In Conversation With Bapsa Members On The Victory Of Posts In Jnusu Elections 2024

After a four-year hiatus, the JNUSU election was held in March 2024. Students eagerly celebrate this festival of sorts in JNU, which has been denied to them by the administration for the past 4 years citing COVID. JNUSU 2024 turned out to be historical with a 74%  voter turnout (one of the highest in the recent decade), however, the prominent winner which captivated everyone’s attention has been BAPSA. The recent election held in JNU, BAPSA- Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association for the first time made its way into the Central panel – an apex body in JNUSU, winning the covetous and important position of general secretary and councilors in the School of International Studies and Center for the Study of Law and Governance. Priyanshi Arya, a first-year PhD student in the Department of Philosophy is elected General Secretary. Megha Kumari and Ramnivas Gurjar have been elected for the post of councilors in the School of International Studies (SIS) and the Centre for the Studies of Law and Governance (CSLG). Priyanshi comes from Kumaon, Uttarakhand and belongs to Shilpkar caste (SC) traditionally associated with the profession of craftsman and sculptors.  Ramnivas comes from the Gurjar community (OBC) of Chambal, and Megha comes from the Mallah community (OBC) of Vaishali, Bihar, which is associated with the fishing business and is renowned for their prowess in making boats. It’s a great achievement for BAPSA to bring forward students from marginalised communities to the forefront to represent the student body.

Prevalence of  systematic caste based oppression that Dalit, Adivasi and other backward class families face in their everyday life is known and widely talked about. However academic spaces, these islands of excellence – renowned to carry forth the spirit of universality, liberal ethos and ideas of égalité remain confined to the clutches of upper castes and marginalised caste communities find themselves in the same vicious cycle of caste discrimination, which they seek to overcome in these spaces. University spaces are turning into Agraharas, where students coming from specific communities are covertly targeted and discriminated against because of their caste denominations. The marginalised caste students are dehumanized and often frowned upon by Brahminical/Manuwadi professors and administrators alike.  When there is an ever increasing number of suicides of Dalit students in university spaces, when there’s a systemic discrimination to marginalised students in PhD vivas, an organisation like BAPSA becomes indispensable providing them space and solidarity to all the oppressed communities. They feel a sense of belongingness in the organization where together they can raise their voices against injustice. This is possible only due to the non-Brahmanical structure that BAPSA follows. Other parties within JNU like the Left organization use marginalised caste students as their foot soldiers and rob them off of their representation, further taking away their space and their voices. However, BAPSA unlike other organizations, doesn’t have a parent party or affiliation with any party which regulates or dictates their decisions, but it’s totally up to the rationale and consciousness of members of BAPSA to take any decision which is debated before introduction, making BAPSA a unique organization and most democratic in JNU. Where other organisations of Left and Right have their position holding posts occupied by Savarnas, they rarely talk about the issues of caste marginalisation. BAPSA voices inviograntly for the demands of marginalized and oppressed communities.  BAPSA is an autonomous structure, free from external control by a parent organization, fosters a strong sense of belonging among marginalized students, empowering them to find their voices.

Q. What are your views on the victory of BAPSA in the JNUSU elections? And how do you see the Ambedkarite politics navigating in the university spaces?

The recent victory of the BAPSA in the JNUSU elections marks a significant milestone after ten years of their establishment in 2014, Priyanshi highlights. The presence of BAPSA in JNU, a traditionally entrenched institution, signifies a growing resistance movement. Priyanshi observes that the celebratory atmosphere extends beyond mere festivity. The jubilant drumming (Daflis) reflects a deeper sense of anger and a long-fought struggle for representation. BAPSA’s win grants a stronger voice to marginalized sections within the university. Even before this electoral victory, BAPSA actively championed Ambedkarite ideals through various movements, including opposing fee hikes, the 13-point roster system, and advocating for fair hostel allocation.

News of BAPSA’s triumph has resonated with the global Ambedkarite community, sparking celebrations worldwide. Priyanshi highlights the vast network of supporters, indicating a broader movement for social justice. Ramnivas emphasizes the win’s significance for marginalized students. They now have a support system to address potential discrimination from supervisors or colleagues based on social background. This victory empowers students to assert the principles of oppressed unity and the teachings of iconic figures like Ambedkar, Phule, Birsa Munda, Periyar, Savitribai, Kanshiram, Mandal, and Phoolan.Megha, a BAPSA member, describes her first-ever win in the School of International Studies (SIS) as a transformative experience. The ideologies of Babasaheb Ambedkar, Phule, and other leaders have paved the way for students like her to access prestigious institutions like JNU.

Q. What was the turning point that led you to this movement?

Priyanshi is from a Dalit family and is no stranger to discrimination, both subtle and overt. Everyday casteism manifests in actions like serving food on separate plates, and inquiries about surnames or fathers’ names. The incident that shook Priyanshi’s life was her father losing his job due to caste discrimination and later the realization that she is not as safe as her Savarna friends in this Brahminical structure society. Consequently, Priyanshi’s family gradually transitioned away from Hinduism, embracing the Ambedkarite movement and actively engaging with its literature. At JNU, weekly reading sessions with like-minded friends fostered a sense of belonging and provided a new space for her identity. Ramnivas’ journey towards Ambedkarism began with the powerful image of Kanshiram Sahab in his hometown. Professor Dara Sir from Jamia, who teaches Ambedkar studies, played a pivotal role in shaping his views. Additionally, witnessing the fearless activism of his Ambedkarite friends in class further fueled his own commitment to the movement.

Megha, a new student on campus, readily identified the three dominant political forces: Left, Right, and BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association). BAPSA particularly resonated with her, offering a space where she could express herself freely. Her prior experiences of witnessing discrimination against Dalits by Savarnas had instilled a strong determination to fight against such injustices.

Q. How do you feel when you do this work?

The founding members of BAPSA  entrusted their legacy, their vision and dedication to the organization and it passed down to each new generation of students. BAPSA entrusts every new batch of students with an emotional responsibility to carry forward the ideals, while refraining from imposing rigid ideologies. Priyanshi describes the energy generated during the protests as “transcendental” which is the effect of collective actions, evident in the persistent chanting of “Jai Bhim.” Given the great response from people of JNU and across the country, it shows how much people can trust a Dalit woman who is struggling to create a change. Ramnivas on the other hand expresses his gratitude for being part of this larger movement. Megha is a new member of BAPSA, and is eager to contribute more to the organization. She appreciates the influence of Ambedkarite politics within the university campus as a positive development. 

Q. What keeps you going?

Priyanshi draws inspiration from a defining moment within BAPSA. She recalled the pre-election meeting of BAPSA where the Presidential candidate Biswajit Minji opened his speech with a powerful statement, “Right now I am giving a speech here but my father is working on a field.” This poignant reminder of the struggles faced by people and their will to struggle against all odds gives inspiration to Priyanshi. It reinforces her commitment, prompting her to ask: “If I don’t do this work, then who will?”

Ramnivas finds his inspiration in the power of all the first generation learners who come to institutions like JNU. As he says “We are the first generation, and not the last generation.” BAPSA provides a vital space for these oppressed communities. After facing language based discrimination in the class, Megha struggled initially but later this incident furled her desire to support others from marginalized backgrounds who face the same struggles. BAPSA’s unwavering stance in advocating for student rights even in the face of faculty opposition, inspires Megha. It provides her with a sense of purpose and motivation.

Q. What are the core principles and ideologies that BAPSA stands for, particularly in relation to the struggles against caste oppression and social inequalities?

The idea of the unity of the oppressed was asserted by Priyanshi, which encompasses SC, ST, OBC, religious minorities like Muslims, persons with disability, the LGBTQIA+ community and women. BAPSA believes that through this collective front, marginalized groups can effectively challenge the Brahminical hegemony and Manuwadi ideology. Ramnivas, another BAPSA member, emphasises the organisation’s commitment to fight all forms of oppression, regardless of caste, religion, sexuality, or any other discriminatory factor. Beyond this they also believe in the trinity of principle, that is equality, liberty and fraternity. Megha openly acknowledges her eagerness to delve deeper into BAPSA’s literature and work, demonstrating her commitment to learning and contributing to the movement. 

Q. How do you plan to address the issue of caste discrimination and promote social justice within the university campus?

Priyanshi outlined BAPSA’s handling of key issues like advocating for a caste census within JNU, similar to the protest going on at Ashoka University. It is important for any university to know the dynamics of the operation of the structure, and it’s not just for the students but also the faculty and workers. This will reveal who is sitting in the AC rooms and who is cleaning up the mess. In the academic sphere, BAPSA proposes reducing the weightage of viva-voce examinations in PhD entrance exams since it is a trend in JNU to give 0-2 marks in the interview to the students coming from SC, ST background. Additionally, BAPSA calls for increased scholarship amount to better support students. Their agenda extends beyond these immediate demands, as BAPSA advocates for the reinstatement of discontinued GS CASH, promoting gender sensitisation and ensuring LGBTQIA+ inclusion on campus. Ramnivas expands on the issue of representation, emphasising the need for hostel allotment as per the reservation policy. He further highlights the importance of streamlining the process of changing PhD supervisors, particularly for the students from marginalized communities who are very easy targets in the biased system. According to Megha it is easy to prejudice a person from their attire and language and that’s how minorities suffer in the campus. She assures that any kind of act of discrimination has to be fought through BAPSA first.

Q. How does BAPSA view the intersectionality of caste with other forms of oppression, such as gender, sexuality, class and religion, and how does it address these intersections in its political agenda?

Dr Ambedkar first talked about the Brahminical patriarchy,in his work “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India.” In this system the caste status and caste purity is maintained by controlling the sexuality of women. And all kinds of caste atrocities come lurking in. Beyond the subjugation of women, LGBTQIA+ communities also face alienation due to the emphasis on bloodline and procreation within this framework. Women and queer individuals are  challenging  the very foundations of Manuwadi Hinduism (a discriminatory legal system) by adopting a more equal and socially just model of lifestyle, by breaking away from shackles of traditions and imposition within our society, demanding their rights which they have been long denied. BAPSA raises voice for Dalits tribals, women, queer, religious minority, disabled, and people from backward caste. It was only BAPSA that had their agenda printed in braille for visually impaired individuals.

Q. In what ways does BAPSA seek to challenge and dismantle the existing power structures and hierarchies within academic institutions like JNU?

BAPSA’s agenda prioritises an increase in the student representation in JNU’s decision-making bodies. Recently it was noticed that JNUSU was not invited to the Academic Council meeting. BAPSA’s presence in the union will ensure stronger support towards the inclusion of students in such forums. Priyanshi mentions about the need for better infrastructure in the campus for disabled persons, where at one side students romanticise Ganga dhaba and Sabarmati dhaba, on the other side it becomes inaccessible for some students. BAPSA had always had that ideological understanding, has been connected in ground with all the oppressed minorities and can now concretely raise these issues that more members of BAPSA are in positions. Ramnivas emphasizes the need for inclusivity that extends to university workers. BAPSA aims to dismantle systemic inequalities, including the “caste capital” within academia, where publishing opportunities often favour established networks. To bridge academic gaps, BAPSA plans to establish study support groups to assist students with various needs, including exam preparation, PhD applications, proposal writing, and research methodology. Megha pointed out the lack of representation among the faculty members which also needs to be addressed. Many opportunist students join parties like ABVP to access the large network for jobs and promotions, but BAPSA sticks to its ideology because it’s the only thing that will bring a change in the existing structure.

Q. What is your approach to dissent and protest, and how do you navigate challenges such as state repression and institutional backlash?

Coming from a not-so-privileged background, these backlashes can be harsh on them, yet BAPSA members recognise the importance of protest as a means of addressing critical issues. As Priyanshi argued protesting is urgent because the issues are grave. Priyanshi expressed gratitude for the nationwide Ambedkarite community’s support, encompassing legal aid and financial assistance during these struggles. However, engaging in protest can carry significant risks, ranging from disciplinary inquiries to potential expulsion, jeopardizing their academic careers. BAPSA prioritizes mobilizing large numbers of students during protests to mitigate these risks. Additionally, they find a sense of empowerment in the recognition that their commitment to constitutional values and willingness to defend themselves deters baseless accusations. According to Ramnivas, as JNU is becoming more controlling there is a trend of multiple unfair and unjust notices from the side of administration.  Examples include imposing hefty fines based on wardens’ judgments and limiting PhD hostel allocation to four years.

Q. What are your demands? And what are the future endeavours your organization wishes to achieve in the coming term?

The fight for dignity is central to the agenda of BAPSA. As previously outlined, their demands encompass a reduction in the weightage of viva voce examinations for PhD admissions. Additionally, they advocate for increased fellowship stipends, alongside initiatives promoting disability, gender, and LGBTQIA+ sensitivity on campus. Notably, BAPSA calls for the inclusion of gender-neutral pronouns within the JNU constitution and a women’s reservation policy across various university communities and organizations. Ultimately, their vision entails fostering a more equitable and socially just campus environment.

This article is part of a special series at Gaysi highlighting the work of Dalit creatives, artists and writers curated and edited by BRC (positionality: Dalit queer trans neurodivergent). If you would like to be a part of this series, please write to gaysifamily@gmail.com with subject line “working with BRC” along with a pitch or proposal. All articles published are paid.

Why I’m Quietly Queer In The Philippines

I am proud of the strides made towards queer acceptance in the Philippines. Although we still have a long way to go, the fact that queerfolk can even hold pride parades without fear of censorship means so much to me. But even then, you would never catch me going to these events. Obviously, not because I’m homophobic. Any reason I have to be afraid of myself gets settled in therapy. I simply can’t connect with the type of queer Filipinos who have the confidence to join these parades. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I’m sure there are so many accepting queerfolk in these parades that I’m simply too insecure to talk to.

I also have issues with my country’s desire, both queer and straights alike, to paint queerness with one technicolor brush. Although my friends support my non-binary self, I know so many old-school gays and lesbians who don’t understand it. God forbid I have to explain to my parents that on top of being bisexual, I’m not even 100% on the whole “boy” thing.

But, I can give it a try.

Also read: We Will Make it Through Pride

Being Queer Sucked For A Long Time In The Philippines

Before colonists spread the gospel to the so-called faithless pagans, the native population of what would eventually become the Philippines had a deeply empathetic perspective on queerfolk. Gender did exist, but the bigotry commonly associated with the social construct did not. Pre-colonial society gave feminine and masculine roles equal importance.

Feminine men, for example, could pursue the path of the babaylan, a spiritual leader in society. These men could even enter relationships with other men without fear of judgment. Anatomy was not the sole basis of one’s gender. Occupation, appearance, and action mattered far more to pre-colonial people than whatever you had under the loincloth.

Unfortunately, the spread of organized religions like Christianity and Islam brought along ideals of homophobia and misogyny. I am not saying that all Christians or Muslims are bigots. However, there is no denying that the spiritual leaders of the time, and frankly, leaders of today, hold harmful views of the LGBTQ community.

When the Americans tried to colonize the Philippines, they brought “scientific” support for homophobia, citing queerfolk as “sick” or “perverted.” With both religion and science condemning queerfolk, there wasn’t much sense in being open about who you are. When the Philippines finally achieved independence, the taint of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric unfortunately stayed. During the rule of Ferdinand Marcos, LGTBQ people were oppressed, with First Lady Imelda Marcos peddling anti-gay literature to the masses.

Also read: Three Acts, One Journey: “With Nothing On” and the Exploration of Identity

Once the EDSA People’s Revolution in 1986 dealt a fatal blow to the Marcos regime, LGBTQ people who fled the country returned and brought with them progressive ideals of queer identity. The 90s saw the rise of several LGBTQ groups that worked towards gaining legitimate political power.

Nowadays, queerfolk still face discrimination from the predominantly conservative Philippines, but they finally have a community that backs them when nobody else can. From notable queer icons in entertainment to senators openly calling for the acceptance of gay marriage, there’s no better time in post-colonial Filipino history to be queer than right now.

So Why Do I Hide?

“Acceptance” in the Philippines is complicated. Notable figures in the gay community are openly transphobic, believing transwomen are simply “confused” and just need to accept their biological origins as “fact.” There’s also the unfortunate association of queerfolk as “comedians,” accepted for the entertainment they provide. The funny hair stylist might give conservative grandmothers a chuckle, but the moment they bring up gay rights, these women will preach about fire and brimstone.

I am non-binary. I realized that fact in 2021, and I am much happier for it. As someone who’s always struggled with queer identity throughout my teen years, realizing there was a label that perfectly described how I felt was liberating. I liked being in my body, but I didn’t like people locking me into male or female roles. I’m me, and that’s what I want people to focus on more than anything else.

Honestly, my favorite reactions are people who go “Oh, cool” then just move on and use my preferred pronouns of ‘they/them’ moving forward. Discovering my non-binary identity is a big deal. Being non-binary is not. I am simply one of the thousands of nonbinary folks out there. I’m proud of who I am, but I also don’t make a show of it. I also know that for some people, making a show of it is part of their process.

I admire all the flashy rainbow gowns and public declarations of love. I also value the societal impact that these loud and proud queerfolk have for hidden LGBTQ people everywhere. The knowledge that you are not alone in your struggle means the world. But that’s just not me. I don’t think the presence of an awkward non-binary nerd shrinking away from the spotlight adds much to the experience. Maybe it does, but my natural inclination to avoid conflict tends to override my ambitions of becoming a queer icon. 

There’s also the fact that my non-binary status is a massive pain to explain. Whether queer or hetero, many Filipinos still view gender as a strict binary. “Love has no labels” might be a catchy slogan, but in practice, it’s often not the case. People will label you however they want. For the most bigoted conservatives, all gay people are effeminate perverts. For old-fashioned gays and lesbians, the dynamic still needs to be “the manly one” and the “feminine one.”

Also read: A Gaysi Guide on Labels and How to Use Them

I’m fortunate to have friends and family supportive of my identity. Still, I’ve also met some folks who scoff at the idea of non-binary. “It’s too complicated” they say through fake smiles, and honestly, that hurts just as much as any slur. The idea that who I am is “too complicated” to bother understanding. If they won’t bother understanding me, I don’t see a point in giving them the chance to laugh.

At the core of it, I’m still not “open-open”. I recognize the amusing irony of attaching my name to a public article titled “quietly queer.” I doubt anybody I’m hiding my queerness from reads articles about the queer experience anyway. Even if they do, I don’t care. I just won’t go out of my way to share something important to me when I know apathy or bigotry will follow.

I wrote this just to let shy queerfolk like me know that there’s nothing wrong about not joining pride parades in the Philippines. Everybody has personal reasons for doing so. Donating to charities, voting for LGBTQ-supportive politicians, and even sharing the love on social media are valid ways of showing support. After all, pride parades are just one way of celebrating queer identity. It might not be for me, but I’m so happy to live in a country where queer people can express their love so openly. Maybe one day, I’ll join them.

Self-Help Is The Best Help – The Autosexual Way 

Recall your wildest encounter ever. It could be a one-on-one interaction, a threesome, foursome or a manysome. It could be the wildest orgy of your life. Everyone’s doing various things to drive you past the finish line. Every erogenous zone of yours is being “sex-plored”; every sensory organ of yours is on overdrive. AND YET, you feel like you’re not entirely satisfied.  Not in the same way as when you get off of yourself. When you’re alone in your locked room with the blinders shut, touching or fingering yourself.

Auto sexuality or autoeroticism is a part of queerness that has mostly been invisible, given that there are scant resources about it. It is basically being attracted to yourself, being able to pleasure yourself better than others could, and the ability to turn your own self on. You may still enjoy physical relationships with another person or people but you’d be aroused more by masturbating in front of the other person or showing yourself off, as opposed to actively engaging with the other person(s). You could also be turned on by your own nudes or that of others, your videos of going solo on yourself or that of someone else masturbating, or of you having sex with someone. Your eroticism and relationship making you go randy is what it is largely about.

Imagine if you were your only admirer, critique and audience alike, had enough time to absorb the entire silhouette of your body and weren’t answerable to ANYONE ELSE. That’s autosexuality to you. For those who’ve not had a great relationship with your body from the get go – due to having faced body/appearance-shaming, carrying internalized fatphobia, having a history of self-harm just to name a few (been here, felt that) – discovering one’s autosexuality can be a vulnerable, yet liberating experience.

There are many reasons why people are not aware of the term even within the LGBTQ community and/or they are averse to exploring it:

a) People tend to pigeonhole their chosen sexual labels into one of the few labels that are already a part of the acronym LGBTQIA (this is the reason there is a ‘+’ at the end)

b) Going by observation, the focus is always on the people you are attracted to, when one talks of sexual orientation. However, the focus is seldom on the frequency, intensity, nature and other attributes of one’s sexuality, which makes autosexuality invisible (just like demisexuality)

c) Autosexuality or autoeroticism, has often been closely linked to NPD – Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This causes so much stigma and harm, both against those who identify as autosexual as well as those who fall under the cluster B Personality Type.

d) There is poor or a complete lack of understanding from partners of autosexual people as to how to approach the situation, which causes a lot of autosexual people to huddle back into the closet. Not all autosexual people are averse to another person stimulating them. There is no one way of being autosexual, just like there are myriad ways of being bisexual, asexual or gay. You need to communicate without judgment with your partner and ascertain their needs before you jump into the sack.

As a gender-diverse person myself, (I’m non-binary), as someone who has both physical and social gender dysphoria, I get by most days just trying to not loathe my body. My entire life has become a ticking countdown to the day I get my top surgery.

However, discovering my autosexuality since 2018 helped me assemble a lot of the puzzle pieces toward decoding myself:

a) I took a lot of selfies of mine in 2018 and 2019 when I lost truckloads of weight. I felt better because I could pass as a flat-chested person in loose clothes then, and simultaneously felt worse because I have an hourglass physique. As conflicted as I felt, I noticed that I see my masc pictures as a “version of me that I wish to look like” and “present as”, while I see the effeminate pictures of mine as doppelgangers or clones who would turn me on a lot if they actually existed. So there’s that contrast.

b) It made me realize that dressing up masculine makes me feel self-assured and confident and I’d want to present masc about 95% times, but dressing up as femme gets me horny instantly (provided it’s not a daily affair but just a rare instance of dressing up). I’d not mind reserving the last 5% of the time for indulging in my femme appearances.

c) It made me embrace the tiny possibility that my gender expression could be fluid. Before this I was very rigid about being masculine all the time. All my Pinterest boards for formal, ethnic events and pride-march wear were filled with pictures of “masculine” attires. Trousers, shirts, dhoti-kurta, harnesses, and more. But now I have pinned 1-2 ideas for gender-bending, euphoria-inducing ways of wearing saris. In fact, my partner looked stunning in a sari once, so in some sense, I mirror what I like to see in my partner, I guess?

d) It made me fit seamlessly into the role of a butch lesbian in same-gender relationships. And I realized that even when I’m dating, I enjoy role plays and fantasies that involve me getting off in front of my partner. It’s such a powerful role reversal from the heteronormative stuff I’ve read, where it’s often the cis woman pleasuring herself in front of the cis man. Although I’m dominant in most same gender relationships, I also like being watched. I’m glad I’ve been in a couple of healthy, understanding relationships that have allowed me to explore and articulate. In many cases I realized that I enjoy getting off by myself far more than when the other person is doing me.

e) As a person who has grown hating their body thanks to dysphoria and dysmorphia, self-pleasuring and using sex toys made me heal and see my body in a different light. I minimized reducing my physique to an effeminate Point-Of-Sale and started exploring neutral/euphoria-inducing parts instead. My muscular legs give me euphoria. The dimple on my left cheek does too. My upper lip hair as well. My fingers and hairy arms do so much to turn me on. I don’t wanna make my pre-transition life insufferable, so I’ve started jotting down ways to find pride in my body even before I land on the Operation Table.

f)Something I wish I was told long back – seeking pride in your body and getting turned on by yourself isn’t selfish and investing in a healthy sex life isn’t a waste of money. These are healthy ways of finding yourself. Don’t let boomers gaslight you. I am meticulously saving money to get myself an ergonomic thrusting rabbit vibrator and a clitoral suction device with lube from a queer-person-owned venture, so that I can take time and derive some bottom euphoria by playing around and figuring out what I like best.

g) Being with cis-het-men in the past opened my eyes to what I was missing out on. One of my exes ACTUALLY – not even kidding – used his phone torchlight to look for the clitoris. This was in 2019. That was the tipping point in my life. In addition to being unaware, he was sloppy too and didn’t cut his nails, tried some mainstream hardcore trashy moves on me and expected moans when all that came out were groans. I was so done with him that the experience made me steer clear of other cis-man in the future as well. That was when it hit me, that there’s no point in entirely blaming cis-het men, because many cis-het women and queer people in India haven’t been encouraged to sleuth out what turns them on. This made me spend some quality me-time. What moves feel best on the clit? Do I like direct pressure around it? What hits the G-spot the hardest? Am I limiting my erogenous zones to just two of these? I also realized I HATE hardcore porn and founding myself feeling vulnerable and withdrawn after watching it once. It felt emotionless and mechanical. I am your highly-mushy, coffee-chugging Mills-n-Boons reader. We don’t do the “wham-bam-thank you-ma’am” drill here, we stay in and cuddle. This later led me to label myself as demisexual.

There was this scary moment in my life which now looks funny in retrospect – my mom walked into my bathroom and found one of my older vibrators that I got over five years ago, with a damp cloth beside it. She picked it up and she gave me a puzzled look. I told her it’s a vibe and I told her to put it back because it was inside me about ten minutes ago. She freaked out and asked me what nonsense I was to. I was like, “I’ve burnt my hands with terrible people in the past, so now I’m in self-service mode…” She gave me a long stare and then left my room while I wondered how smoothly this went without me having to get kicked out of my house.  I’m glad I didn’t say “aatmanirbhar” else I might have squashed the Modi bhakth in her.

For those who think they’re autosexual but don’t want to get walked in on by mummy, papa, chaachi, maasi and the whole boomer brigade –

a) Try to order the toys or any accessories you want to the address of friends who live alone or have enough privacy to receive packages at their home – with their prior consent, of course. That’s what I did! I put a friend’s address for delivery in 2019. If I shared this article with her she’d have aneurysms laughing. You can even have it delivered to a night club you regularly visit.

b) Explore when you’re most at your most private – under the shower. Use aloe vera gel as an alternative to lube. No one would suspect anything. Just do a skin test to ensure you’re not allergic. Use your own saliva only after you’ve brushed and flossed your teeth.

c) If your job is something that requires travel, well and good. If you’re studying, use combined study as an excuse to go to the house of any friend whose home lets you get off safely.

d) For those who like the thrill of doing it outdoors. Try basements, night clubs and other dingy places that you’re sure don’t have any cameras.

e) Many cheap hotel rooms are not quite as safe as you wish to believe they are. But if that’s the only option, and if you can afford it, inspect the room for hidden cameras, especially behind the mirror right after you check in. You do not want people blackmailing you later.

To those who live independently, experiment with things like attire, lighting, kink wear, mirrors, curtains and more. What do you like to wear? Do you find yourself or parts of you attractive? How do you like to present yourself? Do harnesses, strap ons, ropes, and collars turn you on? Do you like company when you’re at it? Do you like being accidently watched? Have you ever left the curtains slightly open so someone could voyeuristically see you touch yourself? Are mirrors fun or overwhelming? Does running water under the shower enhance your mood like waterfalls do in Bollywood? (Think Main Hoon Na). Does darkness help calm your nerves or does having lights on help you clean up better? Does the thrill of being caught excite you? What parts of you turn you on? What fictional characters do you manifest yourself as?

These are just some starter questions that will help you break the ice with your own self. You see, it’s a myth that all queer people are very comfortable with ourselves or with partnered sex. Many of us still fight internalized queerphobia. Added to that, sex and sexuality are still taboo in a nation with the highest population count. Despite being the land that birthed the Kamasutra, masturbation is taboo and added to it, we Indians have very warped beauty standards that are barriers to self-acceptance.

However, I do believe that there is always a first time to everything and one can always take baby steps. It might take you years or even your whole life, to figure out that you are autosexual, but the journey is actually real fun. No pun even intended.

From The Diary Of A Queer Law Student

I haven’t always known that law was my calling, but grappling with the integration of my identity as a queer individual within the legal field has been a constant struggle. While there are successful and openly queer lawyers, they predominantly operate at the apex court, leaving those of us at the foundational levels—such as trial and district courts—feeling somewhat adrift.

Fortunately, I’ve been blessed to find incredible queer friends in college who’ve helped me navigate the complexities of staying true to myself while pursuing a legal career. Law school and internships expose you to an all-encompassing world of legal intricacies. Delving into the legal intricacies concerning queer individuals entails navigating and dealing with the complex dynamics of various state institutions. This includes, but is not limited to the police, the judiciary (a.k.a. the courts), civil society, and the individuals who find themselves failed by these entities. It involves a nuanced examination of the legal environment in the country, which sheds light on the challenges and inadequacies of these institutions that directly impact the rights and existence of queer individuals. For me, dealing with these institutions meant a significant level of masking who I am, in presentation as well as stances and opinions. Failing to reconcile my queerness with my legal pursuits would mean compromising a significant part of who I am as well as leaving myself vulnerable to the overt and implied consequences that being “out” in the workplace brings.

In my first year in law school, I began interning under a progressive advocate at a district court in Delhi. While I was there, it became pivotal for me to explore how my queerness would be perceived in those surroundings. While we worked on socially significant issues of domestic violence and labour disputes, discussions on queer issues were notably absent or simply not considered important enough to warrant serious conversations. However, being part of a circle that embraced diversity provided a semblance of comfort about being out in an environment like that.

A friend’s comment on how only specific queer organisations address queer issues was eye-opening. Even within ostensibly progressive organisations, the indifference to queer concerns is glaring. Nevertheless, the response from senior members, acknowledging the need for inclusivity, fueled my optimism that being an openly queer lawyer was a tangible prospect.

In my second year, I embarked on a new internship with an organisation’s LGBT program, a decision driven by my uncertainties regarding a career in litigation, ultimately leading me to opt for a supportive organisational setting over my individual advocacy. There, I joined the legal aid department, where the dedicated team worked tirelessly to support queer individuals facing legal challenges. Apart from that, the team provided valuable mental health resources to help individuals cope with the emotional aftermath of these incidents. This experience not only broadened my understanding of legal assistance but also exposed me to the critical intersection of legal and mental health support within the LGBTQ+ community.

It has been an exhilarating rollercoaster ride, where my identity as a queer law student seamlessly integrates into the fabric of the organisation. At an organisation where you work mostly with queer individuals, my queerness is just one facet of who I am; it doesn’t overshadow or burden me. Working here has been a healing experience, surrounded by like-minded individuals and interacting with various members of the queer community. Of course, I acknowledge that the organisation wasn’t flawless and had its imperfections like any other workplace, such as conflicts between different departments, lack of trained human resources, misunderstandings between the staff, and more. Despite these, my identity as a queer person was always acknowledged and affirmed. Being in that familiar space, surrounded by other queer individuals, provided a sense of safety and comfort.

In contrast, even progressive organisations lack ample space for queer individuals due to their predominant composition of cis-het men and also the inherent power structures in place that prevent queer people, especially queer women, to hold positions of power.The scarcity of diverse identities in such spaces underscores the stark difference between existing as a queer law student in larger progressive organisations and the inclusive environment of queer organisations. This is not to say that all the queer organisations are fully inclusive or understand how to navigate biases stemming from casteism, elitism, or even a lack of reflection on ‘the political’ altogether.

We urgently need more spaces where queer individuals can exist without having to constantly explain their identities to those who don’t understand them. The legal field, dominated by cis-het men, demands our presence and activism. In a country where basic rights like marriage equality, civil union rights, anti-discrimination policies, and even basic dignity remain elusive, we, as queer individuals, must be the trailblazers on the ground, fighting for ourselves, as no one else will.

My Uncommon Name Irked Me Till I Recognized Its Delicious Queer Layers.

