overtime to get stocks ready this year,” says Syed.
So they decided to take a break of a few weeks this year, even if it meant not taking up some events and orders. The rest period has involved unplugging and taking a break from everything that causes stress, even social media. “We watched a lot of Netflix, read, played video games, cooked, and also made some time to discuss the big picture and future plans for the business, which we don’t really get to do when we are involved in the day-to-day,” they share.
While the acceptance of their audience enables them to be open about their rest periods, they acknowledge that marketplace platforms do not always allow for flexibility. “If we don’t dispatch orders within a certain number of days, we get penalized. So even during our break, we had to work for a couple of hours to ensure that Amazon orders were being shipped,” they share.
They call for a better distribution of events and opportunities throughout the year, reducing the pressure of an intense, condensed period. “The majority of small businesses like us, sell online, and we are not set up for such volatile offline events. We get called for events that happen in a span of 2-3 days, or even the same day. We have spoken to many biz owners, and they all share the sentiment of feeling bombarded in such a small period of time,” they share.
Doing things in a rushed manner makes it difficult to take full advantage of the opportunities. “These events should be more spaced out across the year. Besides multiple small events across the year would allow for better exposure, for both venues and artists,” they add.
The journey of queer rest is not just an individual endeavor but a collective responsibility. As Pride Month approaches, it is essential to acknowledge the efforts and sacrifices made by queer content curators, artists, and entrepreneurs throughout the year. By fostering a supportive community, recognizing the need for self-care, and advocating for better opportunities, we can build a more sustainable and inclusive future for queer individuals and businesses alike. As we continue to celebrate and uplift queer voices, let us also commit to nurturing their resilience through the power of rest.
Rejuvenate, Heal & Recharge
Ankur Bhatnagar, who curates queer events in Bengaluru, sees queer rest as a way to create space for themselves and others in the queer community to “rejuvenate, heal, and recharge after facing discrimination and challenges.” For Ankur, queer rest is all about fostering an environment where everyone feels safe, supported, and free to be their authentic selves.
After Pride Month, relaxation involves taking time to unwind, reflecting on the events, and prioritizing self-care. “Making space for relaxation means disconnecting from work-related stress, engaging in activities that bring joy, and spending quality time with loved ones, including our pet dogs,” he shares.
However, it is always easier said than done. One of the biggest roadblocks they face in this effort is societal expectations, discrimination, and the pressure to constantly be visible or prove their worth. A few ways to get past these hurdles, he says, is prioritizing self-compassion, setting boundaries with those who exploit the queer community for profit, and fostering genuine partnerships with brands and companies that truly support the community’s well-being and advancement.
Feeling Safe & At Peace
Queer performer and dancer Musiq say that queer rest means being able to feel “safe and at peace doing whatever they want to do without worrying about performing, masking, socializing, or social media-ing.”
After a month like Pride, resting, for Shraddha, involves taking a lot of naps, catching up with loved ones, staying indoors and cooking, spending time with their cats, going out dancing, as well as spending time with partners and friends. “As a performer and artist, it can be demanding, such that there aren’t clear days off. When I book a project, I have to prepare for it as well. I also work as a product designer, and that takes up a lot of my time, so it can be difficult to decompress after Pride,” they add.
Creating boundaries around their schedule, they say, has been helpful in their attempts to ensure that they allow themselves the time and space to rest and recover. “Working out flexible timelines while collaborating with folks or passing on a project if/when I’m able to, as well as communicating with friends and family (chosen or otherwise) about how much energy you have,” are some of the suggestions they have for those unable to make that space for themselves. This, they add, ensures that you feel supported and cared for and not isolated during a time when you need to recuperate and restore yourself.
Hey, hope you reached home safely. Thanks for making time to meet today. I thought we would be conversing about certain things and addressing certain bits in our connection for a long time, but it seems like it might not happen soon. I have spent a lot of time shaping and reshaping the conversation in my mind. I thought I would not send you this. Not today. But again, meeting you felt like I am holding an enormous truth in my throat, my nervous system pulling me down, restlessness growing under my skin where my hands can’t reach, and hundreds and hundreds of bees buzzing around my ears. You are my safe space, the last thing I want is to feel like this around you.
I recently read on Instagram how being in love with someone means being part of a thousand funerals of the old versions of themselves. I certainly can’t hold onto what we had, but I want to be conscious of what we have now. I am intentional about all the relationships that I have in my life right now. The difficult realization in recent times also has been that intention and love aren’t enough to carry a relationship. You know how I try to look at things not only personally but also objectively—with my politics and radicality. While it’s affirming many times to have a sense of control over my experiences, the distance between my reality and radical possibility confuses my mind a lot. At times like this, I take refuge in my body and its saying. My nervous system refusing you today brought me back to my mind, and now that I can’t seek grounding from my body, I am trying to write this with compassion and trust in you.
I love you. I know you also love me enough to hold my truth. In the past six years, there’s hardly been anything that we hid from each other, we used to speak every day, mindlessly VC each-other, made impulsive plans, have seen all the places we lived in different cities, know family secrets, past, and future aspirations, shared intimacy, laughed, cared and so much more. Though we haven’t explicitly talked about it, you know I like you romantically and have been referring to our friendship as a romantic friendship. Many of the things that you also bring to our friendship reinforce that. This is not to concretize any archetype of ‘romantic friendship’ or being hooked onto the label. It’s much more than that. It’s about affirmation. It’s about holding hands with complete cognizance that we both want it and I am not being clingy. It’s about shaping the meaning of our connection collectively. It’s about recognition of the feelings that are often looked at with a lot of suspicion in the larger contexts. The rejection of talking about this is a disappointment that I am carrying in this connection for a long time. There have been multiple occasions where I actively sought clarity and shared how this brings distress to me. How do I know what I really mean to you? What should I aspire to from this connection? What does that exactly mean when you say ‘I love you’ to me? If you know me well, you would know I am the last person to cling to heteronormative forms of any connection, this isn’t about it. It’s about my personhood in our connection. I am certainly not the side-chick who is supposed to fade out into the background when you talk about your girlfriend or other romantic interests at a party. I refuse to fade out. I want clarity, context, and reiteration of intentions.
I am tired. Going back to the truth that our connection is built on; our friendship. In the face of the terror that is intimacy, I tried to go back to our friendship in search of solace. Even when I let go of romantic expectations in our connection, I was heartbroken to find out that it was actually our friendship that I was disappointed in. When I look back and think about the needs and communication in our friendship, I realized in so many social spaces I was left alone, even after communicating how I feel and what I am expecting, my needs were repeatedly turned down. You are the kindest person I have ever met, but your generic kindness to people is a silent refusal of my needs in the friendship— which isn’t generic. Whenever we went to places to vacation, your emotional absence hurt me so much. All I wanted was your attention, you looking at me, holding my hands, holding my truth. My envying you for having intimacy with other people isn’t about me being bitter, it’s because I like you. My anger for not talking to you when you shifted to the same city isn’t about ‘I hate you’, it’s about how I really wanted to be there for you but you didn’t involve me. I want you to see me, and no, sending cupcakes isn’t enough. I don’t know how we have reached here where we often walk on eggshells around each other, but this just doesn’t feel right. The deeper I thought, I realized the fallacy of power in our connection. It has always been you who decided the tonality of what we are. When you wanted to cuddle, when you wanted to kiss or make out, or anything else. Your exploration of your identities doesn’t come at the cost of other people’s feelings. Your discomfort of introducing me as anything else but only a friend or mentioning platonic friends while posting about me or not really wanting to post our pictures on the Insta story—all of it feels strange. You do it without really talking or giving complete context. I end up reading between the lines and going back in my mind to make sense of it.
I am tired. I end up saying/doing things to you to elicit a reaction. Your indifference agitates me more, makes me spiral into feeling guilty, scares me over losing you, and then coming back to the home—hurt. I waited too long to collaboratively build boundaries, but I don’t see that happening. I don’t want to bring my magic into a space, where it’s not seen. The disappointments that I am carrying, they are completely mine. I am going to keep them safe in my tarot box. I give you memories—however you want to remember us, keep them safe. From now on, let’s just be friends. It might not be with the same intensity as before, but letting you go completely feels painful. I am letting go of anything romantic/sexual in our friendship. Again, I am offering compassion and space in case you want to respond to this, I will listen. I might not have anything to respond back to, but I promise I will be there to listen. If you don’t want to respond to this text, that’s also fine. I wish you everything that your heart desires and I really really hope you never have to carry disappointments in friendship alone—no amount of grief can help you to hold it in a tiny tarot box.
I first came across the term living by a rape schedule at the age of 18 when I was trying to articulate the steps I have to take while coming home from work, late at night, to a friend who is a cis-man. I started writing this article from a place of bringing to life the experiences of folks like me – people for whom constantly forced trade-offs for our personal safety are now entrenched in our muscle memory. I did a short dipstick survey to assess how much time and money people of different demographics in urban India spend daily because of the fear of sexual assault to understand this better.
“Never thought of it as living on a rape schedule. It’s so obvious when you think about it.” [29, Cis Woman, Heterosexual]
‘Living by a rape schedule’ is a phrase that is used to illustrate that women are conditioned to place restrictions on and/or make alterations to their daily lifestyles and behaviours as a result of constant fear of sexual assault. These altered behaviours may occur consciously or unconsciously. I have expanded the use of this phrase to understand the experiences of cis women and queer folks. 30 valid responses have been counted towards this analysis: out of this 2 identified as cis men, 23 as cis women and 5 as gender fluid, trans or gender non conforming.
The data highlights significant gaps in time and money spent among people of different genders. When accounting for religion, caste and sexuality, further differences emerge. While the data set is small, it is indicative of larger trends of time and money usage, resulting in reduced control over one’s lives and choices, if belonging to a marginalised gender. The respondents through their qualitative answers shared that this time spent was not just in public spaces but also in private realms: at home, workplaces, educational institutions etc.
“I spend more time than money because I don’t have the money to spend” [24, gender fluid]
A key insight that emerged from the responses was that being hindu or from an oppressor caste directly correlated with more access to financial resources to expend. As the ability to spend money increases, the time spent towards ensuring safety decreases to a fair extent. For example: if someone is able to afford to drive back in a personal vehicle from a late night at work, they do not have to spend longer hours scouting for transport that feels safer. In some situations, while the amount of money one could access or spend was lower, it was indicated that it was a large chunk of their income. The fight against sexual violence is an intersectional struggle and one that requires a material / class analysis. Money creates and expands choices, and there is an urgent need to build a community alternative that supplements these resource needs.
The survey also asked an open question, “What else do you do daily to ensure your personal safety against sexual violence? Are there impacts of it on your health, life aspirations or anything else?” This is a place where I discovered many insights and found my own desires and constraints reflected.
Consequences of living by a rape schedule
Apart from the increased daily effort and financial requirements, several converging concerns came up. Several folks stated they don’t use washrooms in public spaces because they often tend to be in more secluded places with very real effects on their health and personal sanitation. I have observed people joke about women going to the bathroom in groups all the time, and perhaps it is our survival instinct that has made us so. Many also stated that they have had to move cities, jobs, and let go of opportunities in their navigation of safety. Many respondents stated that they feel unfree in how they are able to experience where they live, they are unable to go about late at night or participate in experiences in their cities because of the constant sense of threat to safety. Joy, leisure and the ability to do nothing in public spaces is stolen from people as a consequence.
“What a privilege it is to be annoyed rather than afraid.”
“I dress differently in different places.” [27, Transwoman]
All trans, gender non-conforming and gender fluid folx and several cis women responded stating that they are always changing how they dress according to where they are. They control their personal self-expression and also limit the expression of their identity. For many respondents this was also true for them within their own homes. Presentation, clothing and overall attire is historically assigned heightened morality and narratives around this are used to control who is deserving of respect and who isn’t (i.e. respectability politics).
Responding to safety needs institutionally
The existence of this phrase and the conditions around it are a very real tangible expression of rape culture getting embedded in our lives. I remember friends in college sharing names of people to stay away from because of history of sexual violence and assault. However, if a policy of an educational institutional bans such communication among people of marginalised genders as an attempt to prevent such violence, that is where it further embeds rape culture into the system rather than addressing its causes.
Similarly, when organisations propagate self defence classes as a way to tackle sexual assault – they are embedding the ideas that (1) rape can and will happen (2) it is the personal responsibility of the potential victim to fight it off and not of the system to prevent it. There is an immense danger of stakeholders responding to this concept with efforts to institutionalise, what are currently personal measures. We don’t have to look far for such examples, it often starts within our own homes. Many respondents stated that they were forced to lie at home about safety needs, several had curfew restrictions or were not allowed to stay out at night.
Queer Perfection, Twitter’s Homophobia, and Barbie’s Actual Flaws
It’s officially Barbenhiemer weekend, one of the most anticipated movie clashes Hollywood has ever seen. Barbie has already won the critics and the audience alike and while it is definitely a feminist take on the movie which works for most part, it can also be read as an ode to queer perfection with its queer campy aesthetics.
I remember playing with Barbie dolls, and asking for it specifically as a birthday present way back in class 6th. It was sort of a desire or an aspiration to be like her, which actually hurt a lot because being like that wouldn’t make sense. The movie deals with this fantastically, the idea that if people were actually like this, it would be totally bonkers. That is where the idea of queer perfection comes from, that queer people have to be way more than enough. Even though the film is aimed at everyone, it has quite a surprise regarding how Barbie isn’t just about the kids. It’s a lot more than that.
Unsurprisingly, Twitter is full of conservatives canceling Barbie for being too woke, featuring a trans Barbie, and for being anti-men in general. In India, the picture is gloomy as well, as mostly men have taken to Twitter to cite that gay men and cucks watch Barbie while real men watch Oppenhiemer. While there is no element of surprise here, it just goes on at length to show how people in general feel about these movies. Barbie still represents the feminine as something deviant for men, and as being powerless for women. Ironically, the movie is exactly about busting these stereotypes and yet this discourse shows the real world is going to be messed up.
Having taken these into account, Barbie still represents it’s feminism as “white feminism” and it’s goal of Barbie becoming a real world woman has transphobic (or trans exclusionary) undertones unfortunately where it does becomes about the genitals. So, while it it’s a timely jab at patriarchy and gender roles, it doesn’t really adds more to the picture and that should be the critique of the movie rather than it being too woke.
A Meta Commentary On (Almost) Everything
The history of Barbie has been turbulent with Mattel receiving a lot of flak for putting a Barbie who’s pregnant or who has a television attached to her. The movie also features the character of Allan (Ken’s buddy), Sugar Daddy Ken, and Earrings Ken, all of whom are the outcasts along with Weird Barbie. While the movie is not an attempt to correct these mistakes, it does take a jibe at them, whenever it can. At the outset, it’s a fun commentary on power, feminism, and womanhood. The film tackles Barbie’s realization that while she aimed to make every woman in the world be powerful and awesome, the real world is very far from that goal.
Some of the particular scenes where the movie nails it involve Barbie’s first venture into the real world where she gets uncomfortable with men staring at her. Led amazingly by Margot Robbie, it’s a devastating realization of how the world sees you, where she says that she’s not conscious but it’s herself she’s conscious of. Even the little things like Barbie saying that if she had flat feet, she would never wear heels is a sign of what all women have to go through to fit in this world. It is here the movie gets interesting as on one hand, Robbie’s Barbie realizes the real world is a messed up place for women and on the other hand, Ryan Gosling’s Ken realizes that it’s a man’s world after all.
Ken’s story is also weaved carefully and sometimes, takes over as the larger narrative. Although I am not sure what to make of it in its entirety, it does deliver the right message aimed towards men – about identity, power and what it feels like to be a woman in a man’s world. Both of them have queer undertones as they struggle to find their place in a world which largely restricts them or allows them to be there only in a certain way. The comedy scenes center around cellulite, genitals, or the Kens having as much power as women in the real world are again reflections upon the everyday pressure of the gender binaries.
Viral Marketing And A Very Gay Soundtrack
While the movie criticizes consumerism, its marketing has been all about consuming more and more of whatever is coming out of the Barbie pipeline and also out of the Barbenhiemer pipeline. Starting with putting up selfies with the filter of “This Barbie is XYZ” to buying t-shirts, shoes, iconic barbie outfits, to wearing pink or being dressed like Barbie or Ken when going to the theater for the movie is epic fun, but also a very capitalist ideal. It’s a win for Mattel, for the marketing team, and for the audience as well since the movie has generated hype and is delivering on its massive cultural moment.
It’s unusual for so many artists to come together and work on such a stellar soundtrack. But since this is Barbie’s soundtrack, the soundtrack absolutely slaps with appearances from pop stars like Billie Eillish to queer icons like Sam Smith. The soundtrack has been curated keeping in mind the themes of the film and works absolutely amazing. Lizzo’s Pink is literally the vibe for the movie, Dua Lipa’s Dance the Night is a certified bop, then there’s Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj’s spin on Barbie World (already a top 10 hit on the billboard Hot 100), Charlie XCX’s inescapable Speed Drive, and Sam Smith’s Man I Am.
While these are amazing songs on their own, the spotlight stealers are Ryan Gosling’s I am Just Ken, a power ballad about identity crisis which fits very well into the overall narrative of the movie. The Barbie equivalent for this is Billie Eillish’s What Was I Made For? The song also forms the part of the movie’s most heartbreaking moment where Barbie discusses how she’s not enough. This is also the movie’s strongest point, where it brings the narrative of how even dolls, which are representations of womanhood, are drowning under the weight of the ideas of perfection. One can only imagine what it means for women out there in the real world.
Barbie is a fun adventure that delves right into patriarchy, ideals of beauty, queer perfection, and consumerism amongst a host of other themes, which for the most part, is satisfying thanks to its sharp humor. It’s a tribute to the bittersweet cultural legacy one of the most iconic femme-gay icons of our times, and leaves us with a strong desire for rethinking the way we approach many aspects of our identity. And it’s flawed especially with an end that’s biological essentialism, actually putting Barbie as transphobic to an extent. It’s a win-win situation for the audience and particularly for consumers which are predominantly girls, women, and queer people who share a strange connection with this iconic doll.
Coming to Chandigarh a year ago has been somewhat of a blessing. Here, I have been able to find a queer community that lets me express myself for who I am, which was rare in my hometown. The ability to be in openly queer spaces, without the fear of a sneaky relative questioning me, or the fear of getting harassed, has liberated, and relieved me. But, the more I engage with the friends I make here, the more I feel like an imposter.
I am a pansexual cis woman and my long-term partner is a straight, cis man. We have been together since before I came out, and it has been the most fulfilling relationship of my life. We took a year to open our relationship so that I could fully explore my sexuality without the guilt of infidelity. Even though I have known that I am definitely not straight, probably since I was in middle school. Watching Winx Club and having a crush on both the fairies and their warlock partners was an early indicator.
Nonetheless, that one year of my life taught me so much about my own heart and body, which I was previously a stranger to. Like how much I love the softness of my Bumble date’s fingertips when she glides them over my face, counting the moles on my cheek. And how other-worldly a girl’s cherry-coloured hair looked in the sunlight, which made my heart full of warm, cosy energy when I gazed upon her laying on the grass. How the little jingling of a woman’s jhumki made me smile as I crossed her in the hallway, her eyes full of warmth, and mine filled with awe.
But even now, when I share my experiences with my queer friend circle, I feel like it is unimportant in some regard. This is despite the fact that it has been made clear to me by my friends, who just so happen to be the most genuinely loving and ardent people I have ever met, that I am in an accepting and safe environment. But when one of my friends is a trans-masc, asexual, non-binary person with a disability, another a transwoman who comes from an unconventional family and another, a bisexual man from a traditional household who is still (mostly) in the closet, my own problems take a backseat, at least in my head. Sometimes I feel I lack the necessary adjectives before my name to solidify the queerness in my identity.
In queer gatherings, I have openly been made fun of for dating a cis, straight man. My queerness has been invalidated on multiple occasions. I have been told, quoted verbatim: “Tujhe to hum ginte hi nahi hain” (we don’t even count you in) by a lesbian acquaintance.
I have been challenged to kiss a woman to prove that I am “really queer” knowing full well that I am in an exclusive relationship. I have been made fun of for the way I dress, on multiple occasions by gay men, because it is ‘too fem’ as per the standards they have for queer women’s fashion.
My mother took my coming out surprisingly well, and although not fully on board with the idea, my safety and happiness are her main concerns. My dad, bless his heart, still doesn’t fully understand the concept of not being straight, but will always ask questions and try to learn.
But the problems I face with my family never fully translate into conversations with friends, at least not to their full severity. My paraplegic mother, slowly learning to live as a disabled person in her 50s; my aging father, who is losing the grasp on his memory and bodily functions without the realization; and my unaccepting, conservative elder sister, whose mind functions like that of your average WhatsApp uncle, has sometimes made me want to escape reality and go someplace alien.
My mental illnesses have taken a toll on not just my mind but also my body. From walking several kilometres with ease to struggling to leave my bed, it has been an experience I wish upon no one. But even when I want to communicate how I feel, I always end up holding myself back from unloading this tsunami of emotions that is trying unrelentingly to break free, in front of my friends. Because I know for a fact that they are going through battles of their own; battles, which have left them tired. And no matter how hard I try to convince myself that it is not a competition, my friends’ struggles always take the gold, in my head. My friends know what I am going through, just not the full extent of it. And I prefer it to be that way, they have a lot on their plate already.
Countless times I have asked myself if I should colour my hair a brighter shade of red, get more piercings (maybe a septum?) or change my clothes, just to look queer enough. Because on more occasions than one, I have been labelled “straight-passing” by fellow members of the community.
For 18 years of my life, I have tried to find comfort in the way I am, hoping to find a haven for the weird cousin I was at every family gathering, only to now be the unwanted cis-woman at a queer event who just happens to be there. At 23, I was blessed with a community of like-minded folks who not only inspired me but also taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my life. And while I will be forever grateful for the genuine support I have received from the community and the abundance of love that has been showered over me, I always seem to not validate my own identity.
When will I be enough to just exist? When can I stop trying to prove to people that I am queer? Queer enough!
The internet is full of labels about our identities, which can be overwhelming for some of us. While it can offer comfort initially to find a label that finally ‘fits’ our experience, it can also be limiting when we find ourselves going through something outside of that label’s definition. A lot of queer folk feel an “imposter syndrome” about their identity or label, they can also feel anxiety about “appropriating” the labels and taking up space that they think is meant for someone else. This is LIES. Labels are meant to liberate, not limit us. Labels are meant to serve our understanding of ourselves, rather than us trying to fit into the box of that term.
Find A Label
Take your time. Go through as many of the terms as you can find (look up online resources and talk to other people who identify with them) and think about it, talk about it and see how the word rolls off your tongue. Know that you have the right to adopt any label that truly resonates with you, speaks to your physical, emotional, social or sexual experience, and feels true to you at any time. There’s no hurry to find one, nobody is waiting with a deadline and a form for you to be included into the community.
Find another Label!
Collect your pokemon! You don’t have to limit yourself to the “one” label that will define all of you. That’s impossible. We are all multifaceted, constantly evolving Pikachus that will need different terms for the different parts of ourselves. Give yourself that space for multiplicity.
Allow Yourself to Move Between Labels
We don’t move in linearity through our life. So neither do our labels. You don’t have to “progress” or “have an arc” from one label to another. Allow yourself the freedom to move back and forth between different labels. If an idea or an identity was rejected before, that doesn’t mean you can never go back to it again. They’re not your ex!
Provide consistent compassion to be lost
This is hard work. The world that we inhabit has preconceived notions, labels, boxes that you are expected to fit into and will receive hostility if you “deviate” from them. While it sounds easy to say that one should be more compassionate, it can be really uncomfortable to do that for ourselves when the world around you sends out the exact opposite message. By being queer, we’re not just opposing heteronormative ideas, or rejecting patriarchal structures of being but also taking on paths that have never been traversed before. Therefore, it is natural to feel confused, lost or uncertain. Remind yourself that it is okay to go round in circles. Straight lines are for straight people.
Build and find support
We can’t understand ourselves or our identity in isolation from others around us. It’s okay to be selective about who you want to involve in your journey of discovering yourself. Therefore, it is important to surround ourselves with those who can be supportive and compassionate towards us during this time. Try to make sure that you build that support system by also offering compassionate, patient support to other queer folk when you can.
Brown liquid in a green cup. I brought this cup from a fellow queer potter friend at the Queer Made Weekend in Mumbai. Mumbai, that is where I sit everyday while I have this brown liquid, my coffee. My friend believes in Camus’ work quite a bit. I am still trying to grapple with Camus’ absurdism while living with my own Nihilism. Working at the Queer Made Weekend as a volunteer was an experience that made me believe in this absurdism a little more.
Two days of explosive, massive queerness! The day began with running around, ensuring that the venue, our canvas, was ready for the influx of people. Like vibrant hues in a palette, the people were the soul of the event; the event, a work of art. The day ended with conversations with new friends, screaming along to Lady Gaga with old friends and having the warmest meals in the coolest downpour. What more could I ask for? I love working at queer events. I love working for causes I believe in. I love working with people who believe in me. I love working, I’m a workaholic.
I start typing on my laptop, the liquid stays the same; the tiny green cup, though, is replaced with a tall black mug today. My mother gifted it to me on my birthday. The cup is pitch black with a few orange engravings saying “Coffee break”. Coffee has never been about a “break” to me. As if I completely know what break means. I do not know how to relax, but God! I am trying so hard to learn how to take healthy breaks. “Isn’t it funny? Isn’t it counterintuitive to try hard? To learn how to take breaks?” I think to myself and then take another sip of my coffee. I used to have 2 energy drinks a day and at least 2 cups of coffee a day, until I crashed. I don’t even like the taste of coffee anymore, but that’s not why I have coffee anyway. As a workaholic I want to get so much done in so little time, as someone with ADHD, my brain simply refuses to cooperate. That’s where coffee comes in, my elixir. Killing all brain fog, making me believe in life again, colouring my day with yellow and green. But at what cost? I can’t breathe.
My ADHD is like a beautiful gown that I can’t take off; on special occasions it makes me shine, but wearing it everyday can be very inconvenient. Being neurodivergent makes me unique, I can solve problems in creative ways, I can easily come up with out-of-the-box ideas and if a subject really interests me, I can hyperfocus and devour any related task, within half the stipulated time. But it’s not all shiny. If I’m not interested in a task, I get distracted very easily and the time blindness that comes with ADHD doesn’t help. Because my brain has lower dopamine, it is hard for me to begin a task and stay on track unless I am hyper focused. Coffee helps me stay focussed, helps me blend in with neurotypicals, and allows me to function like the workaholic I am. There is a study that says more than 30% of workaholics meet the criteria for ADHD. “Is my ADHD the cause of my workaholism?” I wonder. I take another sip of the brown liquid, it’s 2am but I am hyper focused, I can’t stop until I finish writing.
I learnt about rest from my two queer designer friends. They intrigue me so much. Their brain so creative, their hands so adept, their work ethics absolutely banger, their procrastination though, off the charts. They don’t take breaks from work, they work in between their breaks and they somehow end up creating such beautiful art; I am always in awe.
I got to work at the art table during Queer Made Weekend. At the art table, we learnt how to make stamps and got to colour some printed sheets. I usually have a hard time at big events because I get overstimulated very easily. The loud sounds and never-ending group conversations that initially entice me, easily become overbearing thanks to my ADHD. Colouring at the art table, made it facile to overcome these barriers that come with my neurodivergence. At the table, I had very interesting conversations with strangers without having to take my eyes off of my colouring sheet. The melodious, but loud performances became like the background music I listen to when I need to hyperfocus. I was able to be in my zone, without feeling alienated, without having to mask. The art table provided me with a space, where I could work but also feel rested. Art can provide me with a space that allows me to be productive while also helping me stay grounded; this revelation has gotten me closer to finding out “what qualifies as rest?”
The definition of “rest” varies from person to person. My neurodivergent brain is wired differently and hence, what counts as rest for me, might not be the same for my neurotypical mates. Everyday I am learning more about myself, more about how to rest without feeling anxious. I have a long way to go, but I have realised that maybe, I don’t need to have copious amounts of coffee just so my neurodivergent brain cooperates. Maybe, my self-worth isn’t based on how productive I am. Maybe, I should have a little rest. A little queer rest.
In a world where stories about the LGBTQ community are still not commonplace in the mainstream, a group of artists from the Aravani Art Project in Bengaluru have found their voices through the lens of a camera. This remarkable journey is beautifully captured in the documentary “Kathegala Kanive” (The Valley of Stories) by filmmaker Vikas Badiger. The 30-minute film has received accolades, including the Best Documentary award at the prestigious Madras Independent Film Festival, and has been selected for the esteemed Chennai International Documentary and Short Film Festival.
“Kathegala Kanive” delves into the lives of transgender artists, who, under the guidance of the Aravani Art Project, were given the opportunity to explore photography as a means of self-expression. Led by Shanthi, a talented wall artist and documentarian, the artists embarked on a journey to document their connection to the city they call home – Bengaluru.
Supported by the non-profit India Foundation, the photography project brought together professional photographers from Kanike Studios to teach the eight transgender artists the basics of camerawork. Generous donations of digital cameras allowed the artists to immerse themselves in the art of photography. They clicked around 70 pictures each, capturing moments that spoke volumes about their lives and experiences. These photographs were displayed in an exhibition, with some even being sold.
Shwetha, one of the artists, reflects on the significance of learning photography and says that with begging and sex work being the most predominant occupation within the community, gaining the opportunity to learn a new skill like photography was exciting for them. “My only experience in terms of photography has been in my childhood when my father used to take me to a studio to get my pictures clicked. It was a very routine thing for me then, but now holding a camera, it feels very different. I feel more confident that I am now a photographer,” she shares.
Vikas, who had quit his full-time job to focus on filmmaking was contacted by Poornima Sukumar, the founder of the Aravani Project. Recognizing the engaging narrative, he decided to document a behind-the-scenes look. Over a period of three months, Vikas shadowed the artists for approximately 10-15 days.As Vikas conversed with the artists, he realized the immense educational and storytelling potential that lay within each individual’s journey. With the camera as an extension of their creative expression, the artists opened up, sharing their experiences and perspectives.
In “Kathegala Kanive,” these artists share their stories and shed light on the everyday topics that shaped their lives. As they capture images of the essence of Cubbon Park, young children, older citizens, trees, animals, and even bangles through their cameras, they reveal stories about the prejudices they have faced. They hold nothing back, speaking candidly about their struggles with finding work, the cultural shock of moving to Bengaluru, and the discrimination they face in public spaces.
“I think the biggest [struggle] was people coming and asking me questions as to “en akka en madtidira?” meaning “What are you doing sister?,” says Shweta. Explaining that I am a photographer or that I am working on a project did not come easy. “Working on a regular job or having a normal life amongst people is a difficult task for us. To keep all those feelings aside and be part of society, learn, and teach, was a huge thing. There have been people who told that this will help the trans folks get a job, but there are also people who said, how can trans folks click pictures? But most importantly we are here to learn and when we are in a society, we can and should be able to do the jobs anyone else can,” adds Shweta.
“It’s painful when people cherry-pick identities”.
Nadia says, as we (Praveen and Jo) ask her about her experiences of sitting among the wildflowers of her intersectional identity. A person of colour (POC), Bengali Anglo Indian on her mother’s side, Punjabi on her father’s, from Nottingham, queer, and a young changemaker, Whittome has been the UK’s youngest elected member of Parliament, representing the constituency of Nottingham East since 2019. We approached Nadia to speak to her primarily about her work as an MP, her love for her community, where she learns her socialist politics from, and where she wants to go in the future. We say primarily because this interview is filled with other tidbits – where to go in Nottingham to explore, what politicians can usefully do to support social movements, and what banging music Nadia is listening to for those of you who are looking for new reccs.