Like most South Asian names, mine also holds meaning, but unlike most others, my name—Sakhi—is a unique one. It is almost on the threshold of peculiar, because while a lot of Hindi speakers have heard it as a word that means friend, they are often unable to digest it as a name in itself. And so, for as long as I’m capable of remembering, most people mess it up. It’s mispronounced, misspelled, or just avoided altogether. Till day, whenever I hear the name Sakshi (a more common name in India than Sakhi) out loud, I still turn to check if it’s me the person is talking to, because more often than not, I have been called Sakshi, especially by those who do not know me closely.

I had no problem correcting peers, teachers, relatives, and acquaintances, but I would get irritated when the same people would still resort to some new annoying pronunciation of my name, which was quite common during my teenage years. Life was irritating enough as it is, and it felt like no one understood me most of the time. The least they could do is get my name right, right? After all, no disrespect to Shakespeare’s “What’s in a name?” but we all relish the sound of our own names—nothing grabs our attention like it. Perhaps those who have a fairly common name cannot in the slightest fathom the joy that surges within me when, on a first encounter, someone calls me Sakhi right away.

As a child, I used to constantly pick fights with my parents over this, complaining about it so much that sometimes, I could feel them almost regret their choice. It was my dad’s idea and he had put in so much thought behind it. When he was a kid, he heard the name in a Bollywood movie called Bemisal, starring the legendary actor, Amitabh Bachchan. He adored it ever since and cherished the way it sounded. Even though I was aware I was being a jerk with my incessant whining, I would still despise my name because being bullied and teased about it in school (where Sakhi, which is supposed to be pronounced s-uh-kh-ee, deliberately became sucky often) was no fun. 

Only after starting college and studying literature though did I come to recognize the mischievous and queer layer that my name was marinated in, all while I’d been obnoxiously complaining. In Hindi, the word sakhi refers, on the surface level, to a friend. Not just any friend though, it is a gendered word and is only used for women. The word’s intimacy grew exponentially for me when I learnt that the first openly lesbian organization in India was also named Sakhi. It was started in 1991 by Giti Thadani, a prominent figure in Indian lesbian activism. Lesbians in the 90s wrote letters to the organization expressing their loneliness, asking for guidance, and blatantly expressing their desires. As excited as the fact was that I shared a name with such a subversive organization, it also left me utterly curious and clueless. Why, sakhi?

The answer to that was one that I discovered in Thadani’s book titled Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India. One of the most interesting elements of the text for me remains the manner in which Thadani excavates the socio-cultural layers behind the term sakhi. By closely analyzing ancient Hindu mythological writings, she substantiates the word’s erotic and sensual dimensions that dominant homophobic discourse suppressed, reducing it to a simple designation of friendship that could be contained within “acceptable” hetero-social dynamics. Naming her lesbian space Sakhi then was Thadani’s act of resistance and reclamation—beyond its mainstream curtailment—as a “female companion, friend, and lover.”

Cultivating a safe sphere for lesbians networking prior to smartphones and apps, the daring responses that the Sakhi collective received from across India transformed it into an archive of subverted shame and silences. The letters poured in and were proof that even in the most ostensibly heteronormative spaces, queerness did, and will continue to, nestle in chinks and crevices till equity was achieved.

As someone who is still questioning and curious about their sexuality, I found such comfort in learning about Thadani’s Sakhi. The loneliness of being queer receded with knowing that, by sheer coincidence, my name is etched in the memories and legacy of delightful, delicious, and deviant intimacies, even if they weren’t what I was named after. The word’s crisp and intricate enunciation will always unspool echoes of sapphic tales that slipped beneath the seemingly ‘innocent’ and ‘neat’ designations of friendship between women in India.

Comprehending all of this, I have started to relish a newfound coziness in my name. Sure, a lot of people still mess it up, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I strive to be just as unusual as this name is and hold up its worth. I understand now—fitting into the norm is in no way a prerequisite to belong with people, and such a fixation could gnaw not just me but anyone hollow.

Marlboro Advance    

Bapu Bazaar on Christmas was so crowded that there was barely any network on my phone. It is crowded on most days. It took me around 45 minutes to find him. I was meeting him for the very first time after knowing him for two years. Donning a Christmas red hoodie and letting my hair down was my contrast against his all black, sober look even though we both somehow knew that inside my skeleton, I stood no chance against him.

I am not a hug person. I rarely initiate hugs and when people hug me, I am always worried about hugging them tighter or looser than they do. On one of our monthly calls, he had told me his height and how I might have something called the Napoleon complex. This was the man I had platonically liked for two long years, yet our hug did not feel scandalous. It felt warm and comforting and most of all, accepting. In that hug I found both justification and validation for liking him.

Old Jaipur at night is a thing of beauty. The shops and the Hawa Mahal, exquisitely lit against their pink walls is what aesthetics are made of. On our way to his Airbnb in an e-rickshaw, we talked about how his name attracts women on dating apps and how he was looking forward to Shakun Batra’s Gehraiyaan. He was most probably disappointed beyond repair. He stopped the rickshaw to buy a cigarette. The guy I had befriended two years ago did not smoke and took a lot of pride in it. Not that I did not. These are things of the past. As most things and people do, we too have evolved.

I have often struggled to feel safe and secure when I am with people. Very few people have been able to make me escape from the insecurities and obnoxious gazes I prepare myself to face every time I step outside. Was it the four year age gap between us? Did I see an elder brother in him?

I had never smoked until he offered me his Marlboro Advance and all my abstinence from things that can trigger my asthma vanished. Passive smoking used to repulse me and there I was, smoking the same cigarette that touched his lips, the closest I will get to them. I wonder if his smell was stronger than the cigarette. For a moment, we were Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam: Amrita would smoke Sahir’s leftover cigarettes after he had left to taste his mouth. He taught me how to smoke and that one puff from this really strong cigarette felt like a spark flying through my being. He told me about the date he had gone on with a trans woman and I did not know whether to feel proud or envious. We told each other about our love lives but only one of us was trying to feel better about themself.

We parted our ways with a hug—I had become a hug person for one day. Through the cab window, I could see him take his right hand near his ear and signal me to call him once I get home. I did not merely like this man. I loved him. I have, for the last three years.

In a cafe that flexed a magnificent view of the Hawa Mahal and the Aravalis, he had asked a stranger to click our picture. He never sent me that picture. The lack of it in his Jaipur highlight on Instagram has since stopped me from asking him for that picture.

Call Me Rhett: A Personal Account of Finding a Name

I have enjoyed telling and creating stories visually from a very young age. The characters I conjured up were always inspired by the people around me—my friends, my family, teachers, and just about anyone I met. I made sure, however, to give them different names,  keeping in line with the idea I had of storytelling (all characters must be fictional).

I remember sometime around the age of 7, my parents had started watching a lot of English films such as Gone with the Wind, The Sound of Music, and other classics. I didn’t understand or speak English at the time, but I would still insist on watching the films along with them. 

Later on, I would incorporate the names from these films into my own stories. Characters like Rhett, John, and Paul would become my companions and together we would go on many adventures. Sometimes I would name my own character as well, to fit in with the rest. Looking back on these stories, I wonder why I was so fascinated and particular about the use of these names, especially those assigned to male characters and therefore my male friends. 

Recently, while going through a pile of art that I had made as a child, my friend asked me, “Why is the main character in all your drawings or stories a boy?” That had never occurred to me! The idea that in some ways or the other, I was always drawing or conjuring up a version of myself. Coming out as a trans man now, it all finally falls into place.

Growing up, while I was always aware of the discomfort and disassociation I felt with my body, I never had the words to validate it. The films and stories I was exposed to all involved cis-het characters and heterosexual relationships. I found myself identifying with all the cis-men I saw on screen, and my desire to be one grew ceaselessly, yet all I could do was imagine. 

Words like dysphoria, transgender and gender-affirming care did not exist when one is brought up in a cis-gendered, heteronormative household. I grew up believing there was absolutely no way to become who I really was. 

So sometimes I do feel like I had to create that character or role model for myself. It is also very fascinating that today, I look a lot like the characters I used to draw as a child. It is almost like I was making myself come to life!

2 years back, as a part of my final year thesis at college, I got the opportunity to create a full-length comic book. I created yet another story, the main character uncannily similar to me in both personality and behaviour. This was around the time I had come out to most of my friends but was still going by my dead name, a name that had always felt alien. 

My character was a trans man. Naming him was not difficult. I did an arbitrary Google search and picked one up randomly, giving myself the freedom to change it later if I felt like it. The name, however, really stayed with me, and over time I started to see myself as the character I had created —someone a lot like me, with a life more similar to mine than I had planned. I was unable to finish the comic book and ended up only submitting pre-production research and character sketches. 

The project persevered nonetheless; it grew into the identity I was always running after, and a name I could finally find solace in. 

The lack of queer and trans characters in mainstream media robs the queer community of seeing themselves on public platforms. As a trans writer and illustrator, I feel like I have a responsibility to create more stories about people like me, stories that are easily accessible. I want to create and write characters that young queer children can look up to, something I did not have the opportunity to experience while growing up.

I do sometimes wonder; what if I had the words and resources to understand my identity at a younger age, would I have had the freedom to start my transition much earlier? And to understand myself much earlier?

We are always looking for ourselves, in the books we read, in the films we watch or even in the music that we listen to. There is always a need to relate—that something which is produced by another can validate our feelings because it confirms that we are not alone in the way we feel. The basic nature of relatability is to banish the idea of ‘otherness’, a feeling those from my community are, more often than not, immensely familiar with.  

I never liked my dead name. My parents regularly applauded themselves for the amount of time and effort that went into finding the right name for me. Something that would draw people’s attention (it didn’t work, people forgot it the moment they heard it) and a name that would rhyme with my sister’s name. 

My mother is Bengali, so it was only mandatory for my sister and me to have a daak naam – a name only used by the family. My daak naam is very gender-neutral and I believe it fits me better than my dead name. So as much as my parents tried to persuade me to not tell anyone about it, very soon I was only called by my pet name, and the traces of my dead name only remained in my legal documents and transcripts.

I have never felt any kind of familiarity with that name. It was given to me but it was never mine. When I began my transition, my parents tried to persuade me to have some part of my dead name in my newly chosen name, but it felt too alien. And in some way that is a relief.

I do like my pet name and initially, I did wonder if I could just go by that. But when I was creating the character for my thesis, it felt familiar and also fresh and new at the same time.

It truly is a wonderful and liberating experience to name oneself.

Butch, Please

Robert LeRoy Parker, an icon of the ‘Wild West’ era, was the leader of a gang of outlaws known as the ‘Wild Bunch’ in the Old West in the USA. His life and death have been the inspiration for many films, television and literature, but his most popular contribution might just be to modern lesbian vocabulary. He was colloquially known as Butch Cassidy.

Through his name the American slang word ‘Butcher’ became common in the early 20th century, meaning ‘tough kid’. The abbreviation of this gave us the word ‘Butch’, which according to the Oxford dictionary means a lesbian of masculine appearance or behavior. But as always, there is more to it than meets the eye.

What was once a way to describe a woman with short hair, no makeup, and men’s clothes is now more of an aesthetic fueled by an attitude and sense of confidence in yourself. It is an umbrella term that includes multiple identities like soft butch, hard butch, stone butch, chapstick lesbian, studs and more. It is also not just women who identify under the banner but also non-binary peeps and trans-persons!

The word was first popularized in the 1940s, alongside what is widely accepted as its counterpart, ‘femme’, which has come to be a reference to a queer person of feminine appearance or behavior, in the working class bars in places like Manhattan and San Francisco. These spaces provided a safe haven for sapphic women to explore their gender presentation away from judgemental eyes. Even though it was a space that middle and upper class lesbians of the time avoided, the butches at these bars could be spotted in “men’s” clothing and short hairstyles, while displaying suave, chivalrous manners when interacting with their femme counterparts.

Also read:The Gaysi Guide to Dressing Like a Lesbian

This was prevalent well up to the 60s and 70s, but it wasn’t until the 90’s that till butch women became a topic of conversation in the USA again. This was at the height of second wave feminism in America when the conversation around butches, but in particular the dynamics between between butch and femme women, was gaining prominence. In short, the feminists were just not here for the butches! They pilloried butchness as inextricably misogynist and butch-femme relationships as dangerous replications of heteronormative roles.

From its emergence among working-class lesbian bar culture in the 1940s to its resurgence in the 1990s, this subculture has an interesting and rich hidden history in American sapphic culture, but there are prominent butch women in histories all over the world.

Also read: Butch, Not Gay

In their book ‘Butch Heroes’ author Ria Brodell sets out to find people like them. “I was looking for people in history with whom I can personally identify — people who were assigned female at birth, had documented relationships with women, and whose gender presentation was more masculine than feminine,” Brodell explains in the book’s introduction. The language around queer identities has largely evolved since some of these butches strutted their boots. Today some of them could have been identified as lesbian, bi, pan, trans, nonbinary, genderqueer or intersex. But at the time the language wasn’t so nuanced, so Brodell choses to identify them as butch.

In Brodell’s work we meet D. Catalina “Antonio” de Erauso (1592 – 1650) who was born in Spain to an aristocratic family. She was raised in the convent, but before taking her vows she fled dressed as a man to sail and fight in the Spanish army. Once she was caught she was popularly called the Lieutenant Nun. She famously petitioned King Philip IV for a military pension citing her 15 years of service and even sought permission from Pope Urban VIII to dress as a man due to her ‘virgin status’. Both of which she successfully received!

The book also brings to us the story of Okuhara Seiko (1837-1913), an artist of the late Edo period of Japan. Her birth name was Setsuko, but she changed it from a feminine sounding name to one with no indication of gender. She is described as masculine and chose to wear men’s clothes and keep her hair short. During her time, women were not permitted to study painting so she arranged to be adopted by an aunt to move to Edo (now Tokyo) to pursue her artistry. Seiko was the first female artist to have an audience with the Empress of Japan!

Also read: Femme + Butch = Futch!

The book sheds light on how butchness has always existed in women’s history (or should we say, her-story) all over the world, even if it wasn’t called that at the time. Today butch women are a regular part of pop culture. We had the iconic singer K.D. Lang who plagued women’s sexual confusion in the early 90’s with her haunting mezzo-soprano voice. Her 1993 August Vanity Fair cover shoot with Cindy Crawford remains iconic to pop culture enthusiasts even today.

The second coming of straight women questioning their sexuality came with Ruby Rose, who rose to stardom in 2015 after appearing on Orange is the New Black as everyone’s favorite prisoner Stella Carlin. Since then, Butch women have been a part of Western pop culture regularly, especially in film and television. Granted most of the time it has been in the form of secondary characters with trope-y story lines, but they are there, rocking the pixie cut and sporting a pair of flannels.

But the most popular butch of all time, one most people think of when asked who the first butch women they ever saw was, is Ellen Degenres. Her fall from grace is well documented and frankly well-deserved, but her impact on the LGBTQIA+ community, in creating a space for queer people and in particular butch women, cannot be ignored.

To this author though, and to lots of other Hindi-speaking queer women as well, the first time we saw a butch woman on-screen was Komal Chautala in Chak De India! She has long been part of the discourse on queer-coded characters in Bollywood, largely due to her abrasive push back in conforming to the gender binary during a conversation with her father as shown in the movie.

Also read: Celebrities that were our Queer Awakening

In an article for Vogue India titled “How Bollywood’s LGBTQ+ agenda studiously ignores transmen” we hear about Omar’s story of how they as a transman felt seen by Komal’s character. Back in the day, in 2007 when the movie was released, Komal was seen more as a “tomboy” rather than butch. The difference between the two changes depending on who you ask. Some say tomboy is more of a phase while butch is a lifestyle, some say tomboy is more about material things like clothing choices, hairstyles and other personal preferences, while butch is more of an attitude about who you are and your identity. The biggest difference between the two, when colloquially addressed, remains that tomboys are straight women and butches are queer.

Since Komal, we have had more robust and out there butch women in Indian film and television. In the popular Amazon Prime TV show, “Four More Shots Please!” we have Umang, a bisexual fitness trainer. Her muscular built, tattooed arms and IDGAF attitude is the best example of butchness we have for brown women. Netflix’s Ajeeb Dastaans is an anthology series that gave us the short story titled Geeli Puchhi. Here we meet Bharti, who’s butch physical appearance paired with vulnerability in her storyline as a Dalit woman and a sexual abuse survivor, helps bring a more nuanced approach to queer butch women on the screen.

Also read: How House MD Led to my Trans Awakening

While these characters embrace their butchness they are played by women who are neither queer nor butch. A problem that exists in entertainment industries everywhere. Social media then becomes a place for more authentic butch representation. Through social media we have had the identity of butch further classified, think of butchness as a scale where on one end we have the soft butch, someone with more softer features, long hair, likes minimal makeup, rocks the white tee and denim look. Maybe someone like Kristen Stewart. On the other end is the hard butch, definitely more muscular in built but not necessarily, someone whose wardrobe is filled with flannels, wears their hair in a pixie or buzz cut, and dons lots of leather! Maybe someone like Sara Ramirez.

Even the gym girlies trend on social media, not something only queer women have embraced but all women who enjoy looking muscular have, is a trend that owes its existence to butch culture. Feminine masculinity presents itself in various forms. And yes, queer women dominate this conversation and butchness is an extension of the same.

Within the butch label we have soft butch and hard butch but other trends have emerged regularly like the chapstick lesbian or the hey mama lesbains or even studs, a word prominently used by butch women of color in the western world. Butch can mean anything and everything to the people identifying with it, if they want it to! It is feminine masculinity in all its glory and this women’s day we are embracing it!

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is Inspire Inclusion, and I hope this piece has inspired you to include our lovely butches in the conversation! The fact remains that we need more in your face butch representation! And all kinds of butch representation, really. So what are we waiting for? Women’s Day?

Not Having Experienced Romantic Love byYour Early 20s

“Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?” this quote from the movie Before Sunrise (1995) reminds me of how we as humans seek love in everything we do. We seek warmth, recognition and understanding in all of our gestures. Whether in cooking a meal for someone, or remembering someone’s Subway order, there’s a hint of love even when you’re mad at someone. Our childhood is shaped by the love our family and parents give us, and our teenage years are dominated by the platonic love that our friends surround us with (or don’t), and by the time we reach the frontiers of young adulthood, there seems to be a collective urge to find romantic love. If we think meticulously, love dominates the majority of our spheres of life, specifically romantic love.

I am twenty-two and I have never experienced romantic love. It wasn’t something which bothered me too much up until I was 18. I found myself all grown up with and surrounded by a splendid bunch of friends who surpassed all standards that any romantic partner may aspire to, through their gestures towards me. But, no matter what is said and done, platonic love and romantic cannot take the place of one another. Oftentimes, I am told to focus on giving the love I have in me to myself, instead of waiting around for another human to do that for me. However, I feel that as hyped as romantic love may seem, it is irreplaceable for me. The kind of comfort it would bring, cannot be compared to platonic or self-love and vice versa; all of them are equally meaningful but in their own respective ways. Being an individual with the personality of a giver and a hopeless romantic, not having ever experienced romantic love at my age, is not fun and believe you me when I say this. I constantly yearn for a connection like that, even more so when I see other people around me who have it. I am someone who desires an organic connection, so meeting people through platforms like dating apps does not feel real. Additionally my analogy about all of this isn’t layered with a strategy – if it comes along then I will take it as it is, is more of what I believe in.

However, after a certain point in time, romantic love feels more like a need than a want, I suppose, which is exactly where I am at, and yet nowhere near it. The lack of it has caused much turmoil within me but it has also taught me more about who I am as a person, and it has led me to figure out and understand the little things that I enjoy about life. It has helped me discover the passions that I like to pursue, it has taught me to be comfortable with sitting alone in my room and still not feel lonely. When I say all of this, it might seem like I am trying to replace romance with the notion of self-love, rather, what I intend to indicate is that as much as we as humans desire to be loved, seen, understood and recognised by another human being, as much as we may derive meaning from the idea of romantic love, it perhaps, does not come along, and it may never come along, so instead of awaiting it like a hopeless romantic fool, I have ended up teaching myself to seek pleasure in my own company. Sounds horribly depressing right? It does feel awful on some days, but in the fullness of time, I believe, it is only yourself that remains with you, to seek company from. Ofcourse, it is rather exhausting and dreadful to do that when the entire universe is comprised of grand gestures of romantic love in a manner where all forms of love seem to fall short. On top of that, being a hardcore Hindi cinema fan, I have umpteen fantasies and dreams about falling in love, but it has always been one-sided (Oops, did not mean to overshare!)

In the end, I’d just like to urge whoever reads this article to stop waiting around for love and stop putting yourself through inorganic relationships just for the high of it, because if at all it would do anything, that would be ruining the essence of how pure the emotion of romantic love can be. Instead, maybe just go make yourself a cup of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows, put on your favourite pyjamas and watch some dull-witted rom-com, you never know when one of those plotlines ends up unfolding in real life!

Ah, there comes in my hopeless romantic self, yet again!

Coming Out x Family Pride

CW: Mention of patriarchal gender stereotypes

Being gay in this world is not easy! In fact, the experience is not universal either. Ask any gay person in this world and the answer will differ from person to person everywhere. Some might be happy living as openly gay individuals with few worries, some might be cautious with whom they share info about their sexuality with, and some are downright in denial about their sexuality. I am one of those people who is cautious to share with the world. I try to keep a wall around me because I am that way. There is always a chip on my shoulder. 

So one day, I had to come out to my family members because it was becoming unbearable to hide. But the reaction to my coming out was not quite what I imagined. Well, if you have a supportive family, chances are they will support you and vice versa. For me, I did have a supportive family, but a conservative one. My coming out was not the same as what I had imagined it to be. So, let me tell you who my family consists of: my parents, two elder siblings, and me. My elder sister is married with a kid and my elder brother is divorced without kids. We live in Bombay and we are not a rich family, we are just a normal lower middle-class family, but we are a happy family! But one day tragedy stuck when my mom expired, leaving us heartbroken. It was one of the most tragic times of my life and a nightmare that had come real. We were all mourning, but the situation was that we were left without a woman in the house. So, no one was cooking in the house, and we were just about eating anything for some time. But, the issue was that there was no woman at home. Patriarchal families in India are very much obsessed with women cooking at home. They just want a woman in the kitchen to cook for them, and it’s a pretty oppressive approach. Every person who came to our house to give condolences said that the sons should get married as soon as possible so the kitchen would continue to operate. So, my extended family started telling us to get married, to any cis-woman, so the house would be neat and clean. My elder brother was the first target for the relatives. My brother is a very lazy and irresponsible guy, and that’s one of the reasons his marriage didn’t survive. So, he started putting pressure on me to get married, so everyone would leave him in peace. He said that between us two, it should be me. I thought we were a family, but for him, I was the person who needed to be sacrificed to save the family’s pride in society. From that point onwards, I stopped considering him my brother or my family, because I would never do that to him when he tried to throw me under the bus as if my life were an afterthought.

But, this is my coming out story, not about how I don’t like my brother anymore. So, my elder sister was also putting pressure on me to get married, but not with the same intent as my brother did. One day, fed up with it, I told her on a phone call that I was not straight. I told her that I was a homosexual. I expected her to be somewhat sympathetic and understanding, because we shared a great relationship. But, I was wrong, the reaction I got from her is something that I would never forget. She started panicking, telling me not to tell anyone about this, and that she was really scared when talking. But, you know what she was scared of, her reputation in society. She thought her relatives and her friends would make fun of her, and we would become the butt of all jokes. She listed some names and said don’t tell them, and was worrying about what would happen if anyone knew that I was gay. I didn’t argue with her, and just said okay! She started panicking again about what would happen to our father if he knew that I was gay! She started saying that he might die if anyone came to know about it, and everyone would make fun of him. He wouldn’t be able to bear the embarrassment that my identity, and by extension, I, would bring to my family. After that the conversation ended, and I was only thinking about how I thought my sister would be very supportive of me when I told her about my sexual orientation. What a fool I was. She didn’t care about me, she only cared about her reputation! I thought that my coming out would be accepted by my family, but I got a reality check that day. Right now, my relationship with my sister is back to normal, but the worst part is that we never talk about me being gay, and she acts like that conversation never happened. That day doesn’t exist in her mind. I maintain my distance from her.

This has made me very much opposed to the idea of coming out, and I hope the people who read this have a much better support system than I have. Coming out is a very personal choice, but be prepared for any outcome.

Playing It Straight!

All you need to know about GLAAD’s report on queer representation in video games and 7 LGBTQ+ video games coming out (literally) in 2024 that we think you should watch out for!

When you think of the quintessential gamer, your mind goes to a white boy sitting in the basement of his parents’ house, crouched in front of a screen, away from all of society. That’s just not true anymore. This may have been the key demographic of gamers a few years ago but not today. With the ‘gamer girl’ culture taking over the socials, strides have been made to make the space more inclusive, but is it enough?

The estimated global revenue of the gaming industry surpasses that of Filmed Entertainment and Recorded Music combined. And even though 17% of all gamers identify as LGBTQ+, less than 2% of video games have queer characters. This is what GLAAD’s new report states. The first of its kind, the LGBTQ+ nonprofit has in the past released reports on queer representation in various forms of media. However, this is the first time they have done a report solely focused on video games.

Due to its interactive nature and opportunity to build community, gaming, like any other form of media, can be a great escape from reality for its users. Especially for its queer users, it can be a way for those who don’t feel comfortable or safe enough to explore their gender identity or sexuality in the real world, to indulge in the same in the digital world. This makes it an important outlet for self-expression.

Also read:The Queer-est Video Games to Play Right Now!

There are a few relatable queer characters in the gaming space, like that of Lev from Last of Us (Part 2) and Ellie from the original game, who rose to prominence after the HBO adaptation of the same starring non-binary star Bella Ramsey and our favorite trans ally, Pedro Pascal. Nonetheless, most video games claim brownie points for representation only by adding optional or secondary characters that are queer.

Don’t get me wrong, having this option is great, allowing players to decide if they want their character to romance queer non-player characters is a way of adding a layer of diversity. These kinds of character customizations are certainly a step in the right direction. But, they have been stand-ins for a more robust and impactful LGBTQ representation in the world of video game for decades!

We need more out-there, in-your-face, queer representation!

Till we don’t have that, let’s celebrate the ones we do have. Here are 7 LGBTQ+ video games coming out (literally) in 2024!

Hades 2

The Hades video game series is a rogue-like dungeon crawler in which you battle to break free from the Underworld (as described in Greek mythology) using dark sorcery to take on the sinister Titan of Time. Probably one of the most anticipated games by queer gamers, the first edition followed Zagreus, the bisexual son of Hades, whose equal parts loveable and frustrating nature helps him hack and slash his way out of the underworld!

In the second edition we follow the star goddess, Melinoë as she takes on her turn to battle the Titan of Time in the Greek Underworld. Even though little is known about this version of the game yet, the original one offered two distinct romance options and more than a handful of LGBTQ+ characters, all inspired by Greek mythology. No doubt this one will do the same!

Release Date – Q2 2024

Dragon’s Dogma

One of the most iconic action role-playing games. This high-fantasy adventure takes players in the role of Arisen, the hero of the story driven by his desire to challenge the dragon, who recruits allies to take on giant monsters. Even though no information is given by Capcom about the changes in prospective character relationships, we do hope that the sequel continues with allowing players to befriend and romance any character they wish just like in the original.

Release Date – 22nd March, 2024

Beloved Rapture

The developers of this OG Nintendo style role-playing game have shared how LGBT themes and friendship are integral to the story of the game!

The game is an indie jRPG that blends modern themes with classic gameplay. It follows Johan, an introverted man from the countryside, as he is forced to abandon his carefree existence when he comes up against a religious faction. He is joined by Aiden, a mysterious son of a shrine caretaker, and Crystal, a noblewoman who has run away from her family.

Release Date – Q1 2024

They Speak from the Abyss

If you’re a fan of classic dungeon crawling-style role-playing games that explore themes of psychological horror while solving puzzles then this is the game for you!

Step into the shoes of Vanessa Rivers, a queer woman who moves to a new city to be closer to her partner, but her fresh start turns into something sinister as she’s thrown into a nightmarish world.

Release Date – 2024

Spirit Swap : Lofi Beats to Match-3 To

“Cast spells, be queer and crash the biggest concert of the year.” If that sounds like something you will enjoy, you should check out Soft Not Weak’s newest action puzzle game!

Set in a lush, narrative-driven world of witchy demons, the game lets its players bond with witches and demons and even smooch adorable characters!

Release Date – 2024

Read Only Memories : NEURODIVER

ES88 is an esper tasked with capturing Golden Butterfly, a psychic entity hiding in the memories of others. Set within Read Only Memories’ Neo-San Francisco, colorful, vibrant cyberpunk city, players will get to play as ES88 as they work to uncover the memories stolen by the Golden Butterfly in this psy-fi adventure.

Like the original, this one too is set to feature multiple LGBTQ+ characters that players can take on!

Release Date – 2024

AfterLove EP

This slice-of-life game is a blend of narrative adventure, rhythm game, and dating simulator that allows players to experience urban life in Jakarta, Indonesia through the eyes of the musician Rama, a young-man working through the death of his girlfriend, Cinta.

Through this role-playing game, we explore the decision Rama makes about the path he wishes to take and his relationships!

Release Date – Q3 2024

What I Am Watched This February As A First-Time Single Adult

I know, I know- Valentine’s month is a capitalist nightmare for a lot of people, with heart-shaped things haunting you as you are just trying to go about your life. But I am a cheesy person who loves love and firmly believes that there is nothing wrong with using an occasion to shower a little more of it.

Last year, I broke up with someone who I have been dating since I was a teenager. It was a happy and healthy relationship, which means that we both had space to love ourselves along with loving each other and we cheered for the other’s growth. For example, last year on Valentine’s Day I bought gorgeous white lilies for myself – distinct from our celebration together – because ‘I can buy myself flowers’ should not be a sentiment reserved only for those who are not in a romantic relationship.

Internal love and external love are both important, and neither is a substitute for the other. So taking care of myself will not be a new thing exclusive to this month (though I have been going the extra mile). Instead, maybe, my new thing can be watching movies and shows that make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. As a self-confessed romantic I must admit that there is a long list of those, but here are some that are my absolute favourites:

The Addams Family: My current dating app profile says something like ‘It’s meant to be if you also want to slow dance your way into old age.’ And this sentiment is a result of watching Morticia and Gomez waltz on screen and feel disappointed when it has been ‘hours’ since they last did it. How is anyone supposed to look at the electric chemistry and passion between the two of them and not want to manifest their dancing ritual? Is it really too much to ask for slow dancing in the kitchen every evening after we tell each other about our day?

Anne Plus: This feel-good movie revolves around a queer protagonist who is trying to navigate a newly-opened relationship along with an upcoming move. The element of self-discovery is gorgeous and heartwarming without being preachy, and the story gives Anne the space to breathe, explore, and just be. Not to mention that there is a fabulous scene in which Anne and her friends try drag for the first time! The warmth and fuzz in this movie comes from the tonality which does not treat things like make-or-break but like possibilities and opportunities for learning new things about yourself.

What We Do In The Shadows: This show focuses on the trope of ‘found family’, which in my eyes is the ultimate Valentine’s Day theme because there is so much love in those two words. It is specifically about a found queer vampire family that lives together in a creaky house. Everyone sleeps with everyone but there is zero jealousy (perhaps a few centuries of living together does that to you) and they are always off on a (mis)adventure together. The costume design is brilliant, because of course, queer vampires will be the most well-dressed folx on the planet. It is a hilarious show – to the point where I had to pause to laugh even on rewatches.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Yes, this one is waaaay more intense than the other movies on this list, but my heart completely melts when I think of “you dreamt of me?” “no, I thought of you.” It is a beautiful interaction with an important reminder of intentionality and purposefulness being important pillars of love. Plus their slow burn romance is swoony in the best way. I also love that some important scenes involve a kitchen, because it is a place of comfort and conversation. Most importantly, it has a lot of eye contact which I am always, always a sucker for.

Schitt’s Creek: I said warm and fuzzy in the introduction so obviously this show is going to be on the list. Whether it is the episode where Patrick sings ‘simply the best’ to David or the one where Alexis learns how to take time for herself and not jump from one relationship to the other, there are so many precious moments on this show that make it what it is. My personal favourite is David and Stevie sitting in the honeymoon suite with face masks on, while telling each other: ‘You are my best friend’, right after running to the bathroom with upset stomachs. If that is not love, I don’t know what is.