A need for better role models: Introducing Nadia Whittome
As brown activists living in the UK, we were and have been ashamed of the divisive, discriminatory and violent politics of some brown ‘role model’ politicians like Rishi Sunak, Sajid Javed, Priti Patel and Suella Braverman etc celebrated by the UK diaspora. Their politics have alienated the working class, are elitist and focus on preserving inequalities based on class, race, and gender over the needs of the working class and marginalised across social structures.
Politicians of Indian origin in the UK had a mixed bag of political views right from the early 1900s. The first Indians in the UK Parliament included some who were involved in radical pro-worker progressive politics, for instance Dadabhai Naoroji and Shapurji Saklatvala, both playing a pivotal role in the UK’s labour and socialist movement, fighting for their rights and those of other marginalised groups. On the other hand, Mancherjee Bhownaggree, who was elected as an MP based on campaigning against Eastern European Jewish migrants, worked with the far right movement. Indians from dominant castes and class have had important roles to play in the colonial project at the expense of people from oppressed castes. With the development of prominent brown people as the face of capitalist and people-hating politics, this is history repeating itself in the neo-colonial world of today.
While we were searching for role models we can get behind in the diaspora as political citizens interested in bettering working conditions across intersections, we came across Nadia Whittome. Her commitment to progressive politics and the working class is a breath of fresh air to a political landscape that often ignores or marginalises these groups. She stands out as a politician, who represents the progressive Indian diaspora, while arguing for her own brand of socialist ideas, such as only taking a worker’s wage (£35000 after tax) for her role as an MP and donating the rest to causes she believes in, in solidarity with people on low wages like nurses and care workers. She identifies as queer and has been vocal about her support for the LGBTQ+ community, pushing for inclusive policies that recognise and protect their rights. Identifying as a queer person and pushing for the rights of queer/trans and intersectionality adjacent communities is in itself a remarkable achievement. Especially because of the stigma that still exists around queer/trans identities in many South Asian communities. Additionally, Nadia has been consistently supporting worker’s rights in the UK and abroad, especially those who are among the most marginalised and under recognised; migrant, refugee and sex working communities.
The first part of this article follows Nadia’s journey as a UK activist turned politician and her guiding forces and inspirations.
Praveen: What are some of the political movements you have been working with?
Nadia: I have been a labour rights activist for a long time. When there was an election to select who would be the Labour Party candidate, a group of us decided to run a candidate because we wanted bold and unequivocal positions on three main things. Number one was a Green New Deal, to tackle the climate crisis and social injustice at the same time. The second one was trade union rights, so a commitment to repealing all anti-trade union laws. Not that I have the power to do that, but fighting for that to happen. Third, was dismantling the hostile environment and extending free movement as well as defending existing free movement. . That’s the platform that I stood on and reflects the work that I’d done so far and I’m still doing now, like campaigns for migrant rights. The support for industrial disputes, for workers’ struggles for their rights, came from my background of being a care worker. I was in a trade union then, but it’s a very under-unionised workforce. And as a result, the pay is very poor. The conditions are very poor as well. I also built connections beyond my own workplace and sector – for example, I joined a brilliant campaign for delivery riders, who went on strike for the first time ever. I also joined the campaign for taxi drivers in Nottingham.
I wanted to be an MP who amplifies the voices of people in my community and their demands, and who builds a link between what is happening in all those incredible movements outside Parliament and what can be done from within Parliament, even if it’s limited in opposition.
Nadia returned to care work to help during the pandemic and was effectively sacked for speaking about the lack of PPE.
Jo: How do you see solidarities among class, caste, race, queerness, transness, disability functioning in your work?
Nadia: For me, solidarity is integral to my socialism, it is not an optional add-on. What I am striving for is liberation for everybody. I want every person to be freed from the constraints of oppression and poverty, and to have more power and control over their lives. Therefore, I think it is important to recognize that we can achieve this goal by working together and standing in solidarity with each other. We have the best chance of winning for all of us when we realise that our interests are not in competition with each other. Instead, they are dependent on one another, and all of us succeed. Some of the things that inspire me are initiatives like “Lesbian and Gays Support the Migrants” and the recent community efforts to oppose far-right demonstrations against drag queens. People standing with their migrant neighbours to physically prevent their deportation is another example. Moreover, when I look at struggles in India, they are often being led by individuals like Nodeep Kaur, a Marxist trade unionist. Many of these struggles, whether they are related to climate or industrial issues, are being led by the most marginalised and oppressed people. This has been the case throughout history, no matter where in the world you look.
Praveen: What are some of the lessons you have learnt in your work in political advocacy?
Nadia: I’m the first MP of colour in Nottingham, and given that Nottingham’s population is 40% Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds (BAME), it’s particularly important for me to not only speak for our communities, but also stand with them and amplify their voices. The wider community has been suffering and have been treated so badly by Conservative governments, and things were only getting worse.
I’m also the first Gen Z MP in the UK, so representing the generation of youth climate strikers is important to me as well. In my feminism and my socialism, I want to be working with and standing up for and with the most marginalised people, people who are often excluded even within progressive or left-wing spaces, and definitely very rarely represented in Parliament. So I’ve done lots of work with trans people, with sex workers, migrants and people who have lots of those intersecting identities. I guess it’s taught me that the struggles of working-class people are deeply interconnected – whether that is the fight to access healthcare or workers rights, for better pay and conditions in the workplace or whether it’s the hostile environment towards migrants. It’s by advocating alongside those who are most marginalised that we can improve everyone’s lives.
Praveen: Who were some of the role models you grew up with, in life, as well as politically?
Politically, a big one for me is Jayaben Desai, the woman who led the Grunwick strike, because she was one of those workers who were disregarded, not just by their bosses, but also by the labour movement. They were written off as Asian women who didn’t have any power and who wouldn’t be listened to. Her quote, “We are the lions, Mr Manager”, I think summed it up. And not just her, but the whole movement that she was part of, challenging people’s stereotypes about Asian women being docile and submissive. I think, as an Asian woman today, that these are stereotypes that we still deal with. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like then. All of them smashed those glass ceilings.
Another one is Tony Benn. I was 16 when I got involved with the labour movement and community organising. It was when the “Bedroom Tax” was introduced by the Conservative-led coalition government, which basically meant that if you had a spare room in your council home [British public housing] that you would have to pay a tax on it. I was part of a big group of people who organised a rally in Nottingham against the Bedroom Tax and against austerity more widely. Tony Benn came to speak at that rally and it was just inspirational to watch him, as he was a huge hero of mine. I didn’t know that much about political theory at the time, I just knew that I was sick of what was happening in my community. Those three years of austerity at that time honestly felt like a lifetime. All of my formative years, like the whole of my teenage life, happened under Conservative governments – and we still have a Conservative government today.
Another person I look up to politically is John McDonnell [another socialist Labour MP, in West London], particularly since being elected. I thought about what kind of MP I wanted to be, and how I could use this platform so it’s a useful contribution to Nottingham and the labour movement. I saw how over the years he’s brought people into Parliament. It seems like he never misses a picket line, he’s done the relentless behind the scenes work as well as the amplifying and making arguments outwardly, particularly with people who are the most marginalised, like unpaid carers and sex workers. I thought, yeah, that’s what I want to be able to do.
I’ve never been under any illusions that change comes from politicians, and I still don’t really think of myself as a politician. I’m not alone in that because there are those of us, certainly on the Labour side, who have been activists before we were politicians. I think that it’s movements that will make the change so I see my position as an MP as a person who can be useful to my constituents, and to the wider group of people who are trying to win change.
I also think as humans we put people on a pedestal, naturally. But it surrenders our own power and autonomy, and we become crestfallen when they make any mistakes. We can, as much as possible, find hope in movements and adopt a culture that is more forgiving of other people and ourselves when we make mistakes. Because we’re always going to make mistakes.
Praveen: What are your ambitions for your political career, and what is the best part of being in politics?
I want to use my position in Parliament to platform the voices of movements and causes that matter. Standing up for my community, in all its diversity, is my priority. If that means taking on a more senior role in the party, then great, I’m fine with that. However, I’m also content with being an effective backbencher. The most important thing for me is to do right by my constituents and my community.
On working and being in politics, it’s really important for me to emphasise that it’s not just me working alone. I have an incredible team of young women who are phenomenal at what they do. Despite the unfairness and injustice stacked against people in the system, my team always finds ways to push open even the slightest challenge and achieve victories for individuals. They have successfully helped people reclaim money from the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions), prevented deportations, and secured rehousing for those in need. Working with my team is truly one of the best aspects of my job.
Another thing is that, I have the opportunity to meet amazing people in Nottingham who are making a real difference. From those involved in mutual aid initiatives to those teaching children how to read, and even organisations like POW, Prostitute Outreach Workers, founded by sex workers themselves, which empowers sex workers and provides them with essential support for health, benefits, and housing. It’s a privilege to connect with these individuals who I might not have met otherwise.
Nadia finds immense value in being part of the wider movement, like her inspirations, she has consistently stood on picket lines with workers, and these political actions outside of the walls of parliament remain important to her, even before becoming an MP. Figures like Nadia show us how crucial it is for elected representatives to support and stand alongside workers during such challenging times, such as strikes.
On Identity, Safety, and Intersectionality
Unfortunately, even as an MP who is widely appreciated for her work, Nadia faces some of the same issues that other folx with intersectional identities face. As she explains, is sometimes not counted as an MP of Indian origin, and her queer identity is kept out of conversations.
Jo: I’ve always wondered whether it becomes painful that your progressive views, and your intersecting identities have ended up becoming reasons why you are not seen as a role model for the diaspora. What are your thoughts on that?
Nadia: I have been giving this question a lot of thought since I first saw it, although I had previously considered it in different ways without formulating it explicitly. It can be a painful topic. I believe it depends on how we define the diaspora, because I receive numerous messages from young Asian women and queer individuals who see themselves represented in me and the things I do. One aspect that I particularly love about India, and that fills me with pride regarding my heritage, is the immense diversity in terms of religion, language, and culture. I see myself as a product of the movements that have fought for a pluralistic and secular India. However, it is a common experience for individuals with intersecting identities to feel like they don’t fully fit in many spaces. This can be true whether it’s as a queer person in a diaspora community or as a person of colour in queer spaces. These instances serve as examples of how I have not been fully recognized. For instance, during the 2019 election, Labour Friends of India released a statement highlighting that one of my colleagues, who is also of Indian descent, was the only Indian candidate selected in a safe seat. Even though I too am Indian, with two Indian parents and four Indian grandparents, and I was actually selected in a seat with a larger Labour majority than the one mentioned in the statement, however, I was not included on the list. I believe it is important to acknowledge that sometimes people tend to gate keep and impose their own definitions of what it means to be Indian or South Asian. It is crucial to recognise that we are no less a part of that identity than anyone else. I’m out and I was out to a lot of people before I was elected, and then about a year in, I didn’t have a public coming out, but I just mentioned that I’m queer. But it’s not something that anyone in the local Asian community I’m part of has ever spoken to me about.
Jo: Is there a heavy silence around it?
Nadia: Oh, there’s this palpable silence when it comes to it. It’s like they’re perfectly fine discussing everything else, but as soon as it touches queerness, it’s like the conversation comes to a screeching halt.
I am very much aware of my class privilege now, considering I used to be working-class before becoming a Member of Parliament. I can’t help but wonder if things would be different if I weren’t an MP. Perhaps my position offers some level of protection, but I can’t say for sure. I don’t want to assume what people are thinking. However, I do hope that the presence of openly queer South Asian individuals and the challenging conversations they have with their aunties and uncles, both publicly and at the dinner table, are gradually bringing about change.
There’s definitely a disconnect, though. On my mum’s side, they’re Catholic, and I was baptised Catholic, while on my dad’s side, they follow Sikhism. However, they’re extremely secular because my granddad was a communist, and my dad followed suit. So, they aren’t particularly religious. Nevertheless, I do recall going to the gurdwara occasionally when I was younger, and it struck me how there seemed to be a contradiction between the concept of a genderless God and the prevailing narrative around masculinity, which isn’t unique to the Sikh or Punjabi community. It’s a universal phenomenon.
A lot of spaces where identities intersect are not really safe spaces for those who hold within them multiple experiences. Often, places demarcated as being safe, don’t end up being safe for its members, nor is safety a static thing. The safety we feel changes based on what we learn, how we grow, how people around us learn, grow and behave with us, so one cannot expect to feel safe in the same place every time we experience it. The safety of a space cannot also be pushed onto people with this false premise. We asked Nadia where she feels the “safest”, in all the vagueness as well as specificity of the word and the feeling:
I feel different levels of safety depending on where I am. There’s a strong sense of rootedness and groundedness in Nottingham, which has been my home my entire life. Certain places in Nottingham, the ones I used to frequent as a kid or teenager, still hold a special place in my heart, and I even hang out in some of them now. However, in a more abstract sense, the places where I feel the safest are in queer black and Asian spaces.
It’s comforting to know that many of us have had similar experiences. Even before I came out, it was tough because, well, I’ve always been on the quieter side. But even before that, I faced challenges due to my mixed heritage. Being raised by my mum, I’ve had more exposure to her culture and upbringing. My mum’s side of the family hails from a different part of India, which meant that I was often viewed as an outsider in both communities. However, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from various regions in India and other parts of South Asia. It has been enlightening to explore different aspects of my identity and discover the commonalities we share. Despite being part of the same country, the cultures can be vastly different.
There’s no way we’re ending this conversation without asking Nadia for recommendations for those visiting Nottingham, so here they are:
Let’s start with The Bodega, which is one of the best night’s out. On Friday nights, they have this event called Pop Confessional, and the DJ wears a dog collar. There’s even a confession booth where you can confess and get a free shot. In fact, they did ask me once if I wanted to do a guest confession. I think it’s because I’ve been going there for so long, and being the local MP adds to the fun. It’s funny because I often get casework feedback at The Bodega. I remember one person came up to me to let me know that I’d helped them get their visa that day. It was surreal. I even asked my uncle, who is a priest and baptised me, what he thought about the pop confessionals. I was hoping he’d say it would be a laugh, but he said, “No, you can’t do that.” So, I had to pass on the guest confession idea.
We have many beautiful green spaces in Nottingham, which is one of the things I love the most about living here. The football club is also called Nottingham Forest, and has a fan club called Punjabi Forest! We often take our dog for a walk along the river since we live nearby. It’s really refreshing, so definitely explore all the green spaces around.
Nottingham has some really cool art galleries too, with a thriving independent scene. The biggest one is Nottingham Contemporary. When I was around 13, I was part of the youth group at the Contemporary, and it was one of the first things that really politicised me and allowed me to express myself in a productive way. So, it holds a special place in my heart. But there are also other amazing art spaces like Backlit, Surface Gallery, and Primary. They all have a very chill vibe.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the fantastic food places! There are so many around my constituency. For Indian sweets, you should definitely check out Berridge Road. And if you’re into vegan options, the vegan market is a must-visit.
You can read and know more about Nadia Whittome’s work here. Here’s to more queer, progressive faces for our movements!
I spent most of the recent Mercury retrograde watching Please Like Me. As I watched its 4 seasons, it almost felt like I was reflecting on my own experience of being in my 20s. Josh (the character, not the actor) and I have a lot in common. We both came into our queerness in our 20s, and it seems like our friends noticed our queerness long before we did. We are both only children with parents who are separated. There’s even a segment that depicts Josh going on a date with an aboriginal person where he goes into a spiral of colonizer guilt. While I certainly don’t relate to being White, I definitely related to a period of time in my 20s when I was grappling with my Savarna guilt, only to find that I had cocooned myself in a Savarna world where people didn’t know how to hold me accountable.
One thing that stood out to me in the show’s exploration of sexuality was the depiction of engaging in a threesome. While most shows worry about representing sexuality “right”, Please Like Me – probably because of the creator’s own reckoning with it – doesn’t fall into that trap. This particular threesome begins on all the right notes – all 3 of the partners seem willing and attracted to one another, and even test their shared chemistry by kissing each other. They seem to have talked about it, as implied in the scene where they meet Josh’s roommate Tom and his girlfriend, Ella.
To share a bit context, the show’s protagonist, Josh and his partner, Arnold, have been in a relationship for a while. They are not monogamous and have discussed the nature of their relationship. They go out dancing one night and Arnold finds them a sex-unicorn, Kyle, whom he introduces to Josh by saying that they’ve already kissed. Josh asks Kyle is he should kiss him too, and they do. However, things go awry when they actually begin engaging in the act, because Kyle and Arnold seem to be into each other more than their interest in involving Josh. This leads to Josh feeling left out, and he excuses himself to go get some water.
This is beginning of the end of Josh and Arnold’s relationship. It reveals the cracks in their equation as Josh realizes that he finds himself soothing Arnold’s insecurities a lot, whereas he is not expressive enough and minimizes his own emotions, which doesn’t give Arnold the chance to understand the depth of Josh’s experiences and feelings. I think it is quite brilliant that the 4th season begins with the threesome and follows the relationship as it tragically (but in a manner that felt cathartic to me) falls apart over the next few episodes.
In sharp contrast is the depiction of the threesome that Lucy and Tom have with Annie, who propositions them, in the first season of Easy. Lucy and Tom are married with a toddler, and the scene even shows them being interrupted by the baby monitor going off. What worked for me is the level of care shown in the act towards one another, the expression of desire, the involvement in undressing and various acts of foreplay, the check-ins. It’s evident that this experience has brought Lucy and Tom closer and that they probably went on to discuss it with each other after Annie’s departure the next morning.
Many a time, people think that my being open about being adventurous with my sexuality and wanting to explore kink means that I can be expected to jump into non-vanilla scenarios from the get-go. However, my 20s served as a learning experience that I don’t have to rush into anything to prove my adventurous nature, and more often than not, my instincts work in service of my pleasure. While the causal sex and FwB culture that some folx often glorify in their 20s (in contrast to some other folx in their 20s who romanticize long-term, monogamous commitment) does facilitate experimentation and exploration, it also comes with shattered hearts, poor focus on emotional and sexual health, and blurry boundaries.
A lot of this comes from the trap of purity culture that most queer people seek to escape, owing to the complete lack of space in it for us. Being intentional doesn’t come easy, because we often don’t know what to focus our intentions on and what healthy outcomes could possibly look like.
Using honest media representation like these are often helpful to that effect.
It was a very long working day, not unusual for the most part. long lectures and other academic commitments drained me. But I was able to find some time for myself. It was essential to find some part of the day just for myself, be it going on a solitary walk around the campus or enjoying a cup of coffee on the terrace at sunset. More than leisure, these acts were essential for my self-preservation.
That particular day, I found myself in a dance room with mirrors from the ceiling to the floor. I usually love dancing around the room, looking at my reflection. The movements and sounds make me feel liberated and alive – they help me ground myself. But, that day, I felt highly uneasy seeing my reflection(s).
I kept glancing back and forth between my reflection and my physical body. These visions seemed oddly different from my perceived understanding of my body and self. At one point, my reflection started haunting me. I felt uneasy looking at the mirror. It was as if a stranger was staring back at me. I became unrecognizable to myself. My face and body suddenly did not make sense to me. I stared back at this stranger. I looked into their eyes. Their eyes became a mirror that showed a version of me that I did not want to see. I felt way more masculine than I ever did. That disturbed me. An overwhelming sense of gender dysphoria consumed me.
I questioned my gender performance. I became unsure of my queer-trans identity that is often expressed and experienced through these expressions. I felt like I betrayed myself. I thought, “How do I claim to be trans-femme if I looked like this?” And that bothered me. Because I know that gender identity and expression are different things, and the performance of one does not have to reflect the other. But even then, a tiny part of me lost hope. And I couldn’t help but think it was the space I was in that caused this rupture.
For the first time in the 4 months after moving to this space, I realized how much the rigid heteronormative gender-binary constitution of it had affected me. Moving out of a safe queer-friendly environment affected me in more ways than I thought it would. While, I knew it would challenge my queer expressions, this was beginning to feel like more than a challenge. The lack of systemic support and mechanisms to address queer grievances and avenues to experience queer joy and solidarity was debilitating not just to my expressions but also to my sheer existence.
I remember writing in my notes: What does it mean to be trans? Am I not trans enough? Why do I have to perform to be perceived? Why can’t my idea of self be easily communicated to others? Why do I have to put myself through so much pain just to be understood as how I understand myself? How can a space have so much control over my self and body?
I was not able to give myself answers that day. Honestly, I still am not able to. Even as you are reading this, I can assure you that I have no concrete answers. But I find it imperative to talk and write about them.
Writing this piece is part of the process of answering those questions. Or at least an attempt at getting me to be in a process, on a journey, to find answers. There may be no real answers, and the search for the same can go on forever. Regardless, it is essential for me to be in this journey, to be in motion, not hold myself stationary, aligning to a status quo. All of the expressions, movements, writing, and thinking are part of my journey that traces back to a larger journey of a queer collective finding itself.
It pains me to see that the queers in this aforementioned space have been silenced over and over. We have been subject to surveillance, to a gaze that does not look at us as equals, but with disgust and suspicion. I have often felt my body being constantly scrutinized by eyes and stares that don’t welcome my presence in their space. My queer existence invariably becomes othered. In such instances, I am lost in the conflict between wanting to become invisible, for my queerness to be tucked away and not be questioned, and being hyper-visible to make my mere existence challenge the established and much-normalized notions of heteronormativity and gender binary. The constant pushing and pulling of myself, body and mind, is draining and exhausting. And doing all of this on my own would have been debilitating. Fortunately, I was never entirely alone.
In the last 4 months, I have made acquaintances and friends, queers and allies. They helped me learn and unlearn about myself and the space. They held me close when I was falling apart. My friends, both old and new, constantly reminded me about the importance of care. It is not an unknown fact that queers and their allies have always come together in communities that are built on the ideals of care and solidarity. For me, finding this community is a matter of self-preservation. The sense of a solidarity group based on caring allows me to sustain myself in an otherwise hostile space. However, these communities are also political, as they challenge the established systems through their visible performances.
My hopes for the future are no-frills. I want to heal and be comfortable in my body. I want to be with my friends and queer comrades as we navigate the complexities of our life in the space to sustain and rebel in ways, big and small, to make sure the space becomes safe and supportive for all of us, and for our queer peers yet to come. Because, in the end, the dream is not a space where we sustain or preserve ourselves but one where we celebrate each other and thrive together.
A note for the readers:
I have chosen not to name the space/institution because doing so would afford more power to the said space, in my opinion. I wanted to provide visibility to my queer experiences and not the space. Those who know me will know the space I am talking about. And those who don’t, I hope you wouldn’t have to encounter it.
On the 16th of April we at RAQS (Resistive Alliance for Queer Solidarity), an Allahabad based queer collective planned an event commemorating Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar’s birthday but as a result of violent shooting the night before, section 144 was implemented and the internet was suspended throwing a wrench in our plans. We ended up having a private event where our guest of honour Disha Pinki Shaikh, a dalit transgender poet and the spokesperson of Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi (VBA) from Maharashtra shared her journey and how Baba Saheb’s teachings have helped her move forward in her life.
After the initial introductions, Disha took us through her childhood days as someone from a ghumantu (nomad) family who had to start working as a ragpicker at a young age to survive. “Mai bahut buri zindagi, bahut acche tareeke se jee rahi thi” (I was living a very difficult life quite well), she says contentedly. She follows it by accepting the vices that she had growing up; conservatism, communalism, patriarchy, etc.
But all of this changed when she met a young man associated with Marxism-Phule-Ambedkarism ideology and was close to Comrade Sharad Patil. He had started a study centre in Disha’s area, but she had no interest in it. However, since she was attracted to the guy handling the centre, she began going there just to impress him. When she became a regular at the centre, the guy gave her two books to read, Annabhau Sathe ka Samagra Sahitya (Collected works of Annabhau Sathe) & Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s Majhi Atma Katha (Autobiography of Baba Saheb Ambedkar). She had only read a few pages of the latter when she closed it out of boredom as she couldn’t connect with Dr. Ambedkar. Initially it all seemed alien to her but when she began reading Annabhau Sathe, she was able to finish his book in just two weeks as it talked about people like her, living in the conditions that she did which gave her the clarity to see & understand the problems in her life and living conditions.
This made her go back to Dr. Ambedkar’s autobiography. When she started reading him again, she realized that while Annabhau Sathe was telling her about the problems, Baba Saheb was giving her the solutions. While this immensely comforted her, seeing that neither of them talked about same-sex attraction or the queer community made her feel that that part of her life was still excluded. This sense of exclusion affected her mental health deeply, and she decided to become a saint. She believed that if she goes on the path of sainthood it would help her get rid of such ‘sinful’ attractions. But even this journey was short lived as she soon realized that even saints aren’t devoid of politics, lust, power, money etc. After a fellow disciple of her guru tried to harass her, she asked the guru for permission to leave.
From there she found her way to Mumbai where she came across a pamphlet of Humsafar Trust in a toilet. She visited the Trust with much hesitation & uncertainty, but with time she opened up and received free consultation to understand herself and also made new friends. They helped her come to terms with her gender identity. This newfound understanding of her identity clarified many things for her. But since she wasn’t formally educated, she couldn’t find a proper job. She ended up making someone her guru in the traditional hijra gharana. They soon became close and she started to live her life as a disciple of her guru. As a hijra person, she had to learn to beg to earn a living. The first time she had to beg at a crossing, she looked at the coin someone gave her and cried for hours. It was only then that she realized the difficulty of begging and having to put one’s self-respect aside while doing so.
In 2008, she again fell in love with a man whom she would later describe as a patriarch and who used to treat her “like a wife”. Those days she would feel that everything was going well, and she didn’t feel the need to be involved in any sort of movement. Her happiness came crashing down in 2014 when her partner’s mother started to pressurize him to marry. Initially he tried to resist by saying that he was already married to a woman from a ghumantu janjati (nomadic tribe) but eventually they decided to separate. This heavily affected her mental health which led her to question the lack of acceptance as a ghumantu and a transwoman. That’s when she realized that she doesn’t need to fight an individual but rather many ideologies. This led her to share her thoughts on several personal and political issues on Facebook. Her writings garnered attention and support from several progressives, Ambedakarites and leftists. Eventually, she read Dr. Ambedkar’s Buddha and His Dhamma which gave her perspective and clarity from within which motivated her to carve her future.
Over time, Disha felt a strong resemblance with several political decisions taken by Prakash Ambedkar, and decided to join VBA. Eventually she was appointed as the spokesperson of the party for Maharashtra and became the first transgender person to hold such a position for a political party. She shared an incident that transpired during the 2019 elections. TV9, a Marathi news channel rescinded their invitation to her as the spokesperson from VBA after finding out that she is a transwoman. The party stood with her and demanded that the channel should apologize. The party choosing to stand with her made her truly feel respected. She also mentioned how many bigger parties have people from the LGBTQIA+ communities as members but none of them get the opportunity to put forward the demands of their community or speak for the party on any important issues.
While we had aimed for the event to be a loud and clear message for everyone to understand the importance of Dr. Ambedkar’s politics for the marginalized, and specifically queer community, this was instead transformed into a silent protest amidst forced internet lockdown and section 144. This event, though private, was a public disobedience against the state’s undemocratic and unconstitutional excesses.
Poet and convener of Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh (Progressive Writers’ Association)Sandhya Navodita shared that it was refreshing that finally transgender people are getting the space they deserve to share their opinions and aren’t treated as a spectacle, however as a society we still have a long way to go. Meeting Disha Shaikh was a privilege as she had broken several stereotypes imposed by the society and stated her reality honestly, she narrated her struggles as they were and never romanticised it. Our host, Dr. Nidhi, said that the simplicity with which Disha narrated her experience and how seamlessly she progressed towards the relevance of Baba Saheb in our lives as well as politics was inspiring. Her assertion that her politics included people from all marginalized sections, inspires us to do the same. Our evening ended with her reading her poems of which I would like to mention one which was especially moving:
क्यों रे छिनाल, रेप ही हुआ है ना तेरा?
इसमें कौन सी बड़ी बात है?
रेप ही हुआ है, सबके साथ ही होता है।
दूसरी पूछती है, कितने लोग थे रे? क्या-क्या किया? हैंडसम थे क्या?
अगर मैं होती ना, पार्टी दे देती सबको!
तीसरी बोलती है, ए धंधे वाली रांड कंप्लेंट के बारे में सोचना नही हो।
बहुत मादरचोद लोग है और हमको तो वही जाना-जीना-रहना है।
चौथी बोलती है, चल शॉपिंग को चलते है मुझे कल के लिए कुछ लिपस्टिक और सैंडल खरीदने है।
पांचवी बोलती है, साला झक मराये हमने यहाँ आ कर, इसको समझाना फ़िज़ूल है।
फिर छठी बोलती है, चलो यार यहाँ से।
इतने में वो भी समझ गई के कुछ नही कर सकते, वो उठ के हाथ-मुँह धोती है।
फिर कबर्ड से एक सारी निकाल के बदन पे डालती है और उन छः लोगों से पूछती है, मैं कैसी दिख रही हूँ?
और ये सुन वो सभी शांत हो जाते है और उसको गले लगाकर रोने लगते है।
और उन लोगों ने अपने रोने की आवाज़ उस कमरे में बंद की और निकले बाहर बेपरवाह बन कर, हंसते हुए खिलखिलाते हुए।
अब उनको बलात्कार की आदत हो चुकी थी।
(Translated to English by Chittajit)
Hey, you whore, you’ve only been raped, right?
What’s the big deal?
It’s just rape, it happens to everyone!
The second one asks enthusiastically, how many were they? What did they do? Were they handsome?
If it would’ve been me, I would’ve thrown a party!
The third one says, don’t you dare to even think of filing a complaint.
These motherfuckers, I tell you! and we have to live here.
Fourth one says, let’s go shopping, I have to buy some sandals and lipstick for tomorrow.
Then the fifth said, why on earth did we even come to explain anything to her!?
Then the sixth one said, let’s go, it’s of no use.
She had understood by now that nothing could be done & splashed water over her face and washed her hands.
Then she opened her cupboard, wrapped a saree on her body and asked, how am I looking?
A silence dawned on them and they all hugged her and began weeping.
They trapped the sound of their cries inside that room & came out carefree, laughing amongst themselves.
Within days, Pride 2023 will be upon us. A day of celebration and hope across the globe. This time of the year finds me reminiscing about the birth of my desolation.
It was a lonely period, a darkness that would linger for a long time and cast a permanent shadow. Growing up in India in the nineties, there was no Pride month, nor Pride parades and certainly no pride in being who I was : a sensitive preteen in a world which didn’t tolerate difference, conflating it with deviance. Later in the 2000s, as a queer, closeted adolescent I was brimming with questions and sexual curiosity, cloistered within a heteronormative, conservative, and patriarchal macho-man society. Dogma dictated : Boys didn’t cry, they didn’t need to help at home (but my sister was expected to), boys were meant to play sports, dress as they wished (my sister couldn’t even wear shorts at our grandparents’ home) and be entitled brutes. Religious orthodoxy superimposed a layer on a culture that often demands one-sided “respect for elders and tradition” and, invariably, pushes many into silence.
As a susceptible, empathetic soul, my identity was at odds with my environment. The dissonance between my inner world and my life was crushing. I do not wish anyone the self-loathing and fear I experienced back then. Lost and confused, rainbows in the sky meant nothing to me. In fact, until quite recently India had limited, if any, authentic LGBTQIA+ representation in mainstream media. Hurtful caricatures in the form of flamboyant or camp stock characters in the past only engendered a great deal of stigma and misplaced hatred. There was a glaring lack of diversity and visibility which meant people like me had no vocabulary of self growing up. These were times before the internet, before slow dial-up connections would introduce us to email and websites and, definitely, long before social media would appear on the scene with its positivity and self-help revolution. Before the world came to our desktops, where was a gay kid supposed to look for self-worth and feel hallowed pride? I had no answer.