How Mainstream Media Makes A Spectacle Of Queerness

The Sagar Dighi pond in Cooch Behar, West Bengal, is known for being home to a diversity of migratory birds, and is surrounded by government offices and courts. Many young people come there to hang out as it serves as a ‘third place’ – a space besides the home and workplace, which anchors community life. Khaboria24, a local news channel, recently broadcast a short video from the banks of this pond where 2 young women were sitting and recorded kissing from a distant camera. On the channel, as a presenter wrapped up their segment, the video was played on screen to a song that seemed to poke homophobic fun at the young people. After all, queerness is just a mere spectacle for mainstream media.

This breach of the young persons’ privacy can be largely attributed to stringer culture in journalism. Stringers are not unlike your local gossip. They land up in the vicinity of a neighborhood and ask for information about what’s going on. If it is newsworthy, they might pull out their camera or microphone to get a shot or soundbyte of it. They don’t receive salaries or retainers, but often maintain relationships with multiple news organizations that rely on them for B-roll or early information from ground zero before a reporter can get there and do a more thorough investigation and reportage. This means that stringers are often not sensitized about the ethics of journalism (that are already quite sparse and white gaze-y, to begin with). During the COVID lockdowns, many news organizations were telecasting videos sent in by stringers where they can be seen prodding people who had lost children or dear ones due to bureaucratic mis-steps related to imposing the lockdown – such as daily wage labourers resorting to walking long distances to flee cities so as to sustain themselves and find shelter. They were asked pointed questions, even as they were in the throes of grief, like: is your child dead? Is it true that you suddenly lost your livelihood in the city?

It is likely that some stringer going about the town happened to spot these 2 young women kissing on the banks of the pond and zoomed in on them with their camera to get a shot of it before sending it across to the news channel. The editor at the news channel, seeing no fault in outing these 2 young women without consideration for social consequences, seems to have gone ahead and telecast the same. After all, to mainstream media, queerness is merely a spectacle. According to reports, the channel refused to take down the video until the parents of the 2 women apologized and assured that it would never happen again.

Contrast this with the trans-person in Chennai, who works as a software engineer in the Chromepet area. They were dragged and tied to a lamppost, stripped of various articles of their clothing, and beaten as several people looked on. According to the people, they were suspected of being a kidnapper in the neighborhood, but it boils down to transmisia. The police eventually rescued the trans-person from the mob, and videos recorded by onlooker began circulating of the event. News channels and social media accounts broadcast the video as-is, without considering the pain and humiliation of the trans-person who was victimized by the pervasive transphobic gaze in our society.

This is not just breach of individuals’ privacy by the prevalent media culture, but also a case study in how voyeuristic “news” content led by stringer journalism has become in today’s day and age. It is a deep-rooted systemic rot in the gaze taken to report on community life. At a time when queer people report feeling unsafe to be their real selves at home and in workplaces, a ‘third space’ like the banks of the Sagar Dighi pond or even the roads of Chromepet in Chennai is where they feel they could retreat and take a breather – but alas! the Big Brother lurks there too. Media, which is often touted as the fourth pillar of democracy, has been reduced to a bully who is prying on people and threatens to leak their private information, with little regard for their life post the 15 minutes of infamy and humiliation doled out by news platforms.

This is not limited to queer persons, but can also be observed in how women were chased and slut-shamed by popular Tamizh news channels simply because they were at a pub that was open beyond 11:30pm in Chennai on the night of the cricket World Cup final in November 2023. They were described as “half-dressed” and shots of their faces and bodies were repeatedly flashed on the videos accompanying the news reportage.

One truly wonders about the newsroom culture in these media organizations and the editorial gaze taken to news itself.

Breastfeeding Is NOT A Gendered Role, And Trans-Ness Is Challenging That!

Induced lactation to breastfeed young children has been an important medical breakthrough for parents of all genders. But this is especially queer-affirming, given that it helps adoptive parents as well as transgender parents connect with their children, through this incredibly intimate experience.

Induced lactation has been described as the process of milk production by a mammal without their becoming pregnant. This is often done through using herbs, supplements, medication, hormonal therapy, mechanical stimulation, as well as the infant.

In a world where breastfeeding is considered an important chapter of building intimacy and kinship as a mother, it can be incredibly desirable for certain people as well as dysphoric to others, depending upon their relationship with their gender identity, their body, and maternity. Despite the rigorous process and often an inability to produce adequate milk, most people who induce lactation to feed and connect with their child have reported feeling satisfied with the breastfeeding experience. It is also reported to help the child who may have separation trauma/anxiety from their natal parent, who have may have given away the child for adoption or may not have wanted to breastfeed the child for various reasons.

In 2018, the first medically known instance of a transgender woman who induced lactation to feed her child, did so because her partner who gave birth did not feel so inclined. In 2002, reports emerged about a Sri Lankan cis-man who breastfed his children after his partner died in childbirth. According to a doctor at a Sri Lankan government hospital, it is possible for cis-men to produce milk if the prolactine hormone allowed for spontaneous lactation! Medical anthropologist Dana Raphael said that this could happen simply by stimulating the nipples (breast pumps can be used)and eminent endocrinologist, Robert Greenblatt, concurred. Certain medical conditions like a pituitary tumour and being on digoxin, a heart medication, could also allow for lactation. Starvation too, can cause spontaneous lactation and has been historically recorded as allowing men to breastfeed their children in oppressive conditions. In fact, this is one of the most important function of the nipples – a feature that is common to most people, regardless of their genital form or their gender identity.

Queering lactation helps us question the construct of maternity and the gendered and racial stigma that exists around breastfeeding. It is also anti-capitalist, because if people breastfed while staying agnostic to these gendered roles, then it could pose a challenge to a potentially US$100 billion industry that is built upon selling infant formula.

I Am Not An Immersive Experience

If I hear one more straight person talk about how they want to go to a queer club because they “just want to see what happens there”, I will officially lose my mind. What happens, there, Karen, is that queer people get to breathe and be themselves without the fear of being judged by an othering gaze. Thiiss  the exact purpose that you defeat when you walk in with your “curiosity”. Let’s be clear here: there is a huge difference between actual, genuine allies wanting to support queer venues, and straight people who treat our spaces like they are walking into a ‘scandalous’ theme park with a sash that says ‘Bride to be’ or a crown that says ‘Birthday Girl’. None of us are playing a role here (except for those who might literally be performing on the stage) and we are not exotic characters whose purpose is to show you a fun time. We are literally just trying to exist and chill with each other in a safe space, and being exotic-ized by you takes that away from us.

The problem is not the physical presence of a straight person, but the entitlement. If you are an actual ally and you come across a queer event/venue, you will probably look for the ‘allies welcome’ or ‘everyone welcome’ sign- and if you don’t find it, you will understand that that space is not for you. Just like for ladies’ nights nobody needs to write ‘not for men’, when an event announcement says ‘Queer Social’, you need to understand that it is not for you. It would seem that this is a very simple thing to understand, but my last year in London has shown me otherwise. In one instance, I was talking to two friends (one of whom was straight) about how amazing it had been to attend a Discussion Group for Sapphic people because I had felt seen. Immediately, the straight one went, “Can I come next time?”

I must admit here that the AUDACITY left me flabbergasted for a moment. I had JUST mentioned that it was a safe space for Sapphic people. Had she not heard me? What part of what I had said had made her feel that it was okay to ask that? I replied by stressing that it was for sapphic people ONLY. That should have ended the conversation, but she doubled down by saying, “Not to participate, just to be a fly on the wall.” And this is a person who sees herself as a feminist. I am 99% sure that if I had told her that a cishet man had wanted to attend a women’s group she would have immediately spotted the issue with his request. Therefore, my question is this: do straight people think that queerness is a performance for their viewing? Do they even see us as human beings or do they view our community as an immersive experience that they can enjoy/ observe/ engage with and then go back home after this ‘experience’?

Then, of course, it becomes a cyclical idea that goes like this: of course I am a ‘cool’ ally, therefore I can go to a queer space; of course I have been to queer spaces, therefore I am a ‘cool’ ally. And what is with this confidence that allows straight people to decide for themselves that they are brilliant allies to the queer community simply because they have never personally hurled a slur, and therefore they should be allowed to enter queer spaces since they have decided that they are ‘safe’? First of all, allyship does not mean not doing anything bad towards a community. It means standing beside someone, advocating, protesting, and speaking up on their behalf when the need arises. Secondly, if you believe that you are safe and therefore can just walk into a queer-only space, then I have news for you: you are the most dangerous kind of unsafe because you think you are entitled to consume queer people’s existence in mere exchange for not calling them a slur. This is not how it works. This is not how anything works. Being able to enter our safe spaces is not a trophy that you get for not being a horrible person. Sorry, but not sorry.

And then there are straight women who will tell me that they want to go to queer bars because that is the only place where they feel safe. Even as they say this sentence they will fail to see the irony in the words escaping their mouth. So for them, I will underline this next sentence: You are feeling safe because you know that you have the most privilege in a room that was supposed to keep people safe from your gaze. And if you find yourself being offended by what I just wrote, ask yourself this: if a cishet man who was your friend said over and over again, “I want to come to ladies’ night, please, you know me and you know I won’t objectify anyone or make them uncomfortable!” would you not think he was being shady?

Treating people like objects is not just about sexualisation- it is about dehumanization. And when you see queer people as an opportunity to have an immersive, exotic experience, that is exactly what you do to us. And we can always tell who you are. Always.

How Rakhi Sawant Made Me Comfortable With My Queerness

I can’t remember the first time I saw Rakhi Sawant. Maybe it was in one of those reality shows that she participated in, in the 2000s.

What I do remember is that I immediately liked her and was drawn to her. Her confidence, broken English, vibrant energy and flashy clothes entertained me. And the fact that she was a reality TV star was icing on the cake. But it wasn’t these factors that made me appreciate her. In those days we had a plethora of reality TV stars on Hindi channels. Some sang. Some danced. Some fought. And some entertained us with their idiosyncrasies. But there was Rakhi, who was different from her contemporaries. And special. She wasn’t like those pretty, naive bahus who wept for men on screen. Neither did she act coyly repressing her sexuality and saving it for a man. Instead, she was a cheeky and non-conforming woman who openly embraced her sexuality, carving out her own identity in music videos that catered to the male gaze. Rakhi was the kind of woman who made sure she made her presence felt.

Born into a working class family, Rakhi Sawant had to struggle to get to where she was. Unlike most actresses, she wasn’t born into a film family that could support her career in Hindi films. So Rakhi danced her heart out as a way to make a name for herself. Her performance in songs like Mohabbat hai Mirchi and Pardesiya (remix version) made her a household name and earned her the fame of the “item” girl in Bollywood.

However, the mainstream actresses who were initially reluctant to dance in item songs replaced her. But Rakhi was Rakhi. She didn’t let anyone get in the way of her determination to be number one. As reality television grew exponentially, she moved into television shows and found new ways to entertain us.

I still remember watching her bachelorette show Rakhi Ka Swayamvar religiously. It was the first time I had ever seen a woman go out in public to find a suitor for herself. She might have done the show for money (which she proudly admits), but for my naive brain that was struggling to understand my queer attractions, it was groundbreaking as she was out there searching for the love she deserved. With this show, she gave me hope that a person who doesn’t fit into society’s box can still demand the love they want in their life.

Apart from the show, Rakhi acted in several other productions. She did a movie with Farah Khan and Yash Raj Films. Her interview with Karan Johar for “Koffee with Karan” was also the talk of the town when it premiered as she openly admitted that she went under the knife to enhance her body parts. Her openness was ridiculed, but to me it was a brave act. Her confession made her honest and vulnerable — something Bollywood superstars still lack.

However, her film career didn’t last long. She wasn’t of any use to Bollywood as it had already found a new set of women to attract audiences. But who could stop Rakhi from entertaining us, right?


In 2014, she even formed her own party called “Rashtriya Aam Party,” which she later disbanded after getting only 15 votes in the election.

With the advent of the digital age, Rakhi slowly started losing her appeal. There were Poojas and Urfis to replace her. She wasn’t the only source of entertainment now, nor was she the only person challenging the idea of celebrity. But in the last few years, Rakhi found ways to entertain the audience with new strategies and tactics. She crossed all boundaries and became what the current generation uses most — memes.

Her videos “Main Ek Zinda Lash Hu” and “Talking to my A-Double-S” have become a cultural zeitgeist, as they have found their way to our mobile screens.

For what she does, Rakhi deserves a round of applause. In a world where celebrities and influencers are easily replaced, Rakhi has made sure to stay relevant. However, she has made many problematic statements in her career that are hard to ignore. She was one of the people who vocally invalidated Tanushree Dutt when she shared her sexual harassment story in 2018. She has also used homophobic remarks against queer people, which is unacceptable.

The biggest conundrum is, however, that Rakhi is the same person who comforted several queer people like me who rarely got to see themselves and their desires represented in Indian pop culture.In an industry obsessed with testosterone-driven heroes flaunting their machismo, it was Rakhi who set me free by breaking the gender expectations people have of how a “good” female actor should look and behave.

She was truly an unhinged icon who subverted ideas of gender performativity.Her non-conformity, over-the-top persona and uninhibited display of sensuality in item songs made me feel validated and seen, which rarely happened.

All I want to say is thank you Rakhi. You saved my life in the same way that Madhubala and Sridevi did for my ancestors. You were truly a queer icon for me as your unabashed performance of sexuality, gender non-conforming attitude and campiness liberated me from the shackles of heteronormativity that always repressed my queerness.

Years later, when I watched Pardesiya, I still remember how a small child in Kathmandu (me) found joy in a woman who unabashedly flaunted her sexuality and desires without inhibition or fear of judgment. And how I hoped to be like her when I grew up.

How Wanda Maximoff Became A Queer Icon

WandaVison ranks on the top of my list out of all the TV shows that have been produced by Marvel Studios so ambitiously and dare I say, overconfidently. It was an audacious project in the sense that it was challenged with the task of establishing a ‘diversity of genre’ within the Marvel cinematic universe and it was expected to not only maintain but also set standards for Marvel’s creativity and efficacy beyond the superhero action niche; and WandaVision nailed it! Not to mention that it was Marvel’s first project after Endgame — that adds a different sort of pressure considering the cinematic glory that it had achieved.

Through the course of the show, we transition from ‘what life can be’ to ‘what life is.’ That in itself is a heart-shattering theme, even without the context of Wanda’s tragedy. To dream of a perfect life knowing that there is no easy  elevator that could transport you to this wonderland and there is only so much possibility that you might actually live it during this lifetime, is the real pity. Someday the delusion will fade and your imagination will disintegrate. As Thanos so wisely put it: “Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same”.

Wanda protects her idealistic world by distancing it from the outside world, which in her context is ‘a world without vision’ or a world that leaves her alone; back to square one with absolutely nothing and nobody. We can construe it as a dark time that is antagonistic. Now let’s apply the queer lens to understand this. The world outside can be interpreted as heteronormative —queerphobic even—and the bubble within (i.e., Westview) is a place where you can live the “ideal” life by being the way of society and not the ‘exception’.

Now, a valid question that some of you might pose is why should we interpret Westview from a queer perspective. It can be seen through the perspective of any marginalized community or social class that stands accused of not fitting in the box of normality, right? Perhaps an escapist’s paradise with zero racism, or one with no poverty, maybe even a Westview for political and environmental refugees. It’s a fair point; but why the queer aspect becomes so relatable in this case for me, is because it is almost impossible to imagine a prosperous queer town given the biological infeasibility to reproduce biologically, especially given the social stigma and hate-crime that the community endures. In Westview, Wanda ‘creates’ her children with magic, saying, “That’s what every mother does” — read that again and you will realise how it is tantamount to our queer reality. Even in places where being queer is no longer a crime and queer marriages are legal, queer folx find that they can never fully assimilate with mainstream society. There will always be a sense of differentiation if not discrimination, pity if not hate; towards the LGBTQ community, in the subconscious collective mind, if not in deliberation.

The dream of a world that accepts and respects queerness is still nebulous. But what WandaVision does is that it gives us a glimpse, or at least nudges us to push our imaginations through the suffering and pain, just as Wanda does, to picture this far-away homogenous reality that none of us is likely to witness in this lifetime. Wanda eventually is seen as the authority, akin to a puppeteer who commands people to her whims, without actually wanting to or knowing that she could do this. I like to think that us queers, after years of ostracization, wouldn’t refuse the opportunity either.

It has been noticed and quite profoundly written about how Wanda has gained a certain popularity and affability in the LGBTQ+ community.

Wanda’s dialogues are so relevant in the queer context. For example, when she speaks in Captain America: Civil War about how she perceives herself after gaining her powers: “I used to think of myself one way, but, after this (her energy glows), I am something else, I’m still me, I think, but, that’s not what everyone else sees”. This fits right into how a queer person might feel after going through a gender affirmation surgery or after coming out as queer.

Another dialogue from WandaVision, where Vision tells Wanda: “We don’t have to stay here (WestView), we can go wherever we want”; to which Wanda fervently says: “No we can’t.”

Westview as a space then becomes a queer-friendly society where Wanda and Vision can live their married life freely. This could easily be contrasted against all the places on the planet where the queer lifestyle is condemned. It highlights the restrictions of on queer community in terms of geography, choice of settlement, and cultural acceptance. 

People relate to her pain, for pain is universal. Using pain in storytelling is often tricky; to deliver the right shades of tangerine tragedy, pink pity, scarlet sympathy, emerald empathy. and even a little red rage through the character, in the right amounts, is most crucial. Without it one cannot create that canvas of poignant excellence; it demands accuracy and personal experiences of loss. Death plays a huge role in this journey of trauma. Trauma lies beyond the scope of proactivity; pain is irreversible and is unapologetic, in the sense there is nobody left to place the blame on, and the void eats you alive.

Some things are just beyond human effort and need to be ‘accepted’. But when you have powers like that of the Scarlet Witch, acceptance becomes more of a choice than a compulsion, and this is the possibility that WandaVison capitalizes on. “Life could be perfect, when it’s made just for you” is literally a teaser-caption in the mid-season trailer for WandaVison.

Those promos for WandaVision, in the narrow context of Wanda are very direct and lacklustre. However, if you zoom out and take a wider look, it is a grim reminder that no matter how bad you wish, ultimately you have to reconnect with your reality — because that’s your truth, as Monica Rambau puts it. it doesn’t if you are the Scarlet Witch or an average human like me, facing reality  is a ubiquitous experience, but WandaVison’s success lies in that small recess of escapism that derails the arrival of reality and allows us to vicariously live through Wanda’s story.

Wanda’s powers and their consequences in the real (heteronormative) world

 Now let’s talk about how Wanda became a queer icon. She herself isn’t  queer — or is she? I mean, she did fall for a robot! Perhaps, but the point is, Wanda wasn’t gay in the most literal sense, although her son Billy is — can’t wait to see him in Darkhold Diaries. It is Wanda’s powers that make her such a powerful figure not only in the physical sense. She is undoubtedly the most powerful avenger — nay, the most powerful MCU character — but also in a socio-political sense.  She has the power to challenge the very fabric of reality; the very power to unthread every custom, norm and rule in society and respin it into whatever she desires. Imagine living with that power; imagine having the ability to change the world, eradicate racism, poverty, patriarchy, global warming and all other social evils by just moving your sexy fingertips!

But, there are other superhero or enhanced individuals in the realm of fiction who are and have made the world a better place. Why have they never been crowned the ultimate queer superhero title? The most reasonable answer I can think of is that most superheroes are designed specifically for a very cis-gendered heteronormative audience.

 Like how Wonder Woman was made to inspire young girls and entertain a cis-feminist audience. Let’s take Thor for instance. His narrative follows a common route: a privileged prince, strong and tough, triumphs over adversaries, has a witty brother, experiences loss but never elicits pity—always the beloved choice of the mainstream audience. Despite being relatable, his abilities and divine appearance lack the transformative impact needed to challenge societal biases, such as those against the queer community. Thor’s journey in the MCU falls short in this regard.

Capitan Marvel, although queer-coded, hasn’t gained the popularity and love that Wanda has; it’s simply because she comes off as a very indifferent superhero. Wanda’s pain and emotion is so personal, nuanced and layered — something that a character like Carol Danvers cannot compete with given her

 detachment from the ‘self’ and, in my opinion, unchanneled dedication to the extra-terrestrial cause. Take any superhero and there is a still the stink of heteronormative breath that distances them from the adoration of the queer community. Perhaps Jean Grey comes close, maybe even Charles and Magneto, surely Andy and Lorna (from The Gifted),  but nothing beats Wanda Maximoff’s effect.

While we may not have the liberty to choose the path that Wanda decided to walk in the Multiverse of Madness, we surely can extract a sense of justice in  Wanda’s killing spree. You can call this extraction of justice misplaced, because it is. I am not advocating sadism, the notion that we can be joyous when villains kill individuals of the society that wronged us isn’t ethically in the white. But there is undeniably a feeling of satisfaction; the satisfaction of seeing a character who you have been rooting for the whole time, who was been wronged by people and/or destiny, and hurt those people back so as to advance towards a happier place.

Now, I’m not saying that I was happy about the fact that those innocent sorcerers at Kamar Taj, the Fantastic Four or Xavier died — I was happy because the character I saw myself in was winning — there was nothing ‘the world’ could do to stop her; only she could stop herself. Why do you think  Scarlet Witch stans are so crazy about her? Why do they defend her and worship her so superstitiously? Because it’s not Wanda Maximoff that they are worshiping, it’s her capacity to wreak havoc in a world that has wronged her — her ability to stand up and fight for what is rightfully hers, which in this case are her non-existent kids. That is how Wanda Maximoff becomes a symbol of revolt in a twisted way. The lengths to which she can go against the world are practically limitless and her chances of losing are almost nil.

Antagonizing Wanda was a big gamble. It could have worked out better or it could have worked out for the worst. Pitching her against the idea of the heteronormative world, i.e., the world that took everything from her, would have worked and it did to a certain extent, but in the process, it dashed her moral cognizance to the dirt.

Not only was she made to make the same mistake that she did in Westview, but her actions were far too violent and conscious to be pardoned this time. That was a blow to the scarlet-witch loving audience. In the end, she did become an object of pity and, even hate. There could have been plot-lines where her villainy arc  could have been more justified and even dignified — poor creative choice by Marvel, if you ask me.

On the other hand, if she would have again jumped the lane and become a ‘hero’, we perhaps might have lost the sizzle that her morally-ambiguous, personal disposition was bringing to her story. At the end of WandaVision, Wanda’s sacrifice, which only a handful of us are capable of understanding becomes an element of rejuvenation. Despite all the pain and evil that the world has laden on her, she still identifies as a ‘decent human’, a mother and a person who understands the consequences of her actions. Hence, she earns our respect and is redeemed. But what she does in Multiverse of madness is beyond restoration. Wanda understands that, and hence the suicide.

That anti-hero image is a huge part of what made Wanda appealing to the queer community.

Play Time: Top 5 Sex Toys To Get The Fun Started

Taboo who? The sexual revolution is in full swing and sex toys are a playground for people everywhere to experience ecstasy and delight – their way. Sex toys are an amazing tool of bonding, exploration, and relaxation both by yourself or with a partner. And they’re oh so much fun! You know what they say – there’s no problem in the world a good wank couldn’t fix. Well maybe the wank won’t solve your problem… but it’ll sure as hell stop you from stressing about it! Because along with the pressures of life come the pleasures… and oh boy do we have options!

Gone are the days of awkward silences and muffled discussions about sex and intimacy. Sex toys have become the conversation starters we never knew we needed. Where do you like to be touched? How? For how long? Where else? Throw a sex toy in the mix and you might feel more open to express and enjoy yourself. Besides, the sex toy industry has embraced diversity in all its forms and has made products more accessible than ever. We’re lucky enough to have a kaleidoscope of sex toys with different shapes, sizes, colors, and functionalities – right at the click of a button! This inclusivity is empowering, breaking down barriers and celebrating the uniqueness of every individual’s desires. So, whether you’re into sleek designs or bold, extravagant shapes, there’s a sex toy out there with your name on it! Let’s take a look at some of the hottest ones on the market.

i. Lovense Lush 3: 

The world of vibrators is as diverse as the world of pleasure. And the Lovense Lush 3, a sex toy for women, is definitely a step above the regular kind. It’s a wireless remote-controlled toy with a bluetooth remote control – that means the possibilities with this vibrator are endless. Get your hands on this beast to enjoy it alone, with a partner, or if you’re feeling extra cheeky, you could be discreet and get frisky in public.The vibrating egg egg helps stimulate the internal g-spot while the extended tail taps on the clitoris for deeper double stimulation, especially for vulva owners. With 4+ hours of battery life, app and voice control, and non-existent sound, the Lovense Lush 3 vibrating egg will have you expanding just where you experience pleasure – from the bathroom to the swimming pool. 

ii. Lovense Max 2: 

If you’re a penis owner on the lookout for a hands-off masturbation experience that’ll blow more than just your mind, look no further than the Lovense Max 2. This automatic, bluetooth-enabled masturbator can have you feeling hot and heavy without even lifting a finger! While the soft inner realistic sleeve gives a good feel, the device both vibrates while contracting on the inside to maximise your pleasure. So all that’s left for you to do is lie back and enjoy. You can even arch your back using a pillow for deeper penetration. With 360-degree contractions and easy to clean with airflow release, this remote-controlled toy by Lovense is designed for comfortable use and storage. Oh and the coolest part? With the app-control and synced vibrators available, this toy is ideal for couples in long distance relationships who want to keep the spark alive.

Iii. Lovense Hush 2 Vibrating Butt Plug: 

It’s a known fact that people who are assigned male at birth have a prostate or ‘P-spot’– in the anus. So a vibrating butt plug seems like a no brainer to get the vibes going. But even for those who haven’t ventured into anal pleasure yet or feel apprehensive, I’d say don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! Ecstasy can come from anywhere.Just keep the lube handy and you’ll be good to go. The Lovense Hush 2 Vibrating Butt Plug is a sophisticated way to enhance the fun in the bedroom, whether you’re a newbie or a veteran. It’s wireless, has customizable vibrations, and comes in 4 size options! And the wildest part? This toy can be controlled right from your phone via a handy app (you can wear it in public ;). So grab one of these and explore the unlimited vibrations by yourself or with a partner. 

iv. Kiroo Keon Interactive Stroker: 

Some people like imagining another person pleasuring them while they masturbate, while some… are just plain old lazy. Whichever one of the two you may be, the Kiroo Keon Interactive Stroker could be your gateway to endless, toe-curling orgasms. This smart sex toy keeps the experience hyper realistic with a plush sleeve and a combo of vibrations and contractions, all operated discreetly with one click. Not just that – this fleshlight can even take your fantasies to the next level. This bluetooth- enabled toy and accompanying app gives users a chance to spice up their solo sesh with VR content, and 2D adult videos online. Not to mention, you can use this for long-distance play with your partner.

That’s not even the tip of the iceberg! Dive deeper into the world of sex toys and keep exploring.

Book Review: The Yellow Sparrow By Santa Khurai, Translated From The Manipuri By Rubani Yumkhaibam

“Shaming and insult were always a regular experience for me. I took every insult as a new learning, every rejection as a strength.” So writes Santa Khurai in her memoir, The Yellow Sparrow, which takes its title from a poem she wrote during her adolescence after an argument with her father. It tells the story of a sparrow born with yellow feathers hidden away by its mother and not allowed to leave the nest unlike its siblings. Once it discovers its unique identity, it joyfully embraces it in spite of the mother’s worries about how it would be treated in the outside world. Santa is the titular bird here. In her own words: “My desire to be a woman, a beautiful, fashionable woman, was so strong that I was not afraid of challenging anything that came in the way… I felt that I could bear anything but I could not live like a man…”

The challenges in her life have certainly been many. From within the family at home and the society at large in Khurai where she lived to the violence meted out by repressive state apparatuses and the rejections she faced from within her community, Santa has had to overcome a lot to be where she is now. She faced numerous barriers when it came to education and employment, particularly since she wanted to live her truth without any secrets or subterfuge. She writes: “The woman in me could neither be vanquished nor hidden somewhere in order to adjust myself to a world that was replete with selfish people and their selfish criticism.” Her father was firmly opposed to her way of living and she was considered to be the black sheep of the family. While her mother did support her in some ways and shielded her from her father’s anger, she also failed to truly understand her and often caused her anguish.

Community came in the form of fellow “homos” and a realisation about their shared identity at the age of sixteen. “‘Homo’ [in Manipur],” as Santa writes, “was a derogatory term, associated with all kinds of obnoxious characters, like men whose behaviour, physical features and character was deviant from the conventional idea of manliness or masculinity.” There was no distinction, as such, between gay men, trans femme people, or those who were non-binary. For the most part, this generalisation is maintained in the memoir although she also uses native terms such as “Nupa Maanbi” and “Nupa Maanba” to show differences. Since Manipuri is a gender neutral language, gender is assigned through names; pronouns themselves do not indicate identities. In this engagin English translation by Rubani Yumkhaibam, “he” is used for “homos”, be it ‘feminine’ men or transgender women, to maintain that neutrality. 

So, Santa began to seek out friendships with the people similar to her who also could not shed the self that was at odds with society’s strictures: “It was a period of vital importance in my life, it seemed that the seeds of the future were sown in those moments.” Santa Khurai perfectly describes the inner worlds of queer people, their ingenuity and enterprising, their resilience, the bonds they form with each other as found families. This is not to say that they were all one-mind on every issue and there were no disagreements or fights. In fact, Santa got a lot of flak from the community for being intentionally ‘provocative’. She was frank in both dress and dialogue, not willing to make any compromises with her identity in order to draw less attention. She wore feminine clothes and makeup in public, refusing to keep conforming to her male assigned at birth identity, and their frequent criticisms hurt.

Santa states, “To conform to society’s expectations, at the cost of banishing my own self and the desire ingrained in my blood, was a form of slavery to me.” Such an assertion, accompanied by her bold attitude and forthright behaviour, came at the cost of alienation. The alienation was also coupled with violence in some cases, especially at the hands of other men who were probably threatened in their masculinity or did not like the disavowal of social norms, be it insurgents, police and army men, or just thugs encountered late at night. Restrained by the shackles of society, Santa and her fellow “homo” friends were always on the lookout for a place of their own where they could freely be themselves without judgement. There was no public space that was there for them, at least for long. They often resorted to deserted places and odd hours or visited each other’s homes or spent time together at small shops and vendors.

Love and romantic relationships were also out of reach for someone like Santa. She frequently saw her friends get into relationships with men who would later break their hearts and abandon them for more ‘traditional’ marriages. Her infatuation with a boy much younger than her ended in chaos and pain. Later on, her marriage to a cis heterosexual man turned abusive and she eventually left him as things escalated. It did not help that she was frequently in dire straits in terms of money and lived in precarity since she was not interested in the jobs afforded by her education. Her beauty parlour business, while an initial success, also folded after her partner left to start on their own and she became increasingly addicted to painkiller meds. But this proved to be another hurdle in her path which she overcame with sheer will. When she was successful in fighting off the addiction, a new phase of her life began.

“I want to be somebody with some worth,” Santa writes, “able to command respect from society.” An oft-repeated sentiment in her memoir, this is perhaps what draws her to people work and human rights activism when she begins working at All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (AMaNa) and Solidarity and Action Against HIV Infection in India (SAATHI). She clearly also has a lot of love for her homeland even though her life there has been rocky. The memoir showcases a strong sense of place about lived realities in Manipur with detailed descriptions of traditional festivals and celebrations. The political upheavals in the state also directly inform the narrative and are not relegated to just the background. Santa has become increasingly aware of how the Northeast is continuously sidelined in mainstream/mainland conversations around gender and sexuality. She does not claim to know everything and highlights her new learnings throughout the book. In her turn, she wants to strongly “advocate for a more democratic and secular transgender and queer movement.”

Rainbow World

The utopian ideal of a world that is gender-inclusive is theoretical at best and currently does not exist. What does exist, however, is the reality around us where power structures and oppression dominate our lives. We are stuck in an unequal world where not everyone can be who they really are and who they want to be. There are two ideological standpoints for eliminating this — no gender distinctions or having numerous labels for diverse genders.