When I moved abroad, at the age of 20, toward so-called “liberal” western cultures, I had a radical awakening. In some ways, my sexuality felt normalised and this was a step forward. Yet there too, none of the gay celebrities or pop culture icons looked anything like me. None of the queer students I encountered at international universities were from the subcontinent. Meanwhile, there I was — a skinny, nerdy, bespectacled brown South-Asian boy, forever feeling invisible amidst a crowd — only this time the ostracism and othering came in a cold foreign land. That boy quietly internalized a great deal of shame and his solitude festered into something more sinister.
I recall those bouts of alienation as being particularly insidious: I could not really share the core of my despair with close friends, most of whom were heterosexual or back home in India. So our brown boy stopped loving himself and his core was damaged through a hateful, racist, superficial discourse within a deeply bigoted gay community. Even within the egalitarian, white, western LGBTQIA+ world, I felt and continue to feel like a misfit. Mine is a story like that of many others who are made to look on from outside. In the confetti, euphoria and jubilation of ‘Pride’, we drown the silent voices of many underrepresented LGBTQIA+ folks, people of color, trans individuals, people with disability or any form of divergence from the idealized, dominant queer identity.
Bruised and isolated, I learned to grapple with politics of sexual and structural racism by doing what I’ve always done: read. I educated myself through the words of James Baldwin, a literary hero who was also queer. Decolonial works in French by Aimé Césaire made me feel empowered. I read to find answers, to learn about my own history, to unearth the roots of racism, to glean counter-arguments against narrow mindedness whenever I was made to feel like I don’t belong in the meeting room or gay app. To occupy space and stand in my own truth, isn’t that the kernel of pride? Regrettably late in life, I also embarked on a mental health journey to heal, to reconstruct my own identity.
Recovery and self-love are part of a long process as most queer folks know; I am still learning. Along the way I have met inspiring people of colour abroad and online, through activist associations and NGOs that provide safe spaces to minorities within the LGBTQIA+ community. I continue to read social commentators, poets and writers of colour and alternative sexualities who have engaged meaningfully with themes of sexuality, identity, race, decolonialism, social justice and mental health. Toni Morrison, Reni-Eddo Lodge, Angela Davis, Robin Di Angelo and queer icons like Virginia Woolf are just some of my heroes.
Through self-education and inner work, I realise how often anger, anxiety and hurt reflect internalised racism, fomenting a sense of inferiority. None of us are fully immune to hate. In fact, body shaming, toxic masculinity, class elitism and racial profiling are tropes peddled so callously and nonchalantly within the wider gay community. You only need to log into Grindr or Tinder to see easy hate in profile bios that declare “No blacks, no Asians, no Browns, no fat nor femme.”
When I discovered the French Instagram account ‘Personnes Racisées Vs Grindr’ (People of Colour Versus Grindr) that captures real racist conversations via screenshots on the popular app, I was not appalled. Some of my white acquaintances in Paris were; they had naively and comfortably assumed, “It can’t be so bad! Racism doesn’t really exist in 2023!”. This unchecked ignorance is also a privilege. Instead, seeing the many screenshots, I felt vindicated and, once more, profoundly hurt and somewhat triggered and angry. So many people spew bigotry from behind their screens. The comfort of online anonymity only divulges the truth — it doesn’t invent monsters, it merely grants them impunity. That activist Instagram account proved my experience on such platforms was not an exception to the rule.
In India, given the recent Marriage Equality petitions, we might burnish a veneer of being united and emancipated as long as we identify as queer and have access to social media to voice our opinions. But deep down, how many of us stop to ask: who’s being left behind in this conversation? Who is not invited to the table? Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The apathy of many queer folks to intersectionality and social justice helps while upholding harmful stereotypes helps none of us.
Unpopular or cynical as my opinion might appear, I continually struggle to feel pride in belonging to a hypocritical “community” that asks for equality from the world while perpetuating discrimination based on body types, beauty, race, caste and other petty criteria. We often overlook our own privileges, rarely hold ourselves accountable for the wrongdoings within the community (I include myself in these oversights). We say ‘Love is Love’ and, simultaneously, we hide behind our blind spots, proclaiming defiantly: “Everyone is allowed to have some preferences.” The line between prejudice and preference can turn into a convenient escapist refuge, one that needs constant interrogation if we are to achieve true equality of thought and action.
Despite these critiques, I am not a fatalist, nor pessimist. I do experience solidarity standing for and with a flag that represents, ideally, all kinds of love, all the diverse colors of a rainbow. I am grateful and cognizant of the sacrifices others have made to lead us to where we are today, on this long march. I feel brave, compared to the boy I was. The courage to share my story arises from empathy, from my own intersectional, triple-minority experience as a non-white, immigrant, gay individual. Even so, I acknowledge my privilege of being an urban, educated, able bodied, cis-male with access to and ability to contribute to international worldviews. The goal is not shame or proselytize, it is to champion others who aren’t being seen and heard.
In a world obsessed with raising walls, empathy is imperative. In a majority group, most individuals lack experiences of marginalization that nurture compassion for those on the fringes. Empathy and vulnerability demand courage to speak our own truths. The march isn’t over until we take everyone on board. For us in India, this includes trans, non-binary, Dalit, asexual, single people and all other hues of our vibrant community.
Wanda Sykes, an outspoken Black lesbian comedian says in her Netflix special: “We are not all the same. No, we are all different but we are all worthy of love and respect”. Queer kids need to hear this, early on. Perhaps, the peoples, governments and Supreme Courts of the world need to learn this too. Today, I wish I could hold that self-effacing, lonely teenager in my arms & tell him: do not let others’ opinions chip away at your self-esteem. If he’d heard it sooner maybe he would have learnt to love himself the way he can love others. Maybe someone else reading this needs to know that they are loved just the way they are.
Indeed, few people ever fully understand us — that is the predicament of the human condition. Even fewer care about our stories but we still deserve to tell them. To me, therein lies the beginning of true pride. A humble, sincere and gentle pride: of occupying space and self-affirmation. Even from the unseen hinterlands of a glittering, ostensibly homogenous minority.
Today, in India, numerous social media accounts, media platforms, authors, volunteer groups on the ground are working towards equality. Not acceptance, nor tolerance — no one goes around accepting left handed people or blondes, so why “accept” queer folk? This is not a fatuous analogy; the language of our struggle should be wary of the implicit heteronormative power dynamics in popular discourse. We are here, we are more than enough so we don’t want just crumbs. We exist as equals, that is the whole and simple truth. As I see the landscape of representation and activism evolve in our country, I am heartened. There is increasing scope for cohesion, taking in myriad voices into our fold, engaging with our differences. So this time of the year, I’m also filled with vibrant, glittering queer hope.
As for that scared brown boy who made himself smaller, I say: you’re going to be okay. You’re more than okay even when you don’t feel like it. Sure, you’ll be ignored and made to feel invisible, unworthy and misunderstood. The people who invalidate you don’t matter, even if rejection and ignorance always hurt. Education is strength, vulnerability is a super power and community is a work-in-progress. We have to hold on to the dream of one big, chosen family.
I know now that we have to love ourselves, even the broken, wounded, unsatisfactory parts of us. We have to find those who mirror our light. And like my attempt here, we have to keep speaking our truth.
There is no better way to make your heart race, your palms sweat, and your toes curl than with sex toys! For those who are yet to dip their toes into this world of pleasure, sex toys can seem overwhelming, but trust us when we say that incorporating sex toys into your intimate life can be an absolute game-changer. From spicing things up with your partner to exploring your own body in new and exciting ways, adult toys have the potential to take your pleasure to the next level.
That being said, with so many options out there, you might be wondering where to start. But, look no further! We’ve put together a list of 9 amazing sex toys that are perfect for beginners and veterans alike.
So whether you’re flying solo or looking to add some excitement to your partnered play, buckle up and get ready to explore the wonderful world of sex toys!
Fifty Shades of Grey Nothing But Sensation Nipple Teasers
These nipple teasers are a part of the Fifty Shades of Grey collection, inspired by the popular erotic novel by E.L. James.
Designed to provide heightened sensitivity and arousal to one of the most erogenous zones on the human body, these nipple teasers are a perfect example of the adage: size doesn’t matter. The two tiny, but firm cups that will fit over your nipples will create gentle suction as you squeeze them, taking you to new heights of pleasure.
The teasers are adjustable, allowing the user to control the level of suction and pressure on the nipples, making it suitable for people with different levels of sensitivity.
Made with soft, smooth materials and featuring a powerful motor, this little powerhouse is designed to provide you with intense and satisfying sensations. With its discreet size and quiet operation, the Soft-Touch Vooom Bullet is perfect for those who enjoy a little solo play or those who want to spice things up with their partner. The compact size makes it easy to carry with you wherever you go, so you can enjoy the pleasures of this bullet on the go.
It features a powerful motor that will allow you to enjoy a range of different sensations, from gentle to intense. The single button operation makes it easy to switch between the different modes of vibration, so you can customize your experience to your liking.
Easy to clean and maintain, this you will be a
long-lasting addition to your collection of sex toys. It’s also waterproof, so you can take it with you into the shower or bath for some wet and wild fun.
Bodywand Fashion Edition Mini Massager
The Body Wand Mini Fashion Valentine’s Special Edition is a mini massager that is not only adorable but also packs a powerful punch.
Don’t let its compact size fool you, as this mini massager is engineered to deliver strong and continuous stimulation. With a flexible neck and soft-touch head, you can reach all those angles you crave.
Let the smooth and velvety surface of the massager glide over your skin and transport you to a world of pleasure. The petite size of this massager makes it easy to handle, carry with you while traveling or for discreet play.
Wth its one-touch button, the massager is a beginner’s best friend; press and hold the button to turn it on, and you’ll be ready to go in no time.
To enhance your experience, pair it with your favorite water-based lube. And when you’re done, clean it with a toy cleaner or mild soap and water to keep it in pristine condition.
BSwish Bfilled Classic Unleashed
Indulge in the ultimate pleasure adventure with B Swish Bfilled Classic Unleashed, a wireless remote-controlled vibrating plug that will take your pleasure game to the next level.
Featuring a unique tapered tip, this vibrating plug is designed to tease and tantalize your sweet spot until you reach new heights of ecstasy.
The plug comes with a remote control that lets you explore 5 different functions of vibration, pulsation, and escalation. The remote control has a range of up to 10 meters, so you can let your partner take control and surprise you with the different sensations. Thanks to its broad base and pull strings, you can rest easy knowing that you’re in complete control at all times.
One of the best things about the B Swish Bfilled Classic Unleashed is its compact size, making it easy to insert while its body-safe silicone material makes it easy to clean.
This plug is perfect for beginners, as well as for those who are more experienced in the world of anal stimulation. If you’re new to anal play, we recommend using a water-based lubricant to enhance the experience and make it more enjoyable.
Sex & Mischief Red Rope Flogger
Step into the tantalizing world of BDSM with the Sex & Mischief Red Rope Flogger! This seductive flogger is the perfect tool for couples who enjoy the delicious mix of love and punishment.
Let the soft and light ropes caress your partner’s torso or thighs, and then give them a sharp strike on the buttcheeks or nipples. The flogger is made of soft, red rope material that feels gentle on the skin. With its lightweight design and braided handle, it is easy to handle and delivers just the right amount of impact. The gentle flicks from this flogger are enough to tease and excite your partner, while harder swings will leave them begging for more.
With approximately 13 inches of tail length made from a polyester blend, you can reach all those hard-to-reach spots. The 6-inch vinyl fabric handle fits perfectly in your hand, providing easy handling and a tighter grip.
Whether you’re new to BDSM and hoping to test your boundaries or an experienced enthusiast, this is a great tool for you.
Screaming O Vibrating Mascara
This sneaky little guy looks just like a regular mascara, but don’t be fooled – it’s actually a powerful vibrator that will give you the kind of pleasure you’ve been dreaming of.
With its super discreet design and four different functions, this mascara vibrator is perfect for women who want to enjoy pleasure wherever they are, discreetly.
The tingle tip on this vibrator is super soft and perfect for rolling against your clitoris, providing intense stimulation and a powerful orgasm. And the best part? This little toy is water-resistant, so you can take it with you in the shower, pool – the options are endless.
Bijoux Indiscrets is a brand that knows how to celebrate the beauty of our senses, and the Pom Pom Feather Tickler is no exception.
The feathers of the Pom Pom Tickler vary in length and texture, ensuring that every touch is unique and stimulating. Glide it over the back of your neck, the arch of your back, or your inner thighs, and feel the pleasure coursing through your veins. The handle is designed to fit comfortably in your hand, allowing you to effortlessly glide the tickler over your lover’s body.
Pair the tickler with a blindfold to heighten your sensitivity and take you on a journey of pure bliss. Or, for the ultimate domination experience, use handcuffs to explore the limits of your submission.
LUST! Card Game for Two
Indulge in an intimate game of lust and pleasure with your partner, with Lust! Card Game For Two. This game is not just any ordinary card game, but a gateway to an endless world of passion and sensuality.
The game comes with Love-Making Cards, each one depicting a tantalizing foreplay act or sex position. Let your imagination run wild as you shuffle and pick the cards to create your very own erotic adventure.
Say goodbye to monotony and let the game take control. With over 30,000 possibilities, every round will be a new and exciting experience. This game is the perfect tool to spice things up and reignite the fire in your relationship.
With its compact and portable design, you can take the card game wherever you go. Whether you’re on a romantic getaway or just lounging at home, this game is guaranteed to set the mood and leave you and your partner craving for more.
Secret Play Massage Oil
Are you ready to indulge in a world of sensuality and pleasure? Look no further than the Secret Play Massage Oil. This luxurious oil is the perfect addition to any intimate experience, enhancing the senses and leaving the skin feeling silky smooth.
With two tantalizing flavors to choose from – Peach & Sparkling Wine and Strawberry & Sparkling Wine – this massage oil is sure to ignite your passion and awaken your desires. The dispenser allows for easy application, ensuring that you can focus on your partner and your pleasure.
The Secret Play Massage Oil is more than just a luxurious addition to your foreplay routine. It contains a truffle extract that naturally stimulates sexual desire, making it an irresistible attraction for anyone. With 50 ml of oil, you have plenty of opportunities to explore and experiment with your partner.
Take your intimacy to the next level with the Secret Play Massage Oil. Let your hands and lips travel over your partner’s body, exploring every inch and creating new levels of pleasure.
The first time I read ‘Gender Trouble’ by Judith Butler, what troubled me most was not the ‘question’ of my gender identity but the dense unparsable language of the text. I wish I could still say the same. Gender for me posed a trouble that I honestly didn’t want to deal with unless I had to. For the longest time, I ignored and avoided any thoughts about my gender with a steadfast determination. The thing with queerness, I feel, is that once you see it, you can’t un-see it. The aftermath of the acceptance of my sexuality has been full of such disabling grief that the prospect of delving more into my queerness scared me; it still does sometimes.
My journey with my gender has been like a closed gated labyrinth. It has been tiring and exhausting. I’ve lost ways, I’ve found parts of myself, and a part of me knows it’s never going to end. But at the end of the day, I have to in some way or other keep it contained within my mind and body depending on the space I inhabit.
I did not grow up with dysphoria except with some struggles to perfectly fit the stereotypical feminine mould of a ‘woman’. This was mostly attributed to my gangly height, dusky colouring and often short hair. This also, I noticed only in hindsight. But then I grew into my looks, my complexion turned more towards fair and the world felt like a different place. So, I can safely say, beyond the usual frustration that comes with being the ‘second sex’ as Beauvoir called it, I never hated being a woman. I knew I’d never choose to swap to being a ‘man’ even if I got all the privileges it comes with.
Gender became my Achilles heel the day I realized it can be more; more than ‘man’ and/or ‘woman’. I never thought I could be anything but a woman. The moment I realised I can be, I wanted to be everything AND a woman. I felt too infinite to be contained in one definite category of one particular label. With this reckoning came the struggle of acceptance and dissonance. And all the ‘anti-queer’ discourses I’d come across, all the transphobic things I’d read, would make me want to crawl back further inside my shell and never come out.
This was followed by an onslaught of self-doubt and shame. Could I be really non-binary and more, if I didn’t feel dysphoria? Am I really struggling with something or, am I just seeking attention? This also makes me really sad how universally integral feelings of oppression, pain and grief have become to the queer experience that, the occasional absence of it really makes one question their queerness and its authenticity. But obviously, one only has to wait, for sooner or later, the trauma does follow.
I had my first run in with dysphoria when I was presented with a dress-code at an informal university party. The implication was dress shirts for men and saree for women. I ended up not attending the event but I remember feeling sudden panic and a deep repulsion at the idea of having to wear a saree. This was a shock because, usually I enjoyed wearing a saree but now the idea of it made my skin crawl. The association of a particular gender with it made me hate something I used to love.
However, for the most part, I have felt my genderqueerness through the moments of euphoria it brings me. I still remember that one time a person addressed me with a gender neutral pronoun in a very cis-het space. They did not know me, my name or my gender and they didn’t presume it. I don’t even remember what the conversation was but that moment filled me with such joy and elation, I knew it was going to stay with me forever.
Believing in my own joy and reality was a hard learnt experience; it took me one year of trying to finally say it loud to someone,”I am genderqueer.”. I felt very fragile and nervous in my confidence about who I was. I feared being questioned about my assertions. So for the longest time, I avoided putting myself in the position of having to defend my claim to my gender identity. I remained closeted.
This is why I hate any sort of ‘gate-keeping’ to the community. One has to overcome so much of insecurity and self-doubt to develop the courage to even accept to themselves that they are someone; and having that meet with anything but genuine acceptance and belief can do incomprehensible damage to one’s psyche and their sense of self worth and identity.
I struggled with my gender presentation and it also made me very acutely aware of the lines between society and me i.e. where it begins, where it ends and all the spaces it blurs. The intricacies of perception and existence. How real and valid can I be if I’m not seen and acknowledged? Invisibility does not mean non-existence. Later, I’d be shocked by the trials and tribulations of hypervisibility. I’d learn visibility can also be suffocating, especially in cis-het spaces where you’re only one of you around. It would be a process to shake off the not so subtle expectations and curiosities to perform your gender, or more precisely androgyny.
Eventually I did grow more confident in myself and was able to come out to friends and other people. And I was indeed faced with responses like, “How do you know?”, “I would have never guessed, you always seem so intrinsically ‘woman’” and so on. But by that time, I was expecting it and was ready for it.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the unintentional self-censoring at the extent of my gender presentation. This obviously feeds into the responses of those around me. For instance, I’ve had responses like, “But, you’re not a man, right?’ and I would elusively reply, “Not exactly.” and would avoid exploring that side of me in that particular relationship.
But as I grew more and more confident in my own identity, the perceptions started to matter less and less. Exposure to other non-binary folks and literature on the same was also very helpful. I learnt that I was not alone. There are many of us. There always have been. And we don’t owe anyone androgyny. Knowing all this has been a really empowering experience. It has also brought a lot of peace in me.
I’ve learnt to take joy in my femininity. I feel most comfortable with they/them pronouns, but I feel no shame in going by she/they in many places because I understand the limitations of spaces I live in and it at least gives me an allusion of agency. I do not feel like an imposter to people I have not come out to and I feel no pressure of having to ‘come out’ as such. I know I’m never going to come out to very many people in my life and I know it does not make me less of a queer person. I am learning to pick my battles.
It’s my gender and I get to decide how I perform it or if I want to perform it at all. I still feel the walls of the labyrinth that is gender around me, especially in public spaces but they feel permeable now. I’ve seen it, accepted it and found that belief in me. I am who I say I am and no invisibility can erase that existence.
Sometime in the middle of November, I got into my very first relationship outside a surgical store, somewhere in Chandigarh.
She made me giddy, nervous, and tingly. Finally, I had a support system. I should have been excited, exhilarated even. But, beneath all the nerves, I only felt one thing: a pit in my stomach. A pit that acted like a vacuum, slowly sucking my energy away. This drop in my mood was not her fault, technically. She just wanted to support me. That was her sole purpose.
In my eyes, however, when I agreed to take her home, I was making a grand proclamation to the world: I desperately need this support. I am weak without it.
In the first few days I spent with her, we faced difficulties. I had to learn how to align my pace with hers, and hold her at the same time. It was tough, but we survived. At the end of our first month together, I felt lighter and more hopeful. I was walking better and for longer.
We took our first trip together soon after. We went to Shimla, desperate to wind down and see the pretty sights. It was just us and two other people. What could go wrong, I thought to myself.
The problems started when I took her to majestic, ethereal, and perfect places. I had to fight to keep her by my side at these pretty sights. My travel partners demanded that she should be put away, hidden, from all the photos; as if she was marring the beautiful scenery. As if she served as a reminder of the bad times that would taint the memories of this trip forever.
And they were right. Well, slightly. She was a reminder of the bad times. But she only served as a symbol of the ease of these bad times; of the transition into a period where I would be supported. Always.
When I debuted her at my university, I was bombarded with questions about my body, I was met with looks of pity and over-the-top displays of help. It was as if everyone was seeing my true nature for the first time. The suffering that I was hiding for the last two years, suddenly became public. For all to see. I felt strangely vulnerable, aware of the gazes of everyone on the two of us. Our relationship was available for everyone to scrutinise, analyse and criticise.
My walking stick has been called many things. An unnecessary accessory, a sign of giving up; she has been treated as my mistress, and asked to be kept away in front of guests and at grand family events. To some, she is a constant reminder of everything that is wrong with me.
She is a lot of things to a lot of people. But, over time, I decided that what actually matters is what she is to me. She helps me explore my surroundings by being an additional limb. She keeps me up when my bones are singeing in pain. She helps me climb up and down hills and valleys. She is always by my side, supporting me as I navigate the world.
The truth is, she DOES remind me of what’s wrong with my body. She DOES proclaim to the world and me that yes, I am weak without her. But, strangely, that’s a good thing. Because with these reminders, comes the indication that I need to rest, I need to take it easy, I need to choose my comfort, and I need a respite from the world. These indications help me take care of myself a little better and help me be a little gentler to myself.
Sure, she makes me the center of attention everywhere I go, but, with that, she gently reminds me to take up space, to exist and to demand accessibility without any hint of shame or embarrassment.
Keeping these reasons in mind, I can now proudly proclaim to the world that this relationship – between my walking stick and I – is of the utmost importance to me.
It’s hard not to smile watching Starbucks’ new campaign, #ItsStartsWithYourName. While the brand may have gained a reputation for getting names wrong, this campaign shows they are striving to improve. Directed by Gaurav Gupta, the heartwarming 2:04 minute video features a touching interaction between a transwoman (played by Siyaa) and her estranged family (Rip Kapadia and Avantika Akerkar).
Directed by Gaurav Gupta, the 2:04-minute video shows a short interaction between a transwoman (played by Siyaa) and her estranged family (Rip Kapadia and Avantika Akerkar). The contact name and photo on the father’s phone of a man named ‘Ankit’, immediately followed by the entry of a young woman who joins them, quickly tells the audience of the premise. Here is a father meeting his child, who has struggled to accept. But, as the family waits for their order, the father notes, “Your habits have not changed”, almost as if he were reminding himself.
The short film delivers powerful messages that resonate with anyone who has ever felt different or marginalized. It emphasizes that people should not be defined solely by their gender identity and that acceptance begins by seeing beyond our differences. The campaign highlights that it’s not difficult to call someone by the name they prefer, and small acts of kindness can make a world of difference.
The casting of Siyaa, a trans model, in the lead role, is a significant step forward for the on-screen representation of the LGBTQ+ community. This campaign inspires warmth and acceptance, reminding us all that even small gestures can have a big impact on someone’s life.
Despite the negative comments, the campaign’s message of inclusivity and love has struck a chord with many viewers for being a step forward for LGBTQ+ representation in advertising.
Just a few days into the new year and I’m already rewinding the past. Revisiting the past might sound entertaining to a lot of people. For me, it brings back a lot of trauma. As a closeted gay person with a career in filmmaking, family functions were not my thing. But sometimes, even I couldn’t avoid them.
Most of the family functions begin with fat shaming me and end with tearing me apart because of the career choices I’ve made. For the rest of the function, they keep themselves entertained by criticising how I dress and lecturing me on how I should start ‘acting’ like a lady. “Who will marry you if you keep acting this way?” But were any fucks given? Not one. I was never a person who would go with the traditions that society has stitched to their lives. And that too with a guy? It cracks me up every time.
The universe has played elaborate pranks on me. One of them was during my first year of college. Getting into a degree college was not a big deal because everything remained as it was. Same classes, same faces. But things were about to change.
I was moving on from a crush of mine. For some time, I didn’t have a crush on anyone. I was in a space with just myself, listening to Sufi songs. Traveling from Matunga to Borivali didn’t seem much because of Kun Faya Kun. I was one with All Mighty. But as always, He had other plans for me.
It was a few days after my birthday when I entered the college and went straight to the canteen. The five-minute journey stretched to thirty minutes with all the socialising I did on the way. My friends joined me. The canteen was the cure to our boredom.
Relaxed, I ordered tea for myself. I sat with my friend. She waited at the exit after I was done. I went to pay for my tea and a person I don’t really talk to approached me and explained how her friend wanted to talk to me. So, I went with her, forgetting about my friend who was waiting for me. I wasn’t expecting much.
But then I saw her.
She was sitting in her seat and when she saw me, she got up and handed me a chocolate. I was confused. But I took the chocolate and asked her in Marathi, “Kay zala? Chocolate kasha sathi?” (What happened? What is the chocolate for?) Her friend replied to me “Tu tujhya birthday la tila chocolate dilas tar ti tula parat dete aahe chocolate.” (You gave her a chocolate on your birthday, so she is giving it back to you).
I didn’t remember shit.
I shared chocolates with everyone. It wasn’t just her, so don’t blame me if I don’t remember. I thanked her and told her that she didn’t have to. But she was very humble and thanked me for giving her the chocolates even though I didn’t know her. I still didn’t remember shit but she helped me remember where we met. It was outside the library with one of our mutual friends. I thanked her for the chocolate.
As a 90s kid, I was very much into Bollywood and drama, so naturally, I have a bad habit of flirting. I flirted with her for some time before I remembered my friend who was waiting for me. I said my goodbye and quickly exited the canteen. I looked back again to steal a glance at her. She was not at all my type. And nothing other than the fact that she was older than me came to my mind then. I went to my friend who was quietly observing everything. She gave me a teasing look. “What’s up?” she asked knowingly. “Nothing. Just flirting.”
“Just be careful and don’t get hurt again.”
I should have listened to her.
Two months went by and I did everything physically possible to be with the chocolate girl. Let’s address her as UJ. For the first time in my life, someone was interested in me. I was happy and more confident. I was spending my entire day with her. I sat for all the lectures she attended. It is insane to think about now but, it’s wild “the things you do for love”. I was falling hard and fast for her. UJ was showing signs that she liked me too. I thought something was happening between us.
And that is when the first red flag appeared.
One of her friends mentioned her having a boyfriend. I was shattered into a million pieces but somehow managed to gather the courage and ask her about it. But she avoided the topic as fast as she could. I was confused but gave her the benefit of doubt. A big mistake on my part. When I think back, I regret not having made things super clear then and there.
A month went by; we were in a situation ship. It definitely was not a relationship. We used to go on dates and make out in the back seat of an uber, in college, in movie theaters etc. Let’s just say we made out a lot. I was in a happy place. I felt lucky for being loved and cared about instead of it being one-sided.
Red flag number two hit me then.
Her friend started talking about her boyfriend. I was visibly in shock when she said that he was her fiancé now.
The first thing that came to my mind was, what is this person that I’ve become? I was the person she was cheating with on her future husband. What was I doing? Things needed to stop then.
When we were alone again, she hugged me trying to explain what was happening. She was being forced into the marriage. Her parents were forcing her into it because of her past. She didn’t want to marry him. My response changed from flight to fight in no time. I was ready to be there for her. Anything she needed at all! I was furious but needed to keep my cool.
I shared this with one of my friends. At this point, only two of my friends knew what was going on between UJ and me. UJ had asked me not to tell anyone about our situationship, so she was not aware of them. But talking about her made me so happy that I had to share things about her with someone. My friends warned me, but my rose-colored glasses were on and I couldn’t see the red flags anymore.
Four months went by in our situationship, and our summer vacation commenced. She had to leave to go to her native place. I needed to do something for her before she left. So, we both agreed to go to ‘the snow world’. I booked everything and prepared for everything that was needed. We got a cab and started towards our destination. As usual, we made out a little in the backseat. We were about to reach the destination when she shifted to the other side of the car. I looked at her and asked her what was up.
She looked at me and without any hesitation, not even a little, she said, “I want to marry him. I love him and he is the person I want have a future with.”
I was confused and hurt. What happened about her being forced into this? What about when she said she didn’t love him? Nothing made sense. I was so fucked and hurt; I was done with everything.
“Okay then. As you wish. We’ll stop seeing each other from now on. Nothing should happen between us from this point onwards. I’ll make sure not to cross the line and you shouldn’t cross it either. We are done being whatever we were.”
After saying such an intellectual thing, I balanced it out by saying the stupidest thing I’ve ever said in my life when she asked “But, you’ll be friends with me right?”
I cried the whole time we were in the snow world and she was trying to cheer me up. But once the harm is done, it’s done. You cannot undo it or try to bandage it.
Life doesn’t work that way.
I lost contact with her after she left for her native place. She didn’t have much time because of all the chores that she managed there on her own. My patience ran out after fifteen days of not talking to her, so I called her brother. He told me that she didn’t even have time to look at her phone with the number of chores that she was handling. And it turned out that she was at the native place of her husband-to-be. So being the daughter-in-law, she has to do all the chores and be the ideal wife. I was out of my mind when I heard what he was saying. I was frustrated. I treated her with so much respect, love and care. I always made sure she was treated right. Why was she being treated like that by her in-laws? I reminded myself not to cross any boundaries.
One day I got a call from her asking me to meet her again. I agreed.
I was sure something might happen and I’d get tangled in some trouble again. To avoid that, I took a friend with me who knew about us. UJ still didn’t know that two of my friends knew everything about us.
We met. After talking for a while, habitually, I went with her to the station to drop her off. As my friend and I were about to see her off, while exiting the college gate, I saw a very beautiful girl standing near one of the food stalls waiting for someone. I pointed out to my friend that I really need someone like her to be my girlfriend. UJ didn’t waste any time in saying what she said next.
“How can you like a girl? That is not right.”
That was so ridiculous. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from her.
What was she saying? What about the six months that we were together? Making out anywhere possible? She didn’t just dismiss my sexuality, but also my love for her.
“There is nothing wrong about liking girls. I’ve liked girls and I thought you would have known that by now.”
She pretended not to know a thing because my friend was with us. Something in me switched then and I bid her goodbye outside the gate instead of walking her to the station. I made up my mind to never cross paths with her again.
Family functions felt like a piece of cake after that. Family’s judgment was nothing compared to your so-called ex-girlfriend’s closeted homophobia. She tried her best to contact me but I made up my mind to not look behind and I did so, religiously.
While writing about this, so many years after it happened, I looked her up online. She is still single and hasn’t married anyone. She’s pursuing her dream of being a Bharatnatyam dancer and was hopefully happy. Looking back, I should have confronted her about dismissing my love for her. It would have been okay if she wouldn’t have accepted our relationship. But my love?
I have recited this story so many times to so many people but not once did I think about what I would have done or said differently for the situations to be better. In this mess, I understood one thing about myself. Whatever happens, once I fall for a person, I don’t care if that person is with me or not. I just want them to be happy and nothing else.
Indian patriotism, and by extension our current strain of nationalism, is deeply rooted in patriarchy. It views queer and inter-faith/caste marriage equality rights as a threat to its ability to organize society and wield power in the manner that it has.
Patriotism and Patriarchy are bros
Ultimately, the term “patriotism” is derived from the Greek word “patriotēs,” which means “fellow countryman.” It in turn comes from the root word “patris,” meaning “fatherland,” where “pater,” means “father.” The term “patriotism” is defined as the love, loyalty, and devotion that a person feels toward their country or nation. It often includes a sense of pride in the country’s leaders, heroes, history, culture, and achievements, and a willingness to defend and promote its interests.
In India, patriotism is often translated as देशभक्ति (“Desh-bhakti”) in several regional languages. Where Desh (देश) refers to a person’s or a people’s native land and Bhakti (भक्ति) refers to devotional worship. So a ‘bhakt’ is usually a devotee who is directed toward one supreme deity or practices “emotional devotionalism,” particularly to a personal god or to spiritual ideas.
Desh-Bhakt is not unlike the concept pati- parameśvara in a Hindu marriage wherein the husband is considered the lord and the supreme deity for the wife. The wife should serve her husband with love, devotion, respect, and obedience, and regard him as her protector, provider, and guide. Or how in Indian Muslim and Christian societies, the husband is considered the head of the household and is responsible for providing for his family. Duty towards one’s conjugal family is a necessary virtue of the masculine practitioner of faith.
However, patriarchal cultural norms can be conflated with religious teachings, leading to the marginalization and oppression of women. This can take the form of denying women education or employment opportunities, restricting their freedom of movement, and limiting their participation in public life.
In the Indian context, Patriarchy and patriotism are intertwined and both seem to operate with the objective of maintaining the hierarchical power structure. To understand how these concepts are intertwined, imagine a ‘typical’ conservative patriarchal Indian family.
In this family, the father expects his children and wife to be obedient, just like how a country expects its citizens to be loyal. The patriarch may use fear and punishment to enforce his authority. The wife or children may feel trapped by their roles and unable to speak out against the patriarch’s actions, out of fear of retribution. Not unlike today in India, where individuals who dissent or critique the government may face British-era sedition laws or UAPA.
However, this unbridled loyalty is often undemocratic in its nature and does not allow room for dissent or questioning. In India, this loyalty is usually driven by our need to be dutiful and fulfilling children to the Motherland. The country is viewed as a mother figure, “bhaarat maata” (भारत माता), who needs our devotion and sacrifice, without acknowledging its flaws or problems. Blindly following religious leaders without considering their motives or actions is pervasive, and individuals tend to conform to gender norms that favor men over women and suppress their individuality.
The Patriarchy Vs Same-Sex Marriage Equality – Supreme Court
The debate in the Supreme Court of India for marriage equality challenges the premise of patriarchy in several ways. It presents marriage as a sacrosanct institution, one that is supposed to only occur “between a biological man and biological woman” according to the Centre, with the stated purpose of procreation.
“The petitioners want to re-write, re-structure and re-engineer the special marriage act to suit their requirements. Would an enactment be read in such a way that it applies in one way to heterosexuals and in another way to the same sex?” – Solicitor General Tushar Mehta speaking for the Center in the Marriage Equality Hearings.
Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud later countered the argument by stating “there is no absolute concept of a man or an absolute concept of a woman” for the Indian government based on how the Transgender Persons Act of 2019 is read. Senior Advocate KV Vishwanathan argued for the petitioners that “Centre says that … we cannot procreate. Is procreation a valid defense … None of the marriage statutes prescribe any upper limit for marriage. Women … who are unfit for pregnancy, are allowed to marry. Heterosexual couples who cannot have children are allowed to marry”.
Marriage historically and even today, is a social tool used to maintain ‘purity’ of caste, class, religion etc. According to a report by Pew Research Center, most Indian families still prefer marriages arranged within their religion and caste. Today with the fear around supposed ‘Love Jihad’, marriages outside the rigid boundaries of religion often lead to violent consequences, including “honour” killings. “The caste system is hereditary, and the practice of marrying within the caste ensures that the hierarchy is perpetuated”. Srinivas Goli observes, “Inter-caste marriage among Dalits is an expression of their resistance against the oppressive social order and an assertion of their human dignity”.
“To say that heterosexual marriages are the norm and are foundational to the existence of state has a similar ring to the theoretical underpinnings of the miscegenation statutes law” Adv Vishwanathan stated (Miscegenation refers to interracial sexual relationships). Drawing similarities between the opposition of same-sex and interfaith marriages prevalent in Indian jurisprudence and society.
Our society often views marriage as the only legal and socially legitimate relationship of any respect and value. In the eyes of the Centre much like Mother India, this sacrosanct institution of marriage needs protection. Lest it be corrupted by the influence of the west and elite. This is why the opposition to marriage equality is often couched in the language of religion and culture. However, this argument is a smokescreen to hide the real reason for opposition – that it threatens the existing social hierarchy.
Whether it is in the matter of queer marriages or interfaith marriages, marriage equality is viewed as a challenge to the existing social hierarchy and patriarchal gender roles, which are based on heteronormativity and the binary understanding of gender. SG Tushar Mehta said, “Who will be a wife in a man-man marriage?” In case a partner died for claiming support, who would be called widow/widower, he asked. Highlighting the fear around destabilizing the prevalent gender roles.
The majority vote of India did not decriminalize queer relationships, the supreme court did. Something the Centre seems to assume has not changed since 2018, “Societal acceptance is needed for recognition of a union and this has to be through the parliament and if it is done by the court then it is detrimental to the LGBTQIA+ community since you are forcing something against the will of the people.”
‘Let us be blessed just as heterosexual couples are (in the eyes of the law)…Not elite at all. So many people have called me…from Hissar, Chhattisgarh, Surat…Let the union bless us just as they do any other couple’, Adv. Nundy said for petitioners. Adv. Arundhati Katju remarked how “Every progressive country has recognised same-sex marriages… We are no different, and we ask for the right to not be different”
The demand from the petitioners of the court and their fellow countrymen is a plea to be seen as equals. This very demand for equality and justice is looked upon as criticism of the country, the ruling government, the patriarchy and our culture.
Criticism and dissent do not equate to a lack of love for our country. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When individuals point out the problems within our country and work towards resolving them, they are showing their loyalty and love for the country. It takes courage to speak out against the status quo, and we should be encouraging this behavior rather than stifling it. However, in India, this notion is still not fully ingrained, and we still seem to have a long way to go before we can truly call ourselves a democracy that values free speech and dissent.
The intertwining of patriarchy and patriotism in India has led to the marginalization and oppression of women and the LGBTQIA+ community. This is evident in the current strain of nationalism that views queer and inter-faith marriage equality rights as a threat to Bharat Maa. Blind loyalty to the country and its leaders without questioning their actions or motives has become the norm, leading to a lack of dissent and acceptance of individuality.
The ongoing debate in the Supreme Court of India for marriage equality challenges the patriarchal, sexist and exclusionary notions of marriage in India. It is time for India to recognize the flaws in its patriarchy-coded patriotism and work towards building a more inclusive and equal society where everyone can live with dignity and respect.
“Reforming Family Law in India: Uniform Civil Code vs. Gender Justice” by Dr. Archana Parashar
“Personal Law Reforms and the Indian Constitution” by Flavia Agnes
Growing up, all the stories that we read, all the music we grooved to and all the images we saw, we had to deliberately write ourselves into. Queer classics is our attempt at creating a pop-culture queer canon where the stories are ours and about us.
Our hope for the 8th edition of The Gaysi Zine is that it will be an heirloom we pass onto future generations: a collection of joyful imaginations and possibilities for young folx to hold onto and older ones to find themselves in. This is the book we want you to curl up with on an armchair. This is the book we excitedly tell our friends about. This is the book that talks to us about us. It’s joyful and light and features us at our best.
What kinds of stories can be a part of this edition?
Think of that song you’d listen to on loop, or that film you saw ten times or the book which has dog ears from being flipped through a million times and think about what it would’ve been like if it was written specifically for you.
You can take a piece that has resonated with you deeply or you can pick up a narrative that has irked you because of how it represented someone or something. You can even rewrite tropes of romance or friendship or family or courtship.
The aim is to look at the pop-culture narratives that have populated your life and years growing up and to redo them in a way that could have reflected and included you in them back then. It’s to rewrite the stories that were left incomplete because they didn’t quite include your experiences.
These reimaginations don’t just have to be about love or romance. They can be about chosen families, queer friendship, coming-of-age, the themes are endless, and these can be comics, advertisements, films, songs, music videos whathaveyou.
A non-exhaustive list of examples:
Films: Sholay’s Jai-Veeru and their mighty friendship. Did you see possibilities for stories of queer friendship?
Advertisements: Queer folx and families on ‘Humara Bajaj’ scooter?
Songs: Mere Saamne Wali Khidki Mein. Who was in your saamne vaali khidki (window in front of your house)? Often we are drawn to songs whose lyrics we might resonate with, and even use, yet the picturisation reminds us all too quickly that they are meant for a cis-het audience. How would you reimagine this?
Shows: Shakalaka Boom Boom with Sanju and his friends. Did you perhaps see beyond codified representations of gender in the binary?
Think editions of luttappi, tinkle, magic pot or chandamama, think of the words and music of Rahman, Euphoria, Band of Boys, Viva, Bombay Vikings and Indian Ocean, think episodes of Shaktimaan or Hip Hip Hurray or even Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Minnukettu, Dil Mil Gaye or Cinemala, or the advertisements of Bajaj Scooter, Joyalukkas, Popy Kuda or Nirma.
And it goes on! Here’s to us creating our queer classics.
Why queer classics?
Since its inception, Gaysi has strived to be the space we needed and to give ourselves the stories we couldn’t find otherwise. When stories and experiences of fellow desi queers were hard to access, we created a blog space so we could find each other. When we wanted to see our stories of love and desire, we sourced and platformed narratives of queer desire. When we wished for stories we could’ve seen ourselves in as children, we created children’s books.
Pop-culture narratives are meant to capture, and sometimes dictate, the spirit of its times. They influence our desires, our hopes and our plans for the future. Pop-culture tells the story of a generation. But how can it, when it leaves out entire communities? As we know only too well, pop-culture doesn’t always represent people well, or even represent all of us. In fact, pop-culture is often full of unhelpful and problematic tropes.
This edition, we want to rewrite, reinvent and recapture the zeitgeist to include our stories.
Our joy is as much a story of resistance and endurance, of thriving in the face of insurmountable odds, as it is a story of celebration. Now, we at Gaysi want to go back to the stories that made us and remake them into stories we can cherish as a community.
This edition we’re here to put out stories we craved growing up: stories of queer joy, hope and resistance.
What are the guidelines for submission?
The deadline for submission is 17th May so please make sure your proposals have been sent to gaysifamily[at]gmail[dot]com by then with the subject line ‘Issue 08: Queer Classics’.
Only original and unpublished work will be considered.
We are looking for original fiction, non-fiction, essays, photo essays, illustrations, poetry, art, graphic stories, scribbles, notes, quotes, or any other explorations on the theme ‘queer classics’.
Narratives that are of ‘Indian’ sensibilities, talking about issues or stories that are inimitably Indian and picked from popular culture of the subcontinent are encouraged.
To help us gauge more closely, we suggest you send in an abstract of the submission you’re planning to send. It should include a thorough outline that introduces your piece proposal and how it plans to explore the theme.
The maximum word limit for textual submissions is 2,500 words; there is no minimum length. Do share a brief bio and your SM links with your submission.
All visual art submissions, your pitch must include the following details:
Title of the piece.
Nature of the piece (graphic narrative, illustration, photo-essay, photo series, collage, etc.)
Brief overview of the concept and how it relates to the theme.
Rough breakdown of the piece (in order to gauge how the concept will be expressed, please provide a few details such as the sequence of panels, or quick key points that the piece will cover).
Color treatment (B&W/4-color, etc.)
A little about yourself (a brief bio and your SM links).
4-5 samples of most recent/relevant work.
Any content that is even mildly offensive or in any form derogatory to the LGBTQIA+ community will not be considered.
Due to the volume of queries and submissions normally received, do allow us two weeks to respond from the date of receipt.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I gradually started warming up to the idea of my bisexuality, but my love life was the classic crickets-chirping meme. I was generally challenged when it came to expressing emotions, but more so when it came to women. After my first heartbreak from a woman, I sat up and took notice of this odd habit.
Towards the end of my twenties, I found that magical unicorn—a queer affirmative mental health practitioner. Within the safe container of my psychologist’s office, I first wondered, “How come I had never had one of those dramatic infatuations for women that I felt for cis het boys all my life?” This question was also the primary reason my relationship with my sexuality had been regularly peppered with self-doubt.
I have often found myself disarmed with how easily my queer friends profess their attraction for a passing stranger on a street. The best I could do was acknowledge, after a respectable gap of 6 months, that the intense ‘feelings of friendship’ I was feeling for a friend—such friendships often crumbled under the weight of my unexpressed feelings—was actually that raging crush I never quite allowed myself to feel.
It was relatively easy to give in to my hormones when it came to masculine presenting people. I remember my initial months in an all girls’ school. Prior to my eleventh grade, I was bred in co-educational spaces. There was this ‘tomboyish’ person—short hair slicked back—with the most dazzling dimples. I remember following them once in a trance, like a creepy stalker, through the empty corridors. But every time I caught a glimpse of their maroon skirt, I would flinch. And if it was a ‘girly’ girl, I could only confess my attraction in hindsight or only when they were not real timey people in my actual orbit.
This pattern remained unnoticed, unchanged, until a heady autumn towards the end of my college. My then bestie forced me to read Jeanette Winterson. I ravenously devoured her words. “There is no discovery without risk and what you risk reveals what you value,” Winterson wrote. Beauty, and truth, I valued both. Ergo, I shyly began noticing women in packed sweaty buses, just like I had so far noticed the men. One such long bus ride back home, my head was deeply buried in my book, when the girl next to me dozed off. Her head flopped onto my shoulder. As if conjured by Winterson’s words, all the passion I had strove to push down the drains came out all at once as an intense sensory experience for this girl whose face I had not even dared to look at. All I knew was she was wearing a salwar kameez, a soft shade of pink, and I wouldn’t mind if her stop never arrived.
Every time I beckon that memory, a parasite sneaks in with it. The very same which led to a stiffness of feeling, whenever I would sense the slightest hint of emotion for any woman in my immediate vicinity. Since my adolescence, I fancied myself a poet, yet I struggled to feel the full potency of my emotions for women. Because the full potency implied platonic, romantic and sexual arousal—not always in that order. After many back and forths with my psychologist, I conceded that the pesky parasite who clawed at me—giving me tiny electric shocks anytime I tried to explore my feelings for anyone who was not a cis het male—was shame.
When I came across the character of Adam in the web-series, “Sex Education”, I was overcome with recognition. As Adam grappled with his bisexuality, feelings of confusion and shame mired him. Which he inadvertently projected onto Eric, the object of his intense amore. Amore is a better shape for what I feel in love – affection mixed with electric passion. But the latter part is often discomfiting to me because shame accompanies it. I don’t remember the beginning of this shame. Maybe it was the older cousin telling us about her embarrassing experience of watching the film “Fire”—which was one of the earliest cinematic portrayals of Sapphic love in an Indian context. Or the word ‘lesbian’ being underlined ‘dirty’ in red by a friend in the dictionary, or a culmination of many such homophobic micro-aggressions over a lifetime.
This internalised homo-negativity is incredibly tricky to spot in a culture that encourages heteronormativity. Our socio-cultural conditioning quite insidiously and systematically ingrains within us the belief that that sexual attraction towards the same sex is ‘dirty’ and ‘unnatural’. It’s easier, therefore, safer even for a bi or pansexual person to develop heterosexual feelings in a social setting where that’s expected and encouraged. However, the awakening of the ‘other’ part of us is laced with feelings of inadequacy, inauthenticity, and shame.
Feeling deeply and truthfully into my queer attractions was a muscle that had nearly atrophied. Though the shame was unconscious, the unlearning of it has been a very conscious effort. Now when I feel myself awkwardly shuffling around a woman, I embrace that discomfort too, instead of resisting it. That’s a risk I am willing to take to discover all parts of me.
The first time he had felt attracted to a boy was when he was just eight years old. Maaz was playing football with his school friends when a young boy approached them with a big, friendly smile on his face. He had just moved into the neighbourhood and wanted to play with them. Maaz was immediately taken by the boy’s beautiful smile and big bright eyes. They had soon become best friends and spent all their free time together. The other boys noticed how close the two friends were and would sometimes tease them by calling them lovers and making kissing noises at them. Maaz and Faaris, Faaris and Maaz, the inseparable duo. To be fair, neither of them really minded the teasing. They knew they had a special friendship and they were happy just to have each other.
But life is unpredictable and the best friends were soon separated when Faris’s father, who had a transferable job, was once again transferred to another city. The two 14-year-olds embraced and cried desperately on their last day together. They promised to find each other and get together again sometime soon in the future. Even though he was too young to really act on his feelings, Maaz knew even then that he was in love with Faaris. But his mouth could never form the words to express that love and he never dared to cross over the boundaries of platonic love into something more. So that first love remained unexpressed and unrequited. A bundle of frustration that, ever since then, always weighed heavy in his heart.
As he grew older, in Maaz’s mind, the real Faaris transformed into a figure of idealised male beauty. Faaris had been taller than him, more athletic with a sturdy build. Faaris had been an excellent football player and the two of them had often played together, this shared interest drawing them nearer. Now that Faaris was gone, Maaz often had little crushes on similarly sporty boys as he watched them play football or kabaddi. Their lithe bodies, the dirt on their legs as they kicked the dust, the sheen of sweat covering their bodies, the flecks of grass on their faces and limbs, all seemed to excite Maaz into a secret passion.
Yet, Maaz never dared to express this passion in any way. No one ever came to know of his homosexuality. The people around him related homosexuality to extravagantly feminine behaviour or looks in a boy. But Maaz did not fit into that stereotype. He was sporty himself, one of the best footballers in his locality. Everyone wanted him on their team and no one who subscribed to these stereotypes would ever guess that he was gay.
Maaz knew that the society he lived in, the value system that he existed within, had no place for gay people. Any homosexual expression would be immediately condemned as a sin. It would be seen as something so shameful and disgusting, so abhorrent and disruptive that most definitely his own parents would kill him and throw his body to the dogs. There would be no funeral, no tears. He would be simply exterminated, all traces removed, as if he was a pest, a cockroach. All this Maaz knew with absolute certainty and so he hid his true self from everyone around him.
Then, one night, when he had just turned eighteen, his parents announced that they had found a suitable girl from a well-off family for him and that an agreement had been reached between the two families. The engagement and wedding would take place within the next month. Maaz was still in school and had been in the process of applying to various colleges. He hadn’t given marriage a single thought. All he had thought of was applying to the farthest college and leaving home. He wanted a life, a job far away from the small town where he grew up. He wanted to spread his wings, live more freely and find his own way to a better place. But now he was expected to get married and join the family cement and stonework business. That night he fought bitterly with his parents but he was told that there was no alternative. A deal had been made; the family’s word given. The match promised to be a great business alliance as well. Maaz was told that it would not be honourable or feasible to go back on the given word.
That very same night he met the boy in the well. He hadn’t been able to sleep at night. The air seemed stale and he felt suffocated inside. So, he rushed out to the veranda to weep into the cold night. His sat on the edge of the family well and cried, bemoaning his fate to the starry sky. But when he turned his face down to the deep waters of the well, through the tears that blurred his eyes, it seemed to him he saw a young man stare bemusedly back at him. What should have been his reflection did not really seem so to him. To begin with, the boy didn’t seem to be crying. His face was contorted by the ripples in the water but didn’t he seem to be laughing at him?
Maaz was angry and berated the boy, “Hey you, stop smiling. What is so funny? Can’t you see I am in distress?” The boy replied, “My beautiful one, forgive me if I seem to be laughing at you. I am not. I am admiring you from down here. It is so rare to see a face as lovely as yours that my heart is happy to behold you. My pretty one, what ails you?” Charmed by the boy’s words, Maaz relayed all his pain to him. Every day, at the same time at night, Maaz would meet the boy in the well and converse for a couple of hours with him. It always seemed to make his heart feel lighter to do so.
Soon, though, words were not enough. Maaz wanted more, so did the boy. They confessed to each other their love and longing. But the boy expressed his inability to leave the well. And Maaz could not possibly think of a way to go down to him. And so, the affair continued with ardour unabated, unquenched.
The pressure was building, the engagement happened, the wedding was due soon. Maaz’s head was boiling. It felt to him that a leash had been put on him and like a dog he was being led down a path in life he had never planned to take. He felt lonely, trapped and depression set in. His only solace came at night when he got to see that beautiful face, like the white moon reflected in dark waters. Hounded by a sense of despair, one night, Maaz left his bed and came to the well. The boy called to him softly, lovingly, “I want you, my dear, I am alone in the well. I long to hold you.” And Maaz replied, as if in a dream, “I am happiest with you. I want to be happy always.” After saying this, Maaz turned his back to the world and jumped into the well.
Not the way we want a love story to end, but unless things change for the better, tragedies on a similar scale will keep occurring, in several silent and lost corners of India.
I remember the days leading up to the 377 verdict – anxiety peaking, clammy palms, involuntary tears, loss of sleep, constant fear-mongering, trying to stay hopeful and up-to-date with any news in relation to it. Followed by the day that it was to be announced – the eerie silence of not being able to see what was going on at the courts – twitter feeds blowing up with updates, instagram DMs with people who were helping petitioners; knowing I was a mere 23.7kms away from the court where the verdict would be given; the gripping fear of ‘what if we don’t get decriminalized’ and in response to that being literally frozen under my best friend’s quilt as she went on about her regular Thursday.
This lead-up to 377 being struck down is how I’ve spent my days ever since the hearings on marriage equality have started. Hopeful, yet ridden with anxiety. I am glad we get to listen-in on the court proceedings but I didn’t account for the lack of motivation to do anything but process all that was being said and how it would grip me and take me out of my everyday life!
On Tuesday, I was pretty much functioning on auto-pilot, getting to the office and sitting at my desk. I don’t have any memory of how I got there because I was so invested in all that was being said, I only remember that I cried on my way there.
Luckily my employer understood and didn’t ask me to shut it down.
It was overwhelming trying to listen to the biases that highly-regarded, articulate individuals hold, who were supposed to be representatives of the state.
Somehow, between work – I listened in and it still took me until 7pm to finish hearing it all. That was only Day 1, my brain was fuzzy.
My partner and I were on edge all throughout the three days and my moods were all over the place. I was snappier than usual – experienced higher disassociation levels; all the while trying to be present for fellow queerios as much as possible.
On Wednesday I felt a brain shutdown coming on. I started to scribble words and sentences being spoken during the hearing on several sticky-notes, words that felt insensitive and words that felt empowering. That entire day went by just listening in.
By Day 3, I tried my best to stay as hopeful as ever, but when they announced that the hearings may go on longer – I worried what would happen before hearings could resume – would there be rioting, would certain religious organizations take to the streets, would the BCI make a fuss? How was I to keep the hope alive like I’d promised?
All this discourse when I’d been holding onto a ring for almost 10 days, the one that I wanted to give to my partner as a grounding moment for us – not as an engagement ring but to say I am here, I am staying, I love you for a long long time and we may not have it figured out but I want us to figure them all out together.
On Thursday, I decided I would no longer wait for the hearings to commence, finish, or the law to decide whether we receive the rights that are literally ours, to be ruled in favor of us or not. Instead, I dedicated my time to cleaning up our home – the one my partner and I share.
I wished to do this at home – a place we’ve built together, where we live out our days, our domestic life, in the middle of our usually busy mornings, the ones we cherish the most – that’s when I gave her the ring: on Friday morning.
This was our silver lining, our rainbow glory. Almost immediately after – the sense of calm that washed over the both of us was soulful.
The life we’ve built and this love is still ours. A ring or no ring, having the choice to marry one another is a basic human right and I don’t understand why anybody needs to contest it.
My partner and I envision our lives together, we someday wish to adopt older kids that almost never find families that are willing to take them on. We want to be able to build a community space for fellow queerios to rest their heads and experience love, friendship and family.
I lost my father nearly two years ago now; the fact that it was a hassle-free handover when it came to releasing his deceased body to my mother haunted my mind. Because what happens when we find ourselves in that situation and either one of our families refuses to “allow us” or “grant” access to us to be able to do the same?
What happens if we want joint bank accounts or put money down for a home loan together?
Where is our access to having hopes or dreams of a life together in society when we aren’t even considered anything but a mere “other”?
None of this will be possible until we keep working towards all the rights that ought to be a default setting instead of a fight for and by the community.
Reading down Section 377 was just a foot in the door and countless people are trying exceedingly hard to ensure that the door keeps opening wider for us. We will fight until we are accepted and seen as people who deserve to live as respected members of society, whether married or unmarried!
Aryavardhan Singh, who goes by the name Trixie, recently took to social media to share her experience after being subjected to conversion therapy at the hands of Karauli Baba (@karauli.shankar) from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The incident occurred on 8th April 2023.
Trixie, who had been living in Delhi for the past year, had returned to her hometown in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, for her birthday. “I had moved away from home because my family was toxic growing up. They were controlling and abusive, and I had to move away. But, I had just lost a job and it was my birthday and I went home because I thought it would be a good break,” she shares.
Trixie never came out to her family; she was outed by her brother. “About 3-4 years ago, I was secretly seeing a guy in my hometown. He had been unwell and I was checking up on him. I got up to use the washroom but left my phone behind. My brother, who had a habit of checking my phone read my messages. He told my mom,” shares Trixie, who adds that she was robbed of the opportunity to come out on her own terms.
Her mother, who didn’t know to approach the situation opted to be neutral. While she would suggest that they needed to find some sort of treatment, she was not hostile. “I used to tell her that I met a guy, or that I would never want to marry a girl and she was just neutral. So I didn’t expect this from her. My brother, on the other hand, used to act like he was approaching things positively, but he wasn’t,” she shared.
Until two months ago, the situation was kept a secret, even from her father. When Trixie’s father was finally told, he didn’t take it well. “He went to a doctor for advice, and he was told that there was nothing wrong with me. This changed things. While he is not as toxic as he used to be, he is also not supportive. He was not the one to force me to go to the baba. My mother manipulated him emotionally. But, he also didn’t stand up for me, so I blame him as well,” she adds.
When asked what changed between the time she was outed and two months for her mother to take such a drastic step, Trixie shared that it could be that she had come to better terms with her sexuality. “When I lived in my hometown, I dressed in men’s attire. Maybe, I would play around with men’s clothing, by opting for brighter colours or by layering, but it was not so apparent. But once, I moved out, I started dressing more femininely. I started wearing women’s clothing and donning long hair, and long nails. I was finally being myself,” she shares.
The family drove down to Kanpur on the 6th of April and stayed with a family friend. On the 8th, they visited the Lavkush Ashram, on the outskirts of Kanpur. Her mother had learned about the Baba after watching a video by Dr Sachin Kathuria of Delhi’s Ganga Ram Hospital. Dr Kathuria had previously taken his son to the ashram. The Baba told the man that his son was possessed by evil spirits, which were causing him to be “girly”.
In retrospect, Trixie says, that the fact that the ashram is located so far away from the city, is also suspicious. “One reason may be that they wanted a big piece of land, but I also think it’s because they wanted to stay away from the eyes of the mainstream. He is famous among a specific audience, but the people in Kanpur don’t know him; my father’s friend, who we stayed him had never heard of him. Funnily enough, people in Delhi had heard of him. I feel they are trying to stay under the radar to avoid opposition and protests,” she shares.
Trixie was not informed that the purpose of the visit was to “consult” the Baba. By the time she realized so, she tried to leave, but she was forced to stay by her family and the people of the ashram. Doors were shut to prevent them from people. They didn’t shy away from physically restraining her either. For 2-3 hours, she was subjected to witness black magic, after which they tried to tie ie a hefty rope to Trixie’s waist and a kalava to the wrist. She was asked to wear them for three months, but Trixie managed to remove them the moment they got out of the ashram.
“I watched my parents fork over 1.5 lakhs to cure me. What did he do? Nothing. He humiliated me in front of 400 people, performed some puja, and claimed that prayers will save me,” says Trixie, who managed to take videos of the ashram and post them, sparking outrage.
Trixie’s relationship with her family has become strained since the incident. “Soon after the incident, my mom apologized. She cried and told me she never wanted to hurt me and asked me to forgive her. I did,” she shares. However, when Trixie decided to share thevideo, her mom was upset and asked her to take it down. “She was upset that people were criticizing her and she was upset that she was being dragged into the middle of this. But, this is the only piece of evidence I have, and she was a key part of it. I didn’t put her in the middle, she made it happen. She is guilty and she should also bear the consequences,” says Trixie.
Her brother, who didn’t agree with conversion therapy, did not oppose the situation as it was unfolding. “While I was fighting against what was happening he told me that sometimes for others’ happiness, you have to sacrifice some things. But now, it seems like he is worried about my safety and mental health. I guess, at the end of the day, he is my brother and he does care and worry for me,” he says.
Trixie informed her dad that she had posted the video as he isn’t on social media. “I told him, now, it is about my well-being, self-respect, and mental health. He just said that he is with me, whatever I decided to do. It is nice to see that at least one parent is on my side,” she shares.
It was not just queer people. People suffering from non-curable diseases, people with autism, and other conditions were given the hope that they will be cured. “I want him severely defamed so much so that he cannot run this business built on fooling people and hurting them. He is preying on innocent and desperate people and looting their hard-earned money by giving false promises. People should know he is a fraud, and his business should shut down,” opines Trixie.
Conversion therapy is a form of psychotherapy that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is also sometimes referred to as reparative therapy, reorientation therapy, or sexual reorientation therapy. Conversion therapy has been widely discredited by the medical and scientific community and is widely viewed as unethical and dangerous.
In 2022, the National Medical Commission (NMC), the apex regulatory body of medical professionals in India, wrote to all State Medical Councils, banning conversion therapy and calling it “professional misconduct”. In a letter dated August 25, it also empowered the State bodies to take disciplinary action against medical professionals who breach the guideline. The letter said the NMC was following a Madras High Court directive to issue an official notification listing conversion therapy as wrong, under the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquettes and Ethics) Regulations, 2002.
Despite the ban, bizarre rituals, hypnosis, and other arbitrary practices continue to be touted as a way to change the gender identity or sexual orientation of queer people.
“It is not my mission to not just shut down Karauli Baba, but all similar babas out there. We can’t just wipe out one and hope for change. They all have to go,” she adds.
It had been one of those days in Lahore, the air was warm and sticky—and breathing it in felt like inhaling custard.
Taimur had not yet changed out of his school uniform: a drab white dress shirt and khaki pants—all made of sandpaper, of course. But despite the viscous air that smelled vaguely of petrol and the less-than-comfortable clothes he had been forced to wear all day—he felt oddly relieved. There was a strange sort of freedom in being home alone for the first time in months. In being able to hear nothing but the faint thumping of his own heart and the distant whirring sounds of the world beyond his house.
He was breathing faster than usual, lungs scrambling to keep up with his excitement. Taimur had forgotten what it had felt like to be free, if even for a little while. Every muscle felt alive, like he had nothing but adrenaline coursing through his veins.
He ripped off his shirt and half ran to his wardrobe, digging for his fifth grade school-bag. It was a queer, ancient thing— perfectly preserved except for the broken strap and a patch where the faux leather has eroded to reveal a lighter brown interior. The latter had been the result of age. The former had happened when he had been shoved to the ground by someone for being a sissy. Taimur had always been subject to relentless bullying. Doing impressions of him had been his classmate’s favorite pastime all throughout school.
He remembers fifth grade, when his teacher had put lipstick on him for a costume, and the rest of the boys had laughed at him. His friends had laughed at him. It had not been the first time, and it certainly would not be the last. The bullies had always called him zenana. They called him that for his accent, which they had deemed effeminate. They had done it for the way he walked, with a swagger and always like there was an invisible purse hanging from his wrist. But most of all they had called him that because he was different—and being different was a sin in Pakistan.
And so his hand shook a little as he tried to apply his lipstick that day, he pushed away these thoughts whenever they came to him. They made him a little sad, is all. He didn’t like being sad on occasions like this. He wanted to savour the person he would see in the mirror after he was done—who knew how long it would be until they met again? It had spread a little, the bow of carmine across his upper lip—making him look like he’d been kissed very aggressively. If only he had, Taimur thinks—a little embarrassed that his mind had drifted to Hamza and his mouth. But Hamza would never know that the shy, unassuming boy in his class thought about him every waking second of his day—and often when he wasn’t awake.