While both these positions aim to create a safe world for all genders, they do one thing differently. The former says that we are all the same and therefore do not need to categorize gender. While the latter says we are all different and therefore need several different categories. The current view is that gender is a spectrum, but this itself seems problematic to me. How many categories do we keep adding to define each person’s sexuality and romantic bent? Does there need to be a certain number of people identifying with a specific definition of sexuality to make it into the spectrum? And how many genders do we keep adding to exhaust each person’s experience of gender and sexuality?

On the other hand, what are we left with if we don’t have categories? The binary view of gender as a blue box or a pink box is ingrained in our society, history, and law. Without making gender visible, it would be impossible to fight these deeply entrenched institutions that insist on having a category of sex and gender defined for every member of its territory. Even if we do manage to fight the good fight of abolishing the idea of having gender entirely by making it arbitrary and taboo, there are still other issues at play. The major problem with not having a gender spectrum to fall back on is that sexual identity can often be messy and confusing. Without giving people options for their sexuality, we are limiting them to the already established hetero-norm. While we see gender as learned and performed, it is also deeply entrenched in our languages, commodities, and histories. In that sense, it is internalized to the point that without an alternative grammar of sexuality, it might be difficult for each individual to imagine a vocabulary of their own in order to define and own their gender and sexuality, distinct from the norm.

As we live, we become who we are and/or who we always were. People cannot be expected to know who they will be at birth. The same applies to gender, which is much more than just the biological grouping of males and females. Gender evolves in the context of the society that we are a part of, and without the community, we take away a queer person’s ability to accept their identity. The problem is the unequal system that we are all a part of. To change this system, we must identify ourselves as opposed to it. The LGBTQIA+ community does that while lobbying for change and making themselves heard and valid. The large number of people that identify with queerness gives the community a certain strength in numbers for advocacy, making it accessible to organize, protest, and rally for changes in law and institutions like religion, education and other cultural organizations with authority in the territory. This identity formation is a political mobilization and a face for rights and acceptance. This is done by identifying labels that allow you to present as a certain identity and by the relegation of privileges, which can only be fought for by making a gender beyond the binary visible. Without this, you have people living invisibly and with no way to organize.

The hope, however, is that we can get to a place where we can say no to discrimination and divisions. But there is first a need to abolish gender, and we must define it in all its multiplicity. Only then can we step back once people better understand their gender and sexuality without the binary, and eventually will not need these divisions and definitions anymore.

I Disliked ‘Annapoorani : The Goddess Of Food’ But Not For The Reasons It Was Taken Down

In one of the crucial scenes in the movie, ‘Annapoorani: The Goddess Of Food’ starring Nayanthara, the protagonist’s grandmother cites herself as an example of not following her dreams of becoming a classical dancer and performing around the world just like MS Subbulakshmi did with her singing. She then encourages her granddaughter, the titular character, Annapoorani, to ditch her own wedding and pursue her goal of becoming a chef.

‘Annapoorani: The Goddess Of Food’ is about a woman from a conservative Brahmin family who has dreams of becoming a chef. When seen from an apolitical lens, the movie seems to be talking about breaking societal barriers and pursuing one’s aspirations. But I wonder if a movie about a Brahmin character can ever be apolitical. The movie managed to garner praise from feminists, yet I couldn’t ignore the influence of caste in this movie. After all, what is feminism without anti-caste politics?

A large chunk of this movie revolves around how a Brahmin woman begins to eat and cook meat despite the stigma attached to it. Cooking and eating meat is shown as a barrier. But why? The slightest inconvenience to a Brahmin woman is shown as a barrier, but how relevant is it when compared to the ban on meat in campus canteens across several Indian universities, because ‘vegetarian’ youth from Brahmin communities wouldn’t share food or use the same utensils as their meat-eating peers? Let me give you another example. Annapoorani’s father Rangarajan works as a priest at a temple and he makes the prasadam. Him and his family enjoy the status of the caste they were born into. I happened to read a comment under a post about the movie after it began facing flak from Hindutva groups. The commenter spoke about having the choice available to ‘vegetarians’ to cook in ‘vegetarian’ kitchens for a ‘vegetarian’ crowd. These kitchens have, in fact, existed for decades, if not centuries; like the ones Rangarajan works in.

My point is that in the grand scheme of things, Brahmanism continues to exist and Brahmins continue to enjoy caste privilege in spaces exclusive to them. How relevant is a story that glorifies a Brahmin woman for overcoming an inconvenience that is the product of Brahmanism in the first place?

This film also tries to be secular. If there’s something Annapoorani couldn’t master to perfection until the climax, it’s the quintessential biryani. In the finale of the cooking competition Annapoorani participates in, she’s asked to cook biryani. I wasn’t ready for what came after. Annapoorani recalls what Farhaan’s mother (a Muslim biryani expert) had told her about her method of cooking biryani. Annapoorani wraps a black piece of cloth around her face as a hijab and offers prayers to Allah as if that were the missing ingredient. It didn’t sit well with me because I felt that this scene was equivalent to that one friend we all had who would suddenly become secular with the mention of biryani on Eid. The whole idea that a devout Muslim would make the best biryani and a conservative Brahmin would make the best chakkar pongal is itself flawed and extreme. The symbolism and the contrasting of it is unconvincing.

Farhaan supports Annapoorani as a good friend and eventually falls in love with her. But we don’t see Annapoorani responding in the same way. There’s still a question mark on what Annapoorani feels for Farhaan. It makes me wonder a tiny bit if the makers were anticipating ‘love jihad’ remarks. The movie has attracted hate from Hindutva groups over Farhaan-Annapoorani’s relationship. Personally, the ‘love jihad’ remarks and forcing the producers to remove it from Netflix makes zero sense to me. Would an inter-faith marriage be too much for this film? Honestly, the makers aren’t to blame when the hatred is so real!

The film revolves overtly around the father-daughter dynamic and the daughter bringing disgrace to their family by not adhering to caste supremacy. The writing is such that I wouldn’t be surprised if people empathised with Annapoorani’s father instead of the protagonist. Annapoorani isn’t an anti-caste protagonist. She doesn’t try to liberate herself from the patriarch in explicit ways. She tries to convince the patriarch about her goals and the means she uses to achieve them, without ever pointing out how flawed and discriminatory casteism is. What irked me the most was how innocently unaware Annapoorani was about her caste privilege, which is not an option for many. I was conflicted after watching it because my opinion didn’t go with the popular opinion of feminists, who lauded the film. It was one of the few films that made me think and even critique myself before critiquing it. The inherent refusal to address caste privilege and wrapping it the garb of feminism is perhaps what makes it hard to critique. In simple terms, ‘Annapoorani: The Goddess of Food’ is a movie that refuses to talk about anti-caste politics and caste privilege, despite being a movie about a Brahmin character. But does feminism without anti-caste politics make any sense?

“Jersey Number 49! Left Winger!”: A Trans Man In A Women’s Football Team

Women’s football in India is really paving a path for itself and making itself known to the world. It is becoming popular. India also hosted the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in 2022. Within India, states have started organising women’s football tournaments such as the Karnataka Women’s League, the Delhi Women’s Premier League and the most anticipated Indian Women’s football competition, the Indian Women’s League. Many of these leagues are also broadcasted live. This is a huge step forward for Indian Women’s football.

However, as many institutions and public spaces are gender segregated only based on the two accepted genders, man and woman, football, like any other sport, also fails to recognise genders and identities beyond the binary. Being an avid football enthusiast and being a trans man, this aspect of sport is something I absolutely loathe.

Competitively, there is very low scope for identities beyond the gender binary to be recognised publicly. At the end of a game or tournament, one might identify differently, but will still either be considered as part of the men’s category or women’s. Of course sport claims to be divided in this way so that both male and female athletes have a fair chance at competing based on what their biological bodies can do. And since we live in a male dominated world, there is no doubt that female athletes have suffered and opportunities and resources for them have been limited. But why cancel out the possibility of trans and gender nonconforming athletes competing professionally? This is a battle trans people, especially trans women, have been fighting for ages.

Recreationally, there is a lot of scope for sporting communities or groups to organise and encourage mixed gender sport and tournaments. But most communities just end up considering mixed gender as consisting of equal number of women and men in the same team, again excluding non-binary identities.

Despite football, or any other sport, being heavily gender-segregated, there are many successful trans and other gender nonconforming athletes making a name for themselves. There are not many South Asian or Indian athletes who may publicly identify that way, but many do choose to represent themselves confidently and choose to be themselves without, perhaps talking about it. Even within the Indian Women’s Football Team, there are many players who sport short haircuts and coloured hair and dress in ways which will be considered more typically masculine.

Three years back, I got the opportunity to play as a left winger for one of the teams participating in the Karnataka Women’s League (KWL), 2021 -22. The KWL is the most anticipated women’s football competition in the state, with players coming from different parts of the country, different socio-economic backgrounds, speaking different languages etc. to give trials for the teams participating in the tournament. Once selected, training goes on for about two months before the one month period of the tournament commences.

At the time, I had come out to some of my friends in college but not to anyone within my squad. It was hard as I had to present myself as a woman and tolerate being addressed with the wrong pronouns. I made a compromise because I was finally getting to play the sport I adore at such a high level. While competitively and in the larger atmosphere of the tournament, I was still considered as a woman or female athlete, there was strangely a sort of comfort and feeling of safety regarding my gender identity amongst the company of my teammates and coaches, unlike any other I had felt before.

This comfort and reassurance came from the fact that my team, and other teams as well, had players similar to me. Many of them had short hair, some of them sporting fancy shaves and coloured hair. I mostly saw my teammates on the field where we were always in our training gears. But if there were outings, I came to realise that some of their sense of style and clothing were similar to mine—more masculine and “boyish” one would say. I felt a sense of belonging with these players. I didn’t know what they identified as or what their preferred pronouns were. I often wondered whether they were also closeted and had admitted the fact that they would, for obvious reasons, be addressed as women. Many of them also came from quite remote areas of the country, which sometimes made me wonder whether or not they had access to the proper resources to understand the depths of their identities. But whether they did or not, they seemed extremely confident about in the way they chose to represent themselves. And that was very encouraging.

These topics were not always discussed or said out loud. However, there was support and

acceptance from the entire squad. It felt good when they used to compliment my sweatshirts or my caps that I used to wear to training or classroom sessions. Few words were then exchanged regarding where these clothes were bought from. I get a haircut quite often because my hair grows out very fast; and because I cut it so often, nobody really notices. But in training, it used to become the talk and discussion of the day. There were so many compliments and questions regarding it, not just from my teammates but from the coaches and staff as well.

There were times when my coach and some of the players, who I am assuming identified as cis women, would refer to us playfully as boys or men. While it was said in a comical manner, I could see the joy and contentment in my fellow teammates’ eyes of being addressed as boys. And it was enjoyable because these comments were never passed to put us down. There was never any judgement about our dressing sense or comments about how we should dress up more like “women”. Our identities were validated within the squad without actually knowing what they are.

Many of my teammates were also openly in queer and same-sex relationships, within the squad or beyond it. In between the season, I was staying with the team in the accommodation provided by the club and I remember overhearing two of my teammates talking about their identities and relationships. “I know I can dress like this and be with girls while I am here but once I go back home… I mean at the end of the day, all of us have to marry men only, there is no other way around it,” one of them expressed. The second teammate just sighed and agreed. It was quite heart-breaking to hear that, although they were extremely comfortable with their identities and orientations, they were unable to imagine a future for themselves in which they could live the same way.

They did, however, imagine a future in football, pursuing a career in it and perhaps in many ways seeing it as an escape from the confines of spaces which would not allow them to live the way they would ideally like to. While there was an awareness that one was playing in a women’s tournament and that at the end of the day one would be considered a woman and nothing else, it wasn’t the most important aspect or something that was extremely bothersome. At the time, football was all I had got, a faraway space from all the confusion and vagueness which comes with coming out.

I stopped playing competitively recently. While football as a sport is something which will always be dear to me and a passion I will continue to indulge in for the rest of my life, I cannot participate competitively anymore because eventually being addressed as a woman in the larger sense was getting too much to handle. I also made that sacrifice because transitioning medically had become equally, if not more, important. When I tell people this, they try to encourage me by saying, “That’s okay! You’re so good and you can definitely play for a men’s team.” When I deny what they say and express that competitively I don’t have a shot at it anymore, they are always quick to assume that I am not confident about my skills in the sport. That is not entirely true. Many trans men do compete professionally in sports from the men’s side after transitioning medically. And while that may seem like a possibility for me, it is something which terrifies me as well; because I am aware of the toxic masculine culture in which we live and the kind of comfort and safety I felt within a women’s team is not something I can expect from a men’s team. And that was very important to me, the euphoria and solace that came with playing the sport and being part of a team.

Sport is supposed to be competitive and hard. Coaches are expected to be terrifying and athletes are expected to do well under immense pressure. But football was never that for me and I wouldn’t like it to become that.

For my fellow queer teammates, who are still in the game, working hard day in and day out to pursue a career in football, it continues to remain a safe space, to be themselves without feeling insecure and judged. It seems that is also the only way they can express their identities fully and safely. At the time that I was playing, it felt the same way for me. Some days definitely felt more dysphoric than the rest, but the opportunity to play the sport I love, and play it so often, without having to degrade or hide my identity, is something I will always remain immensely grateful for.

What’s In A (Dead)Name? Quite A Lot, Actually! How to Support When Someone Changes Their Name

Being an ally is an ever-evolving process.

Many people who fall under the umbrella of ‘transgender’ choose names that differ from the names given to them at birth. It is usually a huge  step that feels affirming to their gender identity. The names that they choose to leave behind are known as ‘dead-names’ and should never be used to address that person, unless the person themself requests you to do so under specific circumstances. These names are ‘dead’ because they do not align with the person’s identity. Name-changing is tedious and frustrating, even if they are not changed via the legal process; which is a whole different can of worms. The last thing the person would want is to explain the social transition to you. There is no one way to be a good ally but here are a few things to remember while being a better ally to someone who has just changed their name.

Also read: A Guide On Everything You Wanted to Know About Name and Gender Change

I recently chose a name for myself and saw that people around me were struggling to transition and address me by it.

Call Me, Chosen Name

You would be surprised to learn how many people forget to update their friends’ contact information. One of the first, easiest, and most affirming things to do is update with their chosen name. Add a cute emoji if you want, but don’t forget to do so. It can be a stinging feeling to see your dead-name pop up on your friend’s phone. Updating their name is a small but meaningful sign of support. Additionally, it will help you commit their name to your memory better, especially if you talk or chat often.

Back And Forth, What?

If your friend changes the way they want to be addressed, your only choice is to accept and follow through. If they go back and forth, or use different names in spaces that don’t feel safe for them, follow through with that. Your confusion or inability to remember is not their burden. It is not about you, it is about them. Your friend telling you this information is a very vulnerable experience. They trust you with something very personal. Let them find who they are and walk alongside them if you can.

What About Nicknames?

If you share a close enough bond to have a nickname based on their dead name, just ask them if you can still use that. Sometimes it is more about how you see them and not about the name. Your intention should be “This is my heart’s memory of you” and not “That’s just what I will call you”, there is a difference between the two. However, if they do not like that nickname either, respect their decision and just find a new one.

How To Say Sorry

It is completely natural to mess up when someone around you is going through a change like that. The easiest way to respond is to acknowledge the mistake, apologize once, and move on. If you notice them shutting off after your mistake, give them space to process and bounce back in their time. Over-apologizing puts pressure on the person to forgive and say “it’s okay” while elevating the pressure on you. It is easier for everyone to just say it once and then be careful after that.

Don’t Out Them, Don’t Assume

Make sure to ask which name to use before doing so in front of work colleagues, new friends, or family members. Some trans people are not out about their gender in their professional circuit or at the natal home. Their reasons may vary from safety concerns to simply their choice. Hence, assuming the usage of their chosen name can put them in dangerous or uncomfortable situations. Similarly, some people do not bring up their transition in professional or social settings. Nobody owes anybody else that information, regardless of which step they are on in their journey. Hence, slipping up with their dead name in front of others can out them too. Similarly, give them the space to choose the name that they would want on social media, work credits, and professional settings.

Safe Work Space

If you have the authority or agency to do so, try making changes in your establishment, where that is at the school, college, or in a professional setting. You can collaborate with local trans-led organizations to conduct sensitization workshops. Additionally, you can help develop a process that would update records with one’s chosen name and pronouns, regardless of legal changes. Try ensuring that this process is easy and seamless to avoid confusion, dead-naming, and causing dysphoria. If one’s legal name is required for any sector (like HR, accounts, or exams), ensure either sensitivity and discretion in these sections.

Discard The Curious Cat

While asking questions is a good thing, some questions are simply inappropriate. You don’t have to know or deeply understand something in order to respect it. I don’t know Chinese but I respect Chinese traditions. So, please never ask a transgender person their dead-name, intimate details about their body, transition history, or life pre-transition. Just don’t do it.

Sex Work And Stalking – My Experience

TW: Mention and description of sexual abuse, gender-based violence, genitalia;

My name is Meera (name changed, to protect identity). I’m a queer, trans 34-year-old AFAB person who has been floundering in the job market.

I lost 3 jobs in 2 years, and find myself often surviving on cornflakes and water, with the occasional treat.

My first encounter with sex work came with an existing partner. They didn’t work, and they constantly chided me for not making enough money. They got on a website designed primarily for hookups and signed us up. I took pictures I was uncomfortable with, but I felt like I had to prove my love for them in any way possible.

I’d earn money everyday, being humiliated, slapped, and spit on. I’d endure the most painful sex, absolutely raw, till I would almost pass out. And they took each banknote.

The next round came via Reddit, where I advertised my services at a fairly high rate. I attracted a lot of young men in their 20s, happy to nurse on my breasts without even taking their clothes off. Others would just come to fuck.

“Rates kya hain?”

“Kitne shots degi?”

“Boobs touch kar loon?”

– are some of the questions I was posed on an everyday basis. I battled anxiety and answered them daily, betting on my body and sexual autonomy. I felt like a fuck-toy, losing all inhibitions in front of these sex-starved humans.

But what surprised me was meeting the 63-year-old SPS. SPS is a professor, working in Warwick, UK. The moment we spoke, he shone as a Dom, a rarity in Delhi circles. It didn’t help that he had a smooth British accent. Right away, he wanted me to submit to him – mind, body, and soul. He is the one who renamed me Meera. He would often send me voice messages that I was expected to listen to as someone rammed their unsheathed dick into me.

“I’m your queen and I’m your whore…”

“I will only orgasm on command.. “

“You are my Master and I am your slave.”

What he did successfully was keep me financially stable. He would send me pounds after pounds, just to interact with me long distance. In exchange, I pissed myself and filmed when I tasted it. I scrawled “Sir” all over my skin, to show him who owned my body. I sent videos begging to cum, begging to be fucked, begging to taste him. I got an anklet that was a sign that I was ‘bound’ to him, as a slave, as his property.

I stopped seeing him once I met my current husband. I realised that what I had experienced was not love and devotion, rather it was me being groomed, to be shaken enough to put all my faith in him.

Am I free now? Nope. He re-sent the anklet. A sign of his wrath. He keeps trying to sign into my Amazon, and I’m not sure why. The worst thing? He has taken it to the cops, wanting them to arrest me for extortion, when all I did was provide services, however humiliating it felt.

As secure as my relationship is, I’m in a constant state of panic. This man is a monster, one who has both the time and money to turn my life upside down.

I’m hoping the fear dies down with time. That I shed the “Meera” identity and become myself again. That I heal, and never return to sex-work again. After all, you never know!

when we first touched, and loving showed

when we first touched, and loving showed
awkward fingers entwined with awkward fingers
sweat and paint, merging – leading to more paint
under the netted warmth of the afternoon sun
with the air coloured in Justin Vernon’s voice
how well you understood my eyes
how well we understood the nothingness of time

when we first loved, and emotion showed
past constantly entering the present
thrusting in, out, in, out, ooh ah ooh ah ooh ah hahaha
thump throb thump throb thumppp throbbb aaah
in the darkness of the night
how well i knew the motion of your lips
how well we misunderstood the poetry of tongue

when we first emoted, and language showed
our prosaic lives lulled by sudden silence
epiphanies fell like fruit from a tree
in a crowded shrouded sea of truths
i stood with a basket in my hands – running gathering containing –
when i learnt the meaning of hijr –
and our memory drowned in the weight of metaphor

Before The Coffee Goes Cold

Part 1

You have lived in different houses in different cities and none of them welcomed you; the walls imprisoned you inside a circus of pretence and it smelled of loneliness. Your mother would glare at you from the other room, watch you make mistakes, and curse your existence. Your father remained oblivious and wished that everyone would just listen to him. 

When you first entered this flat, it felt like it wouldn’t villainise you for being you. When you enter this flat now, it is the only sense of comfort you have. You go straight to the kitchen to pour yourself some water, but you plop down on the floor before you can even pick up the glass. The kitchen tiles swirl out of focus and make you dizzy. You feel a wave of nausea hit you and your brain tries to tell you that it was just a dream. 

“Are you okay?” You hear a voice that is warmly familiar and pulls you out of your spiral.

You look up to find Bilal standing at the kitchen entrance, furrowing his brows to check if you are hungover, depressed or just tired. You wonder how to tell him that the reason you are on the floor with your legs curled up tightly against your chest is a possibility that you did not hallucinate what just happened – that you probably only have one more day to live. 

You manage to mutter a ‘yes’. Just sleep-deprived. You try to focus your eyes but you see shadows moving in the periphery. 

You offer to make coffee for the two of you. Both of you stay silent until the coffee cups are filled.

Bilal places his cup on the kitchen counter slab and you think about how he is never going to drink it in time. You think about how that cup will stay there until you have to do the dishes, until tomorrow. That’s when the pang hits. It starts at your chest and then your eyes burn. You feel tears flood the corners of your face, you hear a sigh, and you feel a hand on your shoulders. Until tomorrow; the word doesn’t sit right with you anymore. 

You look at Bilal, the idiot who helped you throw your first dinner party and made you understand what home should feel like. It is in his room you first discovered the courage to wear clothes you actually liked. He told you that your gender could look like anything you wanted. It was revolutionary for a queer person in her early 20s, living in a world that asked her to hide more of herself. 

You think of all the people you won’t get to say goodbye to, if today is indeed your last day. The cold morning chill of the autumn air makes you shudder and the heaviness of being awfully aware of the lack of time feels like a punch in the gut. You curse Death for not taking you right then and there.

“I sense a weird energy around you.” You remember Bilal’s impeccable intuition. You ask him what kind and he tells you that something is waiting to snatch you away. Then, he tells you that you are lost. 

Your eyes find the dark corner behind the door, you think you see the shadow moving; you almost see a figure crouching, ready to pounce. 

He asks what is wrong and you tell him that you are just sad. You tell him it will pass. He doesn’t push you to talk, he just stays with you for comfort.

As your time runs out, your mind forces you to think of 3 people you absolutely need to meet. One of them is sitting on the floor with you, the other two are in different parts of the city and far away from your life.  

“Do you think we have enough time in our lives to have one last meaningful moment with the ones we love?”  You ask. The figure behind the door pushes out its claws and you sense it grin. You can’t see it but you know it is there, waiting. 

“I think no matter how much time we have, we will feel it’s never enough.” 

You agree. You remember the time when you didn’t have anyone in your life who made you painfully aware of mortality. Earlier, mortality used to be a sweet thing, a reminder that the hurt could end any minute you wished. But then, you met people who gave you reasons to live; the hurt didn’t stop but they made it bearable. So, leaving would mean never seeing them again and that would hurt more. 

You want to tell him that you’re grateful for his existence before this tender moment ebbs into nothingness. But you don’t find the right words, they fall short in the face of truth. Instead, you ask him to help you pick out an outfit. An outfit that you would wear on your last day walking on Earth. 

As you both rummage through your cupboards for sleazy tops and printed shirts, he quips in with his philosophical thoughts and your heart warms up. You tell him that his coffee must have gone cold and you laugh. It’s the first time you laughed that day and the morning light has filled the room. The shadows keep a watch on you, but you tell them that you have one day left. 

When Death Comes To Call

Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

You turn restlessly on your bed, the ends of the blanket abandon your feet and the cold stings you wide awake. The sweet autumn air has turned foul this night. You have been feeling the uneasiness creep up on you, but you dismiss it, because it seems nothing out of the ordinary. Uneasiness has become as routine to you as the bodies on the news. 

Your eyes fall on the shifting shadows on the ceiling, cast by the leaves outside your window; they seem to be dancing to the tunes of a song you can’t remember, but strangely can attach an emotion to. It reminds you of the time you were naive and young in college, and it reminds you of how on certain nights, you would sneak out of your PG room to go kiss a girl on the terrace. It’s been a while since you thought of her. 

The sound of a child crying keeps you from closing your eyes again. It’s your neighbour’s newborn and you curse them for bringing another soul into this damned world. You sit up; you think of lighting a cigarette and going for a walk. So, you grab a jacket and head out. The buildings in your neighbourhood share thin walls and the streets reek of piss and dead rats.

When you finally found a decent flat with a decent roommate, who on the first meeting asked you for a cigarette and your pronouns, you moved in without delay. You needed to escape and this offered the best hideout in the city. 

You walk with your head down and pick up your pace when you cut through a group of men, sitting on their bikes, smoking beedis. You can feel their eyes on you and a whisper runs through them. You hold your breath, you take the first turn you see and vanish from their sight. They don’t follow you, not tonight. 

You find a dark corner pressed between a tree and a closed shop, and you sit there waiting for the uneasiness to pass. A feral cat prowls around spilt garbage bags. You look up to the sky but the moon refuses to peek out from the shadows. You had named yourself Chand, hoping to be like the moon, never static. 

Your mother hated the name, much like everything else about yourself. You had taken a glass bowl and thrown it in her direction when she had screamed your dead name for the seventh time. It did not hit her, but you walked out that night. 

You sit there flooded with memories, with patience you only found once you left your mother’s house. You watch as a few cars speed by in a trance, and as the creatures of the night howl and screech louder, you feel yourself drift into sleep. 

When you jolt awake for the second time that night, your eyes hazily look around to find that the street lamps have gone dark and the crickets have stopped chirping. An eerie silence has filled the street, except for the sound of your own breathing. 

There’s a stench that grows stronger and the fog falls heavy. You cling your jacket closer to your body. You want to stand up and keep moving, back to your flat maybe. But something keeps you there, immobile. The garbage bags ruffle, and you instinctively look to your side to find the feral cat staring at you in phantom silence. There is a sense of foreboding in its copper eyes and you can’t seem to look away. It lets out a snarl. The uneasiness in your chest has now consumed your entire body, and you can’t tell if you’re dreaming. 

The cat shifts its gaze and you follow its blank eyes towards the street lamp directly in front of you, across the road. The thin black pole seemed to sweat under the cold night, possibly in fear of the slender, hooded figure leaning on it. You feel, for the first time that night, fear grips you by the neck. The hooded figure watches you stare at it and despite being black as night, you can tell that it’s grinning.

It starts walking towards you with such deliberate steps that you can hear the tapping of its foot against the concrete road. The tapping seeps into your chest and disrupts your rhythmic breathing until you let out a gasp. You can soon see that it’s a woman, with long fingers and a skeleton face. She draws out a scythe and you instantly know why she’s here.

She stands an inch away from you and traces the bends of your face with her long-clawed finger. You have forgotten if you’re breathing, you can’t remember if you want to. As she tilts her face, your gaze remains fixed on her hollow eyes, they seem to carry so much grief despite her grinning face. It unsettles you and at the same time, feels familiar. 

She leans in and tells you, “I’ve come at last.”

She doesn’t give you any explanation. But you understand what she’s saying. She’s Death and she has come at last. Without uttering a word, you offer her your hand, you don’t understand if you did it willingly. You don’t know if your body is under your control or hers.

She looks at you, picks up her scythe and in one swift motion, cuts it through the palm of your hand. You expect to be obliterated. You almost see a pool of blood forming under your feet, but the sting of the pain never reaches you.

But you still stand there, hand held out, breathing. You find a singular tear on your skin, and no blood. You watch Death already starting to walk away. This is the moment that scares you the most. To be at the step of death and be thrown back into the world of living. You call out, “Wait, come back!” 

She doesn’t stop, but her seething voice responds, “You have one day left.” 

In The Age Of “Animal” & “Pathaan,” We Need More Heart-Warming Feel-Good Bollywood Movies

What do movies like Pathaan, Jawaan, Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan, Gadar and Animal have in common? They were all smashing blockbuster hits in 2023. What else? They portrayed tons of hypermasculine rage, overly-dramatic narratives and intense, action-packed sequences – everything that currently sells in Bollywood—a formula for a blockbuster hit.

When The Archies, directed by Zoya Akhtar, hit Netflix this month, people were quick enough to point out the mediocre acting skills of some of the new actors in its cast, who also happen to be star kids. Amid the criticism, a sweet story of a small-town park that needed to be saved from big contractors was lost. But it also helped some re-discover the innocence of feel-good movies that have been missing from Hindi cinema for quite some time.

Also read: The Archies: A Flawed Attempt at Queer Representation

The Hindi film industry, while reaping commercial success from action-packed narratives, is overlooking the profound impact that simple, heartwarming stories can have on the audience. While there are still some family-based drama that get love from the audience (such as Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani), they are not without their fair share of melodramatic sequences and over-the-top dialogues.

The Dominance of Hypermasculinity

Recent Bollywood blockbusters have been marked by an overwhelming display of hypermasculinity, characterised by aggressive protagonists, intense physical confrontations, and a celebration of stoic toughness.

While these films enjoy commercial success, there is a risk of perpetuating harmful stereotypes and limiting the scope of diverse storytelling. For instance, in Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal, Ranbir Kapoor’s character, Vijay, is filled with intense rage that drives his unjust actions, from murder and violence to provocative sexism.

While Animal may spark discussions, it falls short of delivering the substance necessary for a lasting impact. The film’s journey into shock value and superficiality, coupled with a meandering plot, creates a 3-and-a-half-hour spectacle that grapples with engaging the audience beyond the midway point. 

The industry seems to have veered away from the subtleties of emotion and relatability that define feel-good cinema.

The Archies: A Testament to Simplicity

The Archies, a timeless animated series based on Archie Comics, serves as a poignant example of the art of simplicity. The charming narratives of Archie Andrews and his friends in the fictional town of Riverdale resonate with audiences, reminding us that complexity is not always necessary to create memorable content.

Also read: The Archies: A Contemporary Take on a Teenage Period Drama

The story is simple – save Riverdale’s iconic Green Park from greedy contractors who want to build a grand hotel, threatening the beloved park that holds a special place in the residents’ hearts.

In the midst of hypermasculine narratives dominating the silver screen, Bollywood could benefit from a return to the basics of storytelling that evoke genuine emotion and connection in viewers.

The Missing Feel-Good Element in Bollywood

Remember movies like Dear Zindagi, Dil Chahta Hai, Kapoor & Sons, Queen, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Wake Up Sid, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Jab We Met? We loved them and still do. These also happen to be some widely-recommended movies to re-watch, and for good reason.

Films featuring characters that bring a smile to your face and music that prompts you to hum along have consistently held a special place in the hearts of cinephiles. Whether it’s romance, comedy, timeless classics, coming-of-age stories, or contemporary hits, the world of Hindi cinema has always offered something for everyone. And we need more of it!

The Allure of Hollywood Feel-Good Movies in India

Movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life, The Devil Wears Prada, As Good As It Gets, La La Land, Pretty Woman and Bridget Jones’s Diary, among numerous other Christmas and Holiday movies have found a special place in the hearts of Indian audiences.

Also read: Queer Christmas: For the Love of Classics, Sapphics, and Genre-benders

These films offer a perfect blend of entertainment and meaningful storytelling, providing a refreshing departure from the intense narratives that dominate Bollywood today. The popularity of Hollywood feel-good movies in India highlights the universal appeal of stories that focus on the human experience and leave viewers with a sense of upliftment.