And besides, what was the harm in thinking about someone you could neither have nor ever confess to? He paints his lower lip too, gingerly and with a great deal of caution. The lipstick is clicked shut and tossed back into the bag, and Taimur stops to admire his work. He feels prettier already. His new mouth feels like it’s really his. He smacks his lips, not exactly knowing why he did it except that his mother always did after putting on her lipstick. Then there was his eyeshadow kit that he had saved up for months to buy, only to have to hide it under his hoodie when he did bring it home. Most of the colours in said kit remained unused, he only did this a few times a year and simply had not gotten around to experimenting with all of them.
In the end, he decided on silver-blue gradient—which he understood was a little unoriginal but originality required time that he did not have.
Tomorrow, a five-judge Supreme Court constitution bench is scheduled to start hearing a batch of petitions that are seeking the legal validation of same-sex marriages in the country among other rights for same-sex couples. The judges that will sit on the bench are Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice S.K. Kaul, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, Justice P.S. Narasimha, and Justice Hima Kohli. Here’s a brief look at the judges and some crucial cases they have presided over.
CJI D.Y. Chandrachud, the 50th Chief Justice of India was part of a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that the Constitution of India guarantees a fundamental right to privacy. He also wrote a concurring opinion in Shafin Jahan v Ashokan KM (2018) upholding Hadiya’s choice of religion and partner. Another concurring opinion was in Navtej Johar v Union of India (2018) where he cited the decriminalization of Section 377 as the first step in guaranteeing the queer community their constitutional rights. Justice S.K. Kaul was also a part of the nine-judge bench that ruled in favor of The Right to Privacy being a Fundamental Right.
Justice S.R. Bhat delivered landmark judgements in the areas of Intellectual Property Rights, Drug Regulation, and Right to Information. Justice P.S. Narasimha has served as the Additional Solicitor General of India and appeared in the Ayodhya Title Dispute Case in his capacity as a Senior Advocate, where he argued that the site was Lord Ram’s birthplace before the construction of Babri Masjid. Justice Hima Kohli is only the 9th woman to be elevated to the Supreme Court as a judge and gave the judgment in the Amazon-Future-Reliance Dispute.
It’s been a constant tussle over the past few months where the government has maintained its homophobic stand on same-sex marriages. Erstwhile, some organizations and commissions have come in open support for the same, while others have followed a queerphobic path echoing the government (including a group of not-so sanskari former judges). While the composition of the bench is mixed without any queer representation, all eyes are on this bench composed of some Justices whose work has constantly been around human rights and Constitutional Issues to direct hearings towards a favorable path.
The hearings will be livestreamed and can be accessed here.
In Tamil Nadu, there has been a growing movement demanding for horizontal reservation for transgender people, which takes into account caste inequalities among the community.
Over a year since Justice MS Ramesh of the Madras High Court ‘strongly’ recommended that the Tamil Nadu government provide a specified percentage of special reservation for the transgender community in public employment, there has been no remedial action taken by the administration to address this need.
The Trans Rights Now Collective had filed an appeal in this case and members of the collective were also staging protests in Chennai earlier today when cops arrived on site and began roughing up the protestors and detained a few of them. Prominent activist, Grace Banu, is reportedly one among them.
These protests have been growing since the collective brought to light the stories of 6 transgender folx who have qualified for government jobs, but whose applications were not being processed towards an employment offer. Despite being allowed to write the examinations and qualifying for a police job, the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Service Recruitment Board has rejected 5 of these candidates; the sixth has been disqualified from a teaching job. This is despite the relaxations prescribed by the court, which also issued an interim order to create a vacant post for the candidates.
At present, the Tamil Nadu state government offers reservations to trans persons under the Most Backward Class (MBC) category. Those trans persons belonging to the SC/ST community are given reservations under those categories. The Collective is demanding horizontal reservation so that withing the reservation for transgender persons, caste inequalities can be accounted for.
Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud has approved landmark initiatives to promote the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community in the Supreme Court. Nine gender-neutral restrooms will be built at various locations in both the main building and the additional building complex of the Supreme Court. Additionally, online appearance slips will now be available.
The online Advocates Appearance Portal, which was launched by the apex court in December last year, has also been made gender-neutral.
There is an active proposal to rename the Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Committee to the Gender and Sexuality Sensitization and Internal Complaints Committee. This change is believed to help broaden its scope.
Senior Advocate Dr Menaka Guruswamy has been added to the committee to ensure representation from the queer community.
These initiatives aim to raise awareness and promote the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community, ensuring a dignified work environment for them at the apex court.
The move came following a request from Rohin Bhatt, a queer, non-binary lawyer, to Justice Hima Kohli, the Chairperson of the Supreme Court Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee, requesting infrastructural inclusivity in the Supreme Court. Bhatt had requested gender-neutral bathrooms on every floor of the Supreme Court. In November last year, Bhatt had written to CJI Chandrachud requesting a modification in Supreme Court appearance slips to include an additional column where lawyers’ pronouns can be added.
This progressive decision is a significant step forward in promoting equality and inclusivity in both public and private spaces. The lack of gender-neutral restrooms and the requirement of gender-specific appearance slips can cause considerable distress and discrimination for LGBTQIA+ individuals, who often face challenges in accessing basic facilities.
The court’s decision acknowledges the need for transgender and non-binary individuals to be treated with dignity and respect, and to have access to facilities that reflect their gender identity. By mandating gender-neutral restrooms, transgender and non-binary individuals will be able to use restrooms that are safe and comfortable spaces without having to face discrimination or harassment. The inclusion of the third gender option in appearance slips for online transactions will help eliminate the need for individuals to disclose their gender identity, which can often be a source of anxiety and discrimination.
This was the first fashion week I had attended since 2020, the first one I was attending as someone who identified as transgender non-binary. In the time between these editions of LFW the impact of seeing other transgender/non-binary folks be visible, and occupy spaces that weren’t traditionally accessible to transgender folks had a massive effect on me. Seeing queer and transgender folk ‘living’ made living my transgender reality a possibility to me.
Although Gaia, Luna and Anjali have all walked the ramp at LFW before, this time all three were official Lakme Fashion Week models. Anjali Lama is the first transgender model to have ever walked at LFW (2017). She finally made it through the tryouts after two earlier failed attempts in 2016.
They are each successful models who work with designers and brands throughout the year. Paving the way for so many Indian transgender and non-binary models. That is not a hypothetical statement!
Although far too less for this writer’s satisfaction – there has been an increase in transgender/ non-binary actors in TV and Films and models working with the fashion and beauty industry. A result of the decades of hard work by activists, writers, and legal professionals alongside the trailblazing work done by queer artists, Drag performers, models, actors and content creators.
At the end of the day modeling is a profession, and like any other profession, you have a place of work and colleagues to work with.
What was it like backstage at LFW?
“No one has any bad spirits or energy, backstage” Anjali replied, remarking on just how supportive the experienced models had been to her. Anjali currently lives in New York and hails from Nepal, an international model who has worked with Calvin Klein and walked at New York Fashion Week 2022. “I had a great experience overall and found considerable acceptance and understanding from my colleagues backstage. In my experience at LFW I haven’t experienced any direct transphobia or discrimination the likes of which trans folks often experience in schools/ colleges.”
Anjali added, “Just like others everywhere else you get along with some folks and maybe not that well with others, but overall you could say it’s like a sisterhood/community”. Both Luna and Gaia testified to this sisterhood-like feeling when speaking about their experiences with cisgender models backstage
Luna said, “Oh yea, yea, these models are quite lovely. There were some really successful models in my pool, and they are really nice! I absolutely loved working with all of them. They are very kind and generous. Rachel Bayros actually gave me medicine once because I had a sore throat. So yea, there is a sisterhood there for sure! Yas, because there are so many women there no, they know how to work in a community.”
Gaia, who studied engineering, dropped out and has studied fashion. She had already walked a few editions of LFW for designers and previously said “It’s always nice for me being there, the models are welcoming and warm-hearted. The makeup artists, models, and backstage crew tend to be sincere and accepting.
One pickle that Glorious Luna (an enby drag performer and Makeup artist themselves) repeatedly found themselves in was during makeup. Makeup Artists often work as per the binary for shows. Do this for ‘male’ models and this for ‘female’ models. This habit carried over to this edition of LFW. Although there were a lot of gender-neutral/fluid models and fashion. Luna gave us an example, “One time I had a prolonged discussion with this one makeup artist, she insisted on doing the masc makeup, I was like no you are supposed to do eye-makeup as well cause I am wearing women’s clothing” – Luna walked mostly in femme or gender fluid or gender neutral outfits this season.
Are there any challenges you face at work that maybe your cisgender-identifying colleagues do not understand?
“NO” “NO” “NO”
“The requirements are the same for all, as a model I believe. The process during fittings and backstage is the same as for all. Whether someone is of a different gender or color, the profession is the same right? Everyone is doing the same work. So no, there aren’t any such challenges” Anjali replied, sounding confused by the question.
“For me the process and work is very smooth. For example there are only two changing rooms at the venue, I of course use the woman’s one, and everyone is cooperating and on board with it. Trans women are women, there are no specific requirements” Gaia said, reinforcing Anjali’s experience as well.
Luna, who has been featured in Vogue, Grazia, and Femina remarked, “Honestly other than the makeup thing there really isn’t anything else. For example when I tell them, no you have to color correct my beard area, they usually say that isn’t what they have been briefed. So then I need to tell them, I was born a man, so you have to color correct the beard. I don’t want my five o’clock shadow showing. Following which they shall get confirmation from their directors and then only continue makeup.” Exclaimed Glorious Luna with ample shade.
But other than this issue with the femme vs masc makeup – which is tiring admittedly – but also one that Luna is able to navigate with considerable ease. There aren’t really any differences, requirements, challenges, hiccups or roadblocks that keep transgender/ non-binary models from walking the ramp at LFW or the world over.
*Well other than systemic transgender and gender non-conforming phobia that is woven into the fabric of the industry*
Why is it important for trans/ enby folks to be their own representation and why is it important that folks like you are given the same opportunities that others get in these spaces?
Anjali said “I think it’s important that we represent minorities like black models, plus-size, short, older etc that conventionally did not have access to these spaces. For us transgender folks it’s not only important in fashion but all other industries where we have the skills and talents to be a part of. Yet for the most part we are discriminated against and not given access to these spaces.”
“Being transgender is still considered taboo for some people and tends to come with stereotypical beliefs of what we do. These people need to know that this community exists and that we are able to have fulfilling lives. What they assume isn’t always correct and we need to show them that” stated Gaia, elaborating on why she feels positive representation of the transgender community is key in dealing with transphobia and hate.
Very often we transgender folks ourselves don’t believe it is possible for us to occupy spaces, to which traditionally we have not been allowed access. The stigma, misrepresentation and invisibility of transgender folks in many industries has a lot of us convinced we do not belong in these spaces.
Anjali believes that they have gotten to this point in their career through hard work and developing the required skills for the job. Similarly, there are many transgender people out there that are qualified for specific jobs, but due to stigma and misrepresentation of the community, these positions are often denied to transgender people. This is why it is important to have more minority representation to work through this stigma and misinformation.
Gender roles are socially constructed. The way women should act and dress, as well as how men should behave, was established long ago and fashion happens to be one of the biggest ways of assigning gender. Glorious Luna explained how this has put queer folk whether they are the famous Gay fashion designers in India or the world over, or transgender and non-binary folks at the forefront of fashion explorations. It is now obvious to all, just how much queer culture has influenced the mainstream from the days of William Shakespeare to Madonna and Voguing.
“Why do I put on makeup?” Luna asked me rhetorically, “Just so that I feel feminine, right? It’s a way for me to engage and express gender. Queer people are using fashion and beauty as a language, so it’s only fair for these spaces to include us, because we are often the pioneers of these spaces. From famous gay designers like Halston to numerous trends have been begun by queer people and the current makeup trends being influenced by drag culture.
Even in Fashion 2008, queer folk have been shown all flamboyant, shown holding a little diary and managing things backstage. But we are never in the front of the stage, there it’s just very pretty and skinny cisgender girls. So when we have been behind the scenes for so long, it’s about time we should be given opportunities in front of the camera – it’s only fair.”
“When I was growing up, I didn’t see anyone at all! What I saw in mainstream representation, was usually cisgender gay boys, and then too they were the comic relief. I always had dreams of walking the ramp, but then reality hits you – oh you can’t do it because there is nobody.
I remember hanging out with queer friends in Mumbai, like whenever gay people from Mumbai’s fashion world get together, we would all do a “runway show” and emulate all the supermodels, Elton would say ‘Luna just walk like Naomi, show us how Naomi walks.’ And I would strut. I never did think I would be living this fantasy!” Luna said with glee.
What do you think it means for queer folks when they see you at LFW.
Me: Has anyone ever come up to you IRL or online and told you that you had impacted their life in any way?
Luna: Oh Yea, you are one of them! Hahahaha
They continued, “So many queer folks use fashion as a language to justify their ‘queerness’, so yea a lot of them do reach out to me to say how seeing me in these spaces has impacted them. So much so that there are some super cute kids who do sketches of me! It is such an amazing sensation of feeling for a bit that you can actually be an inspiration to others before my imposter syndrome kicks in. I hear them say ‘You slay on the runway’ and I realize that it is also a part of their fantasy like it had been of mine when I strutted as Naomi Campbell in friend’s homes.”
“I get a lot of appreciation from folks, who feel good when they see me here” Gaia recalled fondly, “I also get queries from queer folks who also want to model. They ask me how they should go about it, and I absolutely love to take time out and respond to them as much as I can. Because I want them to be here as well. I would be the happiest when others also make it here.”
Gaia also advised aspirational models, “Everyone is blessed with some or the other quality, so we have to work hard and develop our skills. Believe in yourself, manifest and work hard and you will achieve what you want to.”
“I completed five years in this industry. If it was just a fad or trend, or I was being hired because I am trans, my runway career would have ended already. But it isn’t so. It’s because I have skills and talents that I have worked hard on and developed over the years. I would advise that all those seeking a career in modeling understand this.” advised Anjali Lama.
She recalled, “In 2017, when I was the first transgender model at LFW, but now when I see there are significantly more, this time there were three in the pool models itself, Gaia, Luna, me. Even outside of LFW there are more names that are upcoming, I am so happy and grateful. We are getting opportunities and progressing.”
“When I hear, ‘yaas hunney you are serving the fantastyy’ I realize that is literally what we are doing as transgender/non-binary models walking at LFW. I am hoping that it gives way for a lot more queer folks to have this fantasy and work towards living it as well.” Glorious Luna said in conclusion.
… Writers observation outside of interviews;
Show Directors though. Amongst them, there seems to be a fairly discernible yet not universal trepidation to working with transgender/ non-binary models. Just like all of society today, the fashion industry too is polarised. One end attempting to maintain the status quo and the other trying to lift the often oppressive and arbitrary rules of who gets to be seen and who doesn’t – who gets to wear what. You know breaking the binary(s) stuff. While this LFW edition had plus-size models, age inclusive representation and non-binary representation – there was also some pushback. Some of that was from show directors, some from media
Rama is one of the most fun artists doing super amazing work with tattoos. Their instagram handle also has a highlight of their hand-poked tattoo work and it’s marvelous in every possible way. Their artwork has been part of exhibitions and their artwork is surreal, revolutionary with a tint of sarcasm, and of course very queer. rum’s instagram bio reads “doing it for the gays, the ladies, and oscar wilde.” they’re also open for mural, painting, and tattoo as well as other related commissions at their email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veer Misra draws queer intimacy among other things. They’re open for commissions and their merchandise (especially really cool t-shirts) can be accessed here. Their work is a prolific attempt to explore the themes of love, masculinity, intimacy, and mental health. It’s also done through a peculiar medium of story-telling, which puts up lived experiences of queer people at the forefront. From a queer reimagining of Taylor Swift’s august to making an artwork humming the tune of Robyn’s Honey, it’s a dive into the infinite tenderness of being queer.
Shoi is a Dalit Queer artist who engages with “The gay way of doing things and making art.” One of the first posts on their account is a phenomenal artwork with the line my body is a temple and i am an atheist, rallying the themes of body positivity. Shoi also explores how “dalitness” shows up in our everyday conventions set around conventional norms on beauty among other norms. Shoi’s artwork is also supported by narratives that exemplify their understanding of their “self” through the way of art. They also make fun stickers.
Gaurav is an illustrator and visual storyteller. Their website reads, “A creative who experiments in the realm of Illustrations, graphic design and comics, under the pseudonym of Gaurav Vikalp.” Gaurav’s website is a repository of a ton of breath-takingly thought provoking illustrations and comics (especially some work around the quarantine is a must watch). Gaurav has also worked with Nyaaya.in, People’s Archive of Rural India and Billdesk on their online products, and been associated with art residencies like Kochi Biennale foundation and Farside collective. Their work deftly questions the age of the internet, social media, gender and society. Their website can be accessed here.
Praveen is a visual artist based in Bangalore who takes different forms situated in the themes of written and unwritten histories, queerness, gender, asemic writing and the various intersections of these fields. They were also among a group of incredible artists at the Savitribai Santhe. They have worked as an artist with Gaysi, Almaarii, and Agents of Ishq among other platforms. Their larger body of work can be accessed here along with some really amazing films exploring gender, sexuality, and identity among other themes.
Meghna Menon is a solar powered enthusiastic creator of internet things and a thinker of silly thoughts. Meghna’s work includes portraits, self-portraits, designing book cover(s) for Penguin India, illustrations, campaigns on mental health and fan art. Meghnas’s work is also focused around community-building and the accessibility of knowledge and experiences. Meghna’s linktree can be checked here, their super awesome work can be accessed here and they can be contacted here email@example.com.
Harshinee is an artist that works on illustrations, murals, and comics. She is an enthusiastic learner dabbling in multiple fields all clutched around art, and also holds a degree in architecture. Her marvelous work through murals and interior murals is truly out of the world and also extends to illustrations for childrens’ books. She was also a part of a cohort of artists at the Satrangi Mela: All Day Queer Festival at Indiranagar Social. Her body of work can be accessed through her instagram account and also here.
Jyotsna is an alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, specializing in Animation Design. Her work involves a mix of animation, illustration, dancing and writing to tell stories. Some of the work that everyone should definitely tumble upon includes Character Design Research: Visual Notes from Fieldwork, a short comic on intimacy, and stop motion animation video (which is super awesome and creative) among other exciting projects that can be found here.
Asad Ali Zulfiqar is a Karachi-based artist who uses new media to elevate the mundane and explore compassionate, possibly playful ways of looking at times with intentionality. Asad is an artist who brings lived queer experiences of their own, and the joys and struggles of living in Karachi within their brilliant art and written work. They are the recipient of multiple prestigious grants and have also been featured in multiple anthologies through their creative writing, artwork and poetry. Their work Thoughts That Keep Sakina Sleeplessis set to be featured in kal FICTIONS, an anthology centering queer voices in/from/across South Asia, in 2022. Their website can be accessed here which features their vast array of work and their artwork can be accessed at behance.
Ritika is a queer artist/freelance illustrator. She experiences the world through images and feelings that conjure in the mind. She has done phenomenal work that truly portrays so many queer emotions through a variety of art mediums and always so full of color that you wouldn’t want to take your eyes off them. She has also worked with Revival Disability Magazine, Gaysi, India Autism Centre, and ART XV. As part of Revival Disability Magazine, her work revolved around the theme of neurodivergence, disability, disabled rest, codependence, community healing etc. and its portrayal through art. Most recently, she also did illustrations for the upcoming Yaari: An Anthology On Friendship by Women and Queer Folx (edited by Shilpa Phadke and Nithila Kanagasabai). Her truly breathtaking portfolio of artwork can be accessed here. For commissions, Ritika can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Note from Author: The title of the series is ‘Excerpts’ and the main idea behind the series is to look into queerness at a more intimate and individualistic level. A queer person makes a diary entry on a regular basis and documents their life and experiences while navigating heteronormative spaces and dreaming of a queer utopia simultaneously. The series revolves around ideas of home, love, relationships, identity, solidarity and hope in the context of queerness. In a way, it is very much like ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’, but more queer and more personal.]
I went out today, but I felt like a fish being forced to swim in an ocean of sand. I don’t belong here- in a world where I have to pick a side and if I choose for myself- it’s too much; it’s too real. Am I too much? Am I not enough? I guess I should tone it down. I should dress up more like a ‘man’. But what does it mean to be a man? Or to be a woman? Or to be all of it and none of it, all at once? Should I just stop being a fish and turn into a crab so I can bury myself under the layers of sand till I can’t think? But I do think and I think myself to numbness. I spend my days in nothing but thinking. I need to stop thinking. I need to stop rambling.
It took me some time to get out of my room and leave. But the minute I entered the street, I felt them staring at me – their eyes crawling up my spine. They said something, and it was the same thing I have heard before.
The same slur. The same mockery. The same hate..
Honestly, it isn’t the words that bother me, but how they look at me; this violation. As if I am not supposed to walk on the same ground as they do. Is it the way I walk? Or is it the way the red of my hair flickers in broad daylight? Why should I tone myself down when they refuse to see beyond binaries? I think I swam my way into a nest full of lobsters.
I remember the first time it happened- the explicit act of violence and humiliation that always begins subtly, like the blooming and withering of flowers; like decaying of fruits. It always begins with the stares and the whispers. The part that fascinates me is that no one bats an eye when it happens. It is also what haunts me. The hysterical normalcy of this is what makes it even more absurd.
All I dared to do that day was wear my favorite jumpsuit and put on a bit of makeup. Never knew the bruises would match the color of my eyeshadow. I have grown quite fearful of the color purple ever since. God! I feel like I have said too much and honestly, I don’t have the strength to put down the details into words, the incident is better left alone between my sighs and trembles.
It is important for anyone to dismantle such experiences into speech – to talk about it with someone. I did try to talk to my friends about it but they feel more distant than ever. They don’t have much to say about this. How would they? They are nothing like me. No wonder it is easier for them to turn an ignorant eye. But I don’t judge them for it because I have started doing the same. It is better to look away than to look at them right in the eye. My eyes would rather crawl out of my skull and run away because they know the cost of gazing back. Things might get worse than before. I might end up butchered and beaten up without a name, or a gender, or an identity.
I might exist without a being- like those broken containers you keep at the back of your cupboard in hopes of discarding them in the future; but you forget. I don’t want to be forgotten, but I don’t have much to treasure as memories.
I do want to talk about these things instead of writing them down. I do happen to have a lot to say, even when the language I stammer in is borrowed. I want to go back home and fall on Mumma’s lap and cry my heart out, the way I did back in school but I haven’t spoken to my family for quite some time now. But the mere act of going back home feels like a distant dream. The last time I called Mumma, there was this strange silence. As if we have run out of words to throw at each other. It has been a long time since we talked over the phone or since I went back home. I don’t know if I should call it home anymore.
So I stayed in my room, my happy place – wallowing and wailing with no one else but the humming of the ceiling fan to hold a conversation with. I stayed there lying on the bed. The air got heavier and the humming ceased to exist. I realized I have built a prison for myself where even the light can’t touch me. And when it got too much, like all things do, I decided to go out. I tried to get out of my room and luckily I did. I looked at myself in the cracked mirror of my bathroom, did the whole ritual of getting ready without the (unnecessary) romantic appeal of it and, when I thought I was done, I put on a bit of purple over my eyes. Purple will always be my favorite color, despite the fact that it still scares me a bit. I reached out for a pair of earrings but couldn’t find any because, well, the reason is too heavy for this entry and it has to wait for another one.
So I went out today. Maybe for the sake of finding someone I can talk to. Maybe in hopes of finding my way into a river that will take me back to the sea I yearn for. But for me to find my way, I guess I have to put up with the seagulls hawking over me.
Kamla Nagar is a commercial place in Delhi, where one can find items of every kind – from international brands to local products. Students of the north campus of Delhi University can be found there roaming around, captivated by the rainbow-colored products, and appreciating the contribution of this market in normalizing and embracing queerness. But when you think about it, you will comprehend that the sellers have no tangible idea about queerness. It is the capitalists who are capitalizing on the struggles of the community. The movie Gulmohar is no different.
Cinematic visions of queerness are considered to offer a different account of the world, thereby providing alternatives to narratives entrenched in capitalist, nationalist, hetero, and homo-normative imagery which can make the world legible (Schoonover & Galt, 2015). So, the question here is, whether Gulmohar acted upon those intentions and achieve its goal. And if not, then why are the queer characters depicted? What roles do those characters play in the film?
A typical upper-class family drama with a predictable emotional rollercoaster, Gulmohar displays two same-sex relationships without any depth in the characters. It is to follow the trend of depicting queer characters on the screen that is expected to entice a younger audience. The queer representation in the film is mere tokenism, and is used to construct the illusion of diversity. Though the representation of queer characters usually creates a platform for further discussion, such tokenistic characters never offer a viable space to do so because the character itself lacks any substance or depth.
The queer characters, when written or portrayed by queer people, exhibit tenderness, a certain inner depth, and ardent attachment, whether or not they play a significant part in the plot. Aligarh (2015) and Geeli Pucchi (2021) are examples of such projects that show the expression of queerness in such a manner. However, glancing at the characters of Gulmohar, one might wonder whether there was any queer involvement in the film, or if there was, then why we, as an audience, were unable to connect with them. Here the question arises, what makes a queer representation considerable, and what precautions the director can take to not hurt the sentiment of the community? I believe there is no specific answer to this question, but the writer and director’s initial intention is critical in this regard. If they are thinking of putting a queer character in a heteronormative family drama, then they should ask themselves: why is it important for them to put a queer character? Why and how do they wish to represent it? Is it to appeal to a certain set of audiences? If so, capitalism is unquestionably attempting to capitalize on the existence of marginalized communities through the director. If not, the writer and director should exert extra effort to fully comprehend the intricacies of the character, work on their backstory specifically so that the audience feels a certain kind of connection while watching the movie, and appropriately determine the character’s inner conflicts.
The plot’s involvement with the queer characters, or vice versa, is very minimal, which led us to believe that the director did not get a good hold of the characters as he was working with an ensemble, each with a different backstory. However, as one sat with this thought and gave it careful consideration, they will realize how much time and significance the other characters—whether it was Arun (played by Manoj Bajpayee) or Reshma (played by Santhy Balachandran)—had been given to nurture and develop their narratives. On the other hand, Amrita’s (played by Utsavi Jha) story is largely unremarkable; aside from being queer and breaking up with her boyfriend, who believes she is seeing some other man, she played no other significant part in the narrative. I was oblivious to the character as it exhibits some persistent strangeness until the intimate scene between her and Deepika (played by Tanvi Rao) appears which also seemed too sudden and forced.
The basis of Amrita and Deepika’s argument was unclear prior to their meeting at the shelter home. The audience was directed to think that Deepika was attempting to resolve the issue between Amrita and Ankur, until she asks, “How long will you keep avoiding us.” This is gripping because Amrita’s vague reaction, and the word ‘problem’ that she used while addressing their relationship, give the impression that she is unsure of her relationship with Deepika. So, the conflict was evident to the audience until the director had some other confounding plans for us. A moment later, we see Amrita holding Deepika’s hand and gazing at her very intimately. If the director wanted to explicitly locate Amrita’s sexuality, there are other ways to do so. Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996), through various allusions to female intimacy such as oiling each other’s hair, and pressing each other’s feet, which explored lesbian desire and eroticism. So, without forcing the character into an explicit intimate scene, director Chittella could have depicted Amrita’s sexuality. This clearly demonstrates how these characters have been left unexplored and the possibilities of other scenarios have simply been ruled out.
At the same time, we also need to acknowledge that the director’s decision to illustrate the intimate homosexual scene in a public space questions the liberal claim for queer human rights as being dependent on privacy. However, the stance of the director in this scene and his coyness in representing gay desire makes it difficult to determine whether it was a conscious attempt or a result of how the story was written.
As the scene continued, Kusum (played by Sharmila Tagore) caught a glimpse of them together. Immediately, the scene changes and we see Indu (played by Simran) saying, “I do not understand our kids,” to Arun on the phone. It felt like the earlier scene had been created just to justify this statement of Indu. As Aditya’s (played by Suraj Sharma) character is already established as a son who is estranged from his birth-father, the writers only needed to give Amrita’s character a conflict in this scene to support Indu’s claim. And what conflict could be more compelling than queerness itself?
Let us now look at the coming out sequence. Most of the directors handle coming-out scenes very delicately, whether they are on not-so-good shows like The Fame Game (2022) and Class (2023) or decent projects like Made in Heaven (2019) and Evening Shadows (2018). But, in Gulmohar, the director used this opportunity to tell us an altogether different same-sex relationship that Kusum had with her friend Supriya. It is like someone is telling you about their depression and you are forcing them to hear your stories of sadness; here the intention is not to compare depression with homosexuality, rather the attempt has been made to draw parallel to the insensitive outlook of the director.
Kusum: It was a very special time, but short-lived.
(Supriya kisses Kusum, and Kusum leaves the library)
Kusum: I reasoned with myself; it was not meant to be
Here, neither the writers nor the director explored why this was not meant to be; was it the physical touch that made the character feel uncomfortable or something else? They leave the audience with a wide range of interpretations and do not even bother to direct them to something and for an audience when the range of the possibilities increases the depth of the story and the character is lost.
The story of Supriya and Kusum is left the same as that of Deepika and Amrita’s, incomplete. However, the story of the former is brought up again at the end of the movie through the last set of dialogues when it is established that Supriya had retired and moved to Pondicherry and that Kusum had previously announced her intention to do the same. And the movie ends with Kusum giving Amrita a wink as she turns to look at her. So, the director was craving to connect the dots for the audience and it felt that the narrative of homosexuality is simply introduced to elicit awe from the audience. To do so, the director forfeits the complexity of queer relations. The story of Kusum and Supriya came to an end in a cycle that embodies the last resort. As the reason for Kusum’s separation from Supriya is not clear, it appears that she is tired after all the struggles of a heterosexual marriage and wants to return to her lover to resume living her identity at the age of 70. This embrace of sexuality in exhaustion could never be emboldening for queer people, rather it creates a sense of hopelessness.
Understanding female sexuality in isolation from class, the economy, and society is difficult. Society privileges men and stifles women’s desires, through various institutions like marriage (in this case, between Kusum and her husband), romantic relationships (between Ankur and Ambika), and forces women into compulsory heterosexuality. Director Rahul V. Chittella, who touches upon these subtleties, could have explored more by emphasizing the narratives of desire and longing while connecting critiques of heteronormativity to understandings of other social norms.
Schoonover, Karl & Rosalind Galt, The Worlds of Queer Cinema: from Aesthetics to Activism, ArtCultura, 2015
I was diagnosed with a chronic condition and invisible disability in February 2021. I didn’t realize it back then, but that was the moment my whole life turned upside down.
Upon gaining knowledge of this illness, my friend asked, “Is it because of your weight?” This was their first thought, and it set the tone for the next 2 years of my life.
You see, when you’re fat and disabled, you get to see a very interesting side of this world. People already believe that as a fat person, you’re a ticking bomb just minutes away from death, and they are always ready to pounce on you with blame and accusations the moment you get sick. When you add disability to this treacherous equation, people’s pity for your condition gets blown into pieces and it is replaced by the thought: “Oh, you did this to yourself.”
I purchased my first walking stick in the middle of November 2022. Before that, when people saw me retreating to a corner at events in pain, they used to attribute it to my introverted nature or the classic stereotype of ‘fat people get tired quicker’. With the walking stick, my disability became visible. “What could go wrong?” I used to think. A fool I was.
Amusingly, now, every time I walk down a street, I feel people’s constant gaze burning into me. People feel obliged to my explanation for my condition and I recite the same answers to every acquaintance in a monotone. I take constant cover as people from all corners shower me with their unsolicited pieces of advice in the form of gharelu nuskhe (translates to ‘home remedies’). My favorite piece of advice was given to me right after I came out of the ICU. It was, “You should start believing in God. The only reason you’re going through all this is that you don’t pray.”
Strangely, people have a habit of asking me the reasons for my pain. Maybe if they knew a cause, they would be able to give better advice. Maybe they would decide their emotional reactions accordingly. But, when I don’t bring up my mere existence in a fat body as the cause for my pain, they frown, perplexed. In the end, they bring it up anyway, desperate to attribute the disease to something, waiting to tell me to lose my weight.
Sometimes I feel grateful for my disability because it allows me to rest, and do things at my pace. It calms me to know that now when I am clumsy or am unable to climb a rock or a big step, at least people won’t laugh at me and attribute these trivial mistakes to my fatness. At least now I can justify it. That’s what happens when you try to navigate this ableist and fatphobic world. You keep excuses and justifications for the ways in which you eat,walk, stand, sit, and exist, in your arsenal, ready to deploy them whenever necessary.
I have been compared to folx who had the same illnesses as me, who were thinner and more active, more agile. It was as if surviving this condition was a race, and I was losing badly. I have searched far and wide, from social media chatrooms to subreddits, for people who had the same experiences as me, for folx with whom I could share my story. But even the communities that had the same illnesses as me gave a lot of importance to weight and demonized fatness. As if, losing weight would magically rid me of all the illnesses in the world.
The truth is, I am tired. I am tired of being blamed for a body that is a gift from my ancestors. For being blamed for the way I exist in spaces, for the ways in which I take up space. I am tired of defending my glorious body that works so hard to keep me alive. I am tired of shrinking myself to appease and make others comfortable. I am tired of hearing things like: “So, you’re just giving up?”, “did you even TRY to lose weight?”, “Have you tried yoga, meditation, walking, acupuncture, that will fix everything”, “maybe you should look into ayurveda, homeopathy”, or “there is a problem in your astrological chart, go get it fixed, you will be fine”. I am tired of aunties, strangers on the street, classmates, and family friends who surface from every corner with their version of a miraculous cure.
Existing in a body like this, you feel your autonomy slip away. My doctors and family make decisions about what sustenance and movement my body needs. Classmates and strangers ask me questions about my body and are quick to form opinions on it. Suddenly, there comes a situation where you have no say, whatsoever. Because the judgments have been made, and you’re both the culprit and the victim. Congratulations.
In the year 2014, The Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014(which was called Kill the Gays Bill) was struck down by the parliament of Uganda as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court and it also received a lot of flak from international spaces. Following up on this, in May 2021, sex work and same-sex sexual activity was criminalised, and of recently, a new bill called The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023 was passed by the parliament that criminalizes queer identifying individuals with up to life-imprisonment and death penalty as punishment for committing offences. It further bans the promotion of homosexuality as well.
The final bill is yet to be published but the discussion points included the following pointers (culminated by BBC News) which also codifies brutal punishments of life imprisonment and death penalty:
1. A person who is convicted of grooming or trafficking children for purposes of engaging them in homosexual activities faces life in prison.
2. Individuals or institutions which support or fund LGBT rights’ activities or organisations, or publish, broadcast and distribute pro-gay media material and literature, also face prosecution and imprisonment.
3. Media groups, journalists and publishers face prosecution and imprisonment for publishing, broadcasting, distribution of any content that advocates for gay rights or “promotes homosexuality”.
4. Death penalty for what is described as “aggravated homosexuality”, that is sexual abuse of a child, a person with disability or vulnerable people, or in cases where a victim of homosexual assault is infected with a life-long illness.
5. Property owners also face risk of being jailed if their premises are used as a “brothel” for homosexual acts or any other sexual minorities rights’ activities.
The bill follows the The Anti Homosexuality Bill, 2022 which considers homosexuality as a creeping evil against the order of nature that threatens the stability and survival of family, and brings up the “concern” that children are being lured into it. It provides for protection of such children as well where the magistrate can pass a protection order. The offenses of “homosexuality” includes touching another person with the intention of committing homosexuality, or holding out as a gay, lesbian, queer, trans or any other gender identity other than the male-female binary.
The punishment for committing the offense of “aggravated homosexuality” is ten years imprisonment (in the previous edition of the bill) with mandatory checking for their HIV (Human Immuno Virus) status. Even the attempt to commit homosexuality and/ or aggravated homosexuality will be considered a felony, punishable by two years and ten years of imprisonment respectively. “Aggravated Homosexuality” includes committing homosexuality on someone who is below 18 years of age, simply being HIV positive (the bill uses the term offender), if a parent/guardian commits homosexuality against their child/ward, being a serial offender, committing homosexuality against a disabled person, administer drug to someone to commit homosexuality, and committing homosexuality over someone where one exerts any form of control.
The bill notoriously defines (section 5) victims of “homosexuality” which is a vicious tool that can be utilized by homophobic people to attack and criminalize queer people by filing a case against them on the grounds of attempting to commit homosexuality. It also provides for protection, assistance, and payment to the victims of homosexuality with consent of a victim not being a defense which points to sheer attack on ways of living, being, and surviving for queer people. Further, revealing the identity of the “victim” is also codified as a crime with punishment and liability to pay fine.
Perhaps, the most shocking aspect of the bill is criminalisation of those who are aiding or abetting (even conspiring) homosexuality, which puts every supportive friend/family, ally, organizations working on queer rights, and communities that are support spaces for queer people in grave danger, with the aim of their extinction. Further criminalization is also instituted for procuring homosexuality by threats, detention with the intent to commit homosexuality, brothels, same-sex marriage, and promotion of homosexuality whether by an individual or an organisation (whose registration will be cancelled) and whether be in media form or in any other form. It also completely sever any representation of homosexuality in the media as well.
Volker Turk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the bill as it is inherently discriminatory towards the lgbtq+ community in Uganda. Even though homosexuality has been present in the country in pre-colonial times, it is widely believed that homosexuality is a post-colonial or a western trend. The troubling notion is that this year a record-high criminalizing bills towards the queer and trans community have been presented all over the world.
This is not just an anti-homosexuality bill but also a bill that provides protection to queerphobic people in the society and allows them legibility and state support to crack down queer people. The bill should not exist and its language presents homosexuality as a severe crime which is a threat to so-called “normal” heterosexual people who form heterosexual families. It is also troubling that we do not outrage over criminalisation of homosexuality in under developed country, or one whose population doesn’t represent the gay white, able-bodied, upper caste and upper class cis gays and lesbians.
One needs to ask where are all the corporates, those who promote pink-capitalism, and those who work on diversity and inclusion? Where are those who claim they’re all about inclusion during pride month when queer people are being driven out to their extinction forcefully? Where are the allies when queerphobic people are presented with legal protection to aid in convicting people from the LGBTQIA+ community for simply being themselves?
The bill is an attempt at genocide by stripping away citizenship, any involvement in the economy, and sustenance through community along with taking away the ways of being, loving, and caring for queer people. While the bill portrays where we draw the lines of morality, desire, family and community in conservative spaces like Uganda; the international reception, engagement, and outrage deals with how even the notion of inclusivity and protection is limited to a certain specific section of people of the queer community.
To further read about state sponsored homophobia, check out ILGA’s report on State-Sponsored Homophobia here.
Rei scans over the output that ‘FleeceAI’ has produced. It’s a drab, murky muse of a woman holding the palms of another, a tiny plant sprouting from where their blurred hands meet. The plant is a dirty brown, with crumbling leaves and withered flowers.
She sighs as she scans over the final picture, mentally calculating the amount of rework needed to create a decent final portrait.
“This thing just can’t get fingers right, hm?”
Astra’s breath is a whirlwind storm in the cool air of the apartment, warm and grounding against Rei’s skin. She peeps at the muse and walks away, scoffing at the “pure banality of AI-generation software,” as she always puts it.
“I don’t know what you want me to do other than use this thing, Astra,” Rei mumbles as she picks up her digital pen to draw. “I have no idea what a plant is supposed to look like.”
When Rei was four, her mother told her of a fairytale past: of an Earth covered in green and blue, of forests and jungles cascading across continents. As years passed, it was clear to her that this was a family heirloom: lore passed down from her grandmother’s ancestors to remind them of a world that once was.
But now, things are done a little differently. “Greenery is archaic,” she remembers her science professor saying. “The biosphere has evolved. And our tech can tackle anything. We don’t even need oxygen to be made by plants anymore. It is as easy to manufacture today as the gravity boots you young people wear.”
“Then why don’t we grow one?” Astra says. Rei blinks at her, eyes fleeting for a second to the loose strand of lilac hair hovering over her tan face. She wants to reach out and tuck it, then pull her in for a kiss. “What?”
“Why don’t we…grow a plant?”
The idea is redundant. Rei watches on as her best friend sows a few seeds that were delivered five minutes ago, after they scoured vendor lists across the world. “Sourced straight from Brazil,” Astra whispers as she covers the seeds in the soil. “Now all we need is some sunlight…” she says as she climbs up Rei’s ladder and onto the roof. “And some water. We should have a plant baby in…this dossier says about three weeks.”
Rei huffs as she climbs onto the roof and watches the sunlight curl across the plant-friendly metal pot placed on the railing. “Did you just say “plant baby”?”
Astra’s brown eyes reflect the blazing heat overhead, irises blown out as her cheeks, dusted in pink, swell with a smile. “Yep! We’re officially plant parents now, Rei,” she says seriously, and Rei can’t help but shake her head. “I don’t even know if this is gonna work. But sure. I guess I’ll be your plant wife.”
Astra turns away and waters their little plant pot, only before Rei catches her biting her lip.
“Okay. Serious business. What are we naming our babies?”
Rei strokes the tiny leaf sprouting from the pot, humming to it as it were sentient. Electricity crackles around them as a drone flies past in the afternoon sky, on their trip to release oxygen for the day. “Hm. I’m not sure. But if I had to, I would name her Gayle. You know, after…”
“Your childhood dog, yep. Totally. So, Gayle is gonna be here in a week and a half…”
“You speak like this is a human child.”
“…so how are we gonna split custody? Does she spend one week with you then one with me? I’m new to this whole parenting schtick, Rei.”
Rei’s throat fills with an intense urge to grab Astra by the shoulders, shake her and yell, “How am I not supposed to fall in love with you?” But for now, she settles her gaze on her soft lips.
“Relax, Stra. We’ll take turns watering her. You can come over every day. I mean, you practically live with me.”
Astra’s face flickers with an expression Rei can’t place, before going back to her normal, full smile. “Maybe I should just move in with you, then.”
Rei feels her face heat up, and she looks away from Astra’s knowing smile. “No way. You have terrible hygiene.”
Rei’s skin buzzes like lightning when their shoulders bump against each other, bent over to look at Gayle. She’s as magnificent as Rei imagined, leaves full of life, green in a way that Rei has never seen in her digital sketches. The AI muse does it no justice. She’s alive now, in her full glory: their marvellous, little, plant baby.
They hold the pot together, hands touching, gazes too full and too much to even meet. The day is serene, and Rei dreams of it, carrying Gayle downstairs and placing her in a preservation pod so she can stay with them forever.
“You know, this reminds me…” Astra whispers, fingers inching closer to Rei’s wrist. “…of everything we have missed.”
“A century back, this was all so normal. Growing a plant. An entire forest, even. But now, even though we can manufacture oxygen and water in labs, freeze our bodies and transfer our memories to fully sentient bots, we spent so much time and care trying to bring this one to life, the old way.”
Their eyes meet, and suddenly, the warm breeze feels frozen in place.
“But back then, there were so many things that.. weren’t normal,” Rei says as her gaze dips to Astra’s lips. “That you could spend years nurturing and…even if it came to fruition, things would just wither away.”
Her friend’s lip curls into a smile. “Well then. Thank god for bad AI art and Gayle.” Their laughter rings loud in the empty rooftop.
When they lean in, over Gayle’s happy swinging in the wind, their touch feels weighted. Normal. Natural, and all too new.
But mostly, this kiss feels like a new seed, planted in fresh soil.
“Yeah,” Rei whispers as she pulls back. “Thank god.”
When you receive a call from an unknown number that asks, What’s your favorite scary movie?, and that person on the call can see your moves, I think it’s your time to be stabbed.The sixth installment in the Scream franchise isn’t here to play dull. At a time when sequels are mostly lack-luster, money-grabbing machines, Scream VIis here to make you scream at its violent, adrenaline filled chase sequences, absolutely brilliant use of legacy as a trope, and a definitive, vicious return to form for the series.
Scream VI is the sixth installment in the scream franchise which was started by Wes Craven in the late 90s. A mix of slasher genre, black comedy, and “whodunit” mystery, it sets itself apart when it toys around playfully with the general tropes of slashers, sequels, or film franchises. Sections of the film deal with not trusting anyone, never being alone, and other rules to avoid being killed if you’re in a slasher movie. The star power of returning actors along with Jenna Ortega only adds to its glory. Though Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott is dearly missed (the actor didn’t return over a pay dispute as she wasn’t being paid a fair offer).
If you’ve been following the social media coverage of the highly anticipated horror film, the marketing strategy has been remarkable. There has been coverage of Ghostface randomly appearing in cities, the sightings leading to distressing 911 calls, stabbing enthusiast Ghostface being a diva on Twitter, a series of marvelous posters to support the movie with captions like “the killer is on the poster,” a scream themed stabby meal at a restaurant, and of course a website to receive a personalized phone call from none other than Ghostface.
Campy, Adrenaline Charged, And Intense
Last year, Scream (2022) made amazing use of how movies find fans, especially horror movies, and how the Stab movie franchise in the movie universe led to a series of murders dubbed “Woodsboro Legacy Murders”. The meta narrative and satirization of cliches is definitely a smart move but it works best when it becomes actually exhilarating. As an audience, there are moments in the film when you’re absolutely terrified of Ghostface. There are scenes of blood and gore in the chase sequences delivering an edge of seat experience.
This is crucial because we all know that people will die in a slasher movie but the kill count, the ways people are getting brutally slashed, and the story arcs makes the audience root for the characters. There are plenty of moments where you’ll hear the audience gasping at what they’re seeing on screen. And curating this tense environment is a testament to effective horror movie skills.
As a horror fan, Scream VI also makes the most of its campy undertones. The plot follows the sister duo of Sam and Tara Carpenter as they struggle with yet another life threat as Ghostface is back (no surprises there). Sam and Tara are joined by their friends Mindy and Chad form the new “core four”.
Legacy Roars Through Suspense And Smart Thrills
Wes Craven has undeniably made a great impact on the horror genre by being at the helm of movies that still remain a cultural juggernaut. And it’s no easy feat to follow up on his work with direct sequels and make it even better. In 2018, Halloween was released as the direct sequel to the 1978 slasher of the same name, and while Halloween was absolutely thrilling, the other two sequels that followed were lackluster. Scream VI almost lived in the same territory as last year’s Scream was a direct sequel to 1996’s Scream. Naturally, this follow up to a more than two decades old cult classic had a lot of expectations to deliver and it nerve-wracking delivers on it.
Not only it keeps the trend of satirizing the cliches of slasher genre explosive than ever through its meta commentary, it deftly ties in all the characters that have been a part of the previous movies, and also does it in a way that the characters are not disposable. The story is centered around Sam Carpenter, the daughter of the serial killer Billy Loomis, Ghostface in the first scream and it’s a riveting approach to utilizing the legacy of horror movies but what makes it effective is it’s fast pacing, gripping storyline, and plenty of heart-stopping kills. It only helps that Sam is dealing with rumors about being labeled as the true Ghostface, carrying the legacy of her notorious father Billy Loomis.
Compelling, Inventive Set Pieces
In a time when horror movies are trying to be more inventive and creative, mostly situating themselves around the themes of social commentary (a welcome change for our times), it’s always good to go back to good old fashion slashers. We have had movies like Smile, M3GAN, X, Freaky, and Pearl in the past few years,, some of which follow the tropes of a usual slasher and others give it an exciting new twist.
What sets apart Scream VI from this never ending list of slashers is a true commitment to the basics of the genre while also being so damn electrifying and creative. If you have been following scream movies, you know that there’s an opening scene, some chases and murders, ending with a killer reveal. Scream VI has all these aspects. There’s no subversion of expectations, instead, it’s just more dense, more thrilling, and more bloody.
Supported with a positive word of mouth, the movie became the no. 1 film worldwide earning a $67 million weekend opening, which is a record setting feat for the Scream franchise. Rotten Tomatoes’ consolidated review for the movie reads, “Certain aspects of horror’s most murderously meta franchise may be going stale, but a change of setting and some inventive set pieces help keep Scream VI reasonably sharp,” with an audience score of 94%.
With Scream VI, the emotional stakes are at an all time high as the “core four” escape their way through the murderous rage of Ghostface. The chase sequences are set in small, closed spaces, making it a gripping experience to watch while we root for the characters as they traverse blood and legacy in New York City.
Scream VI was released on 10th March, 2023 and is playing in theaters near you.
Here’s the thing about transgender and non-binary identifying folks living in a cisgender and gender binary conforming society – we are often – be the sheer act of existing considered political or to be activists. In my opinion, Saisha Shinde’s Intertwined collection is political.
Very often due to misinformation and transphobic representation in mainstream media, people around us do not tend to actually know much about transgender folks and their experiences – beyond the stigma. Therefore we find ourselves inadvertently being activists as well.
Whether we do it visibly as Saisha Shinde – often credited as India’s first transgender fashion designer – has done through her transition and the representation she creates for the community, or by simply answering the inane questions we get asked in public. For example, at the cinema purchasing popcorn and being asked if I am on hormone replacement therapy, and what is that experience really like. Would I be doing ThE SuRgErY? All being asked by a cisgender person I met literally seven minutes ago. Or even if we only ever had to explain to our own family that we aren’t actually monsters but human beings, and that their ideas and assumptions about us are unfounded. We are activists.
Here’s the thing about Lakme Fashion Week and the fashion industry in India – the vast majority of them try their level best to be apolitical. And can you blame them? We live in a highly polarised time, not the greatest economy and surmounting unemployment. Where brands, celebrities, and others can get taken down for being on the ‘wrong’ side of the polarization. The pragmatic, capitalistic and smart thing to do would be to remain apolitical. I personally do not believe everything needs to be political.
But when your very existence is political, who you love and who you can marry or even whether you can marry is political, then I guess you resign to the fact that you just can’t be apolitical.
I have been attending shows at Lakme Fashion Week since 2016. In all that time I have seen what issues and topics designers tend to highlight through their work and also how these issues changed over the years, as we got to 2023. A time of national self-imposed censorship and silence, including my own.
Honestly, if someone as much as says that their collection is inspired by Kashmir, I would easily consider it to political in this climate.
When asked about the inspiration behind the Intertwined collection Saisha said, “The starting point was this outfit I had custom-made for Deepika Padukone with the Criss cross trellis weave – which has become synonymous with the label. I was listening to the song “Kashmir” by The Yellow Diary on loop … and that’s how the idea of taking inspiration from Kashmir came around. I’ve always been fascinated by architecture and local crafts That’s when Kashmir came in and the idea of Kashmir was important because it’s battling and at the same time it’s beautiful. It’s pretty much what trans-woman in this country are, they are beautiful but they are battling.”
Now we are definitely beyond guessing if this Queen is being political with her art. I was super excited about her show, from the moment it was announced. I knew that I wanted to be there, in that room, didn’t matter if I was sitting in the corner (I was). But I wanted to be there for this moment. So we did the fashion week hustle, DMs, introductions, stalking and Saisha Shinde’s PR was able to secure a single invite for me.
“The collection finds inspiration from The Kashmiri specialty of wood carving known as Khatam-band which has geometrical patterns beautifully done on the wood, while the colour story is inspired by its beautiful landscape. Kashmir’s eponymous “Tilla-WORK” lends motifs and technique.”
We often talk about the importance of queer joy, and that is what this moment was. It is a massive win and a milestone for this community. Sushant Divgikr, Jason Arland, and other queer fashion icons were present in celebration of Saisha. We cheered as soon as the video came on for Saisha’s show announcing that she can’t afford to have celebrity showstoppers and still fairly pay her really showstoppers, “The real showstoppers of this show are the models, backstage team, hair and makeup team, masters, tailors, assistants, the show choreographer and above all the clothes.” “FUN FACT :- I was the ONLY ESTABLISHED designer at fashion week without a show stopper … something to think about !”
We cheered and were filled with glee when Nehal Chudasama – Miss Universe 2018, walked out in that first incredible outfit.
When snapped our fingers with love and approval when Gaia walked in that beautiful Pacific Ocean Blue gown that is worthy of the red carpet they didn’t have at the Oscar’s this time.
When Saisha walked out at the end of the show we lost it, those of us who weren’t already standing like me stood in applause, as the lights went off and we all collectively struggled to avoid the tears because it was early afternoon and we had to get through the rest of the day with our makeup intact.
In all of the 25 years of the history of Lakme Fashion Week they have not had an openly transgender fashion designer. Let’s be honest about some more things, Saisha had to do a lot to be accepted in this world.
Yes, the fashion world is friendly of gender expression so much so that the first time I even openly experimented with my gender expression in a fluid way was at LFW in 2017. But let’s not forget that this is also a highly competitive and closed world. It has at times and in places been conformist, able-bodied, sexist, misogynistic and toxic.
Let’s be honest about one more thing, within the realms of the fashion world, cisgender gay men wield considerable power and influence. Some of the top designers of India today are cisgender-identifying gay men. Historically speaking and to some extent even today, the cisgender gay community tends to be exclusionary of the transgender community.
There has been massive progress on this and the situation is definitely not the same as it was pre-trans act, but the stigma within the community still exists. I felt it at LFW this edition, which was the first time I went since I came out as transgender and began using she/her/they pronouns. In the little time I spend peaking into this industry, I found folks who were friendly with me pre-transition find it difficult to be around me this edition. I found that they behaved in a certain way – taking in my entire femme experience and accepting it – and then behaving another way when I corrected them on my pronouns and realised I am a transwoman and not an effeminate gay man.
Saisha’s is even more significant to me, because of our shared experiences of transitioning “late” in life. Seventeen years Saisha had been in the very industry that she had to then “come out” to, uncertain as to what would happen – because literally, no one had done it before her.
Another aspect of late transitions is the struggle with the concept of the “self” and confusion around accepting yourself. Those who are out early or transition early might grow up with themselves and may have worked through this confusion (although not always). The confusion of where you begin and where the social constructs take over. “For seventeen years it was this confused identity”, Saisha observed about her collection the show.
To work and operate in this industry and make it here, was enough for me to want to celebrate Saisha Shinde as a transwoman. Then to witness her collection that was inspired by her work in a movie that is highly significant at this time and to pay homage to Kashmir on the very day I was paying tribute to my own Muslim identity and now I am also applauding her for what she chooses to do with her art and privilege.
The fashion industry has long been dominated by heteronormative ideals, but that hasn’t stopped queer Indian models from making their mark. From the traditional catwalk to the digital sphere, these inspiring models have taken matters into their own hands and created a space for themselves in a competitive industry.
From rising stars to veterans, this listicle will explore some of the most influential queer Indian models making waves in the fashion industry, and what are some of their greatest takeaways from their time in the industry.
‘Learning to Express Oneself’
Chetana Salunkhe, dancer, actor and poet began her journey as a model with Miss. Gaurav pageant in 2019. “I have always been a dancer and an actor, and I simply participated in the pageant for the experience,” she says. The thrill of being on stage, and being able to express herself individually through her walk and the clothes she wore were some of the things that drew her to modelling. “It helped me learn about myself and come out of my shell. I used to be introverted, but being on the ramp or the camera made me feel free to express myself,” she shares.
Her struggles, she says, have been that of anyone trying to make it in the fashion or acting industries. “There is a struggle to prove yourself, but if you want to make it here, you have to keep going,” she shares. While the general narrative is that queer people don’t have a space in the industry, she disagrees. In fact, her experience has been a little different. “I think, there are a lot of queer people in the industry, but what I feel is that there is a lack of professional behaviour among a few, which resulted in some stereotypes. The behaviour of a few has been taken as the standard for what queer people would be like on set, but what people also need to realize is that there are unprofessional people, queer or otherwise,” she says.
This stigma needs to change, and the industry, she suggests, needs to look at queer models as individuals and not just as someone from the community. “Judge us for our own calibre and give us roles beyond our queerness. Let us audition and give us work beyond Pride month or Pride campaigns,” she says.
Despite these struggles, there are many things that keep Chetana going, including her passion for her work.
“When I am doing a modelling or acting job, there are different stories to follow, which allows me to do a lot of different things and explore different sides of me,” she shares. She also recognizes that her line of work has given her some standing in the community. “What I say and do matter. When I post on social media, members of the community look up to me. So, now I want to give back, and also be seen by the straight community,” she shares.
‘It’s a Love-Hate Relationship’
Suruj Rajkhowa, who is popularly known by their alter ego, Glorious Luna is a drag performer, actor, and model. While Glorious Luna, in some version of a fantasy drawing has been a part of their life since childhood, it took a while for them to make their way to it as their career. “ I studied architecture, and I found it too rigid,” they share. So for a while, they did theatre, stayed in Auroville, and finally, moved to Mumbai to pursue acting. “I didn’t have a solid plan. Growing up I didn’t see queer people on TV have that dream. But, for years, I did small gigs or took the roles of extra in ads,” they share. It was post the pandemic that things began to pick up for them. “I started working as a drag queen so people saw me as having a certain number of skills. I do feel that for the most part, I am hired for those skills and not for how I look because I am vocal about my identity and put my ideas across on social media,” they share.
Over the past few years, Suruj has been able to work with some renowned international brands and some of the biggest designers in the country. One of their greatest source of frustration through all this has been being the token queer person on set. “I don’t I have found a way to deal with it, and I do get pissed off about it. I do hope to move towards something geared towards performance in the future,” they muse.
However, they acknowledge that there is a small, nascent space that is being created in the industry by platforms such as Dirty magazine and Vogue, where they are attempting to change the narrative. “There are new fresh energies and better ideas coming in but it’s still run by men and men can be exploitative. So, all-in-all, my relationship with the industry is a love-hate one,” they share.
What they do love about being a model is being able to perform. “I am here, I love being in front of the camera or walking the ramp, wearing these gorgeous clothes and posing and of course, the attention. It does allow me to fulfill a lot of fantasies,” they share.
What they hope to see in the future of fashion is equality. They hope that as more queer people and women find their way in front of the camera on the ramp, they also find their way to being behind the camera. “That’s what will bring the change; having women and queer non-binary trans people directing the show,” they add.
‘Being My Most Authentic Self on the Inside and Outside’
Reena Barretto, who works in Social Media Marketing and Artist Management, is also a hair model. “I didn’t plan on becoming a model. One day, my best friend in college told me that I should cut my hair short and I thought it was an interesting idea. Soon after, another friend came up to me and asked me to be a hair model for a competition with Jean Claude Biguine. That was the turning point of my life. I stood 3rd and the rest is history,” she says.
She sees models as people who carry art on their bodies/souls and add their essence to the art blending creativity with energy. “I love how beautifully a model can just express so much without words, and how the camera is able to capture the depth, details, poise, essence of my true authentic aesthetic self,” she shares,
Reena’s journey as a model has been, thankfully, devoid of any major struggles. “The people around me were always supportive of my gender fluidity. There have been times when people have stared or passed comments at me, but it doesn’t bother me. I know what I am and what I choose to be. I show up as my innermost true authentic self on the outside every day,” she shares. Being true to herself, she says, has allowed her to be happy, and given her the courage to try new things and live with a true sense of freedom.
She hopes, however, that more people learn and educate themselves on the various concepts and facets associated with LGBTQIA+ and start welcoming more people from the community. “Accept people for what they are, and what they want to truly be,” she adds.
Bring Indian Queer Models to the Mainstream
An artist, writer, blogger and model, Anwesh Sahoo is a man who wears many hats and wears them well. His claim to fame was when he was awarded the crown of Mr Gay India in 2016, at the age of 20, making him the youngest recipient of the crown. “I started modelling in 2014 or 2015. My first gig was for a friend. We used to shoot on the streets of Delhi. We would carry our clothes, change at a nearby Starbucks and then, take pictures,” he shares. At the time, queer representation in the modelling industry was next to nil, save for a few names such as Sushant Divgikar. “I tried to get signed by a few agencies that I wanted to work with. I knew exactly what kind of work I wanted to do, and which brands and designers I wanted to work with, and working with agencies gives you a lot more opportunities. But, that didn’t work out,” he shares.
His growth in the industry has largely been driven by word of mouth. “Independent photographers started reaching out to me and over time, I managed to make a space for myself,” he shares. The industry, he says, is still far behind in terms of knowing how to use queer models the right way because they are unable to envision them in various contexts. “I am queer man from Orissa. People who look like me are rare to find on magazine spreads or on TV. So, I started creating these digital art pieces of me, which are essentially pictures where I have adorned different outfits, in varying settings, so I am able to give people a vision in terms of how I can look in front of the camera,” he shares.
Homophobia, he says, is still very much a driving factor in the industry. “It is not necessary that the brands or designers are, but sometimes it is even the viewers,” he says, sharing an incident where an ad campaign was cut short and redone to only feature images where he didn’t seem to be perceivably gay after the investors noticed some homophobic comments from the audience. But, he believes that there will be a change, and the work that he is doing indicates and will bring about that change. “I want to bring to the mainstream what it means to be an Indian queer model, and I want the queer vocabulary to find space in the industry through my work”, he adds.
Empowering Others to Express Themselves
Tattooist and graphic designer, Letitia Mendes were approached by brands, photographers and casting directors at a time when she was on a journey of exploring themselves and breaking through the shackles she felt had for the longest time through childhood with regard to being themselves. “When I started to truly become myself, I began being approached for modelling gigs. Receiving feedback from an audience about how empowered and inspired they felt is what made me explore modelling even more,” she shares.
One of the biggest challenges she has faced in the industry has been related to the lack of knowledge about a non-binary masculine presenting person. “I have been asked constantly to give auditions for hetero, cis-gender roles which resulted in extreme dysphoria,” she shares. Additionally, representation for a queer non-binary model in the industry is extremely low as compared to cis-gender and heterosexual models, and the number of projects she receives in a year is few.
While these challenges persist, what she loves about modelling is that it gives them an opportunity to express and showcase their identity in a way that is not possible in other industries, especially in a society that has been traditionally binary. “I didn’t realize that showing up as my authentic self, inspired others to do the same. Being able to help and empower others by just showing up as myself made me love modelling even more,” she shares.
But, there are many things that need to change in the industry, including having queer representation throughout the year and not just for Pride month. “We also need to create a space for Non Binary queer models where we are understood better and have room to increase the kind of knowledge and information people have about non-binary models in the industry,” she adds.
Making Unconventionality a Superpower
Tejeshwar Sandhoo started off his journey as a blogger. “It started in 2014. There was a lack of male influencers in the country and especially in Delhi. I felt that there was a unique perspective I could bring to the table as a gay man,” he shares. Since influencers model brands in a way that is different from catalogues and lookbooks showcase them, brands approach influencers, which fueled his journey as well. “I don’t really call myself a model, maybe a digital model,” he explains.
Now, he models for brands and walks on the runway. While there are no challenges per se, he does feel that people see you as not the norm. “People see you as having an unconventional body type, hair type or height, but you end up finding your own space. Most queer, positive models are so fierce that bring our own unique voice to the table and that unconventionality becomes our superpower,” he muses.
There is a lot of inclusion, and change is happening, according to Tejeshwar. “I was just backstage for a Manish Malhotra show and seeing people like Roshni and Toshada Uma also on the backstage, between a cis-het audience, for me, is an example of the community being accepted,” he says.
Some of the best things that have come out of being a model for Tejeshwar have been the confidence, the ability to put himself out there and the visibility he has been able to achieve not just for himself but the community as a whole.