Balancing the Scales

While hypermasculinity and rage may continue to draw crowds to theatres, it is crucial for Bollywood to recognise the value of feel-good cinema. The industry can strike a balance by diversifying its offerings, embracing narratives celebrating the beauty of human connections and the triumph of the human spirit. Movies like Dil Chahta Hai and Lage Raho Munna Bhai have demonstrated that feel-good cinema can resonate with audiences and leave a lasting impact.

Conclusion

In this age of hypermasculinity and rage dominating the Bollywood landscape, there is a pressing need to rediscover the lost art of making feel-good cinema. The classics stand as testament to the enduring power of simplicity and heartwarming storytelling.

By embracing a more balanced approach, Bollywood can create a cinematic experience that caters to diverse tastes, offering audiences not only the thrill of intense action but also the joy of relatable, feel-good narratives that stand the test of time.

It’s time for the industry to recognise that a movie’s essence can be just as impactful as its action sequences, and a well-told, heartwarming story can leave an indelible mark on viewers’ hearts.

Queer Media Wrap-Up 2023: From Girl/Boy Dinner To My Roman Empire To Trans Representation, Everyone Served C*nt

The year 2023 had a lot to offer to create nuance and chaos in queer pop culture. At Gaysi, we are rounding up some of the best stuff and leaving out the worst (plagiarism scandal of queer video essayist James Somerton for instance). We are gonna look a little into the worldwide trends and then dive right into what the Indian media had to offer. This by no means is a definitive list, it’s more of an attempt to collate the best and worst queer culture offered us through the media in the year when we look back.

A lot has happened at the international stage right from Padam Padam by Kylie Minogue to Sufjan Stevens’ queer masterpiece Javelin, Janelle Monae’s The Age of Pleasure, twink anthem Rush by Troye Sivan, and more music by boygenius, Omar Apollo, and so much more (including the worst but irresistible song of the year Toxic Gossip Train) in the music scene. This was also the year of the barbenhiemer and then the chaotic influx of swifties led by the release of The Eras Tour Movie by Taylor Swift (who totally owned the year). Some of the queer movies and shows that we definitely suggest you watch (in no particular order) are at the end of this article.

In terms of memes and virality, this was truly the year of boy and girl dinner being served up, be it by the steamiest gay sex scenes in Fellow Travelers or the raunchiest female focussed buddy movie with Joyride whose absurdity was matched by the equally violent queer high school losers comedy Bottoms. And while we had Barbie, which was peak white feminism; A24’s Dicks The Musical was a worthy antidote. In terms of gayming, Baldur’s Gate 3 sex scenes did make a splash and there are so many more queer gaymes one can explore. And lastly there were a plethora of memes from Roman Empire to Paul Mescal’s infamous run of the latest. “Rizz” might have been the word of the year but everyone was basically serving cunt.

Ganji Chudail, Trans Representation and Queer Coded Blockbusters

Within India, it seemed like a good year for some favorites to return and some newer shows to grow in prominence including some brand new queer icons like Ganji Chudail. Out of all the queer themed shows, Rainbow Ristha is the one that was loved unanimously by everyone. It is also one of the rare attempts to delve into the intricacies of everydayness of queer people, or the marriage question at a time when the supreme court refused to grant the right to marry to same-sex couples. Featuring actor Trinetra’s first major role, the season 2 of the beloved show Made in Heaven returned as well; while it was a stellar second entry for Tara, the character of Karan felt unjustified with a character arc that didn’t make sense and took away the essence of Karan and Tara’s friendship. The show was also marred with controversies around credits (which turned rather ugly) and representation, portrayal of Muslims, and its episode featuring queer women as the lead.

What was a worthy attempt to portray the lives of queer people was Kaathal – The Core featuring Mammootty as a gay man in the lead. Although the idea of a superstar playing a gay character received more praise than the delicate story of the movie and what it entailed for Omana and Thankan’s character (both at the margins), the movie is a sincere attempt to portray the dual reality of queer lives. Erstwhile, Netflix’s The Archies made a half assed attempt to include a queer narrative, the network’s Class dives into soap opera narratives instead of navigating issues of privilege, gender and caste in a honest way, Kohrra received mixed reviews around its portrayal of queer characters, Katrina Kaif’s fight scene in Tiger 3 was received as queer-coded, and so was the tension between John Abhraham and King Khan in Pathaan. More on the OTT side, Sushmita Sen taking the mantle of trans rights activist Gauri Sawant in Taali received critical acclaim and reignited the conversation on representation.

Ektara Collective’s Ek Jagah Apni with trans women in the lead was another definite standout. The film shed light on the everyday joy and struggles of securing housing as queer-trans individuals. While there certainly are demerits and valid criticisms the film also makes a character out of Bhopal as a city which was warm to witness. And while Trinetra and Sushmita Sen made some progress on the front for trans representation (it’s a question if it’s better to give cis women a trans role rather than a cis man), Nawazuddin Siddiqui continued his streak of transphobic roles with Haddi.

Another highlight was when trans rights activist A. Revathi took the lead in Sujith Sundram’s play Biryani Durbar. Even though the year 2023 was a landmark year for trans representation on our television screens, it was this play with its exploration around politics of food and an honest look into trans lives that left an everlasting mark (the kind and creative folks behind the play even served biryani to everyone). That wasn’t the only play that made the waves in 2023; Jyotsna Siddharth’s Clay also became the only play with an intersectional caste and crew, and produced by a dalit queer woman. Trans rights activist Santa Khurai, who’s at the forefront of the LGBTQIA+ rights movement in Manipur also released her memoir The Yellow Sparrow this year.

And there’s much more in the art scene, from Navin’s comedy special The Good Child (btw, Navin is playing Queer-Rated Comedy with Aayushi Jagad and Madhavendra Singhin Juhu on 4th Jan so grab your tickets here!) to art exhibitions to drag balls to countless queer events that you should attend (whose updates you can get on Gaysi Family’s social media)! Other movies that came out include the odia drama T (based on the life of India’s first trans taxi driver Meghna Sahoo), Unwoman, Deepa Mehta’s I am Sirat, Thank you for Coming, Hunt (Telugu remake of 2013’s Mumbai Police), and the short No Stranger At All. 

Lastly, some queer af movies and shows to check out from the past year include: All of Us Strangers, Aristotle and Dante discovers the secrets of the Universe, Fionna and Jake Season 1, Saltburn, Strange Way of Life, Down Low, The Last of Us Season 1, M3GAN, Joyland, The Ultimatum: Queer Love, Sex Education Season 5, Poker Face Season 1, Gen V Season 1, Abbott Elementary Season 1 & 2, What We Do in The Shadows Season 5, Heartstopper Season 2, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 5, The Fall of the House of Usher, Yellow Jackets Season 2, Our Flag Means Death Season 2, Red White and Royal Blue, Theatre Camp, Ted Lasso Season 3, Mutt, Kokomo City, Passages, Interview with a Vampire Season 1, The Prince (a play by trans actor and writer Abigail Thorn) Wonka, The Color Purple, and Nimona among others.

Are there any movies, shows and music recommendations that we missed? Do share with us in the comment section 🙂

Indian Media And The Problem With Its Heterosexual Gaze

In a largely unprecedented move in the region, Aarav, a trans-man, married Kalpana, a cis-woman, in Rajasthan’s Deeg district, which used to be a part of the erstwhile Bharatpur kingdom. Their marriage attracted viral coverage, from offline and online news outlets to Instagram meme pages. Almost everywhere it was announced that he had changed his gender to marry his wife. Rampant misgendering to highlight his transition and insensitive, misinformed sensationalism have resulted in enormous trauma and damage to the couple. Aarav, in particular, finds it tough to move past the misinformation that has outshined the simple-to-respect yet complex-to-understand reality of his gender identity. Excerpts from the interviews that they naively agreed to give were butchered, thrown back and forth, and seasoned to suit a selfish, harmful narrative that threatens to alienate the queer community even further. Aarav’s dead name finds place in almost every news headline.

Kalpana, a national-level Kabaddi player, has played for Punjab Panthers in the Women’s Kabaddi League tournament held in Dubai, where her team ended as the first runners-up. Sadly, none of the news articles talk of her remarkable achievement without making it about Aarav’s gender-affirming surgery. One of the two headlines (perhaps, among the less problematic ones) read “दबईु में प्रो कबड्डी मेंदमखम दिखाएगी भरतपरु की बेटी कल्पना, पति की वजह से थीं सुर्खियों में (translates to: Bharatpur’s daughter Kapana will prove her mettle, was in headlines because of her husband)”.

Also read: Enough is Enough, No More Medical Gatekeeping!

Aarav finds that his surgery has become so deeply correlated with his wedding that the former will never be an independent topic of discussion, no matter how frustratingly misleading it is. In a heartwarming gesture of love, the couple use the names Aarav Kalpana Kuntal and Kalpana Aarav Kuntal, and sometimes upload romantic clips and photos of themselves on social media. Sadly, transphobic comments owing to their much publicized marriage do not spare them.

Aarav feels that the majority of people judge him and Kalpana based on such articles, instead of really getting to know anything about them. Some articles even used the term “third gender” for Aarav, which adds to his gender dysphoria even more. In very simple words, with a lot of repressed gloom, he justifies his decision to undergo gender-affirming surgery, “इंसान कोई सर्जरी तब कराता है जब उसके शरीर में कोई दिक्कत हो। मैं भी अपने शरीर से खुश नहीं था (translates to: one undergoes a surgery when they find something wrong with their body. Similarly, I was not happy with mine)”. Blessed with a supportive family that has been with Aarav throughout his journey of becoming and being himself, he says that the absence of a male-child in his family could have been the reason for their support.

Interestingly, he tells us that he was interviewed by the local newspapers even before his marriage, after he underwent medical transition. Unsurprisingly, it did not have the ‘masala’ to be even half as viral as the coverage after his marriage.

Also read: Marriage: The Bane of Existence for Sexual and Gender Minorities in India

The Supreme Court of India holds that transgender persons in hetero-normative relationships have the freedom to marry under the existing statutory provisions. Yet, one can count cases similar to Aarav-Kalpana’s marriage on their

fingers. That is because even in expanding binaries, the law is stuck within them. Only the transgender persons who transititon in every way possible (surgically and as per legal documents) have the aforementioned freedom. Meanwhile, gender is a very personal and subjective thing and not all trans people have the desire or the resources to transition.

Also read: On “Passing”

Now, the ideal objective of journalism is to bring about awareness regarding the subject of such stories among the people who peruse them. If it results in the opposite, that is, even more ignorance in the readers and hurdles for the subjects, we are forced to wonder if people are no more than stories meant to be covered before a strict deadline. It also does not help that there are few queer journalists in India to bring the ‘queer gaze’ needed to sensitively bring such stories to the mainstream. This is not to say that heterosexual journalists cannot report queer stories. Sure, they can; if they actively try to understand the nuances of a particular human-interest story and realize that their coverage can affect lives, either positively or negatively. Instead, they move on to a new ‘breaking news’ headline in their glass-gilded newsrooms in the national capital, miles away from a newly-created district in eastern Rajasthan, where misinformed transphobia still haunts people.

As the saying goes, ‘Ignorance is bliss’; I personally feel that such ignorance it’s also a choice by those with the privilege of ignoring reality. Journalists living in metro cities with multiple degrees and caste-resourced, should simply do better than perpetuating such dangerous narratives.

Having lost all his faith in the media, Aarav declines most interviews. A PT teacher in a government school, he recently celebrated his one-year marriage anniversary. Affectionate and proud, he says that he wanted to take Kalpana on a vacation but she insisted on celebrating with family instead. He plans to have kids and live a happily married life where the ‘peculiarity’ of his union with Kalpana does not eclipse their dreams.

A Christmas Guide For The Queer Soul

Green coniferous trees adorned with jingling bells and little trinkets can be seen stationed around every corner of the street; Christmas is here.

I may not be a Christian but I do celebrate Christmas with my Christian and non-Christian friends, just like almost everyone in my city. Christmas is a time when we all get to see our loved ones, have some freshly baked cakes, and exchange gifts of joy and togetherness. But, as a queer individual, Christmas can get overwhelming very easily. As this is the time when you are in close quarters with bothersome relatives and nosy neighbours, making it difficult to navigate conversations. A lot of my friends have confided in me about how this festival, where they wish to feel a sense of community, can easily become alienating and triggering. I also find myself dreading Christmas a little, now that I am more open and out to my family. Here is a list of things I recommend to ground ourselves, while keepin’ up with the festivities in our own ways.

Practising affirmations and grounding exercises:

An affirmation is just what it sounds like: it’s a thought that affirms and reassures you. Affirmations and grounding exercises can be your secret superpower while navigating the social settings of Christmas. Amidst all the traditions and holiday buzz, affirmations act like your personal cheerleaders.

Grounding exercises can provide moments of relief and help when dissociation hits. I have written 10 affirmations that you can use in situations that make you feel queasy. You can make your own affirmations and practise them however you like.

Here they are:

1) My life has meaning beyond what others think of me.

2) The people love me will be excited to accept the real me.

3) I deserve love without conditions.

4) I will give myself love unconditionally.

5) I am queer enough.

6) Others’ discomfort with who I am says more about them than it does about me.

7) I am deserving of happiness, regardless of societal expectations

8) I deserve to take up space.

9) I deserve to be listened to. 

10) I choose love, both for myself and for those who may not yet understand.

Grounding exercises help reconnect with the present moment and alleviate feelings of stress or anxiety. Here are some techniques you can try. Experiment with these grounding exercises to discover which ones work best for you. You can also combine them or modify them according to your preferences::

1.  Mindful Observation:

   – Find an object around you and focus on it intently.

   – Notice its colours, textures, and any unique details.

   – Describe the object in your mind or out loud.

2. Grounding through the Senses:

   – Identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

3. Body Scan:

   – Close your eyes and bring your attention to different parts of your body, starting from your toes and moving up slowly toward your head.

   – Notice any tension or sensations and consciously relax each area.

4. Box Breathing:

   – Inhale for a count of four.

   – Hold your breath for a count of four.

   – Exhale for a count of four.

   – Pause for a count of four.

   – Repeat the sequence.

5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

    – Tense and then slowly release each muscle group in your body, starting from your toes and working your way up.

Set Boundaries:

Embrace your limits. It’s fine to put your well-being first. You’re allowed to prioritize self-care. And yes, one more time just to be clear—you’re allowed to prioritize self-care! Being part of the LGBTQ+ community sometimes comes with this unwritten rule that we should always be advocating for the community, behaving in a politically correct way, and trying to maintain peace. But here’s the thing: you have every right to set boundaries that keep you safe, happy, and healthy. You absolutely don’t have to endure uncomfortable situations, like attending a Christmas service at a church from your not-so-gay-friendly past or explaining your gender identity to your aunt during a car ride. Feel free to share your boundaries with your family in advance, or if that’s not your style, set them and stick to them as needed. Your well-being matters!

Celebrate the holidays with your chosen family too:

Celebrate the holidays with your chosen family! Society often insists that the “right” way to spend holidays is with our biological families. In places like Mumbai, which I call home, there’s a cool thing called “Orphan Christmas.” It’s when friends who aren’t heading home, gather to celebrate it together instead. But why should hanging out with friends need a special label? It can just as well be Christmas, Diwali, Eid or Navroz. Many of my close friends are like family to me; we’re there for each other through thick and thin. We’ve shared living spaces, food, belongings, and even chipped in for each other’s expenses. From doctor visits to helping out with surgeries, we’ve got each other’s backs. So, remember to celebrate holidays with those supportive folks in your life, even if it means a virtual hangout for those who are not nearby!

Make an exit strategy:

If things get too intense, a pre-planned exit strategy will save you time and energy. You could discuss and dial up a friend during an emergency or say that you have to leave at a certain time. Give yourself permission to leave if things get overwhelming. You don’t have to stay super late. You can stay in a hotel or a friend’s place instead of sleeping on your parents’ couch. Do what you need to do to give yourself the out you need.

I am also writing a list of things you can do with your chosen family or by yourself to keep up with the spirit of Christmas when things get a little overwhelming with your biological family:

1) Cooking and Baking (and Eating):

Dive into the Christmas spirit by whipping up delicious treats! From Plum cakes to Wine cakes, let the kitchen be your holiday haven. Share the love by gifting these goodies to your chosen and biological family—or, if you’re feeling a bit selfish, keep the cake all to yourself. Who says a little dessert binge isn’t allowed?

2) Making Art:

Get crafty and add your personal touch to the holidays! Knit those ugly sweaters, design quirky gift cards, or create your own Christmas decorations. It’s a festive DIY extravaganza, and your artistic flair is the star.

3) Buying Gifts and Secret Santa:

Spread some festive joy by picking out thoughtful gifts for your chosen family. Personally, I love buying gifts. I love thinking about what the person likes and what will make them smile as they unwrap it. You could also do a Secret Santa exchange – it’s all about adding that extra sparkle to the holiday magic.

4) Queer Christmas Movies Marathon:     

Grab some popcorn and indulge in a movie marathon! There are plenty queer movies with the backdrop of Christmas. (One of my favs is “Carol”!) . Xmas is the perfect time to cozy up and feel the warmth of inclusive stories.

(You could also watch sad lesbian movies and cry like I do. Crying is healthy cmon!)

Also read: Queer Christmas: For the love of Classics, Sapphics, and Genre-Benders

5) Drag-themed X-mas House Parties with Chosen Family:

Light up your holiday celebrations with some fabulousness! Host a drag-themed Christmas house party with your chosen family, where self-expression meets glam. I don’t know about you, but the idea of dressing up as a sexy Reindeer gives me a lot of gender euphoria.

6) Xmas Workout??:

Keep the endorphins coming! Whether it’s a Christmas-themed exercise routine or a brisk winter walk, stay active and jolly throughout the season. PS: It also helps you deal with disordered eating, if you’re like me.

7) Blasting Out the Christmas Carols (a.k.a. Christmas Karaoke):

“Last Christmas I gave you my heart” Cue in the George Micheal and Mariah Carrey! Turn up the volume and bring out your inner popstar! Host a Christmas Karaoke session with your chosen family, and belt out your favourite carols for a night of pure, harmonious joy.

8) Write Letters to Santa:

SANTA EXISTS (Lemme hold onto my childhood please)! Write letters to Santa, sharing your desires, dreams, and quirkiest wishes. After all, ’tis the season for unfiltered joy and hope.

9) Go Church-hopping:

Make the holiday season memorable by exploring different churches with your chosen family. It’s kinda unconventional but nevertheless, a heartwarming way to bond, share experiences, and celebrate the faith. Do make sure that your safety isn’t compromised though, as homophobia can be an issue at religious places like churches.

10) Plan a Christmas Photoshoot or Make a Christmas Vlog:

Capture the holiday magic in style! Plan a Christmas photoshoot or create a vlog showcasing how we slay the festive season. It’s a unique way of sharing the joy with the world. There might be someone who needs to see queer joy during traditional festivities.

‘Tis the season for festive fun, so let the celebrations begin!

Editor’s Note: Last but not least, don’t forget the Palestinian socialist man whose birthday you’re celebrating and whose land is being colonialised and whose descendants are being terminated in a Zionist-led genocidal campaign.

Queer Christmas: For The Love For Classics, Sapphics, And Genre Benders

Christmas is a time for queer festivities to begin, as mandated by our queen Mariah Carey whose eternal Christmas anthem All I want for Christmas is You is once again back to being number one in everybody’s hearts. Pop girlies including Ariana Grande and Kelly Clarkson have also had anthems climb to the top of the X-mas time charts. And of course, Sexy Santa with its sensual vibe has been a part of gay culture and forever-proclaimed Hoe! Hoe! Hoe! to add to this iconicity, Cardi B also released a very fun version of Last Christmas, which is sure to blow you away and make you laugh like anything.

And while Christmas has for long served as a way to cement traditions within the realm of birth-family as a social unit in the most straight manner possible, queer people have taken up the charge of kissing their partner(s) under the mistletoe and celebrating the holidays surrounded by their lovers, friends, pets, plants and whoever else makes up their chosen family. At Gaysi, we are bringing to you a list of the queer-est christmas themed movies that will have you laughing, crying and having the best time together.

The Classics

Tangerine (2015)

Make the Yuletide Gay (2009)

Frozen (2014)

Home Alone (1990)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in the lead, Sean Baker’s comedy drama follows the story of a trans sex worker on a christmas eve as she heads out to take revenge on her cheating boyfriend.  Tangerine is remarkably unique in the way it instills all the applause it deserves through hardships and sass, particularly during the wig sharing scene at the end. Shot entirely on an iPhone 5S, it’s a refreshing trope on movies centered on friendship and festivities, akin to how 2020‘s Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a heart-wrenching spin on male-dominated buddy movies.

The title of our second movie Make the Yuletide Gay, comes from the 1994 Christmas song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. A movie ahead of its time, it was one of the first major plotlines in a Christmas themed movie focussing on queer characters. It’s light hearted and fun and is loved by queer people of all ages.

Disney’s Frozen might not have the sapphic Elsa that we all deserve yet but the movie has become a bona fide queer Christmas classic. Be it expanding upon the meaning of true love to beyond the cishet understanding of romance or having a coming out anthem like ‘Let it Go,’ or even Olaf as a snowman-companion, it checks all the boxes for a queer classic.

A classic listicle is incomplete without one of the most loved movies of all time, where you have Catherine O’Hara (the actor behind the iconic Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek) playing an absent-minded parent. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is perhaps the most critically adored movie in this list after Carol. It is also one of the greatest stop motion animation movies of all time where the convergence of halloween town and christmas town makes for an eternal story.

Sapphic Treats

Happiest Season (2020)

Season of Love (2019)

Carol (2015)

The lesbians are here and they know christmas better than anyone else, period. We start with Netflix’s Happiest Season that tackled not just love amidst festivities, but also the complex issues in a sapphic relationship in a delicate manner. It also won the GLAAD award for Film – Wide Release and the Kristen Stewart-Mackenzie Davis pair is returning (Stewart in multiple queer women roles actually) in an upcoming sequel.

Next up is Season of Love, which has been described as Love, Actually butfor queer people. A typical cheesy rom-com, it follows three sapphic couples as they fall in love over the holiday season. Notably, the movie is by Tello Films, a one-of-its-kind movie production and distribution studio with exclusive focus on lesbian/queer femme-themed movies and web series.

Rounding up the second section is Todd Haynes ‘s 2015 drama Carol. Starring Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in the lead, the riveting drama follows a tender relationship between a woman going through a divorce and an aspiring photographer. It is widely considered the best-reviewed movie of 2015 and the best LGBT-themed film of all time as per British Film Institute, and has been counted amongst one of the greatest films of the 21st century by BBC. Although tragically omitted by the Academy awards for Best Picture and Best Director along with being marred by controversies regarding it’s love scenes, Carol managed to garner cult status with the formation of a cult of Carol and a tribute comedy movie Carol Support Group. Some movies change your life forever!

Queer Christmas Reinvented

Black Christmas (1974)

White Christmas (2016)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

Ofcourse, even the holiday spirit deserves some genre-bending; and horror and slasher has been the top choice. Even with multiple horror entries embedded into Christmas, Black Christmas is still the standard, decades after its release. And this is a slasher movie before the Halloween series was even a thing! It has been remade twice, with controversy arising both times from religious institutions for portraying violence during Christmas. Netflix’s Black Mirror alsodid an episode in 2016 titled White Christmas, one of the best and most-disturbing of the series so far.

Next is the Finnish horror comedy Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, which you need to see to believe! It has been hailed as the R-rated origin story of Santa Claus crossing over with the horror classic, The Thing.

We round off this section by switching to comedy, through the Christmas zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse. Once again, if you think comedies around zombies are fun and gory, wait till you see this one, as it’s based on Christmas and through music! I mean, what’s better than smacking zombies with a candy cane while caroling.

The 2020s Era

Single All The Way (2021)

Dashing In December (2020)

The Bitch Who Stole Christmas (2021)

All of Jonathan Bennet’s Gay Christmas (2020-present)

While we still wait for that one iconic queer Christmas movie, the 2020s have actually blessed us with cute, cheesy and funny Christmas movies. Netflix’s Single All the Way is one of the best entries, starring queer icon Jennifer Cooldige in a supporting role. Others include romantic drama like Dashing in December where Christmas meets country, extending to Ru Paul himself blessing us in The Bitch Who Stole Christmas, the draggiest Christmas movie ever.

Coming out at the top (pun intended) among all these movies, Jonathan Bennett is the Christmas movie guy and now gay as well. He has been consistently featured in christmas movies, most of which in the past few years have been gay-themed and even some of the first releases with a queer lead for studios and streaming services like Hallmark’s The Holiday Sitter. This year has a lot in store and here are some to watch out for – Christmas on Cherry Lane, A Holiday I do, The Holiday Exchange, Friends and Family Christmas.

Are there any Christmas themed queer movies that we missed out on? What Christmas themed queer movies are you excited to watch this year? Do share it with us in the comments!

I Remember When I Saw Brokeback Mountain

I remember the first time I saw a queer film. It was 2006. Brokeback Mountain. Fresh off its Oscar hype and with the support of the liberal censors in the first UPA regime, the film had a limited run in India. In Kolkata, where I was then college-hunting, the film ran for two weeks, mostly relegated to off-peak time slots such as weekday mornings to avoid turning off family audiences and lure in film lovers and fags. I was both.

I remember how the stars aligned. New to the city and with no friends, I was destined to experience this alone. A solo adventure. My first time in a multiplex. A lot of firsts for me. The film was in its second week. The one remaining hall where it played was far from home, on the city’s eastern edges in a swanky new mall. Perfect for anonymity and affordable tickets at multiplex rates. After a fairly long trek, which involved three changes in transport – first by bus, then an auto, and finally, a rickshaw, I reached the hallowed mall. Confident but scared. Excited and wary.

I remember getting off, slightly hesitatingly, the auto. I was early. Now, that was awkward. So, I paced up and down. Smoked two cigarettes. Drank over-sweet spiced tea in red mud kulhads. I don’t remember buying the ticket, but I do remember a weird, part-smirky, part-incredulous look on the face of the security guard as he looked at my stub, punched a hole in it, and then padded me down.

I remember Screen 2. To the right of the escalator. The hall smelt of lime mist. Room fresheners. My seat was in the top row. I had to have the best seat. The hall was barely occupied. Seven of almost two hundred seats were taken up. Out in one of the front rows was a couple – girl and boy – who clearly, didn’t care for the movie. The other five were men – of various ages sitting far apart. Row B left. Row C extreme right. Row D to the side. All of us conscious of each other, averting our gazes. This wasn’t the kind of hall where you exchanged glances.

I remember the movie in all its details. A riot of senses. Gay love. Gay sex. Gay characters on screen. Love. Anger. Hurt. Heartbreak. Tender. Intimate. Beautiful. It was a movie of sights and sounds – nothing I had ever experienced. Nothing I will ever experience again.

I remember the taste of salty tears. My face cold and wet. A near-endless barrage. I smelled recycled air. Something I was new to. I smelled popcorn. Buttery and salty. Not the fresh, overwhelming smell that fills the kitchen when we pop a packet at home in the microwave. But the smell of stale popcorn. The ones you get on local trains in tiny portable plastic packets.

I remember how cold it was. The air conditioning disproportionate to the crowd in the hall. But I felt warm. Something tingly rose from my feet. Like a time-lapse video of a seed germinating and growing into a tree. Within the space of two hours and some minutes. The velvet new seats were comfortable. Its poshness lulled me into a sense of security.

I remember grief. Shattering. Intense. The tragic end. The bloodied shirt and jacket. Love. Self-doubt. Pity. Feeling. Not yet the flaming queen, yet so aware that I was one. Pre-Naz v NCT days. Before Obama. Before it was cool to be gay. The tragedy of the Ennis and Jack mirroring our lives. Reel imitating the real.

I remember feeling alone. Yet not. The five of us in the hall sensing each other. Distant and again, close. When a boy sitting two rows down to my immediate left, who was probably around my age, received a call from his mother, and he said he was in tuition class very loudly so as to drum out the noise of the movie, no one was annoyed. We all understood. The couple in front was too deep into their intimate world to care or notice.

I remember feeling lonely. Shameful.  We five would never see each other outside. Three of us ran as soon as the movie ended. The couple took their time getting up and getting out. I remained in my seat. Sobbing. So did one other chap. I could see him from the corner of my bleary vision. Only the sight of the hall crew made us get up and move for the exit. I think the other guy and I exchanged glances. Maybe even a soft nod. But I don’t remember his face. Not anymore.

I remember the smell of solidarity. Rebellion. Five men who dared to watch the gay film alone. A coming out. Of sorts. On chat rooms – we had Yahoo then – and Planet Romeo, no one wanted to go. Each one of the men and transwomen I spoke to online wanted to watch the movie. But going to a public hall – that too, a multiplex with its sophistication and middle-class sensibility – was an act too far. It was inaccessible to many who could. The multiplex too aspirational and expensive.

I remember talking about it online. Who could I share this with? Others online? They had their means. Pirated low-resolution CD prints had started to pop up on the streets. Never displayed openly. But if you asked, slightly furtively, then the sellers would pull it out from a hidden pack where it was tucked in the company of softcore and gory porn films. Ang Lee’s masterpiece too controversial or, maybe, too lurid for respectable buyers.

I remember the hard, cold steps on which I sat outside the hall. I remember walking out of the mall giddy. Buying an expensive cigarette. Fantasising about Jake Gyllenhaal. Happy. Proud. I smelled, felt, saw, and heard city life around me. I tasted the acrid cigarette. Alive with a bad habit.

I remember watching Brokeback Mountain in the theatre. It was 2006. It was a different time. We were illegal. Not invisible.

Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour Movie: It’s Fabulous But How Do We Really See Queer Joy ?

A career-spanning Victory Lap

There is no doubt that Time’s Person of the Year 2023 – Taylor Swift is having a career-spanning victory lap. With multiple number one songs, re-recorded albums, a record-breaking tour, a record-breaking concert movie, and being the highest-paid and the most streamed artist on Spotify, there’s nothing she cannot do. She also has a cult-like following among her fans (called Swifties), who for the most part are teenagers, women, and queer people. The Eras Tour movie also marks the second time this year that a movie saw cinema halls being full of women and queer people; the first instance marked by the release of Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated movie, Barbie.

Also read: Barbie: A Hilarious, Reflective Tribute to the Cultural Legacy of a Queer Icon

We only see such a passionate fervor and celebration during cricket matches or the release of sexist movies preaching violence – both of which were in abundance this year. Now that Swift has reclaimed the narrative of always being under scrutiny in the media, what are we missing? What is happening with vinyls? Who gets to access Swift and the nostalgia? What happens to those who are not a part of this “queer culture”?  We all know she is everywhere but is she really where she’s needed?

Public Space and Queer Joy

Swift’s presence in movie theaters has more than made up for the fact that she didn’t tour in India for the Eras Tour. There is an inherent queer joy in her movie, which expands upon her iconicity. From belting out the bridge of Cruel Summer to old hits such as You Belong With Me or Love Story to singing out the iconic choruses of 1989; the 10 eras from 17 years of music are a delight to anyone attending the concert movie. It’s also heartwarming to see people dressed up in all vampy black in reference to the Reputation era or all pink, while aligning with the Lover era, marking a stark difference from the usual hollering in Indian cinemas that celebrates toxic masculinity by bursting crackers at theatres.

The fact that many men attended the Eras Tour also received praise, and there are some mesmerizing accounts of people listening to Swift, even in prison. There is also, of course, pushback on this. One, the discomfort while attending the concert movie. When I went to watch it, a group of men sat next to me only to make comments about the “girls” in attendance and on their outfits. They didn’t even have tickets for the movie. Two, the online trolling of anyone who is posting about enjoying the concert movie. Within the theatres too, the act of switching on flashlights by Swifities themselves, is annoying. This doesn’t warrant that we don’t celebrate the cult-circle during Willow, or shout 1..2…3…let’s go bitch during the fan favorite Delicate, or scream the 10 minutes magic of All Too Well, but I wish it were not at the cost of others’ comfort and wellbeing.