2 PUMA India athletes Viren Sushil Barman and Dhruv Sushil Barman recently made a transphobic “joke” about which ‘ladies’ they would bed in Thailand – hint: not trans-women. Apparently, they’d use Viagra to see how their genitals respond to it so they can screen women with penises. What next? Slipping roofies to see which “ladies align” with them? Asia A emailed us about raising the issue with Puma India via their Instagram handle, who in turn deleted their comments. So much for the ‘Propah Lady’ campaign.
Brands that normalize rape culture, transphobia, and racism in sports have blood on their hands. We demand accountability and that sexual harassment and anti-racism policies be activated to bring about sensitivity and inclusion in sports.
For years, trans-women in Thailand have been fetishized by the white gaze and have been referred to with racial slurs, while being forced into sex work. The country does not recognise them and they face much bigotry with little aid. Publicly platforming such a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude is peak patriarchy, and also a sign of how Instagram algorithms and community guidelines do little to protect queer folx and women.
At this time, while the post has been taken down by the athletes after we commented from our account, there has been no acknowledgment of the harm that such rhetoric causes. It also seems like their page is filled with similar stereotypical ‘punching down’ humour (if we can even call it that!).
Gulmohar on Disney+Hotstar is Rahul V. Chittella’s feature debut after working with Mira Nair since The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012). Co-written with Arpita Mukherjee, Gulmohar premiered on Disney+ Hotstar on March 3.
The movie follows the final four days of the Batra family living in their 34-year-old family home. As the family packs their lives away, secrets they had tucked away in corners start coming out. Over the span of a few days, the family grapples with the consequences of their choices. As each member of the family deals with having to choose between holding onto their roots or venturing out for new possibilities, they grapple with some complex questions about relationships and identity. And through the course of the movie, they try to answer the question: What is family?
Is it only the family that you are born into or its also the relationships that you collect over the course of your life? While for the most part in desi households, the familial bond has always been kept on a pedestal, the reality is that sometimes our families fail us. In unfolding through the various relationships in the movie, a sentiment that seems to echo throughout the movie is, “If you love, you love.”
While the Batras have decided to move, one character, Arun (Manoj Bajpayee), a man who imagines generations living in that home, really struggles with the idea of having to move on. As the movie progresses, we are made aware that Arun is adopted, and this had been a source of contention to his paternal uncle, Sudhakar (Amol Palekar). As the family members try to navigate their way through the various layers of complexities that define a relationship: the ego born out of wanting to make your family proud, the distance brought on by knowing you have betrayed a loved one, and the fear of not being accepted. So when in the penultimate scenes of the movie Kusum, the matriarch of the family (played by Sharmila Tagore)says that she built a home, not made of brick and mortar but of loving relationships, she means to say that connections made of the heart can withstand anything.
It is almost similar in sentiment to what Kusum tells her granddaughter, Amrita (Utsavi Jha) when she sees her exchanging a kiss with another woman, Deepika. Ammu, a musically inclined DU student, at the start of the movie is shown as being in a relationship with her fellow bandmate, Ankur. Her family is aware of the relationship, to the point that when Ammu tries to avoid his calls, Ankur reaches out to her mother, Indu (Simran). While it is clear from the get-go that she wants to end things with Ankur, she hesitates. While initially we are left to wonder if it is only because she is afraid her family will not take it well, we can quickly catch on to the fact that there is more to the story. Ammu, herself, has not fully come to terms with the fact that she is attracted to a woman. In fact, right before the kiss, she dubs her feelings for Deepika as a “problem”. So it feels all the more wholesome to see Kusum not only embrace her but encourage her to be herself.
“Do you love her”, she asks, to which Ammu hums a yes. “Then? Why are you scared? In our times, it was difficult but now you can live freely,” she says. Kusum then lets Ammu in on a part of her life she had once written off as “not meant to be”. That she had too loved a woman. Except, her relationship with Supreya stayed hidden between stacked shelves of a college library, cycle rides and dates in far-away woods.
In the end, Amrita manages to break things off with Ankur, and she is able to come to terms with her feelings. While her arc seems to have been concluded on a positive note, it is Kusum’s story that fills you with hope. After years of putting her identity aside, she not only able to come out but also have the chance at living the life she was forced to set aside. And finally, by moving to Pondicherry, where Supreya now resides, Kusum can finally live her life for herself, just as she asserted to her brother-in-law early on in the movie. It almost feels like a moment of vindication. And, now, I imagine Kusum is sitting in cute cafes, and walking through the bougenvilla-covered streets of Pondicherry hand-in-hand with Supreya.
The fear of sex manifesting as being chased or attacked by a snake in dreams is a Freudian theory, later explored by Carl Jung. While Freud is a problematic figure in modern-day psychology, his work on psychoanalysis, especially Interpretation of Dreams and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, is still a profound analysis of the depths of the human mind. The snake is said to represent the phallus symbolically, and dreams about snakes often have sexual connotations, which are discussed in modern Internet forums and websites. The fear of sex often manifests in several aspects of our lives, both conscious and unconscious. Since the two cannot be separated, it is worth looking at signs from the unconscious mind and how they manifest themselves in reality.
The fear of sex or “genophobia” or “erotophobia” is something I dealt with as a child and a young adolescent. It came from an obvious source of abuse but lived in the shadows of my subconscious mind for many years. When I finally voiced what I had been through, I thought the fight would be over, and the fear would subside as the truth of my experience came to light. This was far from the reality; I was met with victim shaming and verbal sexual harassment, which further triggered my PTSD. I took to therapy and the internet to find a community of supportive people willing to show me compassion rather than force their opinions on me and demand change.
We are cruel to each other regarding sex and sexuality because we can be. Virgin shaming is just as rampant as slut shaming, and an attempt to accept women’s sexuality is a ridiculous parading of body parts falsely termed empowerment. People who are married or have consistent sexual partners claim the ultimate happiness to belittle single people. Marriage and intimate partnerships are rewarded by society and seen as an achievement. Society perpetuates that it is better to be in an unhappy marriage than be single. Suddenly, sex is validated because it leads to procreation that can be tracked. After all, it guarantees that only one person could have impregnated the womb carrying the child. This is also why polyamory and sexual affairs outside marriage are deemed unacceptable.
The fear of sex does not blockade sexual attraction. Instead, it is a harrowing experience of paralysis where individuals experience anxiety and discomfort from sexual activity or even the thought of it. This can occur because of trauma and sexual abuse but is not limited to these experiences. It can be as simple as performance anxiety or the literal closing down of muscle walls when it comes to a specific form of penetration. In contrast, while these are physical symptoms, a more holistic understanding of mental health and healing points to psychological causes.
There is a tug-of-war between recreational sex and the control of sex as a tool of morality. Most of us fall somewhere on this spectrum between these two extremes. Recreational sex or sex for pleasure has been demonised historically with slang such as slut, whore and slag or, in the Indian context, randi, bhadvi, and several other swear words that exist in every language imaginable. The policing of sex is the policing of bodies and also of procreation. On the other hand, the fear of sex is often an internal policing of one’s own body because these ideals of morality are inculcated at a young age and are hard to deviate from even later on. Many people experience the culture of shaming for masturbation or having too many sexual partners. These can often be internalised to such an extent that what seems to be a mechanism of self-control is exaggerated into fear.
The problem with fear is that it prevents you from certain experiences that you desire. This is further complicated by our unhealthy relationship with sex and sexuality and our inability to talk freely about our sex lives and sexuality. Sex is seen as dirty or impure, which in modern times has been converted into a belief that sex is only appropriate with the right person. The idea is that each soul is divided, and each of us are made for one specific other. It leads to the belief that emotional and physical intimacy somehow completes us, which is a farce that makes sex with anyone other than our ‘soulmate’ a mistake. On the other hand, we have an opposing belief that we need to kiss a few frogs before we find our prince, which dehumanises partners who may not have worked out for various reasons. It also validates the idea that one has to find their soulmate and that relationships are discovered, rather than built. This only heightens the fear of sex because either there is too much pressure placed on finding the right person or there is the threat that you may have to go through many negative sexual experiences before you find one that works for you.
In the 1990s, one of the first clubs to host a gay party in India was Voodoo in Mumbai’s Colaba. Today, some of the prominent cities that host parties exclusive to the queer community, or ‘gay parties’, a few times a week are Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Pune among others. Most people who attend these parties are in their 20s and 30s. A majority of the attendees are also cisgender gay men, though the spaces see a more diverse set of queer and trans people in attendance, especially on specific events like pre and post Pride parties. Since having access to these spaces depends on class and caste capital, most of the attendees are usually Brahmins. Based on 25 people that I was able to chat with and obtain opinions from through an anonymous survey, more than half the attendees earn usually more than 6 lakhs per annum.
A Safe Space to Unwind In Queer Culture but Exclusions Persists
The parties are a space for people from the community to unwind, meet more people from the community, and also for hookups. It is also a place where queer culture thrives through drag shows or strip shows. More than that, it’s a good space to explore with friends or perhaps with a date. In the words of Lady Gaga such spaces are akin to “the dance floor I fought for” for the gays. As per Kareem Khubchandani, “Queer dance at nightclubs and parties then is not merely an escape from politics, but a chance to revel inside them, letting power, meaning, bodies, aesthetics, and affects collide and find each other in new ways, inventing alternative realms to inhabit through sweat, sways, gestures, jatkas, and matkas, driven by the timely pursuit of beauty, sex, friendship, and intimacy.”
There’s a sense of exclusivity as one respondent said, “[these spaces] feel intimidating because they seem expensive and everyone’s dressed fashionably which I can’t afford.” There’s also a prevalence of mixed feelings in terms of acceptance of the crowd. While some people mingle easily, others take their time and it also depends on the kind of groups as some people are very welcoming while others can be exclusive and gatekeep-y. At the same time, it’s crucial to ensure you’re not being taken advantage of. Insecurity or nervousness is also common if someone is going to such a space for the first time. Unfortunately, there have been instances where people have been molested or groped and they push for a safe room or someone designated who can be approached in terms of any untoward incident, other than a bouncer.
In a queer sense, there’s the freedom to style the way you want to in your own unique way. At the same time, there’s some pressure to dress in a party appropriate manner as well. Adding to this, such party appropriate clothes can be expensive and make someone question if they look gay enough? The posters for the party present the ideal body type and most people don’t pay attention to the same. Hence, they do not feel the need to be represented on the poster.
I attended a gay party in Bangalore where cishet couples were allowed to enter as a couple and pay a reduced fee. However, the same was not offered for queer couples, which is really ironic since the space specifically catered to the queer community. Otherwise, queer couples and polycules usually enjoy such spaces as they can also be engaging in PDA without any worry about nonsensical laws on obscenity.
Partying as Entitlement is a Dangerous Precedent for Conventional Idea of Queerness
One of the other prominent issues with these parties is that there comes a sense of pride and entitlement with these spaces, especially among gay men, when ‘partying’ comes to represent a singular space led by cis gay men for the entire community. For instance, back in November 2022, when Bangalore based group All Sorts of Queers (a safe space for women, womyn, non-binaries and trans-people) organized a party exclusively for queer people and allies except cis men, there was a lot of uproar from the community, specially cis gay men.
While arguments around how you decide someone is not cis other than through their words is debatable, it was as simple as having a space for queer people who are not cis men. When cis gay men have multiple parties every week, they do not have any right to argue for their forced inclusion in a party that is organised once a year that caters to queer people outside of cis men. They can afford the courtesy to the community to have their own space for once. This is a sense of entitlement to partying and equating it to queerness that sets a dangerous precedent by defining what conventional ways of being queer is, marginalising all those who transgress these very norms in their everyday lives.
Pinkwashing But Make It Gay
Even though gay parties are queer spaces, they also play along to the drums of pink capitalism. I remember seeing one event where an alcohol brand was endorsing the event. More than that, their focus was more on allyship. While this is good for support or maybe the fact that most queers are alcoholics is what some companies think, we’re still living in times where we do not have many fundamental rights, and that begs the question: where is the true material support from these companies and brands?
The community members do find the space to be a safe one but also one that caters to ‘high fashion crowd,’ which is different from camp – a signature queer aesthetic. While ‘high fashion’ is different from channeling inner diva through Sridevi or Madhuri Dixit, there is also a pressure to adhere to ideals of queer glam or the dating scene as per one respondent. At times, it is not a welcome space for queer people who are not the ideal body types with six pack abs. The massive difference in reaction of the public on Harry Styles and Sam Smith (the latter of whom are comfortable in their body) only proves that queer community does suffer with hatred and being judged.
This brings forth an important point to discuss – even though queerness is rooted in breaking the normative structure; there are still conventional ways of being queer that are deemed more respectable, moral and are rooted in the shackles of neo-liberal capitalism.
What Can Be Improved? Affordability, Accessibility, and Gender Neutral Spaces
Some of the most common suggestions are to have more open space (especially when most pre and post pride parties are like a raging furnace due to the very high number of people in very little space). Another is to have a gender neutral washroom, which unfortunately is not within the structure of clubs that host these parties a few times a month.
The question of affordability is a crucial one as many people still are unable to afford the entry charges, which becomes even more difficult in cities like Bangalore where travel charges are also high. Most of the time people end up spending around Rs. 500 on travel alone by cabs, add 500 entry charge and if they drink or eat anything in the club, it also costs a fortune. It’s also notable that usually people spend somewhere between Rs. 1500-3000 on drinking (pre-gaming, though, costs a bit lower) and this makes the act of partying, as a celebration of queerness, exclusive.
Another pertinent issue is the hypersexualisation of these spaces to an extent where there’s no sensical boundary or understanding when someone is flirting with someone, which only gets worse when people consume alcohol irresponsibly. In response to a tweet that claimed “Pride is a protest” after the Delhi Queer Pride Parade in 2023, one twitter user quipped, “A protest that ends at Kitty Su”. This statement unfortunately reflects the sad state of affairs today in spaces hosting gay parties.
On one hand, queer parties in India offer safe spaces to unwind as your true self, meet the members of the community in a setting with no judgment, find people to hookup with, or just revel in the talent of queer performers. On the other hand, class, financial status, and appearance are still markers that decide if you belong to that space as they are limited to mostly the upper echelons of the society. ‘Partying’ often takes offers a false representation of the community through hegemonic masculinities and the exclusion of non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming people. In the words of one of the respondents, “Gay parties feel safe, yet [it’s] sad that access to [them] is behind paywall.”
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Bijoux Indiscrets Finger Vibrator – Better Than Your Ex
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Rocks Off Silhouette Be Mine Kit
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The harsh reality is that as a Transgender/ Non-Binary identifying person, you DO NOT have the freedom to travel anywhere in the world. You are denied this privilege/right because your “humanity” is not acknowledged legally in various parts of the world.
The fact that you identify/ express/ are perceived as transgender or Non-binary LEGALLY RESTRICTS YOUR ENTRY FROM A NUMBER OF NATIONS.
As someone who was born and raised in Dubai, UAE before moving to Bombay, I can testify to the total lack of acceptance for the Transgender community there. There is absolutely zero on-ground acceptance, visibility, or tolerance for trans folx in some of the Middle East and GCC countries.
The local queer communities (because of course they are there, just #facts) are usually very discreet and underground if at all. They are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, abused, and do not receive their rights as full citizens/humans in their own countries.
Unfortunate and deplorable as it might be, we end up putting ourselves in high-risk and low-security situations by entering these nations.
Most of the GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.) have similar inherently homophobic and transphobic laws & attitudes by those responsible for enforcing them. But cities like Dubai, Doha and Muscat are actually urban centres that exhibit such progressive attitudes – hosting international celebrities and events – at the same time, even as their laws remain the same, causing this intense confusion. Because of course none of their tourism departments are advertising these in their campaigns with the digital Influencers from India.
Earlier this year, in January, Shahzadi Rai and Zehrish, two transgender rights activists at the Gender Interactive Alliance, got their air tickets cancelled by Flydubai when they were about to take the flight to Kathmandu via Dubai for their annual meeting there! Yes that happened!
THEY WEREN’T EVEN GOING TO DUBAI! It was just a transit stop.
@surkhina on Twitter said: “Today ShahzadiRai was barred from boarding flydubai flight KHI-DXB-KTM. This is hijraphobia and we urge the Pakistan Foreign Office to look into this matter ASAP.”
“Transgender persons are part of the mainstream in other countries but Flydubai doesn’t allow x-gender cards for travelling, which is transphobic behaviour by the airline. If they don’t allow travel on their planes then why even issue us tickets,” Shahzadi questioned while sharing her ticket issued by the airline.
And here is where the problem lies. Nin Kala actually has an officially recognised transgender ID card. But as you can observe, that would not have worked either, and it would have led to a stronger barrier to their entry. In fact, if Nin had got the third gender marker on their official IDs, they may not be in this situation because their flight would not have been booked to Muscat at all, and that is sad and real.
Me In Nepal – (Never Colonized)
I personally know that NEPAL has no known history of foreign occupation (read they were never actually directly colonized – just like Thailand), I have videos in my Nepal insta stories highlight covering how relaxed the immigration at the airport was. Infact only in December, 2022 I was in Nepal, for a convening held by The Queer Muslim Project. We were a group of queer folks, including trans and non-binary folks like myself from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India. And because we have the privilege of living in countries that have already recognised genders beyond the binary in some way or the other, we all made it to Nepal and had our convening.
Here’s another example of how this confusion can happen and how easily people can be unaware of the ground realities in these countries. Just look at the purpose for which our sister was trying to go visit Dubai:
Thai model Rachaya Noppakaroon arrived at Dubai International Airport with her team of 14, she was looking forward to putting up a grand performance at Expo 2020, where she was set to appear at a Muay Thai event.
Describing the ordeal as a “nightmare during which [she was] fully awake”, she recounted how she was made to sit in the men’s waiting room and subjected to intrusive questions by an airport employee, such as whether she was able to have children, whether she had “done it all” and the size of her breasts.
Noppakaroon tried her best to prove her identity by showing them clips of her work. “But he didn’t really care and was more interested in sex.”
So what can we do right now?
Unfortunately, for now all we can do is increase our own awareness and avoid visiting any of these countries. That is the pragmatic reality of the situation.
In a post-377 and Trans Act established India, we have a burgeoning queer culture that is just taking hold of the mainstream discourse. There are young queer folks in India and the world over, especially in urban centers who are growing up in a much more loving and accepting world. They see a culture that celebrates them, they have local and international queer icons today.
So pragmatically speaking, we can avoid these nations and here are some resources for you to refer as to where you can and can’t go:
The folks at @humandignitytrust have done some incredible work on this, and have put together this useful map which highlights Countries that Criminalise LGBT People. The map also has filters for gender expression.
It has maps and also details out the various legal status in various countries, sharing the penalties as well, and it’s a long list of nations tbh.
Whenever you are making travel plans look these things up and spread this information around.
So what can we do in the long run?
We know that when it is to do with us transgender/ non-binary identifying folks, nothing is going to move immediately. Of all the examples shared above of these incidents taking place, nothing has changed since. In the long run, we need to work with the local communities. Remember that they exist, and they are struggling in these nations living in tyranny.
The lovely folks over at @queeringthemap have put together a community-generated counter mapping platform for digitally archiving LGBTQ2IA+ experience in relation to physical space. You can see on this map that there are queer folks sharing stories even coming in from all the places that Human Rights watch list cautions Queer folks to avoid.
We need to respect their position and struggle and acknowledge our situation and privileges. We can enable and support them in their local movements and struggles. We can apply pressure by talking about this in media, and raising it with our foreign affairs ministry. We could shame those organisations that are Indian, and celebrate us here on PRIDE but also profit from running businesses in these nations.
But honestly beyond that, and there is nothing we can do. I would urge all transgender and enby folks out there, to do as much as you can to avoid these situations and the trauma it can cause you as much as possible.
To talk about my queer relationship, it’s essential to talk about my relationship with queerness itself. Relating to queerness as a kid was scary because I experienced repeated sexual assault by girls then. That’s how I figured I was gay. Or, at least, that’s why I denied my queerness. My identity had always felt like a matter of shame. While finishing school, my suppressed past would haunt me. I was going to go to an ‘all girls college’ and I dreaded the idea of a potential ‘college romance’.
My first month there, I looked at a girl’s hands and felt like they looked as beautiful as ocean waves. I cried my eyes out that day; it was a moment of catharsis. I gradually felt more secure to open up. Another turning point was falling in love with my best friend and being oblivious to this fact, which was so visible to everyone else. We were in denial but I’d never felt safer, in my skin, with her. I think a reason we don’t go for our best friends is our belief that they deserve the best and we perhaps hate ourselves too much.
For me, this self-hatred landed me in a relationship with someone I now regret. I had thought this would be different from my heterosexual past; that it would be based on equality and respect, and would do away with the power dynamics that I faced with men. It wasn’t the case.
We gave it one last chance because they proposed going to couple’s therapy. We started living together but I felt suffocated. I wanted us to do better, but we stopped the therapy. One’s partner also needs to feel ready to do that work upon themselves. I faced every kind of abuse and domestic violence within that relationship. The sexual abuse took me back to my childhood encounters. I tried to leave many times, but felt confused and responsible. Letting it go was difficult in the face of promises of change. Love had become synonymous with power and unhappiness. These ideas were derived from our heteronormative parents, but blaming them is easy. In the end, we need to take accountability for our actions.
Inventing love is difficult. A better, healthier kind of love.
I finally moved out mid 2022, but I still didn’t feel free. I couldn’t believe that I had accepted this form of love. I thought I would feel like myself again but I never did. I’m going through a lot of loss. I have felt disillusioned and felt like giving up on being queer, if not on life.
‘Aadha Kamra’ is the title of my original song. It is about an alternative imagination, a room that is built on dreams. I felt heartbroken singing it. How could I see hope in this hateful world when the one closest to me hurt me within the promised walls of safety. I had felt hopeless and experienced a nightmare-like reality while sharing a room with my lover. Aadha Kamra is a part of a film. I do wish sometimes that life was a movie.
I tried to look for support. It made me question our community spaces. I’ve seen queer activists defend abusers and influencers make casteist comments. I got cheated on in ‘polyamorous’ relationships. I saw feminine traits being looked down upon and non-binary people behave like cis-men. All this made me more disheartened.
This is not to put blame. I feel like queer people have very different life trajectories. I feel we’re beholden to our teenage tendencies and we need more awareness and sensitivity, and need to take on more responsibility. I didn’t have the right knowledge or tools to properly address what I went through. I hope we can do better.
Until then, I’m trying to make space for myself with my family that listens to me more now, and I speak up more than ever. I’m learning to accept my identity and all the intersectionalities that it occupies. Therapy is helping me with boundaries and coping. Amidst the complexities, my chosen family doesn’t fail to call me out. We make plans to move to Auroville someday…to settle there, haha! Maybe in the future I might not deny safe love when it knocks on my door. Oh, and sometimes, I see my abusers with a bit more neutrality now. It’s still a long, long, long way to go. But since I’m queer, I know the lesson I learnt on day one. The answer is love, never hate.
As I lie here today Cradled in the warm infinity of her arms I think of that first time On that one September night Cold and grey and dark Till she walked in With her fists full of sunshine. I was blinded then, momentarily For I knew not of such a light That could lift shadows from the mind.
I see her now as I saw her then Bright and brighter still With hair radiant like moonshine Eyes like doors to a million galaxies Her lips always full of timelessness And all of her made me see That I had been living out my life In others’ half finished stories.
As I hold her hand today I think of that first time She put her hand in mine. There was a war afoot, A war of conventions Pitting normal-love against strange-love As if they were so different. Her fingers clasped mine While hatred gave the clamouring food And I knew she would wreck me But that wrecking would be so good.
I remember it well, love I had asked her then If she were ever afraid Of the fire that kept burning louder every day? She then smiled and said, “Nothing lasts forever” So this too shall end And when it is over We’ll make art on the stones they threw at us And dance on the mounds of ashes We’ll take the rot out of their hearts And grow flowers in the decay A kiss on the lips Ends the war I kiss her lips, today.
The roots of AI Art goes back to 2015 when ‘automated image captioning’ allowed AI to give text to images and partially that’s where the idea of reversing this process came around i.e. making images out of text. However, it’s not as easy as it looks, especially when one concerns the ethics involved. The most glaring issue with AI art is that it requires usage of dataset to mimic them in order to create a new image. And this dataset is composed of many images, taken without the creator’s permission as per their copyrights. More than that, there is mere violation of consent of these artists as they are not asked before their artwork is put into the database.
Another pertinent issue is the connection between artificial intelligence and authorship of art. For instance, in 2018, a portrait generated by a machine learning (ML) algorithm called a generative adversarial network (or GAN) sold at Christie’s art auction for $432,500. The algorithm in this case was trained through the paintings of Renaissance masters, sourced from WikiArt. This points very clearly that AI Art is not something created entirely by algorithms as it rests on the works of so many artists.
Although people involved with AI art call it ‘prompt engineering,’ there are a lot of gray areas around the artwork which are used in the dataset without the permission of their creators. Even with many popular softwares like midjourney, the issue is with the input that requires a dataset which leads to output. All this database is full of art which has been taken without the permission of artists, thereby violating intellectual property rights.
When I wrote a piece about AI Art that was centered around queerness, I was amazed at how ‘queer’ it seemed in an optical manner, unaware that this inspiration comes from decades of queer art. More than that, we have seen how so many AI chatbots have picked up unfortunate abusive behavior from their interaction with humans. Similarly, there’s a high chance there will be a spew of misrepresentation or fetishization for the worst,, which has been already floating around the internet. For instance, a post about Bengali wedding recreation by AI art simply stereotyped them as fish eaters.
There is also a question of access when it comes to AI art as it provides access to everyone for making art, which is nothing wrong in its essence. But it’s the demolition of art as we know it. If we can make something through a few words, why would someone buy a painting from an artist? If accessibility is one aspect, it leads to an unfair world, which is already hard for artists and AI Art is only going to limit their creative potential. What value would an artist bring if everyone can do the same thing? But the difference is they are doing it through words while artists put long years of labor, hardwork and techniques in their work. The promise of AI that someone with zero experience can create the same image as someone with years of training is in the direction of replacement of artists.
Steven Zapata Art in their video The End of Art: The Argument Against Images AIsprovides the most informed and nuanced understanding of what’s wrong with AI Art. The video essay points towards the flawed, unethical and deceptive AI system which is almost the definition of ‘unartistic’ as it violates consent and basic ethics. The basic argument is that these text to image based AIs cannot improve upon themselves as they rely on exploitation of creative works all the while marketing themselves as authentic or ‘game-changing.’ The video also extensively decodes the companies working behind the scene and how they are exploiting in the name of creating something between a for-profit and a non-profit (called as ‘capped profit’) which unfortunately doesn’t come under any pre-existing legal structure.
No one is contesting that AI art is art or not? The question is around future and ethical implication when some of these AIs have not disclosed how they make their dataset work. AIs are not tools for artists, they are replacement unfortunately. One of the comments on the YouTube video which I highly resonate with reads, “If they take away the ability and the incentive to create, we will only have the desire to consume. And deep down, it’s just that, consumption and more consumption. This is a strong step towards a less “human” humanity. Not to mention that there will be fewer and fewer jobs in which one can learn and enjoy what they do. This is horrendous, almost straight out of a sci-fi horror movie.”
Art since long has been an instrument of protest and revolution for many marginalized identities. It has been a key element in contemporary social activism because more often than not, it takes visuals and imagery to get an important message across. When AI art is self-generated and highly targeted, the authentic art would take a backset. It will also rob the artists of a space where it matters to them that they told their story. There’s also a Black Mirror-ish possibility where AI begins to interfere with all the intimate information it already has and the control it already exerts over us.
One instagram handle which uses midjourney software arrogantly asks in their bio “Who’s the better artist, man or machine?” without talking about how whatever the machine creates is actually stolen from the artists. In a video essay titled “Is Art Meaningless?”, transgender actor and philosopher Abigail Thorn asks the question about art – “If I don’t get it? How do I get it?” The pertinent question that comes up here is trying to understand the artist’s intention. But coming back to the controversial relationship between authorship and AI art, whose intention are we looking at in terms of art made by AI? Whose subjectivity are we referring to? Are we equating AI as having human-like abilities or are we actually going to talk about the artists that fill up the dataset.
[In collaboration: Cripplentine’s Day is a project by Revival Disability Magazine rooted in the belief that all kinds of love should be celebrated because love is a revolution. An accessible Valentine’s Day should be one that not only includes an able-bodied kind of love between two heteronormative lovers. During Cripplentines, we’re no longer waiting for a valentine to buy us roses, or taking back our ableist exes. Instead, we’re disrupting able-bodied heteronormative myths of dating and reclaiming our own, we’re reclaiming disability affirmative pyaar, whatever that looks like, with our fabulous decorated mobility aids that give us agency and make us feel loved. Perhaps home lies in the nooks of our disabled bodies, something that our past lovers have overlooked.]
When folks get you, the less you are made to feel different, the more unapologetically queer you are. When I was in ninth standard, I downloaded Wattpad to read books based on the slice-of-life genre, and unbeknownst to me, I came across a gay story. The plot was great, and as I read on, I realized that it was a love story about two men.
You would think I would be SHOOKETH, but I was not. I continued to read and well- it led me to search for more gay and lesbian plots. I had never felt this intense teeth-chattering excitement. It also eased my loneliness and turned out to be effective in helping me forget about being isolated in classrooms and group dining conversations.
I, then, realized that not many people read queer books, so I would try my hardest to hide my toothy grin whenever I fantasized queer plots/scenarios in my head. However, I wanted to talk to someone about this, badly.
So one evening after school, on the kitchen counter I blurted out that I read gay books and asked them if they found that weird. I was also super anxious but I managed to appear nonchalant.
“No, that is not weird at all. Gay or not, everyone should be heard out in literature”, my sibling replied, to my surprise. “Shit, I know right! Yay! I have a book to recommend! Do you want to read?”, and that’s how I made my first queer ally friend- my sibling. A few years later, my sibling would come out as queer.
Fast forward to the year 2020- the year of my self-discovery, I made my first queer best friend on Reddit, with whom I am still very close.
Thereafter, I got introduced to the deaf as well as the disability community, where I made more queer deaf/disabled friends and I never looked back. It redefined my idea of friendships. I finally felt less alone. I finally felt validated, and I finally understood what it meant to have a friendship with no red flags that is also disability-friendly, and that you could customize your friendships/relationships.
Initially, I thought that I could have had commitment issues because I didn’t want to find myself in relationships in spite of feeling very intensely toward them. I also wondered if it was the fact that I couldn’t distinguish platonic and romantic feelings, but it turned out that I simply viewed platonic friendships differently. In short, I was extremely confused; but after I recently spoke to one of my queer friends, M, in her usual bubbly, cute self, she said,
“I wanna kiss all my friends!”
And it instantly clicked with my approach toward friendships as well as non-monogamous relationships. It turns out that I perceive sex as intimacy which is not limited to sexual and romantic relationships but also in platonic relationships/friendships– sex is, like a hug between friends, another way to show that I care about them deeply, being vulnerable with each other and to know more about each other. It felt truly liberating and I felt so seen. The guilt of breaking off romantic relationships in less than a week went away.
Neurodivergent queer folks often promote labels that do not exclude other identities and that was so important to me since I view relationships and friendships differently compared to the checklist-ed socially normative relationships.
As a deaf person, I miss out on a lot of information and awareness about disability and queerness, hence I rely on people I know. It is thanks to them that I was able to learn more about my queerness and disability, and their intersectionality. It was mind-blowing to me that there was a lot to know/learn about disability and queerness.
Deaf queer friendships are on another level; I was able to freely share my experiences of ableism and enbymisia without feeling burdened, unlike when discussing it with abled people, who either make excuses or beg us to understand from their perspective.
For example, when I complained to my abled friend about being cut off from the group conversation, instead of sympathizing with me or assuring me that they wouldn’t do it again, they claimed that I wouldn’t be interested in their topic, that is straight crushes, and that because I am queer, I wouldn’t get the problems in straight relationships, especially those concerning “cis-men”. In my head, I was thinking, “Well, yes and no, yes because I wouldn’t go for partners who are cis-normative, and no because I continue to be seen as AFAB and not AGENDER”.
Instead, I shook my head and cut them off.
The more you talk to folks who share your experiences, you contribute to sharing a collective empathy with society as a whole. It is through these journeys of wholesome friendships, I take their wholesomeness and do the same for them while building my self-love.
[In collaboration: Cripplentine’s Day is a project by Revival Disability Magazine rooted in the belief that all kinds of love should be celebrated because love is a revolution. An accessible Valentine’s Day should be one that not only includes an able-bodied kind of love between two heteronormative lovers. During Cripplentines, we’re no longer waiting for a valentine to buy us roses, or taking back our ableist exes. Instead, we’re disrupting able-bodied heteronormative myths of dating and reclaiming our own, we’re reclaiming disability affirmative pyaar, whatever that looks like, with our fabulous decorated mobility aids that give us agency and make us feel loved. Perhaps home lies in the nooks of our disabled bodies, something that our past lovers have overlooked.]
My first online relationship ever was with a guy with whom I used to argue a lot. The only thing we had in common at that time was anime and it honestly did not even feel like he could understand me well. So when he asked me out, the only reason why I agreed to get into the relationship was because it seemed impossible for me to ever get asked out by someone in the real life because I have a very visible physical disability and I just wanted to try something new. It was terrible, honestly. I felt like the only thing he liked about me was how I looked in the pictures that I used to carefully pick due to my insecurities of being seemingly disabled. And then one day, he told me that he had a crush on another girl who happened to be slightly older than him. But strangely enough, the fact that he liked another girl did not bother me as much as anyone would think. I was actually pretty calm and told him to break up with me and confess his feelings to that girl. He was quite taken aback but he did as I told him and they started dating.
Now that I think about it, I was more concerned about whether he would be happier with the other girl who was not disabled and thus, would not be a “burden” on him. It was just my internalised ableism at its peak. It’s not like I was completely okay and unbothered with the break up. I would be lying if I say that I did not regret my decision at all. It was my first relationship ever and I felt like I just ran away from it because of my own insecurities. But then I met another guy who was two years younger to me but seemed to be way more understanding than my ex boyfriend. After spending a considerable amount of time, I half-jokingly asked him if he wanted to be my boyfriend. I honestly was not expecting him to agree, but he did.
Although we had some differences, we got along well. But sometimes I still felt like I’m not “good enough” for him because I could not do a lot of things that other couples did. One of those things was talking on calls.
Because of the guilt of not being able to do much for him, I once forced myself to do a video call with him. The experience ended up traumatizing me. I was frozen still but my whole body was burning as I tried my hardest to breathe properly and get myself to say something in response to his questions that I could not even hear clearly. But before I knew it, the call ended.
I was quite confused and asked him if the call got disconnected by accident, but to make things worse for me, he said that he ended the call because I was not saying anything.
Things got painfully awkward after this incident and by the end, I felt so suffocated that I broke up with him.
After that, I thought I would not get into a relationship again for a while, however, after a couple of months, I met another guy through a (very annoying) mutual friend who thought we would be perfect for each other because of how similar we seemed to him. But to my surprise, he was indeed extremely similar to me and we instantly became close. We chatted every single day and we both felt comfortable enough to share things that we can’t easily talk about.
Turns out, we both had a fair share of trauma and I felt a strong urge to make him feel happy and loved. And after another couple of months, I asked him out and he was very happy about it.
For a year, we got along so well that it almost did not feel real. He made me feel comfortable enough to share short voice messages on rare occasions and we did a video call once too. He told me that I did not have to force myself to speak and we just waved at each other while smiling. After the call ended, he called me cute and said he would always be there to help me get over my fears and insecurities. But as time passed, it felt like he was struggling so much that he gradually started growing distant be from me and when I tried to talk to him about it after about half a year, he said he wanted to end our relationship before it could hurt more later on.
I was adamant about not letting the relationship end and tried my best to convince him to stop worrying about things that were not actually happening but his mental health issues kept on worsening. In the end, I did agree to break up with him but only in hopes of getting back together sooner or later. It took me several months to realise that the relationship was over and several months more to get back to feeling like a person instead of a messy mixture of grief, anger and regrets hiding behind a fake smile.
I am truly grateful that I did not stop meeting new people and learning new things after the break up because I got to know a lot of things about myself and the world and made a lot of good friends. I found out the exact name of my disability and realised that I am in fact very queer which helped me find the communities where I actually feel a genuine sense of belongingness.
I am now in my first online queer polyamorous relationship in with a lovely trans woman who accepts me as I am. I no longer let my internalised ableism get the best of me and try to be as honest as possible with my partner and my close friends as well.
I understand that a lot of people might find online dating tricky because it comes with a lot of risks and uncertainties. But as someone who has to think dozen times before just stepping out of the house and finds texting a lot more comfortable than talking face to face and struggles find people who truly understand and accept them as they are, online dating seems like a blessing to me and probably a lot of other queer disabled people.
Nothing comforts the soul like watching a well-made and accurately represented queer storyline on a lazy Sunday. After decades of suffering through sad and tragic storylines, 2022 was quite literally a queer bonanza. Not only did we get representation, we got authentic representation with actual happy endings! There were so many beautifully portrayed LGBTQ+ characters that have since burrowed deep into our hearts. Due to want of time and space, here are my top 6 picks of Queer movies and TV Shows of 2022 that I’d kill to watch again for the first time.
6. First Kill (TV Show-English)
It’s the lesbian vampire enemies-to-lovers trope we always deserved but never got – until now. The chemistry between the leads sizzles like drops of rain on hot charcoal. Although the plot is shallow and predictable at times, we loved it all the same. Well, don’t we deserve all the fun, sappy, and stereotypical plots in the world too? You bet we do. The premise of a vampire and a vampire-hunter falling in love is just too hard to resist. Also, the catchy music definitely makes up for it all. When you’re down for a night of casual watching, just prop your feet up on the couch and put on First kill. I promise you; you won’t regret it.
5. Natchathiram Nagargiradhu (Movie-Tamil)
Centered around a drama troupe set in the picturesque city of Pondicherry, the female lead is an aspiring actor fighting against the dual horrors of patriarchy and casteism. Although the two queer couples, one lesbian and one gay, are not the major focus of the film, it was still good representation. After ‘Super Deluxe’ and Sudha Kongara’s ‘Thangam’, this is perhaps the best queer representation in mainstream Tamil cinema to date. Overall, the movie was intersectionality depicted at its best. The enthralling music and dance-cum-drama sequences make it worth more than one watch.
4. Badhaai Do (Movie-Hindi)
Badhaai Do was one of the best desi representations we got as a community this year. The word ‘gay’ literally means fun and to think we never got our fun Rom-Coms (sigh). Anyway, Badhaai Do changed that sad reality, armed with a trope-y plot of a gay police officer and a lesbian P.E. trainer getting into a marriage of convenience to keep their families and that one nosy aunty off their backs. It might have been trope-y but it was entertaining as hell and the chemistry between both lead pairs was through the roof. We loved Shardul‘s character development from being a highly closeted gay man to one who proudly wears the rainbow masquerade mask at a Pride parade! Pessimists might call the ending unrealistic, but then, it’s the unrealistic happiness and sappiness that we seek in movies and TV shows after all. And that, Badhaai Do provides in all its glory. I’ve watched it thrice now and so should you.
3. Cobalt Blue (Movie-Hindi)
Our very own Indian ‘Call Me By Your Name’, but with a twist. A bisexual Oliver seduces a brother-sister duo and then cons them both. That’s the worst bottom line I could give you, but I swear the movie is nowhere near as boring. A film rendition of a book of the same name, it was directed by the author, Sachin Kundalkar, himself. The cinematography is so poignant with the titular cobalt blue just about everywhere in the film. The characters are deeply layered and fight their own wars against society. Cobalt Blue has this mystique air of quaint sensuality that makes the viewer feel so much. Set in 1990s Kerala, we go back to a time when homosexuality was scorned upon. When both siblings fall for the unnamed paying guest who’s obsessed with a particular shade of blue, drama ensues. It’s the best film to watch when you want something intricate, intimate, and inspiring.
2. Heartstopper (TV Show-English)
The most hyped queer series of the year, it was perfect in every possible way. The tooth-rotting fluff literally gave us cavities, but we’re not complaining. The show overflows with the innocence and softness that only teenage love can bring about. Every time Charlie and Nick are in the vicinity of each other, we get the butterflies with them. The cute and heart-warming graphic leaves, hearts, and other digital art add a beautiful touch of the original webtoon to the show. We loved the Elle-Tao storyline as much as the main leads and Yasmin Finney is so gorgeous, I spent half the show simping over her (#NoShame). The ending left us wanting so much more and we can’t wait for season 2 to come sooner!
1. Young Royals S2 (TV Show-Swedish)
Perhaps one of the most awaited sequels of 2022, season 2 of Young Royals definitely did not disappoint. Don’t we just love the trope of a modern royalty show with gay titular characters? Although this season was filled with pining and angst, we were all for it, because it hurt so good. The fact that Wilhelm is ready to throw away all the money, fame, and even his family for Simon, pulls so much at our heartstrings, it’s almost unbearable. The final scene, where the prince of the nation professes his love for a nobody, live on national television, was heart-melting, to say the least. The fandom unanimously agrees that Wilhelm must be protected at all costs. Period. And of course, I cannot end without an honourable mention of the extraordinariness that was the background score.
This past year gave us an equal mix of light-hearted and fun storylines with intricate, layered, and moving ones. Indian cinema is becoming queer-conscious and that in itself is something to celebrate. We can’t wait for all the queerness 2023 has in store for us! What are some Queer movies/ TV shows of 2022 that you’d kill to watch again for the first time? Let us know in the comments down below!
A few days back, Kit Connor, the breakout star of Netflix adaptation of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper tweeted
“back for a minute. i’m bi. congrats for forcing an 18 year old to out himself. i think some of you missed the point of the show. bye.”
Unfortunately, this was a forced coming out of an 18 year old after vicious accusations of queerbaiting levied against the actor. Twitter has been on fire with discussions around queerbaiting, pink capitalism, and where do we draw the line for representation in the limelight. What we do need to understand is there are a few things at play here – queerbaiting, representation, acting, coming out, and marketability of openly gay actors (especially in Hollywood).
Queerbaiting Is Something Else
The queerbaiting discourse has been used to demand accountability from corporations and shows which exert a cultural influence and have queer-coded characters or characters with queer undertones, but who never explicitly identify with queerness on any spectrum. Another idea closely attached to this narrative are the tropes of ‘bury your gays’ (queer characters being killed off), ‘fridging’ (queer characters being killed off because there’s no possible way for the creators to carry on their story in a meaningful way), and ‘queer as evil’ (the trope of queer-coding villains, especially the media representation of trans people as serial killer).
To negotiate authenticity between creator and fans, demands of legibility of sexual orientation or gender identity defeats the purpose of having inclusive, progressive narraitves. In his podcast titled The Outing of Kit Connor (Special Podcast Episode), James Somerton discusses the thin line between queerbaiting and representation. At the same time, he also discusses that how the people who funds the movies in Hollywood are mostly old white men and they don’t believe that actors who are openly gay are marketable. And while the queerbaiting discourse is the one to tackle, there is no denying that the idea that openly gay actors aren’t deemed marketable by Hollywood.
The demand from the section that you have to come out and without it, you’re ineligible to play a queer character is just illogical. Coming out unfortunately still has its cons where there are consequences to the kind of films you’ll do, the kind of roles you’ll get, and what direction your career will take. Along with this, queerbaiting is an accusation when the people who are engaging in queerbaiting profit off their media. Or when they do things like Disney queer-coding villains but not streaming the show Love, Victorand instead pushing it to Hulu. This is definitely different from Harry Styles talking about what is the right way of portrayal of gay sex in movies and in his own way, reinventing what closet is supposed to be, through a very white-man dominated narrative (what Nicole Woods and Doug Hardman calls social queerbaiting and cultural queerbaiting ).
Queer-baiting is a term used in media literacy and cultural studies. And Kit Connor is just 18 years old, he doesn’t have a fan base or cultural influence at par with Harry Styles. Particularly at a time when the movie Bros. with two lead gay characters (regardless of how the movie was) bombed spectacularly at the box office, there has been a furore over Netflix tagging their documentary Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story as LGBTQ+, and Harry Styles had been making weird comments about movies and gay sex, Kit Connor is one the most wholesome and awesome things to happen to Hollywood, especially in terms of the story it’s telling for and about queer people.
Representation is Complex
The aspect of representation is complex because queer people lie at the intersection of multiple marginalizing social positions, and that makes the activism space that asks for representation very competitive. This also takes back to trashing of Vogue and Harry Styles by Billy Porter when the former appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine. While having a position of a celebrity does lead to an exponential rise in the increase of demands of accountability, it can’t be asked of an 18 year old person who’s just starting out in a place that literally had The Hays Codewhich banned movies from depicting any form of non-alternative sexuality.
We need to at least discuss if we really want only queer people play queer characters because then what about the queer actors who aren’t out. I had a lengthy discussion with a friend and only then I realized that this idea is faulty. Representation is something we all should strive for, but we should also strive for queer narratives and portrayals that are not stereotypical or harmful. And at the same time, support shows which actually show a positive narrative, and one that is affirming one. No one can decide if you’re good enough of an actor to play a queer role only if you’re queer enough. And this is vastly different from cisgender people playing trans characters in a horrific manner that stigmatizes them more.
Forcing Authentic Identity has Disastrous Consequences
One particular incident that comes to mind is the military science fiction short story I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter by Isbael Fall. The story follows a Barb, who has been assigned the gender as an attack helicopter to make her a better pilot. The story rammed intro controversy and criticism that increased her gender dysphoria to a point where the author had to ender a psychiatric hospital due to suicidal ideation. The author, who identified as trans, dropped out of their transition process citing in an interview, “If other people want to put markings on my gender-sphere and decide what I am, fine, let them. It’s not worth fighting”. There are consequences to overindulge in people’s sexuality or gender especially when they have a platform.
Heartstopper explores queer joy, and premises itself on taking time and space to figure out your identity. And it’s a show that’s aimed at pre-teen and teenage audiences without discussing explicit adult themes. It’s not that explicit adult themes are not respectable but given the moral climate of people, it’s easier to watch queer shows that don’t have excessive sex or drugs but instead focus on tender love and heartwarming moments. I echo James Somerton’s words for conclusion, “It’s not fair to force anyone out of the closet if they’re not being a cause of bad for the community.” And it’s high time to retrospect we expect of queer people, especially those who are representing us or who seem to be representing us.
Valentine’s Day is a special time to celebrate love and intimacy with your partner. Sex toys can enhance your sexual experience and bring excitement to your intimate moments. They can provide new sensations and bring variety to your routine, leading to a deeper connection and satisfaction. Furthermore, sex toys can be used solo or with a partner, allowing for greater exploration and expression of one’s desires. So, purchasing a sex toy as a gift for your partner or for yourself can be a meaningful way to show care and appreciation on Valentine’s Day. Here are some of our favorites from IMbesharam’s Valentine’s collection.
1. Sweet and Spicy Mini Dress Set
Unleash your seductive side and make heads turn with the Penthouse Sweet and Spicy Mini Dress Set. Featured in Cosmopolitan, this stunning mini dress is the perfect way to show off your confident and irresistible side. The transparent mesh fabric is tantalizing to the touch while the floral design and matching thong add an ultra-erotic flair. Available in Red or White, the S/M size fits a bust of 82-90 cm, a waist of 59-75 cm, and hips of 88-100 cm. Made of 73% Polyester and 27% Elastane, this dress is soft to the touch and is a visual treat.
Indulge in the ultimate oral experience with System JO Oral Delight. This arousal gel not only enhances the pleasure of oral sex but also adds a delicious flavor for the giver. The cooling effect of the gel will have your sensitive zone shivering with ecstasy, making your intimate moments even more unforgettable.
With 30 mL of pleasure in each ergonomic pump bottle, you can choose from four irresistible flavors: Vanilla Thrill, Cherry, Peppermint, and Strawberry.
3. Tenga Deep Throat Cup
For a deep throat stimulation experience, Tenga Deep Throat Cup is the toy for you. This disposable product allows for easy control of suction and creates an unparalleled level of pleasure. The pre-lubricated menthol lubricant provides tingling sensations, while the curve of the cup offers a snug fit. The cup even creates slurping sounds for added stimulation. It is easy to hold and easy to move along your shaft, making this the best toy to have at your disposal for ultimate pleasure.
With a total length of 15.5 cm and an insertable length of 14.7 cm, the Tenga Deep Throat Cup offers realistic blowjob sensations. For those who need more room, the U.S. version of the cup is 20% bigger. It is designed for single use but can be reused with proper care. To enhance the experience, use a water-based lubricant and clean the cup with a toy cleaner after each use.
4. Orgie Sexy Vibe! Hot Orgasm Gel
The Orgie Sexy Vibe Hot Orgasm Gel offers an exciting sexual experience. Enhance your intimate moments by applying the kissable, strawberry-flavored gel, which contains Amazonian plant-based ingredients to produce a warming effect. With its safe and delicious formula, you can enjoy enhanced sexual pleasure with ease.
The 15 ml bottle will rock your world by creating a mix of teasing tingles, warmth, and sensual vibrations. Whether you’re in the mood for some passion or not, this gel is sure to deliver.
For extra pleasure, pair the gel with a lubricant. Say goodbye to unsatisfying nights and hello to unforgettable orgasms with the Orgie Sexy Vibe Hot Orgasm Gel.
5. Chocolate Seductions Game
Indulge in a tantalizing experience with Chocolate Seductions Game. Sweeten up your foreplay with body chocolate and turn your partner into the centerpiece of the night. Try something new this Valentine’s Day and indulge in some sploshing and create a messy and delicious scene with food. Being covered in food can be both, visually and sexually, exciting. And chocolate, being an aphrodisiac, will only elevate the experience by enhancing the feelings of attraction and love, along with heightened arousal.
The specially crafted kit comes with 1oz of rich milk chocolate comes with 36 seduction cards, a brush, and a die. Start the game by following the instructions on the cards or let yourself get carried away and just enjoy licking the chocolate off.
6. Gift Set Loveboxxx- I Love You
The Gift Set Loveboxxx- I Love You is the perfect way to show your love and affection to your partner. This pleasure kit comes with seven sensual props that are guaranteed to enhance the mood and make your intimate moments even more special.
This gift box is perfect for couples who want to add excitement and passion to their relationship. With romantic rose petals, a sexy dice game, a mask for mystery, handcuffs for dominance, a tickler for teasing, a bullet vibrator for added stimulation, and a vibrating cock ring that multiplies your stamina, this gift box has everything you need to have a night full of sensual pleasure. Take it up a notch and add an orgasm gel for heightened sensations and a water-based lubricant for a smoother experience.
Show your partner just how much you love them, by buying the Gift Set Loveboxxx- I Love You so you can enjoy a night of unforgettable passion and romance.
7. Satisfyer Love Breeze Stimulator
Invest in the Satisfyer Love Breeze Stimulator for ultimate pleasure and convenience for years to come. With its compact design, it’s easy to take with you wherever you go, so you’ll never be caught without your go-to toy.
The combination of air pulses and negative pressure stimulates the clitoris in a unique way that you won’t find anywhere else. The 11 different intensity levels can be easily controlled for the perfect sensation every time. The application head is made of body-friendly silicone for ultimate comfort and is waterproof for added convenience. Rechargeable batteries and a USB charging cable make it easy to keep the Love Breeze ready when you need it.
Ensure your stimulator has a life as long as the orgasms you enjoy with t by cleaning the toy before and after every use.
8. Bijoux Indiscrets Flash Patties
Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love and intimacy with your partner. Make it extra special by surprising them with the Bijoux Indiscrets Flash Pasties. These pasties come in two dazzling shades – gold and silver. They are easy to apply and comfortable to wear, making them perfect for a night of seduction. And, the best part? They are reusable, which means, the seduction never has to end!
9. Orgie Sex Therapy Lips Massage Kit
Ready for some electrifying oral play? Then it’s time to add the Orgie Sex Therapy Lips Massage Kit to your toy collection! With a kissable oil and a flirty feather, you’re in for a wild ride. Whether you prefer the sweet and juicy taste of Strawberry or the playful Cotton Candy, this kit is sure to turn up the heat in the bedroom.
Imagine your partner tracing the sweet drops of the oil on your body, with the feather adding to the sensual experience. And when it comes to oral sex, the Sexy Therapy Oil is designed to be kissable, making every moment even more delicious. The accompanying guide will show you how to make the most of the feather for maximum pleasure.
Don’t for a plain old kiss when you can add some extra zing with the Orgie Sex Therapy Lips Massage Kit? And if you want to take things even further, pair it with a pheromone spray or some sexy lingerie for a truly unforgettable night.
10. Edible Candy C-rings
Get ready for a wild ride with the Edible Candy C-Ring! This delectable treat is perfect for couples who love to indulge in both food and sex. Not only does the C-ring improve your partner’s erection by restricting blood flow and making it harder, but it also adds an extra layer of fun to your intimate moments.
Imagine your partner savoring the sweetness of the candy before diving into the main course. With a range of flavors and colors to choose from, your intimate moments will be as delicious as they are steamy. Each package comes with two rings, so you’ll never run out of sweet treats to tantalize your taste buds.
Grooming is more common than we would like to acknowledge and much of it is due to lack of awareness, accessible sex-education, and non-judgmental support systems. Being queer might make someone even more vulnerable due to these reasons. Here are some ways you can spot a groomer in your (or your loved ones’) offline life (online grooming requires addressing on its own!), and nip it in the bud.
Age Gap – This is a tricky and subjective parameter. Subjective in the sense that there is no set number of years that translates to being a universally identifiable age gap that would lead to grooming. But there is usually a gap in the breadth of lived experience, education, professional or social position, such as that the groomer (so to speak) seems to occupy a position that is aspirational and enviable. For instance, if you’re 14, a 19-year-old can seem intimidating as well as attractive because they go to college and have a lot more social freedom than you do. However, a 5-year age-gap may not seem as vast as you grow older and gain more life experience yourself. But while you’re still 14, this can lead to precarious power dynamic.
Charm Offensive – You might have heard the phrase about some people being able to ‘charm your pants off’. They seem to take note of your insecurities, idiosyncrasies, interests, and so much more, and play their cards just right so as to be able to take advantage of them. They encourage you to do things that you might not do in other circumstances, without really discussing the pros and cons, the resources you might need to feel safe and ready, and so on. Sometimes these can be sexual in nature, but it could also be invites to events and places that you are probably not old enough to enter, but they whisk you in anyway. They might push your buttons just a little bit, negging you, and follow it up with a compliment – a heady mix that could feel thrilling to receive, in the moment.
The ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ – You might have just had a falling out with your friends or need a safe place to take refuge in after a rough time at home. You may be in a financially precarious circumstance or be generally feeling misunderstood by your loved ones. It’s a vulnerable position to be in, and someone with intentions to groom you might swoop in like a knight in shining armor. They offer you everything you seem to need in the moment – exciting social opportunities, a job, a loan, a place to stay. In such times, feel free to ask them about their intentions.
Other times, they might ask you to move cities for them or give up your regular plans with friends or time for your hobbies or even nudge you to miss classes/work. They may criticize the people you hang out with to the point that it might seem like your responsibility to manage their emotions about someone else. This is usually to isolate you and to make it seem like you’re the cause of their distress or pain. Remember that you are not responsible for their emotions or actions, and encourage them to seek help elsewhere. Do not entertain ultimatums to choose between them and another person/opportunity.
Thrusting Trust – Trust is built over a long period of time, through conflict, establishing boundaries, and having some mutually-uncomfortable conversations. Through it all, there has to be curiosity and respect for each other. Thrusting trust means that they are asking you to trust them without any reason or proof, especially in matters that you have little knowledge about. They might suddenly share a ‘secret’ without checking in with you first. They might tell you that they know you better than you know yourself (what? You’re the only expert on yourself!). They might ask you to trade favors by saying, I’ll do this for you if you do something for me. Even if you do agree to do something for them, please remember that you can always change your mind if you do not feel resourced or safe.
Abuse followed by profuse apologies – Sometimes they might do something to hurt you, emotionally, physically, or sexually, only to bombard you with repeated apologies and not really respecting your need for distance from them. They might push you to give in to forgiving them by telling you how special the relationship or you are to them.
Golden cage – The golden cage is built when one entity (whether it is a person, couple or organization) promises to give a person everything they need, and gets upset when that person seeks connection, fulfillment outside of the relationship. This can often be done under the guise of loyalty of some sort. When it is breached or even questioned, the entity may turn around and call you names, shame you, or play on your insecurities (‘where do you think you’re going to find better?’).
As we are coming quickly to the end of the first month, it might seem like a good time to reevaluate the resolutions you decided to keep this year. Be it trying to lose weight or save more money, resolutions are always a great way to set a goal for yourself. These goals don’t need to be just for you, on an individual level. What if these resolutions were designed to make your relationship stronger and healthier?
We spoke to 9 queer couples and found out what their goal for 2023 was, as a couple for themselves, for each other, and for the community.
Acceptance, Equality, and Inclusion
Ankur Bhatnagar and Dido Sharma haven’t kept a resolution for 2023, but they aim to enjoy the life that they finally have after all the hardships they have endured. “We plan to do everything now that we couldn’t do as a couple earlier,” he shares.
As a couple, they hope to continue their efforts to promote acceptance, and equality for the LGBTI+ community. He believes that it is essential for all members of the LGBTQ+ community, including gay couples, to continue advocating for greater acceptance, equality, and inclusion. “We recognize that despite the progress that has been made, there is still much work to be done to ensure that people of the community are able to live their lives freely and openly, without fear of discrimination or violence. We will work to educate ourselves and others on the importance of respecting and valuing all relationships, regardless of sexual orientation. We will also work to create a more inclusive and welcoming society for all,” he shares. This work should involve legislation that protects the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, he adds.
Raga Olga D’silva shares that they don’t set resolutions any and instead, they set intentions. “Our intention is to continue growing together and use our time, knowledge, resources, and love to support our LGBT community. We have pledged to each other to do everything we can to ensure our physical and mental health is at its peak,” she shares.
This year, Raga and Nicola will be moving into a new home. “This is the UK”s first LGBT affirmative housing. We will be the first lesbian couple to move into this unique new housing, which we hope will only grow and expand to house our communities. Imagine living in a place with our chosen families. We will be living that dream,” she shares.
For the community, they hope that this will be the year they get to see a change in the legislation around same-sex marriage rights in India.
Travel As a Family
Shreya Shetty and Varisha Tanna aren’t keeping any resolutions this year either. “There’s a line in one of “our songs” which goes, “I don’t believe resolutions gonna change me, that’s an awful lot of bullshit, ain’t it, baby?” So, no, there are no 2023 resolutions; we will continue to concentrate on growing and loving, supporting, and thriving with one another through all that life brings our way, just as we’ve done these past two years together,” shares Shreya.
On the last day of each year, the couple writes letters to their future selves. This also gives them a chance to read all the things they had written the year before. “This year when we read out our letters, we’d both hoped to have traveled at least to one place with our two fur babies, as a family,” she shares. This year, they plan to make that much-awaited vacation a reality. “We’re hoping to wake all snuggled up in a lovely cat-proofed home someplace close to the sea so they can enjoy a large and endless litter box,” she shares, chuckling.
For the community, they hope that the fabric of society evolves to be more Queer-centric for once. “I’m honestly quite tired of the unabashed hetero-loving and living convenience and narratives. From banks to hospitals, every place that requires paperwork should be able to recognize my partner as not just a friend and give them the respect they deserve,” she opines.
Work Lesser Together
Shruti’s (pawlyamorous) 2023 resolution is to give her partner, Pooja the space to sulk and throw tantrums. “When that happens I tend to freak out, which makes the situation all about me. So the resolution is to allow her the space to have her feelings,” she shares. As a couple, they hope to work less together. “We work together; we are both faculty at QACP and we have written a book together and we do training together, so maybe we just need to work less,” she shares, chuckling.
For the community, their hope is that doctors and mental health practitioners start providing discrimination-free services to members of the community.
Self-growth and Creating Inclusive Communities
Alyy and Ayaan Dalal who have been together since February 2022 aim to step back a little and focus on themselves this year. “We want to grow, evolve and blossom into the best version of ourselves and bring that best version into this relationship. We knew very early on in the relationship that Alyy would be moving to Vancouver for her Ph.D. So, we have been all up in each other’s business and space, and so we wanted to consciously make space for ourselves,” the couple shares. The growth has been easier since they are in a long-distance relation. Apart from the time zone difference, Ayaan is a morning person, while Alyy is an evening person, allowing them to have the space and time needed to simply focus on themselves. “Making time for each other, while making time for all the things that are important be it school or work, or even journaling, or going to the gym, is difficult. Working on that compromise in terms of time, space and communication is important to make this work,” shares Alyy.
Ayaan hopes to see Alyy do well in her Ph.D. program this year. “I know it stresses her out, but it is something she really wants for her career, so I want to see her do well,” he shares. As a couple, he hopes that they find the growth they are working towards. “We are young, and we have a lot of time, and we took last year to focus on our relationship, so now, we want to take out the time to find ourselves in the world,” they share. Coming from a Gujarati community, they also aim to work through the toxic mindset of people pleasing and learning for themselves first.
As co-heads of the Queer South Asian Women’s network, they hope to move away from the pandemic mindset and organize in-person events this year. “We are contacting community organizations that can sponsor us while we provide training on making queer people safe in their space. We are working on providing those resources with the expertise to the community, such as trans research or non-binary folks,” shares Ayaan. While trans and non-binary folks are already a part of the network, they hope to make an active effort to ensure that the network is inclusive and educate more service providers on how to be inclusive of the South Asian queer community so they can feel at ease accessing these services. The networking activities, they share, also help people find friends and even love. “It was so difficult for us growing up to find queer south Asian people, and you would feel so alone, and that’s not the case so much anymore,” adds Alyy.
Be Kind and Reassuring
Siaan and Wanda have kept resolutions that are complementary in nature for them as a couple. Siaan aims to be kinder towards each other during conflicts, while Wanda hopes that they become more understanding and reassuring towards each other.
Siaan, who has been bitten by the travel bug after meeting Wanda, says that this year they look forward to going on more holidays together.
This year, they hope to see some improvement in marriage rights. “I wish to see some kind of understanding between the law and government towards the queer community, be it about identity or any rights,” they add.
Focus on Career Growth
Aryan Somaiya and his partner have not kept any resolutions this year. “We have done and are doing a lot of personal therapy so that we grow as individuals while holding our relationship together,” he shares. While they have compassionately supported each other needs so far, he agrees that it can get too much, “At that time one of us takes up more work as the other is too much in pain. That is the strength of our relationship. Hence, we try to hold a range of feelings for each other and not get into rights and wrongs but fully experience each other as human beings and not just identities,” he explains.
Individually, they are both aiming for career growth and navigating their relationship through this as there is a chance this focus might take them to different countries.
Having seen clients from the community, they hope that people build the capacity to see each other more compassionately and start building the space to make mistakes and then repair them together. “People should see each other as a whole and not only as the result of their past experiences,” he shares.
Make their Relationship a Safe Space
For Leena Muriel who had just stepped out of a toxic relationship last year, getting back into one was difficult. “Now that I am in one, I’ve decided to be more kind, patient, and loving towards my partner and me. More importantly, I will not let my previous experiences tarnish and take away what my new life has to offer me,” they say.
Being in a long distance, this year, the couple is looking forward to spending as much time as they can together. They hope that they are able to make communication their key to understanding each other’s love language and make the relationship a safe space for them.
Much like many others from the community, the couple hopes that 2023 is the year that same-sex marriage gets legalized in India. “Marriage is a union of love and I don’t think anything else should be a reason for us not being able to do the same,” they share.