There’s Nothing Like A Mad Woman Unless…

The trolling is certainly unfair, particularly because women and queer people shouldn’t suffer for enjoyment themselves, although not always the case – Swifties themselves disrupt the experience for others by casting their shadows on the display screen while recording themselves ruthlessly, thereby spoiling the experience for others). One narrative that was prevalent during the release of Barbie also made a comeback, which simply involved referring to women as hysteric, mad, crazy and less rational for loitering in a public space like cinema or wearing bright pink or colorful clothes. There were even comparisons made about Swifties being like Salman Khan fans.

Unsurprisingly enough, a lot of Taylor’s work discusses reclaiming the identity of the crazy, mad woman that was imposed on her, so the blaming makes sense and adds to her discography, extending to the performance politics as well. On the contrary, some Swifties are eager to impose this identity onto people who simply don’t like or refuse to listen to Taylor Swift! If this isn’t hypocrisy, then what is?

Also read: The Queerification of Taylor Swift

All Is Not Too Well: Queer Joy Cannot Be Fiercely Apolitical
Of course, there are valid critiques of Taylor Swift. Many swifties frown upon these, with some even distorting details about the death of a fan who attended her concert in Rio de Janeiro, due to extreme heat. There is also the accessibility factor; while it is refreshing to watch people recording videos of themselves while glammed up, it is limited to a certain class and aesthetic. This also ties back to the critique of Taylor Swift as a predominantly white artist. I’m not encouraging the bullying that people face when they are trolled on the internet, but there’s a clear difference when it is directed towards women and queer people from marginalized backgrounds.

The privilege that people who listen to Taylor Swift possess makes a difference in the consequences, particularly in dealing with trolling and queerphobia in public spaces on the internet. The point here is not to invalidate someone’s experience of being bullied but how it is different if the person is rich, able-bodied and privileged by race, while studying at a private school in a metropolitan city, versus a person at a government-run school in a remote area, with limited access to resources for support, and the internet itself. On Twitter, some swifties are severely islamophobic or go to the lengths of being discriminatory towards anyone who doesn’t agree with their opinion about Swift.

From the perspective of the music industry, Taylor Swift has disrupted the vinyl industry for the worse. While she has managed to break records in terms of vinyl sales, it has also left indie artists behind as they do not get slots to get their vinyls pressed. Following up on this, while re-recording albums has worked out in the favor of Swift, adding to her remarkable success, it has also resulted in artists who are still struggling being slapped with stricter contracts, some allowed to re-record albums only decades after its release.

Beyonce is being discussed a lot over X (formerly known as Twitter), arising out of an article on her apolitical-ness. And make no mistake, Taylor Swift is not any better. With the amount of coverage and traction she has received from political leaders, her comments on politics are limited to gender disparity at the minimum and double standards for men vs women at the most. Swift has been criticized before for supporting the queer community in a shallow way. While Beyonce has discussed the contribution of queer community, the lack of focus on raising AIDS-related awareness, has been brought under scrutiny. Both the stars have also been called out for screening their concert movies in Israel, at a time when the Zionist state’s genocide of Palestinians is being witnessed by the world.

Given how Canada has expressedly supported the genocide by Israel, while its Prime Minister has invited Swift to perform in Canada, I don’t see how Taylor or Beyonce will stand to loose any more than a fraction of their fanbase, if they take a stand. This is merely a reflection of the times we are living in today on the international stage, rather than forcing someone to take a stand. Even as Swift’s music defines politics for so many people around gender, culture and space, the question remains about what her politics are beyond this performance culture.

Also read: Dear Mumbai Pride, the Personal is Political

There is vital harm in overlooking queerness as not being political. And that is exactly what happens when queerness is defined by the aesthetics popularized by Swift, or any other pop star, for that matter. Given the fact that these pop superstars have made politics part of the values that they preach through their music, that should echo in their fanbase as opposed to the ignorant adulation that is characteristic of the fanbases of male artists. As mentioned by user @damnedmuddle on threads, invest in community rather than celebrity. It’s good that Swift’s music is bringing so many of us together but it depends on us where we take it from there.

It is entirely possible to celebrate the queer joy and access to public spaces that comes for women and queer people thanks to Taylor Swift; but it also extends into questioning the intricacies of who gets to enjoy it, what are the rules of enjoyment, how can pushback from patriarchy be dealt with, and where do we place politics here? In conclusion: while Taylor Swift is rightfully the biggest global superstar at the moment, who has made a remarkable cultural shift among Indian women and queers too, there is more to the story depending upon where you look for it.

The Archies, A Contemporary Take On A Teenage Period Drama

Somewhere in the middle of The Archies, a conversation takes place between three high-schoolers where one of them explains to the other two who Hedy Lamarr was. Well known for being a Hollywood star, Lamarr was also an inventor. She came up with the blueprint for what evolved into the modern Wi-Fi. When the others utter disbelief at this new information, the first character questions, “Why can’t a person be both?” This ethos makes up the heart of this high school drama that ultimate evolves into something more.

The Archies, Zoya’s Akhtar’s latest, is a musical adaptation of the famous comic series, Archie. Set in the picturesque and fictional hill town of Riverdale, it tells the story of a few teenagers who staged a mini mutiny back in 1964. To be honest, I went into the film, rather wary of Akhtar’s choice of setting and genre. A high school musical? I was expecting something around the lines of Karan Johar’s Student of the Year series, but with a smattering of jazz.

Initially, it seemed to be going down that route. A picturesque town with curated houses and people, teeming with beautifully dressed teenagers breaking into song and dance at an alarming frequency. For the first few musical numbers the choice of going the Hollywood musical route struck a discordant note; the forsaking of a long tradition of homespun filmy geet felt unnecessary. Then there was the matter of the cast, most of whom are debutantes. It didn’t help their performances started off on a shaky note. The first half meandered at a leisurely pace, as Akhtar took her time building the world of Riverdale. But just as my attention started to wane off, the film made a sharp pivot.

As we begin delving into the larger community of the small-town Akhtar brings in a wholesome nostalgia that well-baked period films tend to possess. There are numerous references to the golden era of the sixties. From Shammi Kapoor to Ruskin Bond, there’s something for everyone. Conversely, the audience is also reminded of the conservative mores of that time. The class divides were much more pronounced with elite clubs having strict dress codes. A journalist father (Luke Kenny) looks down upon his son’s dreams of pursuing comedy professionally.

Simultaneously, through the interaction of her high-schoolers Akhtar brings in a touch of tongue-in-cheek contemporariness. However, it goes beyond the surface level references to Gen Z culture—the ‘thank ews’ and beatboxing were hard to miss. The film sets up the audience to expect a love triangle between three teenagers, and takes us on a wide detour. This detour comes in the form of a community space, “Green Park”, that is being eyed by a business tycoon to develop a snazzy hotel. The Archies gang rallies together to save their park.

This subplot allows for very interesting commentary around contemporary issues. The film becomes an explainer about the workings of capitalism and privatization. It openly explores what happens when corporate interest is juxtaposed with public interest—and how the former overrides the latter. It goes into the underbelly of ‘corporate culture’ and shows how bigger businesses can buy out smaller ones. How corporate lobbies can buy off political spaces, rendering ‘democratic processes’ meaningless; or how the freedom of press becomes a myth when it has to take into account vested interests of the corporation that owns the media spaces.

The film questions the amoral stance of capitalism through Hiram Lodge’s (the business tycoon) refrain, “It’s business. It’s not personal.” The film seems to question how far is this detachment tenable. The musical finally embraces its own Hedy Lamarr-ness with a number that explains to an ignorant Archie (Agastya Nanda)—who claims no interest in politics—that everything is political.

The Archie comics are known for the tension between the characters of Veronica and Betty, both of whose hearts are set on Archie. Akhtar puts a refreshing feminist spin to this stale ploy of girls fighting over a boy. Here Betty (Khushi Kapoor) and ‘Ronnie’ (Suhana Khan) volubly choose their friendship over a boy. Instead, Akhtar takes a song or two to explore the rather fuckboi-ish tendencies of Archie’s character. Though in the end his behaviour is excused with a filmy justification of being ‘dil phenk’ (passionate).

But where the film most shines is with the character of the sweet nerd Dilton (Yuvraj Menda). With the casting of Dilton, a closeted queer person in a small town in 1960s, the film ticks the box of authentic representation. Towards the end of the film, Dilton’s character comes close to being accidentally outed. The following scenes—mainly interactions between him and his crush Reggie (Vedang Raina)—are a great example of how to be supportive allies, and allow queer people their own agency regarding their stories.

The film picks up pace in the second half, when the scattered teenagers become a team in their effort to save their park. That is when the small town of Riverdale becomes a microcosm of the current world around us. Akhtar uses the ‘minority’ trope—first with its Anglo-Indian milieu and then with the protesting teens being ‘minors’ whose opinions don’t count—to posit her worldview.

Riverdale doesn’t ‘look’ like India, but then there are pockets in our country (like Darjeeling or Mussoorie) which do. There are many small ‘indias’ within the Big India, and they all deserve to exist. Archie, born in 1947—the year India won its Independence—becomes the seed of possibility for new India, when he sees he belongs with the bigger India. And he decides to root for his gang and participate in the protest against the park’s decimation.

Ultimately, when the ‘children’ succeed to save their beloved park, Akhtar leaves us with the hopeful feeling that perceived minorities can wield the power of community to bring about constructive change. As the enlightened Archie says, “The grass is greener where you water it.”

The Search

Have you ever been afraid of a Google search?

I am not talking about the excitement disguised as embarrassment that comes with a rather risque finding. I mean the feeling of unadulterated, pure fear.

That day I felt it because I had just typed in ‘am I gay?’ in that cylindrical search bar, all confused and hopeful.

I didn’t know what I was feeling but I knew the ‘how’ of it. I knew that I was more drawn towards men and not the women in the movies we watched. How I was not having love-affairs, crushes or those butterflies of lore when I came across a good-looking girl in school? What I wanted to know was the ‘why’ behind it all?

It was like my insides were tightly wrapped in the form of a big question-mark, a mystery waiting to be solved. So, when I typed those words into the search bar, I was expecting a lot and what appeared did not feel enough. All of it was foreign – the experience of a gay teenager in America was not relatable to me, an awkward teen living in New Delhi. After scrolling for a while, I came upon a BuzzFeed quiz asking me to fill in a rather bizarre form to tell me if & how gay I am.

I remember, funnily, a question that asked if ‘I was ever attracted to people of the same gender.’ Of course I was! And what kinda quiz directly asks you what it has offered to help you figure out? It was like asking a bird if it had wings in a bid to let the creature know that it is built to fly. Anyhow, once I hit submit, amidst bursts of confetti & a big ‘hurrah’, it was dramatically revealed to me that I was indeed gay and that was enough, at least for a while.

As the years went by, I grew into my sexuality a bit and finally began to feel the throes of its pubescence that I was hoping for and it was time for another Google search. It occurred on my phone, in front of one of those massive bungalows on SP Road. We were parked beneath a tree at night, my mum, I and my Dad. I don’t remember why we were there but my parents had both stepped out, maybe we were going through something monumental as a family. I don’t recall and I couldn’t care less. I typed in: how to come out to your desi parents, specifically adding the word ‘desi’, having learnt from my BuzzFeed saga.

What came up was a rather helpful and comedically written article telling young queers how to come out to their parents in an Indian setting. It asked me to assess how liberal my parents were about sex, lust and all things human. Tick, they were pretty liberal. Were they financially well-off? Yeah, they were doing alright. We were after all in an air-conditioned car, about to go to our fairly luxurious home. Another green tick.

Was I financially dependent on them? Yes, I was, which teenager isn’t? The article concluded on how there is a chance that the two people who I had always looked up to, the mother who smothered me with kisses every time she felt waves of emotions and the father whose laughs were easy and heart pure, might suddenly change and become hostile.

The fear came back. Will those kisses stop? Will the laughs turn into sneers and abuses? I couldn’t comprehend what would happen if I walked up to my parents one day and told them all about my gayness. Will I be thrown out? Will I have to fend for myself? All sorts of grim scenarios swirled within me. Is my sexuality worth starving on the road? Will anyone even give an 11th grade student a job?

With these thoughts in my mind. I decided against it. I knew my parents weren’t harsh, weren’t cruel but the ‘what-if’ stood in front of the closet I was so eager to come out of.

Well, I never came out. A series of events involving my silly elder sibling nudged me out of the closet and what I found was nowhere near what the stupid article had described.

The world out of the closet was strange, and still is, every single day. I made new friends out of the closet. My bestie was not some random kid from school anymore, but empowerment. It held my hand while I explained to my parents my feelings towards other men. It was the strongest when I uttered the words- ‘Mom, I’m gay’ for the first time and then burst into tears.

I still remember what my mother did. She kissed me and said ‘toh kya hua, ro kyun raha hai (translates to: so what, why are you crying?’) I knew she was scared but scared for me and not of me & that is all that mattered.

My father, whose heart was large and smiles wider, made me sit down that evening and asked me all about it. Asked me about what I felt, how I felt and if I was sure. I was damn sure. What I remember the most was that the wide smile faltered, but returned over the years. That day it surfaced in the form of a peck on the forehead.

The journey has been up and down ever since. There are dark days, but the world still amazes me, and it has become easier. It’s like I was stuck in quicksand all those years and I am finally out of it, able to use my legs again, standing, stumbling, but walking ahead nonetheless.

This is not another coming-out story; well it is, but it is also a story of how we tend to cook up things in our heads and sometimes need a friend to get a clear perspective. Queer people in the 21st century luckily have the internet.

And to think that it all began with a Google search! Who says that technology can’t change our lives? It certainly changed mine.

Creating Inclusive Queer Events For Those With Social Anxiety

Organizing inclusive queer events that prioritize the comfort and well-being of individuals suffering from social anxiety can be tricky. There is not a lot of literature about how to be accommodative of people struggling with the condition. The onus of managing one’s anxiety in a public space is often on the people suffering. As a society we don’t generally think about accommodating people with chronic mental health conditions or disabilities, probably because such people are seen as an aberration and not as members of the general public.

Social anxiety can be a significant barrier for many, and by taking specific steps, event organizers can create spaces that are welcoming and accommodating. In this guide, we’ll explore how we can make events less daunting for those struggling with the condition.

Understanding Social Anxiety:

Begin by educating yourself and your team about social anxiety. Understanding the challenges faced by individuals with social anxiety is crucial for planning inclusive events and for offering the right kind of support. Social anxiety is more than just shyness; it involves an intense fear of social situations and can lead to physical and emotional distress.

Choosing the Right Venue:

Select a venue that is comfortable and not overwhelming. Smaller, more intimate spaces can be less intimidating for those with social anxiety.

Ensure that the venue has quiet areas where attendees can retreat to if they need a break from the crowd. If your event is huge, this is doubly important.

The Washrooms

Make sure that the washrooms are clean and that there are enough of them, especially if it is a larger event. Often people with social anxiety or even sensory issues will take a break in the washroom. If the space is dirty it can amplify the shame one may already be feeling about not behaving “like everyone else”.

Mindful Scheduling:

Consider the timing of your event. Avoid late-night events or long durations that might be too exhausting for some participants. In addition a lot of anxiety is just anticipation so release a clear schedule a week in advance. This allows the participants to have a clear view of what they should expect and can help dispel a lot of anxiety.

Communication:

Clearly communicate event details and expectations in advance. This includes providing information about the schedule, speakers, performers, and any potential triggers that attendees should be aware of. Transparency can help reduce anxiety.

Inclusive Programming:

Diversify your event programming to cater to different comfort levels. Offer a mix of activities, such as panel discussions, workshops, and artistic performances, to accommodate various interests and interaction preferences. Some people might want to be lost in a crowd, some might enjoy a group activity where they can concentrate on a task and not think about where they are.

Designated Safe Spaces:

Set up designated quiet or safe spaces within the event where attendees can take a breather if needed. These areas should be clearly marked and have the essentials like comfortable seating, plenty of water, few towels etc.

For events featuring performances or loud music, consider creating designated quiet zones nearby where attendees can still enjoy the event without being overwhelmed by the noise and crowd.

Supportive Volunteers:

Recruit volunteers who have some experience in mental health first aid so they can intervene if someone starts feeling under the weather. These volunteers should be approachable and ready to provide assistance or a listening ear to those in need.

Group Icebreakers:

Incorporate icebreaker activities that are low-pressure and non-intrusive. These can help attendees connect with each other at their own pace.

Accessibility:

Ensure your event is physically accessible for everyone, including those with mobility challenges. Provide ramps, accessible restrooms, and seating options suitable for various needs. Consider getting sign language interpreters or offer sub-titles, as required. Remember that social anxiety isn’t a condition solely experienced by the able-bodied. Repeatedly having to ask for accomodations to access regular functions can be triggering as well.

Online Engagement:

Offer online components for your event, such as live streaming or virtual Q&A sessions. This allows individuals to participate from the comfort of their own space, if they prefer.

Feedback and Improvement:

After the event, seek feedback from attendees, especially those with mental health issues and disability. Use this feedback to continually improve future events and make them even more inclusive.

My First Sex Toy – A (Self) Love Story

When I was asked to write a piece about my first sex toy… my mind didn’t go to a traditional ‘sex toy’ at all. I’ve had so many brushes with DIY  sexual everyday objects in my adolescence (as I’m pretty sure a lot of us have). I would be lying if I didn’t mention them. So what do I even write about?

Do I write about the first time I sat on the arm of a sofa juuuust right and it made me feel ~things~ I’d never felt before? I must’ve been around 8… just playing in my house when I happened to dangle on our single-seater sofa, when I felt a strange, new, good feeling between my legs.

Or do I write about my sadiyon ka masturbation saathi – our very own health faucet – that taught me the ABCs of clitoral stimulation at a young age?

Pure, innocent childhood curiosity led to pure, innocent pleasure. But I distinctly remember it not feeling all that innocent. Being an AFAB person born and raised in India, I’m pretty sure you can understand why and even relate.  The invisible voyeur in my head – the male gaze, the “log kya kahenge” filter or whatever you want to call it –  kept telling me what I was doing was “bad”, “wrong”, and “shameful”… even though it felt sooo good.

As I grew older, I decided to be brave, shirk off the fear, and to keep on leaning into the good feeling. I moved out of home, I started hooking up with people, and started exploring my sexuality.

But honestly, the day I decided to buy my first sex toy changed something in me.

Buying your first sex toy is a mix of excitement, curiosity, and a touch of nervousness. For me, it was maybe more than a touch! It was a significant step towards exploring and understanding my own idea of pleasure and my desires. Up until that point, most of the sexual experiences I had – mostly with cis men – were almost like a performance. I was performing sexuality for the other person’s consumption. I was performing sexuality for the male gaze. I cared more about whether the other person was having a good time and I was turning them on… rather than focusing on whether I was enjoying myself!

Getting my first sex toy was different. It was so strange at first. It’s funny how I could perform sexuality so naturally for cis men, but when it came to actually connecting with myself and exploring my own body, those old feelings of doing something “bad” and “besharam” came rushing back. That’s cause we’re taught our bodies are for everyone’s consumption but our own. Well… that basic sasta massager I bought sucked  that sharam right out of me – and how!!

It opened up a whole new world – not just of pleasure – of a sense of self. It truly helped me come into my own and connect with what sex and sexuality mean to me and not just the social script that was shoved down my throat for years!

There’s such a sense of empowerment in choosing a toy that suits your preferences, whether it’s a sleek and discreet vibrator or a more elaborate and adventurous device. Of course, there are many factors to consider when buying your first sex toy – your budget, the kind of sensations you’re looking for, what areas you aim to please , whether it’s discreet (for desi homes) and not too loud, etc. Regardless of the kind of toy you get though, it’s a moment of self-discovery, as you begin to learn more about your body, what YOU love, what pleases YOU and what brings YOU satisfaction.

My first vibrator completely changed my approach to sex – even partnered sex! It changed how I show up in those interactions. I became more confident — focusing more on how I am feeling, what I want as opposed to how I’m being perceived. I think it taught me how to actually be present and enjoy sex for the first time.

Not to mention, a sex toy – like a vibrator – is a great litmus test for all vagina owners who happen to be sexually attracted to cis men. I remember a rather shitty ex of mine who felt so threatened by the thought of me having a vibrator. In hindsight, the dude was a total dumbass. If you want to suss out a man, whipping out a vibrator is a quick, easy way to do it. Does he view this device as an enemy or an ally? That’s a good question to ask yourself.

So yeah. If you’re on the fence or apprehensive about it, this is your sign to go ahead and order that sex toy! You never know what you may discover. <3

[Do check out the Imbesharam’s First Time Shopper Collection]

Pride Without Prejudice

The day started slow and sleepy. It was as if the excitement of the past many weeks had also gone to bed. I woke up, got dressed in the crisp flowery shirt I had specially purchased, and we were off.

Anxiety had crept in since it was going to be the first pride of my life and that too in the year when I came out to myself and the world.

Throughout the car ride, I was silent because I didn’t know what to expect. I had friends coming but I wasn’t sure how my parents would react to seeing them in all their sparkly glory- some trans, some gay, some gender non-conforming, all beautifully queer.

Upon reaching, we were greeted with methodical planning by the volunteers of the pride, as if preparing for battle. First aid kits, bottles of water and kind people in reflective vests, all adamant about ensuring that we had a good time.

I had my ‘love is love’ badge on and so did my parents, all smiling but also cautious of the plethora of the humanity that was slowly forming all around us.

Anxiety increased when we saw the massive coterie of cops that had gathered there. Stories of cops abusing queer people in love & harrowing tales of harassment flashed in my mind for a minute. Should I just go back home?

Were they there to keep us safe from the world or the world safe from us?

The cops outnumbered us for a while, their khaki clashing against our rainbow. The difference between the ‘normal’ and the ‘abnormal’ stark in our faces.

Balloons in hand, posters ready, we started marching after a long wait. If someone had zoomed out and seen us from space they would have seen a beeline of rainbows, of happiness & of rebellion slowly creeping from Tolstoy Marg to Jantar Mantar.

Anxiety eased as the crowds swelled, the beats of the dhol increased & we got into the rhythm. The chant of ‘azaadi!’, ‘azaadi!’ was our war cry, demanding the rights that the world had so often refused to bestow on us.

‘Cheen ke lenge hakk, pyaar se lenge azaadi!’ (We’ll snatch our rights, with love we’ll take our freedom)

Amidst the chaos and the clutter, I was at peace. It was as if I had climbed a mountain for the last year, falling often, bruising myself, and had finally reached the pinnacle. The feeling of accomplishment was upon me. In the chaos of colour, gowns and goth, the world was at a stand still and we were marching from the beginning of time and will go on marching till the end of time.

We were marching for Stonewall, we were marching for all the queer babies that will be born, creating a safe world for them. A world where ‘coming out’ wouldn’t be necessary, where loving is simple and laughter in abundance. We were marching for all the kids who had died because of abuse, bullying, and for being different. We were marching because even though our lives were different, some easier than others, we all knew in our heart of hearts, the pain of being deemed different, abnormal and perverse.

The sea of humanity flowed onwards and I flowed with it. Somehow, in those thousands, all happy and gay, I was finally home.

A Non-Binary Journey: Experiences Of Visibility, Violence, And Silence.

TW: Mention of sexual molestation, cop violence

In my journey of self-discovery, I’ve come to realize that I identify as non-binary and do not conform to the traditional male-female/man-woman binary. I currently reside in a bustling urban city. Living in such an environment has its perks, including certain privileges associated with both my city of residence and my social context. Yet, it also presents unique challenges due to my visibly queer identity, which I proudly express through my attire, makeup, and a touch of glitter –– a manifestation of my genuine self.

While this form of self-expression has been liberating and affirming, it has also brought about a significant amount of attention in public spaces. It’s a double-edged sword, where my visibility often elicits reactions from others. In some cases, this attention has taken an unsettling turn, exposing me to various forms of violence, harassment, and discrimination while navigating the public sphere. Commuting through public transportation, such as trains, has frequently exposed me to hostile encounters. Catcalling, persistent stares, and even mocking laughter have become disturbingly commonplace.

In one particularly harrowing incident, I was molested in broad daylight around 5 pm while en route to college. The assailant was an off-duty police officer, evidently intoxicated, and I vividly remember glimpsing his badge. What struck me most was the absence of any assistance from the people around me. In a crowded place, where dozens of eyes witnessed the incident, not a single person stepped in to help or even offer support.

I chose to suppress my emotions and continued with my day, attending my lecture as if nothing had happened. This incident left a lasting impression on me and reinforced my fears about whether anyone would believe my account or if they would blame me in some way.

It wasn’t until one day when I confided in a cisgender friend about this traumatic experience that I realized how profoundly misunderstood my reality could be. His response was shockingly ignorant, as he wondered aloud why I hadn’t taken immediate action. In my opinion, this reaction showed a big difference between what it’s like to be a queer adult like me and how people who haven’t been in our shoes see things.

For nearly a decade, I grappled with a sense of gaslighting in my interactions with most of my cisgender and heterosexual friends. It seemed that my experiences of abuse were often dismissed or downplayed. The incident on public transport was not an isolated one; it was just one example of the many challenges I faced daily. But these stories were met with indifference or disbelief, making me question whether I was responsible for the abuse I endured.

One poignant memory from my journey as a non-binary individual was an incident in a classroom setting. A professor publicly humiliated me for my choice of clothes and makeup. To add to the discomfort, some of my self-proclaimed “woke” and socially conscious friends laughed it off when I shared my concern later.

Only one person approached me after the class, expressing genuine concern for my well-being. Their kind words helped me and I will forever be grateful to them. This experience left me questioning as to why I was expected to take any action against the abuse I faced when it seemed that so few truly understood the impact of such incidents.

In navigating the complexities of my identity, I often find myself making decisions based on the comfort of those around me. I constantly weigh whether my actions will make others feel less threatened and less inclined to attack me. But there are also moments when I assert my authenticity without hesitation.

It’s strange how most people don’t seem to notice the unfairness that the marginalized face every day but get very sensitive when they see it talked about on the internet or in discussions. This big difference shows why it’s important to help people understand and express empathy for the diverse experiences of those who exist beyond the confines of cis-het societal norms. Again, the labor is going to be ours. Hilarious!

In sharing my experiences as a non-binary individual navigating a world that often fails to recognize the intricacies of my identity, I hope to shed light on the challenges and biases that persist.

Would You Be My Friend?

As a child, I would read the most beautiful and profound love stories and ballads that would send my heart into a fluttering frenzy. It would send these jolts down my body – you know, the type that escape through your fingertips. I would think about those stories all day, and grin like a fool. I would obsess over fantasies of getting swooped off my feet by someone and giggling at their bad jokes. But it remained just that. A fantasy.

I remember getting jealous of my friends when they got into romantic relationships. That always seemed strange to me. Why was I jealous when my peers celebrated that relationship so much; when all they would do was giggle over every aspect of that relationship?

Initially, my answer to this was lesbianism. My queer friends would smile and say, “Society has conditioned you to believe that you can only be friends with a woman, while you actually had a crush on your friend.”

This would often make my jaw drop. Usually, when your friends say something this profound, you believe it. Because they have a point. Because…it happened to them. Because…. you have no self-awareness.

The actual problem began when everyone around me started actively dating. And here I was, still single. As a teenager I used to think that my ugliness was stopping people from dating me. When I was 20, I blamed my college for not having a suitable dating pool. Then, I got on Bumble, as one does. And I saw the problem staring at me. Why did I have no interest in talking to anyone whatsoever? Aren’t you magically supposed to start going on dates once you get on these apps? Isn’t that featured in their advertisements? I was flabbergasted. Here I was, 24 years old, with absolutely no desire to date anyone. Was I broken?

The answer to this problem came to me one night while I was scrolling through Instagram. It was as if it descended onto me from the heavens, a message carried by angels as a choir sang in falsetto in the background. The answer – aromanticism.

Like me, at first, many people assume that it describes someone stoic, cold-hearted, rude, and devoid of any desire for physical affection. Someone lonely, and isolated. While I was most of those, yes, did it have to mean that I was living my life as a Disney villain who gets saved by ‘love’ in the end?

Absolutely not. Suddenly a huge chunk of my life started making sense to me. I remembered that whenever I talked to someone way cooler, and smarter than me for the first time ever, I would feel this impatient, jittery, fluttery urge consume me. It would scream at me “BEFRIEND THEM NOW”.

I remembered trying to find every chance I could get to talk to that person, even if it was to mutter the most inconsequential of things. I would go out of my way to do things for them if only it meant that they would like me more. I remembered that I would feel devastated and disheartened when their tone would be slightly off. I remembered acting like a sick Victorian child when they wouldn’t respond to my texts. I remembered relating to angsty breakup songs when I would have a fight with them. I remembered the jealousy over being sidelined to make space for their partners. I remembered it all too clearly now. There was no deep, latent meaning in all of this that had to undergo rounds of psychoanalysis to be pulled out and brought to comprehension.

It was very simple: I was always living in the beautiful and profound ballads and novels that I used to obsess over as a child. Like the character in those tales, I felt what it was like to care for, dote on, and feel cozy around a person. Because I felt it around my best friend, my sister, and my friend group. I felt it around sweet acquaintances who would talk to me with sweet smiles and gentle touches. I felt the rush of love in the acts of platonic intimacy, holding my friend’s soft hands, and receiving a warm hug after a long day while laying on my sister’s lap.

If my childhood self saw me today, they would be absolutely heartbroken that the fantasies cooked up by their escapist mind were just that, fantasies. Myths. Tales. But I will always take relief in telling them the equally transcendental version of love I have experienced. That, if they had the grandiose lines from Pride and Prejudice to make them giddy, I had 5 little words that did the trick:

“Would you be my friend?”

Rainbow Rishta: An Imperfect Look Into Queer Lives In India

Rainbow Rishta is Amazon Prime’s new docuseries that puts the stories of queer people from different walks of life in India at the center stage. Screened at Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2023 and produced by Vice Studies, it stars Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, Aishwarya Ayushmaan, Daniella Mendonca, Aneez Saikia, Sanam Choudhary, Soham Sengupta, Suresh Ramdas and Sadam Hanjabam in the lead; all of whom share their own stories across six episodes aptly titled – Virodh (Revolt),  Badlaav (Change), Umeed (Hope), Faasle (Distances), Hausla (Courage), Mohabbat Zindabad (Love is the Revolution). Although by no means it is perfect, it does stand as one of the most intricate looks into queer lives in India. It stars queer people with most of the behind the scenes teams also being queer, already avoiding a lot of problems in the beginning itself  that the media focussed on queer people faces.

What Rainbow Rishta does differently is place queer lives at the center stage and not the issues they face or the traumas they have battled, the former are there but they don’t form the essence of the story which also haunts the series as there is a visible lack of depth. It is established from the very first episodes that all queer people have some similar, shared experiences and also some unique hurdles that they need to tackle in their everyday life. Be it a rainbow wedding, or a drag queen going on her first date, a lesbian couple struggling to find a house being their true self, a gay couple’s trip with their nephew and niece, or a doctor’s stumbling blocks in the world of dating as a trans person.

Little Things That Matter

One aspect the show excels is at showcasing that it’s the small everyday things that matters and make a difference. The opening episode goes into the search for a shop that will treat a queer couple as their cishet customer and make wedding cards for them. This also reminded me of Deblina Majumder’s Gay India Matrimony, a documentary which largely focuses on the idea of marriage. While Debalina deftly captures the uncertainties and more specifically the question of Why Marriage?, ‘Rainbow Ristha’ is more grounded in exploring how and why queer relationships work at present, without daring to go into the questioning frame even for a bit. It is also useful to see the time whe this docu series has premiered, after a pretty disappointing verdict on the marriage equality case, which also didn’t provide adoption flights to same-sex couples.

The show is at its most successful when it delves into housing, a theme which is a part of everyday conversations among queer people but only few movies like Ek Jagah Apni (by Ektara Collective)explore it. There is a sense of fear of coming back to an empty home and the question comes up, what makes a house a home? We see this most prominently through Aneez and Sanam’s struggle to find a house as a queer couple, while also surviving in other ways. The assertion of them to find a house with their own identity is commendable, but it takes over other concerns that queer people have to deal with in terms of housing.

What It Offers

A part of the show also entails the discussion around loneliness and the issues that plague the community, similar to what has been discussed in the epidemic of gay loneliness essay. That is also where the show digs deeper into the anxieties associated with dating. Even here, the idea of in a way explaining why the dates of the characters make a certain choice seemed to push it into the territory of reality TV for a while. And while a reality TV show based on queers dating is more than welcomed, the docuseries seems like a rough place to even hint at that. We see the characters in the story mostly interacting within their family, friends and chosen family, which also sheds light on what it takes to make a community of support for ourselves.

I must say that every character’s story has something unique to offer and some unique takeaways as well. But when you cast a net as wide as this, there is a deeper understanding of queer joy that comes into play. While the introduction is arguably the best part of the docu series; from there, it only gets fragmented as we go into everyday lives of people which are vastly different. What definitely struck out more was the struggle to find a house as one’s true self and knowing that it’s a never ending process, and the lead up to the wedding of Daniella and Joel is absolutely heart-warming, giving us a peek into the important decisions that goes into celebrating, delving into how the optics have a cost. At the same time, there is a better sense of participation from parents, and how they place their queer child into a world which might not accept them. These are also the scenes that are the most heartwarming as they take away the biggest fear that queer people face while growing up, of abandonment.

Imperfect Beginnings

What it lacks is something which has been inconsistent in portrayal of queer lives in the media. Queer lives in India are diverse and there are some who get represented as the norm more often than not. The issue persists here as well. We do see a lot of ways in which queer people find their own homes and make space for themselves, yet it is not as strongly pronounced as it could have been. Even on marriage, the contention still exists within the community. While carefully not doing away with the crucial rights that marriage provides, the structural questions around it do hold importance which don’t find themselves in the movie. They are rather reduced to specific contexts within the life of the characters, which again, is at times relatable and at times, feels out of place.

The inconsistency persists as the episodes are not dedicated to one story each, instead, they overlap, at times, without making any sense. On one hand, Rainbow Rishta is full of queer joy, sparkled with moments of celebration in everyday realities as well the grandeur celebration of love. On the other hand, there’s a sense of hollowness with respect to the way intimacy, desire, belonging and loneliness are explored, leaving us wanting for more depth. Even though I felt joyous at its most heartwarming moments, something about the storytelling is a bit off but that doesn’t warrant away the reasons for celebrating what it does improve upon.

Unveiling The Kaleidoscope Of Queer Desire: A Journey Within

The sun painted the sky orange for us as a pleasant breeze caressed our bare necks, the way she was caressing my hair. Her adept hands, tussled my hair as if she was trying to give me a signature hairstyle. “I love your hair, it’s so fluffy” she said as she bent down to change the Spotify track. “Strawberries and cigarettes always taste like you” but her lips tasted better than anything I had ever savoured. For years, I had imagined what it would be like to kiss her, the girl who had been a muse for countless poems. Four years of waiting, fantasizing, and longing had led me to this rooftop terrace. And yet, no daydream had prepared me for the intensity of that moment. My mind was a storm, ablaze with emotion. I had written numerous poems on her, as if I knew, poetry is what we will become. And poetry is what we were, in that moment. I will not attempt to explain what I felt, for no words could do justice to the tornado of emotions I felt. It was the month of September, and processions for Ganpati Visarjan were all over the city. We were kissing on my rooftop terrace when suddenly fireworks from a procession nearby lit up the sky, as if it was a kiss from destiny, a blessing from Bappa himself. We chuckled shyly, to acknowledge; what felt like a scene from a cheesy rom-com.

Navigating Desire Amid the Echoes of Heartbreak

As I sit down to pen this article about queer desire, I recall the numerous drafts that preceded this one. None of them felt true to heart and how could they? I had wrapped my queer desires in muslin, trying to wring out the desire to feel again, what I felt that evening, on my rooftop terrace The girl I kissed on the terrace was long gone, and I thought it would be sensible for my desires to depart with her. What ensued, was the most intense heartbreak I have experienced yet, and I wished to never come face to face with that pain again. To make sense of the heartbreak (or to run away from it), I turned to my platonic relationships. My best friend became my companion, a pillar of support in the face of heartbreak’s turmoil. Both of us shared queerness as part of our identity, yet our queer circle remained small—until we ventured into our first queer event together.

Unapologetically Free: Discovering Queer Events

The very first queer event we attended was Gaysi’s Prom Night, an experience so euphoric, my brain exploded with queer joy. To be in a room full of queer folks, liberated me in ways I never knew. Bedazzling satin dresses, glittered cheekbones, studded leather belts and cowboy boots whispered stories of resilience. As I looked around, it was clear—we were free to be ourselves, to explore, and to be explored. I had stepped into a sanctuary where my identity could flourish unapologetically. Since that revelatory night, I’ve become a frequent visitor to queer events. Each gathering is a tapestry woven with threads of acceptance and joy. They’ve gifted me new friendships, bonds with kindred spirits who understand the intricacies of queer existence. Navigating the labyrinth of heartbreak, these connections proved to be an elixir, enriching my relationship with myself and my understanding of queer desires.

The more queer events I attended, the more queer friends I made, the more comfortable I felt exploring my own desires. These events became my queer safe space, they became a playground where I could learn and practice freedom and expression. My queer friends showed me what desire looked like from their perspective. I was water and my queer friends were vessels I’d pour myself into. I’d take the shape of these vessels, absorbing and empathizing with their narratives, only to realise that our experiences overlapped in some way or the other, and so did our desires. While emulating their perspectives, I realised that my queer friendships acted like a mirror, they made me introspect, explore and express myself in ways I had not explored before.

Queer Desire: A Kaleidoscope of Emotions

My queer friendships invited me into the world of queer desire, where connections are fluid, where the heart writes stories free from constraints. I walked down this realm where love knew no boundaries, where the bonds between individuals transcended conventional definitions. I learned that queer desire and identity often share symbiotic relationships, influencing and enriching each other. My journey to understanding my desires paralleled my exploration of my sexual orientation and gender identity. Embracing my desires, whether they aligned with societal norms or not, was a profound act of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Within this realm, I discovered a spectrum broader than I had ever imagined. This spectrum encompassed not just romantic and sexual attractions, but also the profound bonds of platonic love and the depths of emotional connections. Queer desire showed me that it has the capacity to weave together romantic entanglements, passionate connections, nurturing friendships, and even the unbreakable threads of chosen families. This multifaceted nature of queer desire not only validated my diverse experiences but also shattered the misconception that desire is a one-size-fits-all experience.

A Return to the Heart’s Desires

A dozen queer events, a 100 queer friends, and a million moments of queer euphoria later, I felt that my expedition on queer desire had come to an end. That is until, I started writing this article and found myself failing terribly. My drafts sounded like they were written by an AI – plentiful with knowledge but devoid of emotion, devoid of desire. I was approaching the topic of queer desire as an observer, guarding my heart from the pain of reliving moments like that rooftop kiss. It was as if I had hidden my own desires beneath layers of analysis and observation. I discovered and explored the multiple layers of queer desire as a whole, but I forgot, that beneath those layers were my own desires, the desires of a heartbroken queer. I reconnected with those buried desires when I stumbled upon a clip from the movie “Bottoms” last night.

Embracing All Facets of Queer Desire

In the clip, you see two queer cuties professing their love for each other (in the center of a completely packed football stadium!) culminating in a heartfelt, passionate kiss. Watching this clip, I felt a hint, a residue of what I felt on the rooftop terrace. I realized that I had been distancing myself from my own desires, protecting myself from pain. All this time, I was exploring queer desire as an observer, to shield myself from the pain I never wished to feel again. In all this exploration, I had forgotten to embrace the desires that defined me—the desires that coursed through my veins, the desires that belonged uniquely to me. All this time, I believed deep, emotionally enriching platonic connections could cement my broken heart. That I could repress and replace my romantic desires as a queer, with queer friendships. But on my journey of writing this article, I learned that queer desire is multi-dimensional and varies for each queer person; that exploring queer desire means embracing all the facets of your own desires as a queer person.

Rediscovering and Renewing

When I wrote the first paragraph of this article, I relived it all and quite frankly, I got a little teary-eyed. Writing the first paragraph, was essential to embracing my queer romantic desires, to remind myself that deep down, I desired to feel the queer joy of having a wholesome, cheesy rom-com like queer romance. My journey of understanding my desires as a queer person has led me to realise that every queer has unique multifaceted desires and running away from any aspect of our desires is futile. What makes us human, is our desires, and what makes us queer, is our queer desires. I think that is the beauty of queer desire, it is a landscape both vast and intricate, and it encompasses so much on macro and micro levels of our existence. And as I don my queer binoculars again, my journey of exploring this beautiful facet of being queer definitely does not seem to be ending anytime soon, and quite frankly, might last a lifetime.

And after writing multiple drafts over the past few days, I finally conclude this article, to usher in a new chapter of understanding and embracing queer desire. The journey continues, as does my anticipation of the next queer event, where I’ll be surrounded by kindred spirits, each with their own unique story of desire.

A Letter To Everyone and No One in Particular

TW: Parental Abuse

I don’t know who I am writing this letter to. Is it to my mother? Is it to my partners? Or is it to myself? I don’t know. Maybe, perhaps, by the end I will? Maybe not? Maybe it will take time. More time. One of my lovers-turned-friend told me that I am not very vocal while seeking help. Till date I agree with them. I am not. It takes every ounce of energy to seek help without my mind running in every direction to tell me how selfish I am being, how demanding, how needy…those words, that noise, all of it resembling fragments of my mother. My mother, whom I love dearly. I do. But I do not think I like her much. She can be a manipulative bitch at times. We all can be and are, that is true.

So, anyway, coming to how even though i do acknowledge what my lover turned friend has said, and I do understand the kind of plight that they had to go through while being in a relationship with me because of this part of me, I do not understand how do I comfort the tikla-D who, even now, at times gets to hear their mother tell them how needy they are, how demanding, how selfish. I write this and I remember the time my mother slapped me after one of the many episodes of my father threatening to kill himself and going out of the house. Of course, this time his trigger was his ‘young daughter’ being seen with a boy in the neighbourhood. I take full responsibility for that trigger. Though, I definitely wonder what my father would really do, if he, as well as I, knew that it was not just boys I was interested in! Who knows! Ow but yes, my mother did slap me for making my father take the path of death. I still wonder how my mother actually made her brain believe that – a 15-year-old girl, growing up in a middle class, Assamese Brahmin family with parents who lived through the assam movement and came out of it with the sorkari sakori – will have so much power that could make the father kill himself! Did you really not know ma, that he was not going to do that? Because I do remember that when he would do the same after a fight with you, you would just laugh at him and ask ‘kimaan baar?’

So what was/is it maa that makes you blame me for everything that goes wrong in that family?

I have multiple theories to this question. Some days the theory I believe in is that me being queer is why you do this, some days I play the theory that you might be scared to make a shift in your life by leaving your husband and son, some days, however, I like to believe in the theory that perhaps you have gotten too comfortable with all the ‘stability’ that comes along – while you play your part beautifully, elegantly, smiling, some days grumbling – with having a husband who will then get you a beautiful mekhela sador for you to wear to your school? Maybe somewhere I am trying to come to peace with your decision to be in that space, around those people, those things, those walls…maybe…but I know I do not want to be in there. But you do know the hollowness of that living, don’t you? Because if you did not then there would not be cries after maybe every 4 months to help you get out of it? Then why maa do you keep asking me to come back or make me doubt myself and my ability to desire, need, love, take care and be kind to myself? I know maa, your parents, your husband/my father, our neighbours, your colleagues, my school mates…everybody has told and shown us that this is the structure that survives, and that is supposed to survive. But have we not survived together maa even when all of these elements were there and yet not there? Were we not the only ones who had each others’ backs? Then what changed maa? What changed between you and me? Did you start believing in them more and in me a little less?

And that is what I think I cannot make you understand, N. And I know all of us who challenge the capitalistic cis-heteronormative structure in our day-to-day life, in our living, in our being, are tired and sometimes cannot find hope and feel/think that maybe in the end, this big demon of a structure is going to engulf us all, take us under its wrap, mould us to something that it wants, like – perhaps cannot be kind to fellow strugglers, be warm, hold them while they are also trying to hold themselves…and this is where i ask you for a little bit of kindness. Just a tiny bit. I am asking this because the politics that we believe in, the politics that we live in our day-to-day life is the politics that dwells in this very kindness as well, in this holding each other, in this sharing of warmth, anger, despair, guilt. I know I take less space, try to minimize me – like a program on our laptops – shrink myself and I know it irritates you, I know you know that it irritates me too and I know that this is your tough love speaking to me. Tough kintu still love, morom. And that is why I like you close – the warmth, the love, the likeness, the belief, the push…because unlike my mother you don’t blame me, you don’t take away your solidarity…you stay, you see, you talk, you scold (maybe sometimes too much and maybe in wrong situations) but you do. You don’t leave. Don’t leave.

The Politics And Persistence Of Truth

Will the Truth set Palestine free? Don’t enough of us know the truth by now? Haven’t the Palestinians been trying to tell us for decades? Did we listen? No. Thankfully, that doesn’t stop them. 5,791 killed by airstrikes in the last 2 weeks — 2,360 were kids. The ones under the rubble are unreported as of now. Tens of thousands injured and barely any aid, food, water or electricity. Imagine if they understandably thought, “Well, the media narrative controlled by Israel and the western world has dehumanized us and made us terrorists and barbarians in people’s minds. No one cares. They all believe in lies even when proven wrong. We’ll just stop raising our voices.”

Refaat Alareer writes in Gaza Writes Back: “Sometimes a homeland becomes a tale.” The Palestinian people under Israeli occupation have ensured that everyone knows their tale, even when we rebuff them. They have been talking – for more than half a century – about their joy, their food, their homeland, their dreams, their love, their anger. The regular Israeli air strikes, the atrocities against their kids, how their movements and lives are controlled, the daily violence and stripping away of basic human rights, of their imprisonment in a country-turned-concentration camp. And we kept calling it a ‘conflict’ as if it were between two equal powers.

For the last two weeks, many of them have started adding “Today, I’m alive” to their posts and videos. A comment on Instagram said something like: “Thank you for speaking up about the ethnic cleansing for so many years that it has finally reached me. Now I can do something about it.” Protests are being held globally, and even Palestinians are surprised at the support this time around (in all these years, this is the fifth round of gen*c*de carried out by Israel). So, you see. We gotta keep talking.

Marriage equality? Trans rights? Rights of queer people in India or in Palestine? Talk about it. Collect data. Put up posts, put up stories. Start conversations wherever you can. Because do you see how many people see the truth about Israel all over the world now? There’s hope.

Just remember that this particular hope came at the cost of Palestinians being dehumanized, at the cost of their mental health where we made them repeat their trauma over and over, and then disbelieved them. Maybe hope is the byproduct of political resistance even when no one’s watching, and suffering that others think we deserve? I hope not.

We heard their “Israel’s ever-growing military is killing us and our neighborhoods are being razed” and gave them “Why did Hamas attack them then? Both sides need to be heard and empathized with.” They would yell, “The US is giving billions of dollars to the settler colony of Israel every year to carry out violence! Israel has been bombing hospitals, refugee camps, places of worship, and schools for years!” And we say, “Why are you yelling? Why can’t you just be peaceful?”

Ah, yes. Peace. The thing that I recently learnt (from @sbeih.jpg on Insta) is a shut-up-and-obey tool of the oppressor to keep the oppressed in their place. To maintain the status quo. You know how your queerphobic boss or parent, or someone who has real power over you, wishes you were ‘easy’, more ‘peaceful’, not so ‘disruptive’? If you’re not careful, stating your needs or demanding what’s yours – when your human or health rights are not recognised and deliberately taken away – can be called violent. You too will think you’re being unreasonable or even abusive if you start believing the oppressor’s idea of ‘peace’. Unlearn it actively and urgently so you can be disruptive.

Coming back to India, the extremist Hindus have one thing going on for them: they never disappoint. As soon as the first Muslim kid was killed in Palestine, sure enough, there they were. With their saffron flags waving all over social media: “Finish, finish Palestine.” They think the ongoing violence is about religion, of course. The same religion where the savarnas are perpetrators of, oblivious to, or don’t care enough about caste atrocities in their own country. People from oppressed castes have been speaking their Truth for the longest time as well. Their persistence is not palatable to many of us. It’s too … disruptive.

During the last two weeks of horrors, many apolitical and ‘liberal’ queer desis have proven to be disappointing with their ‘both sides’ narrative. Israel has been slowly wiping out the people of Palestine to expand the boundaries of the land they stole from the latter, and we think that it’s a very “complicated” situation – a tragic “conflict”.

Listen up. Whether it’s human rights for Palestinians or the anti-caste movement in India, neither of these is independent of our queer rights!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, “Imagine if the oppressed only spoke up once, and never again.” Value systems and generations of joy, and deepest roots of culture will die with an entire people. The colonized people of Palestine, in all their hope and constant mourning, in all their survival and protecting the younger ones, always set aside physical and mental energy to tell us the truth. To soften and melt away the propaganda from our ears. To make us their witness.

Over and over. For years.

Did it finally work? Do we now think mass extermination is less complex to understand? Do we need them to die more or do we believe them now? I hope we do. Let’s make ‘hope’ something that we all carry together. When some need time off, others step up.

None of us would ever know the ground realities and the lies that the colony, or any dominant power, spins without the persistence of Truth. Grateful to the Palestinian journalists, civilians, documentary makers, photographers, writers and poets, and the children. Of yesterday and tomorrow. For having hope despite our ignorance and apathy. For reminding us that we too are accountable for every time we looked away. And to the countless Jews, especially the ex-Zionists, who stand against the occupation openly, saying: “Never Again Means Never Again For Anyone.”

                    ————

A couple of facts:

Human Rights Watch said on May 15, 2023: “May 15 marks the 75th anniversary of Nakba Day, commemorating the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes, and the more than 400 Palestinian villages destroyed in the events surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948. As the Palestinian human rights group al-Haq wrote, “the legacy of the Nakba events is that about two-thirds of the Palestinian people became refugees,” while Israel “imposed a system of institutionalized racial discrimination over Palestinians who remained on the land.” Today, there are more than 5.9 million Palestinian refugees, including the descendants of those who fled or were expelled.”

From a UN Human Rights Council 2022 report: “Living in the same geographic space, but separated by walls, checkpoints, roads and an entrenched military presence, are more than three million Palestinians, who are without rights, living under an oppressive rule of institutional discrimination and without a path to a genuine Palestinian state that the world has long promised is their right. Another two million Palestinians live in Gaza, described regularly as an ‘open-air prison’, without adequate access to power, water or health, with a collapsing economy and with no ability to freely travel to the rest of Palestine or the outside world.”

The Queer-est Video Games To Play Right Now

Recently, Baldur’s Gate 3 has caused some chaos among fans and YouTubers over its display of nudity and a sex scene involving a bear. For years, I have been playing the feminine characters in Mortal Kombat games or Diablo series as they channeled the glam and fun of queerness, which added to the thrill of gameplay. Through this list, I explore the presence of queer narratives in video games and how they have been explored. Youtuber James Somerton also did a fantastic video essay on Video Games and the Choice to be Gay.   Somerton looks into almost everything from Nintendo to The Sims to calling out AAA games.  

https://youtu.be/TQNKEkrPEfI?si=0huSQgD9E1aMvLZ6

Much like the dominant media, most of the times, queer representation simply means content featuring more cis gay men. Other times, gamers have also noticed that forceful representation can very well intentionally or unintentionally lead to bisexual erasure when a bi or pan character’s emphasized romance is only with another person of the same gender. Lastly, queerbaiting does exist in video games where larger companies have chosen to fill in tokenistic gay characters that do not make an impact. Perhaps the most crucial point that Somerton brings out is that the queer identity is a political one and the gaming industry is a place where it heads into capitalism. That being said, this list largely comes from the games I have played and saw being discussed often on Reddit.

The Last of Us (Series)

There is a phenomenon where video games have been turned into successful TV show adaptations, of which The Last of Us has excelled in every possible aspect. Although The Last of Us Part II ushered in queer characters and narratives as a video game, there was some criticism over its portrayal of a trans character. The Emmy nominated series successfully redeemed the faults in queer narratives in the gameplay through its series adaptation. Moreover, it saw a tender love story come to life in what is widely believed to be one of the year’s best episodes, featuring slutty Daddy Pedro Pascal (who has been very vocal and supportive of his trans sister) and non-binary star Bella Ramsey in the lead.

Hades

Supergiant Games’ Hades is roguelike gameplay perfection. We play as Zagreus, the son of Hades in his attempt to escape the underworld. In general, the game has been noted for its delicate portrayal of family dynamics but beyond that, the different romances of Zagreus with other characters (particularly the one with Thanatos) are adorable and fun. A sequel titled Hades II is already coming up. If two queer dudes romancing it out in hell doesn’t sound fun to you, then I don’t really know what will.

Also read: What’s Worth Risking Eternal Damnation for?

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

While The Elder Scrolls series is among the best action role-playing video games, it is more like Game of Thrones meets GTA San Andreas. The fifth entry, set in the fantasy world of Tamriel (full of dragons, giants, vampires, etc.) introduced the option of romancing another character of the same gender and it just blew up. Being one of the games with a large number of types of mods (and also memes), it’s safe to say that it became a very queer game over the course of its release.

League of Legends

Arcane is yet another video game that has been adapted into a television series released on Netflix. Set in Riot Games’ League of Legends Universe (a multiplayer battle online arena), the fantastic story boasts stellar gameplay which found new fans after the critically acclaimed, Emmy winning show was released.  

Stardew Valley

This 2016 simulation role playing game has been cited as one of the greatest video games of all time. It won hearts of fans over its anti-capitalistic nature and the option for same-sex marriage although the lack of racial diversity received a lot of flak.

Mass Effect (Series)

This action-role play series has featured a couple of queer characters and narratives although they have been largely surface level. It was with the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda that it saw diverse queer representation. And when the titular game’s legendary edition got a gay romance mod, it did make a lot of gay-mers happy.

Dream Daddy: A Dating Dad Simulator

I don’t think the game needs an introduction as its name more than covers almost everything it could offer. In this visual novel game, players can choose from seven single fathers to date. The representation of queer characters was particularly met positively, especially receiving praise for not being stereotypical.

Celeste

Supported by gorgeous and hauntingly beautiful visuals, this platform game where we follow Madeline as she climbs the Celeste Mountain has been universally acclaimed for its portrayal of anxiety and depression. The journey is also of self-exploration and discovery with queer undertones that were appreciated by the friends. The story also features Madeline holding a trans pride flag towards the end of the game and the game has grown a successful speed running community.

The Missing: J. J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

This puzzle video game with horror elements follows J. J. Macfield has he’s searching for her friend and lover Emily. The game was lauded for being highly personal and what some critics noted as being “transgressive” in approaching queer issues.

Dragon Age (Series)

The Dragon Age series is another well known fantasy roleplaying video games series which has over time transformed into a queer affirmative franchise. The gay kiss in Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the most widely celebrated queer moments in video games. Specifically, the character of Krem was received as a breakthrough representation of affirmative trans representation in video games.

Some more games that include queer narratives are The Witcher (series), Assassin’s Creed (series), Ironheart, Night In The Woods, and Cyberpunk 2077 among others. Tell us about more video games with queer narratives in the comments.

Exploring Disability Representation In Netflix’s “Sex Education” Season 4

In a world where mainstream media often tiptoe around issues considered “sensitive”, representation of diverse communities in Netflix’s popular show “Sex Education” has been the refreshing to watch. The show is known for its unique take on an array of themes like gender, sexuality, and relationships, and similar topics. It took a leap forward in its fourth and final season by diving into something it had missed out on earlier – disability representation.

In season 3, the show introduced us to Isaac, its first disabled character. As a wheelchair user,  seeing Isaac’s storyline challenge stereotypes about disability and sexuality through his relationship with Maeve was heartwarming. It was like discovering a missing puzzle piece that could finally fall into place.

In its fourth and final season, the show portrayed storylines towards disability representation, exploring a broader spectrum of issues, including inaccessibility and ableism. The show’s latest addition was Aisha, a deaf character, who challenged various stereotypes and instances of ableism through thought-provoking scenes. Her presence not only added depth to the narrative but also shed light on the unique experiences of individuals with disabilities.

Authentic Portrayal of Disabilities

The show’s authenticity in portraying disabilities was striking. As a wheelchair user, I could relate my own experiences with the narrative. Let’s start with the powerful elevator scene in the first episode, where Isaac meets Aimee for the first time.  As they enter the lift, it gets stuck and he shares his frustration that the school could afford to have meditation room but not a functional lift. As someone who experiences inaccessibility due to barriers created by an ableist society, I could relate with his feeling of frustration of how accessibility is still seen as a luxury and not a bare minimum necessity. Further into their conversation, Aimee as a result of her biases assumes that Isaac likes art in order to “process his trauma of being disabled”, in response to which he calls her out. Though she does put in the work to educate herself further in the series it was a stark reminder of how casual ableism and inaccessibility manifest in real life. It highlighted experiences of people with disabilities and rang true to my own experiences.

Representation is everything: Why?

Why does disability representation matter? It’s not just about visibility; it’s about authenticity. It’s about having our experiences, challenges, and joys portrayed in a way that resonates with reality; being “seen” in a way that matters. It’s about breaking free from the clichéd tropes and tired narratives of pity and inspiration that have dominated mainstream media for far too long. Representation matters, and it’s not just about entertainment but about the impact it creates. It’s an opportunity to see ourselves portrayed in a way that feels genuine, stuff that makes you question your biases and make room for change.

Work in Progress Storylines: What could have been better?

As we appreciate the strides made in season 4, it’s essential to acknowledge room for improvement. For instance, the potential of Aisha’s character remained largely untapped. The series only scratched the surface of her character’s disability and queerness, mostly being limited to a few scenes addressing her deafness and that she is “ethically non-monogamous”, leaving a potentially strong storyline underdeveloped. With so many characters in the mix, the character arcs didn’t have much room to bloom and were limited to a few powerful scenes of raising awareness.

However, the existence of these challenges does not take away from the show’s overall effort. It’s work has opened up a pathway for shows in the future to depict more meaningful and comprehensive representation in the future.

Representation Beyond the Screen: Impact

The significance of the show extends beyond the screen. It contributes to the broader conversation about disability representation in media. It adds to the ongoing discourse on the subject further creating room for change. Through efforts for authentic portrayals of disabilities, the show has demonstrated the potential for shifts in perspective by reclaiming the narrative for inclusivity.

Conclusion

In conclusion, “Sex Education” Season 4 was not just another series adding a disabled character to check off its diversity list. It was a pivotal moment in the journey toward more meaningful disability representation. The characters introduced were not mere tokens; they were real people with real stories.

While it is important to acknowledge the areas where improvement is possible, the overall impact of the show on disability representation is undeniable. It has contributed to a broader discussion and opened doors for conversation and change.

In the end, it’s a call-to-action for viewers to reflect on our own perceptions, challenge biases and more importantly, to work on them. Representation matters, and “Sex Education” proved that when done right, it has the power to potentially create change.

Manu And Mya Mehmi: A Conversation On Trans Dalit Assertion

Mya Mehmi

Mya Mehmi is a Dalit Punjabi trans artist whose music video “Parivaar” features the legacy of Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Mya’s own personal relationship and ties to her family and cultural roots. Let’s get to know who Mya Mehmi is and why we should all be her number-one fan.

Interview:

Manu: If you were to give me a 1-2 sentence bio about yourself, what would you say?

Mya Mehmi: I am an artist, DJ, and cultural producer, who is also an extremely bad bitch and slag advocate.

*The bad bitch part is extremely important and the producers would like to reiterate this part of Mya’s bio*

Manu: Tell me a little bit about your family history. And what role (if any) did caste play in your upbringing?

Mya Mehmi: My parents were born in the UK, but my grandparents weren’t. That would make me second-generation. So with that, there’s a privilege already, especially in terms of the caste system. My parents were brought up here, in a world where caste didn’t matter as much, but still caused a lot of bullshit in my family’s lives through caste-based rejection and casteist abuse. The generational trauma is real obviously, from the Partition to then my grandparents immigrating to the UK, and then the amount of racism from British white folks. The community they had moved into, Bradford, there’s a strong Chamar community. They were the first generation of South Asians to be in Bradford at that time. And it was crazy. There were petitioners on the street that they moved into, saying “Get the Pakis [derogatory] off the street,” signed by every single house on that street, they’d be putting like fireworks and crazy shit through the letter box and banging on my family’s doors. It was really traumatic. My parents or anybody of that generation of my family don’t really talk too often about how traumatic that was and how that might inform their experiences today. Hearing some of these stories really helped me come to terms with my identity as a Brown person growing up and then when you get older and you start to see the caste thing–that’s like a whole other headfuck—cuz you’re like “wait what? Like I thought we were just Pakis! Now we’re Chamar? Like what?? Give me a break, bitch!” The first time I realized what caste was, was in school. I was young, before age 10. And somebody had called me a “dirty Chamar [derogatory slur]” on the playground or something. And I was like, “what the hell?” So I went home and asked my parents about it, and that’s when they had the caste conversation with me. But, you know, it seemed like we just moved past it, you know?

Manu: It’s survival.

Mya Mehmi: Yes, survival, you know? I remember my dad having this conversation with me, like “Oh it’s nothing, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a stupid word basically. This is the ins and outs of it.” He just kinda gave me the outline; it was very downplayed vocally to me by him but as I grew up, once I realized the distance, you start to notice things. “Oh, there’s only certain gurudwaras we are going to…” and there’s an effort to find a Guru Ravidas gurudwara everywhere we go, like it has to be that. It was seeing all my cousins trying to get engaged, and then get engaged, only to face pushback because of our caste, and the people they were getting engaged to not being of the same caste. The words that people were telling me, “this isn’t a big deal,” and what I was seeing actually happen around me were not adding up. So that’s when I realized “Oh this caste thing is actually like…a big deal…” And I kinda had to take it upon myself to do my own research, to figure out, “oh what does this mean for me?” It’s crazy, now that I think about it…there was definitely a lack of conversation about the importance of what caste is and how it has affected so much.

Manu: Thank you for sharing that. So something I’ve noticed is that Dalit people, we kinda have no choice but to know our caste, cuz it eventually will come up. And just like how you said that your parents had the “caste talk” with you. I’ve heard that so many times with Dalit people. Just like, “someone called me a slur and I don’t know what it meant, so I ask my parents, and that’s how I learned about our caste.” With me, there was a lot of jatt pride everywhere and I got asked if I was jatt by someone and I asked my parents if we were jatt. My parents wouldn’t even say the word chamar because it felt like a dirty word, or they would whisper it to me. Because our caste name has been turned into this derogatory term. There is shame in like “this is who we are, but don’t tell anyone. And if they ask you, just tell them you’re Punjabi. Tell them you are a Sikh. And that’s all they need to know.” I feel like that is our parents’ and our families’ way of sheltering us and protecting us. Because it is like survival, right? The more that you downplay something, the less you feel like it affects you and your loved ones. I’ve noticed that savarnas…they don’t have the “caste talk.” Because Dalit people; we don’t get to just not know or care. It will eventually come up. Do you feel that you can be out about your caste and talk openly about the caste system in your community?

Mya Mehmi: Yeah definitely! But people would call me divisive! It forces us to look at ourselves. I know if I was more vocal about casteism, people would call me the exact same things people call you. An “attention whore” and that nonsense. So I think that it feels pretty isolating and lonely, as I haven’t really encountered many people who really understand casteism. Or, if I do meet South Asian people in this space, they are often not of my caste, and so it’s a bit of a brief conversation. I don’t wanna talk to a jatt about the caste system you know? So, it’s quite isolating actually. In my experience being a Chamar, I haven’t really had people to engage in conversation about that with.

Manu

Manu: I resonate with that too. I would say isolating. I don’t quite feel community in the South Asian queer community, but then in the Chamar community, as a queer nonbinary person, I also don’t feel community. The cishet Dalit community here can be very homophobic and transphobic, including my own family and parents, so like…where the hell do we go? Navigating that and feeling that isolation so hard is what inspired me to find and reach out to people who are queer, trans, and also caste-oppressed. And building our own communities too is so important. How do you feel about the term and the label of “South Asian?” And do you feel represented within the South Asian queer community?

Mya Mehmi: I think the term South Asian-for me-is undercooked and I think that is because I just don’t think there has been enough effort to really be inclusive of the intersections within what being “South Asian” means, you know? I don’t think that when people say “South Asian” or when they say “Desi” they often think of [Eelam] Tamil people. I don’t think they’re thinking of Dalit people. I don’t think they’re thinking of Afro-Indian people so yeah it’s undercooked. And, do I feel personally represented by this “South Asian” label? Yes, to an extent. Because I am North Indian, I am Panjabi. I can’t ignore that privilege. At the same time, there’s so many conversations within the South Asian community that are just not being had. And until those are had, it’s not a space that I necessarily feel comfortable in or safe in.

Manu: I definitely hear you on like, you know, having light-skinned privilege and being North Indian/Panjabi. As a light-skinned person myself, people generally assume that I am like “upper caste” or “Jatt”. And having people assume that, despite how problematic it is to assume anyone’s caste, it is a privilege in the sense that people may not be casteist to me directly on the skin color assumption. Whereas, I also have family members who are a lot darker, and who have been made fun of for their dark skin. And they’re the ones who experience casteism to a worse degree than myself. Colorism runs rampant in my family despite us already being oppressed by caste. Speaking of family, I want to talk about your singing and music video Parivaar. I know you wrote it for your thaiya [dad’s older brother] who passed away–my condolences. You also have Sheerah, who is a Tamil model and social disruptor. It is so amazing to see them in the video—I recognized them right away. You also have a portrait of Dr. Ambedkar in the backdrop as you are singing. What inspired you to do that, and what was your relationship like with your thaiya ji? Can you tell me a little bit more about your project?

Mya Mehmi: So, what inspired me to use Dr. Ambedkar’s photo, this actually goes back to caste conversation and me figuring things out and how deep it goes. One time I was at a Gurudwara and there was a picture of Dr. Ambedkar there. And I was like “Dad? Which [Sikh] guru is that?” And he was like “Oh, he’s like a [Sikh] guru. He’s not actually a guru, but he is like one since he did so much work for us Chamars”. And then, later on in life, Pxssy Palace had an office space for a bit. And the person we were renting the space from was also a Dalit queer person. And they had the exact same picture of him framed in this beautiful pink frame. And that is when I did more research and…he was definitely a human, he was not perfect. But the work that he did for Dalit rights, and women’s rights, was just so inspiring to me. For me personally, in a world where I shot the music video for Parivaar, I wanted to give people a glimpse of what my identity is, what my Desi is. My Desi is Dr. Ambedkar, Sheerah, ZMARAKS, is this environment which is very immigrant household 101. And that is the environment I grew up in that informed my identity and what my identity means to me. So I just wanted to give people a glimpse of that visually. In terms of my thaiya: the reason for the song I wrote for him, it made sense to do that type of video and honor my identity in the video. Because he was so proud of our identity. He was so proud of being Chamar, so proud of being Panjabi. And I learned so much from him in terms of standing in everything that you are. Like yeah, and I’m proud of it, beeyaatch.” And he was fighting for it constantly. Fighting for people to just put some respect on us! And he did a lot for our family name. I just felt like it was the perfect moment to honor my identity and also pay tribute to him. Cuz he was so proud of who we were.

Manu: Yeah I love that! My dad was able to get an education because of the reservation system that was implemented by Dr. Ambedkar, and that’s how he immigrated to America. So to my family, Dr. Ambedkar is indeed like a guru. Because he really fought for so many Dalit people across India. It’s making me tear up. That’s so beautiful. And even when I was listening to the lyrics of Parivaar, it was all about grief. It made me so emotional. I just want your platform to grow, and I want everyone to know about you. Because you represent a lot of the identities that are kind of lost amongst South Asian queer people. And I know for a lot of Dalit people, that video, especially on social media…I think they felt seen for the first time. They felt inspired. So thank you so much for that. Keep up your beautiful work!

Mya Mehmi: Thank you so much! It’s an honor to be able to help people feel seen and represented, especially people like you who are really doing the work.

Manu: Thank you! How has your healing journey been and what inspires you?

Mya Mehmi: My healing journey is still very much happening. There’s a lot of trauma that I have to unpack and deal with. Mostly at the hands of men…South Asian men. So…yeah. It’s still very much on the go. I think a huge part of my healing (outside of therapy, which has been great), has been finding community. And what that looks like for me is Pxssy Palace, which is a party I produce alongside some friends of mine. And that is a party that centers Black and Brown queer and trans people. So already you’re dealing with a group that’s deeply disenfranchised. So I guess in that space, I feel like I have room to be my full trans, Chamar, bad bitch self. And feel comfortable and proud about all of the things that make me a “minority.” So, I think that has been a huge part of my healing. It is definitely not linear. I think that the more you learn, the more avenues you have to heal. Community inspires me honestly. The last time I felt inspired, it was just being around the people that I love. I have brought them into my life because they are all just beautiful, genuine, incredible people. And having euphoric moments with them…that inspires me.

Manu: That is beautiful. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your life with me. The artist is indeed as badass as the art. I hope everyone follows and supports Mya as she creates radical art! Her ig is myamehmi_ ! Jai Bhim.

Manu is Dalit (Chamar), queer, nonbinary (they/them), chronically ill (USA Based)

This article is part of a special series at Gaysi highlighting the work of Dalit creatives, artists and writers curated and edited by BRC (positionality: Dalit queer trans neurodivergent). If you would like to be a part of this series, please write to gaysifamily@gmail.com with subject line “working with BRC” along with a pitch or proposal. All articles published are paid.

Mama, They Won’t Let Me Marry Yet, Should I Go?

As I sat waiting for a judgment that decided our collective fate for the future, I couldn’t help but think of ways to break the news to my parents. They were hopeful, they wanted their son to have a chance at life – a life like they had lived, together, in joy and sadness. I had thought of multiple ways in which I could break the news to them – be it positive or negative. Somewhere in my heart, I knew the SC verdict wouldn’t be affirmative, stemming from a knowledge of the society that I have lived in for the last 30 years. Even during an interview recently, when I was asked about the same-sex marriage judgement, I had said that I didn’t expect for anything to change. But, still a glimmer of hope existed within my heart – a what if – a joy that we were all seeking so desperately. Reeling through a breakup last week, the verdict, if affirmative, would also instill some hope for my future in this country, personally. But as the 5-bench judge announced their verdict and news outlets started flashing the headline: “SC refuses to grant legalisation to same-sex marriage”, my heart sunk. I won’t lie by saying that I didn’t cry, I let my emotions out, cried for my hope being crashed yet again.

The day before the verdict, so many queer friends had messaged sharing their aspirations and hopes with me. A 70-year-old queer friend messaged me expressing how he wants to get married quickly because he doesn’t know if there will be a tomorrow. I had jokingly said to him that he should, and that I will fly to any corner of the country to attend it. My 40-year-old gay friend and his partner were waiting in anticipation to legalize their union. They have been together for years and were hoping that a social and legal sanction would enable their families to explain their situation better. A few of my Gen- Z friends, in their early 20s, also shared stories on how they would finally be able to find someone and settle down, if they had the option to legally do so. My contemporaries, the millennials, are already tired of the dating patterns of the modern world, like me. Stuck somewhere between the old-school love of the generation before, and the instant gratifications of dating app culture, we just hoped that there would finally be an option for us to have what we have dreamt of, what we have seen growing up.

I don’t know if my 70-year-old friend would be alive to see the day when same-sex marriages would be a thing in this country, if it ever does. I don’t know if my 40-year-old friends would be together by the time the law and government of the country decides to give equal rights to all of its citizens or if they will succumb to societal pressures. I don’t know if the dating patterns for the Gen-Z folx would change knowing that they are only going to have a future in the privacy of their rooms, and not in the eyes of the law. I don’t know if I would willingly want to live in this country, knowing that in the next few years, I won’t have the option to call my partner, my spouse. It is not only about the marriage rights, it is not only about the legal sanction, it’s about basic respect as a human being, as a citizen. It is about having the choice to legally have a spouse, irrespective of gender, to have someone you can name as the beneficiary on your life insurance papers, to have someone as a nominee on your bank accounts. Marriage is not just a social tie, it is so much more than that and that’s what the leaders of this country fail to realize.

Marriage is not “qubool hai” or “saat pheras”, marriage is a legal paper that ensures that two people have a responsibility towards each other that they need to fulfill. Marriage is a legal document that gives me the right to avail medical insurance for my partner, a joint bank account with them, adopt a child together and so much more. Additionally, in a society where marriage is so intrinsically linked to societal acceptance, I think an affirmative judgment would have helped change the outlook on queer people in the society. Call me shallow, call me a dreamer, I believe in the institution of marriage, and I want to get married someday. I want to have a partner by my side as I grow old, have a house to ourselves, adopt kids, travel the world together, and perhaps, spend the last few days of our lives with each other as we crumble into eternity. Sounds romantic, right? So, if this country and its legal jurisdictions don’t allow me to have that dream, I must go, I must find another place that will allow me to at least have this option, even if I decide to not opt for it.

Most of my contemporary queer friends have left the country, but I decided to stay back because I love this country so much. It’s home – the food, the people, the places, the festivals, everything makes me feel like home and I didn’t want to leave it behind to just have a life with a partner. And though, out of anger and frustration, I have started thinking of applying to universities outside India and shifting so that I can at least plan a future for myself, in the end, I will end up living here. I know that in my heart, but I am also fighting it so badly, at present. If the queers leave the country, who will fight for us? The verdict is disappointing, it broke so many hopeful hearts, but this is certainly not the end, and we must continue to fight the fight, in the hope that even if we are not able to reap the fruits of the struggle, our future generations would have a better, equal society to live in. We must continue our fight, and radically speak about queerness at every opportunity we get. If we can afford to, we must visibilise ourselves, show the world that we exist in all our forms and variations. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve what we were handed down today.

Coming back to where I began from: once I had processed the news, I went to break it to my parents, to my mama. It was a difficult conversation to have, they knew the legalization wouldn’t be so easy but like me, maybe they were also hopeful that it would somehow work out. And as I proceeded to tell them, they said, we know. They were almost apologetic about the fact that it didn’t work out for me, for people like me. The most heartbreaking part was that they always wanted me to stay with them in India, but they were the ones who said I should start looking for options outside where I can have a life that I want to have. The pain that a parent goes through when they ask their child to leave because they don’t see a future for their child in their own country… It’s heartbreaking, and I am heartbroken for my parents and for so many parents all over India who just want to see their child happy. I am heartbroken for myself, for my former lovers, for my queer friends and for every queer out there who were hoping for something positive to come out of this. A few words of empathy from the CJI or the other judge who voted in favor won’t do us any good at this point, and it surely won’t mend our broken hearts. Words at this point have little value, it is the actions that would determine the future for us, and that is all we will be looking at.

Oftentimes, the narrative on social platforms like Twitter, is that “So what the verdict was negative, we must continue our fight and not fret over what has happened already”. But stop. Is it really something we must start right away? Don’t we need time to process what has happened? Don’t we grieve the dreams and the hopes that have shattered all in a day? We must do that. We must grieve, we must be angry, we must be disappointed. Take time to recognise that the country you call home has rejected your right to be equal, process it like you would prefer. Don’t let others tell you how to feel. But when the processing is done, when the grieving is over, we must be stronger than before in approaching the changes that we want for ourselves. We must file petitions, we must take to the roads, we must ask for accountability from our politicians. We must love, we must fight and we must not forget that until all of us are free, none of us are free. We won’t accept being second-class citizens in our own country, no matter what you feel about us. We will, as Gloria Gaynor sang, SURVIVE!

On Navigating Queer Relationships: Reflections From A Support Group

A few months ago, we, at the Restory Project, with the support of Gaysi Family had organised a support group meeting in Bengaluru for queer people to discuss their relationships and how they navigate it. We wanted to share some themes that had emerged during the course of our discussion:

On coming out – Some of us might feel guilty for not coming out to our loved ones “sooner”. Why do we feel like we owe all our loved ones information about our personal lives? “Coming out” can look different for different people, and some of us might choose to never do so publicly. By addressing our feelings of guilt and shame, stating and reinforcing boundaries, questioning our own long-held ideas about “coming out”, we can start moving towards accepting and embracing that choice.

Fitting in – While some of us struggle to fit in with largely heteronormative groups at work and elsewhere, some of us might also be struggling with fitting into groups in the queer community. We might feel like we are expected to live up to the “image” of queerness, or to fit into a box once again. Acknowledging how oppressive systems such as caste and class play a role in this, speaking more openly about the same, gathering support and moving towards what feels authentic to us, are some ways we can try to break free from this “ideal queer” image.

Hypocrisy and “the queer bubble” – As a community, we have work to do when it comes to our responses to minor infractions as well as serious allegations of abuse. We have to make space for nuance as we strive for justice. We might have to reflect on whether we believe that we’re inherently less “problematic” than other groups due to our marginalisation. Are we ignoring those within the community whose behaviour might be harmful/hurtful? How can we respond to those people in a way that encourages accountability, reflection, and growth, instead?

Uneasy compromises – In certain situations in our daily lives, we might have to make choices that prioritise our safety and well-being, which could be judged harshly by those around us, such as: not correcting homophobic relatives’ comments out of fear of losing shelter. Managing our relationships in difficult situations while staying true to ourselves will involve making some difficult decisions. It is important to make peace with them by not labelling ourselves negatively, giving ourselves time to learn and grow, and for factors around us to change with time.

The burden of representation – As members of the community, we sometimes feel pressure to be the most informed person around, to educate those around us, and never make mistakes. This can cause feelings of excessive guilt, affecting our self-image and self-esteem, and stifling our self-expression. Being present, open to experiences and being more compassionate to ourselves, and mindful of our needs, could help us in putting down the baggage that we may feel obliged to carry.

Navigating romantic relationships – We might find ourselves unconsciously viewing our relationships through heteronormative and compulsorily-monogamous lenses, or expect ourselves to be non-monogamous or in visibly queer relationships to validate our romantic/sexual orientations. We could also be judging ourselves or others for not meeting “relationship milestones” dictated by social norms. Trying to reflect on and working towards what might actually be healthy for our relationships specifically could be more helpful for us. Balancing our needs for intimacy and safety (from threats from the outside world), is also worth paying attention to.

I Am Lobia Dal

I am Lobia Dal. I am also known to the Western world as Spiced Indian Cowpea soup. But let’s be honest, I am just your plain Jane ever-trusty Lobia dal.

To prepare me, you need a pressure cooker. In the pressure cooker, you must sauté, on medium heat, in ghee-

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 big onion

3-4 green chillies, finely chopped

3 garlic, minced

An inch of ginger, grated

Once sautéed well, add –

1 teaspoon coriander powder

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chilli powder

½ teaspoon garam masala

2 finely chopped tomatoes

1 cup soaked Red Lobia beans

and

Some fresh coriander, chopped

Pour two cups of water to the mix and set the cooker on medium heat.

After three whistles, all I need is a big squeeze of lemon and I am done. I taste best on the same day.

In the girl’s hostel in Delhi, I was served every Tuesday for lunch. The girls thronged the mess to get a piping hot ladle of me. Between the daily morning oily and bland versions of Alu Parathas and the evening spicy oily snacks like fries, macaroni, and Maggi, I was their oasis of comfort. When they would pour me over a bed of hot rice and then dunk some watery raita on me, I would merge to make a soupy mix that would remind them of their homes. I was not just dal anymore. I was a reminder of everything comforting and good about this world. No girl in the hostel cared about diet on Tuesday. All they cared about was filling their belly with some Lobia goodness.

The girls would sit for hours over me and discuss their lives in a weekly ritual. It is often said that good food brings people together, but by being the only decent food in the hostel I brought their hearts together. By the time the girls were done talking, it would be way past evening snack time.

I am told many girls went on to set up their own kitchens and replicate me there. I heard some of them were even successful. The girls said that I reminded them of their hostel days. Isn’t it funny that I once reminded them of their homes and now remind them of their college days? Maybe I am not just a plain Jane dal. I am a portal to their happy memories. Oh! dear world, how cruel I have been to myself? I never truly understood my own value. Occasionally, looking inward is not enough. We need others to tell us what we are worth. Sometimes, others can see what we can’t see in ourselves. We always tend to be a bit harsh on ourselves.

Dear world, I am not just Lobia Dal anymore. I have rebranded myself to reflect my true worth. I am now organic mildly spiced cowpea in tomato broth canned in a leakproof package, now available at your local supermarkets.

10 Oscar-Winning Films That Shaped Queer History

Since the early 1900s, films have transformed their status as a source of entertainment and a force for social change. Being powerful agents of storytelling, films captivated audiences across the world. The Oscars – cinema’s most prestigious awards brought around recognition for cinematic gems whose storytelling prowess played an essential role in bringing queer history into the light. For decades, Hollywood and other foreign film industries have showcased groundbreaking portrayals of queer characters and celebrated queer culture through love and identity, ultimately pushing the boundaries of queer representation.

Over the century, as films explored these narratives, they shined a light on many key issues the LGBTQ+ community were facing. These accolade-winning films broke stereotypes and challenged societal expectations through the intersection of film, art and activism.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Brokeback Mountain was a groundbreaking film portraying the same-sex love story of two Wyoming cowboys, Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and how it affected the lives of people near and dear to them. The movie, directed by Ang Lee, received critical acclaim, winning 3 Oscars (Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score) and led a widespread cultural conversation on gender stereotypes, love, identity and homosexuality. Its success also fostered greater acceptance and understanding of the struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community and helped legitimize the same narratives which paved the way for more stories and representation of the queer community in mainstream cinema.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

This 2017 Oscar Winner was a poignant coming-of-age’ film that explored the love and desire between two young men, Elio and Oliver played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer respectively. The film’s portrayal of a same-sex relationship in an ideal Italian setting helped normalize LGBTQ relationships on screen, emphasizing that love is a universal emotion. Winning critical acclaim through an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, Call Me By Your Name sprung into mainstream consciousness and won the hearts of everyone globally.

Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight tells the story of a young black man named Chiron who grapples with identity and sexuality in a tough Miami neighborhood, while experiencing the daily struggles of childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The film revealed the remarkable and challenging stereotypes around masculinity and sexuality in contemporary African-American life. It also characterized the effects of crime and drug abuse in modern-day America, especially on people of color. Mahershala Ali delivered a stellar acting performance that earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor along with 2 other awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Motion Picture. This movie played a vital role in sparking conversation about marginalized communities in the USA, right about at the time same-sex marriages were legalized in the country.

Milk (2008)

Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States who became an icon for LGBTQ+ rights due to his unwavering fight for equality. Starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the film chronicled his life and activism and his foundation at the grassroots of the movement for equal rights. Sean Penn’s Best Actor Oscar-winning performance brought Milk’s story to a wider audience and inspired a generation of advocates fighting for the rights of gay people. This movie also celebrated Harvey Milk’s legacy as a beacon of hope and empowerment in a stigmatized and conservative world.

Philadelphia (1993)

Starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, Philadelphia is about a lawyer, Andrew Beckett (Hanks) and his termination from his law firm on the grounds of his HIV diagnosis, and how he hires a homophobic African American lawyer, Joe Miller (Washington) to represent him. A groundbreaking film to fight society’s most avid fears in the 90s – AIDS and homosexuality, Philadelphia humanized the experience of people living with the HIV/AIDS virus and shed light on the discrimination and stigma faced by homosexual individuals and earned Hanks his first Oscar as The Best Actor in a leading role. The film went on to portray Beckett’s character as “just as any other individual” who deserves to be treated equally, despite his sexuality. The film evokes many emotions related to justice, discrimination and compassion as it highlights a tense discourse on equal rights.

A Fantastic Woman (2017)

A Chilean movie directed by Sebastián Lelio tells the story of Marina, a transgender woman who is mourning the loss of her older boyfriend while fighting for basic human respect and grasping the hatred towards her. The film was an empathetic and powerful storytelling experience that highlighted the struggles of transgender individuals, their acceptance and inclusivity in society. Daniela Vega, who plays Marina, became the first transgender woman to be an Academy Awards presenter in 2018, the same year that her film A Fantastic Woman won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. After the film’s critical acclaim, Daniela Vega emphasized the need for understanding and acceptance of the transgender community and that parents, just like hers, play a pivotal role in helping their kids transition into who they are.

The Danish Girl (2015)

A groundbreaking movie on the compassionate portrayal of the life of Lili Elbe, a Danish transgender woman, one of the first known individuals to have undergone a gender transition. Eddie Redmayne, who plays Lili, delivers a transformative and powerful performance that won him the Best Actor Academy Award in 2016. The film contributed to the visibility and normalization of transgender issues, educating audiences worldwide about their fight for identity, equality and freedom from hate and discrimination. In later interviews, Redmayne would go on to describe his inspiration for this role as the countless transgender men and women whom he interviewed to understand their plight and struggle for identity.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Boys Don’t Cry earned Hilary Swank her first Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. A film renowned for its unflinching real-life portrayal of Brandon Teena, a transgender man in rural Nebraska, who finds himself in and love then falls victim to a brutal hate crime by two men. The gruesome end to the movie led to it being rated R by studios. After its release and critical acclaim, Boys Don’t Cry inspired advocacy and activism within the LGBTQ+ community, sparking conversations about the need for legal protections, societal acceptance, and improved support systems for transgender people.

All About My Mother (1999)

Pedro Almodovar’s masterpiece was celebrated for its nuanced portrayal of transgender characters all while challenging gender identities and stereotypes. All About My Mother is a unique story of a nurse Manuela, who travels to Barcelona in search of her recently dead son’s father, who is a tranvestite named Lola. The film was critically acclaimed and praised for highlighting key issues of motherhood, gender identity and the complexities of human relationships. Some heart-wrenching performances and strong writing won Almodovar his first-ever Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000.

The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994)

TAOPQOTDis a vibrant celebration of queer culture, drag queens and transgender women. The film portrays two transgender women travelling the Australian Outback to perform their famous drag shows. Engulfed with a lot of humour and great musical numbers, the film promotes a nature of self-acceptance and empowerment and challenges primitive gender norms and societal insecurities. The film was also pivotal in highlighting the exquisite creativity of drag shows and how drag queens influenced fashion, entertainment and arts. Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, who were at the helm of the kaleidoscopic and colorful costume design won an Oscar in the same category.

Worthy Mentions

Capote (2005)

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of famed author Truman Capote is a testament to the importance of authentic representation of queer storytelling. It also highlighted the significance and contribution of gay authors like Capote to literature and arts.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

A real-life story about Sonny (Al Pacino) who desperately attempts to rob a bank in order to fund his partner’s gender reassignment surgery. In real life, Sonny’s partner does get the surgery she needs.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

This 2013 biographical drama tells the story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) who is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and struggles to procure medication for not his treatment but for other people riddled with the disease. The film also showcases his friendly relationship with a transgender prostitute, Rayon (played by Jared Leto).

Throughout the history of film, there are movies that have proved to be catalysts for change and empathy for the queer community. Each of the above films has not only entertained but also informed audiences that the struggle against injustice and discrimination is real and it requires every human’s support despite their gender identity. These films have not only highlighted conversations around LGBTQ+ issues and gender norms but have also broadened horizons and impacted society, history and culture in an ever-lasting narrative of LGBTQ+ history. These films remind us that through the lens of art and storytelling, society can truly shape queer history.

Dirge Of The Sterile Trans Woman

TW: for dysphoria relating to being unable to be pregnant, self-hatred, feminine rage, and graphic language.

I want to scream and cry
at the injustice of it all.
why can’t I carry babies?
why can’t I be pregnant?
why do I feel like an incomplete, worthless, and defective woman?

It should be me that’s pregnant.
not my wife,
not my partner,
no one but me!

I feel dejected and despondent.
how ever will I be a mother otherwise?
don’t feed me tripe about sperm freezing!
believe me “fathering” a child is the last thing I want to do.
I should have been born with a uterus.

Don’t feed me the tripe about some cis women being infertile.
JUST DON’T.
I’m DONE! You hear me?!
You hear me?!

Childhood dreams dashed and mercilessly destroyed
because of the cruel nature of being born male.

When Polyamory Becomes Ordinary

I have two partners. Let’s call them B (they/them) and F (she/her). Recently, B texted F if they can both combine their resources to get me a pair of quality noise-canceling headphones for my birthday. I’m autistic, prone to sensory overload, and they have both been concerned about it since my last episode. They know what this means to me: the gift of quiet and of them getting along with each other.

F went out on a date with someone. I texted this person after a few days (with consent from all people involved) to tell her that she’s lovely. She tells me that my partner is lucky to have me. I said, I’m the lucky one. F and her make a good pair. After all, F chooses well.

Whenever I have a call with my mom, she asks about F and B. She’s invested in their lives, defends them, uses the right pronouns, and likes them a lot. She’s wise, a sweetheart, and a full ally.

B was really sick in August, and F was concerned. She checked in with me about them regularly. A couple of months ago, B was REALLY MAD when they got to know about how F was being treated at work. I received a lot of angry texts, which I promptly forwarded to F.

They have met each other twice. Once, they were at my place at the same time, and were respectful and playful. Literally playful! They played with a ball together, while I cowered in a corner and yelled at them to stop because, yes, I’m afraid of balls. No puns here.

When it was my 10-month anniversary with B, F wished me so sweetly. Both B and I had forgotten the date (Because what is time? How does it work?). F, on the other hand, remembered because her brain is a computer.

I recently got back on Hinge, saw the profiles of both my partners there, and sent each of them a text. A cute, fun reunion. I’m not sure how to tell non-poly people about these things, though. I no longer know how to answer the unsaid “But ‘how’ do you all do this?”

I sometimes have to take a step back when these very normal things are happening to me to remind myself that I couldn’t have thought of this life a year ago. These two had never been polyamorous, but they took to it like fish to water. Before this, I had convinced myself due to past events that the way I love is probably a road to permanent heartbreak. That I will not find the right people. That something is very wrong with me.

I remember that in the first 3 months of dating B, I kept waiting for them to blow up or be passive-aggressive in some way. I would be hyper-alert the whole time whenever polyamory was even implied – let alone mentioned outright. If there was no reaction, I would wait for one to build up in a couple of days. My therapist had to remind me gently that there were no facts at hand for my fears to be construed as true, and that I just needed time and healing to let go of the past baggage and conditioning.

I knew she was right. But I waited for everything to fall apart. For heartbreaking, sarcastic comments to come my way, for someone to tell me that I’m not doing enough for them, that this isn’t working out for them, that I don’t understand how it felt, that they needed time apart, that they wanted to leave.

It never happened. I’ve made space for B and F to gently express feelings of any kind whatsoever, but they’ve filled that space with even more love. I would reject this initially with a “No, you don’t know what you’re feeling, you should tell me if you’re feeling weird or insecure or jealous, I’m here to talk about it openly”. The constant assurances I offered to be there for them, and not believing them when they told me they were okay, made me forget that I have needs too. My conditioning of the last couple of years to anticipate and cater to a partner’s forever-fluctuating feelings made me abandon my own.

No one’s competing with anyone here. No one’s entitled to the other’s time. Everyone is capable of talking about jealousy and insecurity and their needs openly, just like monogamous folks ideally should too. And every single person in this entire romantic chain has respect for each other. It no longer baffles me. These people have given me new standards to uphold. It’s strange to think that I was ever playing by monogamous rules; both my partners make it all seem so easy and wonderful.

Love, when shared, multiplies. I’ve learnt new ways to be there for my friends and family because of this philosophy too. I’ve become a much better person and learnt to introspect on my own unhealthy patterns. Thank goodness for Instagram pages on polyamory, books and articles on the subject, chosen family and polyamorous friends.

I understand that people still react to me having two loving partners with a sense of novelty, but this routine has become so beautifully ordinary for me. It’s similar to when I first realized I’m bisexual, years ago. I spoke of it a LOT with my queer friends. And now … *shrugs*.

What I’m trying to say is that in a world where hate seems supreme sometimes, I hope we all have the capacity, privilege, health, and luck to create our own little worlds of ‘love’, however we define the word for ourselves. May we continue to learn that love flows, and can’t be boxed. And may it feel like the most natural way of being.

Jamming With Conservative Psychologists And Doctors

TW: description of conversion therapy

This debate began on a whim that went unsatisfied; it began that night when I received a phone call from my aunt (Khala). Being the eldest she took matters into her own hands. “I want you to meet some people,” she said. A little bit of context: I’m a transgender woman raised in a conservative Muslim family, where our inheritance is subjugation. I had recently moved out from my parent’s home, a decision that ended up infusing chaos into my family.

“What do you mean by some people?” I questioned. I coaxed her out of her initial hesitation as she explained that she just didn’t want to leave any strands of hope unattended, no options unused. The people were a group of ‘healers of the soul’ from the Sufi tradition, who wanted to have a conversation with me on matters regarding my sexual orientation and gender identity. Initially, my answer was a big NO, as it indicated conversation therapy; I decided to make my boundaries clear and my stance firm.

Moving out and settling wasn’t easy. I was struggling to manage expenses and facing constant pressure from my family to reverse my decision as they thought that it was not mine but rather one taken under the influence of the queer community. My unemployment added further distress to all this, and with the rent due, I was spiralling into an imminent burnout. I called my aunt and decided to meet those ‘healers of the soul’ on one condition: if I manage to convince them my Aunt will cover my rent for that month. The absurdity and optimism at the same time led to the most unexpected of events in my coming out story.

The meet-up was at Mujib Park in Jamia Nagar, Delhi. There were 3 of them waiting for us under the Java plum tree. Skepticism and fear took over me at the sight of 3 men in white kurtas greeting us. We sat down and after a bit of small talk, the main course needed to be served. My aunt began drawing a picture of what possibly went wrong with me, according to the collective perception of my entire family. That it was influence of Delhi University’s queer circle that had introduced me to the rest of the community. Meanwhile I was busy mustering an ounce of strength to speak up. Eventually I began by stating: “I believe you are all aware of the fact that I identify as a woman”.

I enquired what their stance was on this matter, to which one of them who was probably in his late 40s and a doctor by profession, replied that he respects the feeling aspect of it, but not what queer people make of these feelings. The queer agenda would irk anyone, according to him, and the other 2 men nodded in agreement. They had reduced an entire community to mere propaganda in my aunt’s curious, hopeful, and watchful eyes, knowing nothing of my pain. I decided to narrate my reason for being there, and that I was neither representing the community nor was open to discussing anything outside the realm of my individual experience and beliefs. I was there for the sole purpose of sorting my rent, and was not in the mental state to deal with moral obligations and toxicity. One of the younger ones decided to add to their own purpose of this meet-up – he was in his late 20s and a psychologist by profession and probably the keenest of them all. He said that he was there to understand and empathize with my suffering and to aid me in it, that it shan’t be that out of suffering that I make meaning as that is  not stated in the word of Allah, and that I felt this because I am this, but Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (the most glorified, the most high) is greater than my suffering and in his greatness I shall heal. The beguiled nature of his sympathetic smirk disguised as empathy reduced my identity to a refuge for my pain and mere propaganda. In theory, he talked about Carl Jung, Erick Erikson and Sigmund Freud to provide context to how I possibly developed this notion of identity that was not of the norm. To this, I ended up mentioning (in another session with them) why not include the theories of Andrea Dworkin, where it can be seen that she was a trans ally. It appalled me that they shunned all feminist readings as post-modern and misinformed, including readings on Islam!

Things actually went worse in a more recent therapy session that the youngest one of the 3 wanted to facilitate, under the pretext of calming out the distress between me and my family. The session included my mum and my aunt, and it was probably the most vulnerable I was since I came out. He wanted to trace the entirety of my childhood to figure out the genuineness of my feelings and intensity of my persona as a woman. He pointed out that my family never happened to witness any feminine traits (nazakat) in my behavior since childhood, to which I put forth that I never exhibited any masculine traits either and that because I had witnessed the bullying of other children who were effeminate, I knew what not to be. I explained all the painful instances that brought me to the acceptance that ‘I am a woman’. But by the end of session, I realized that for the therapist it was never about logic or creating space to co-exist but instead his own ego that he had confused with empathy under the disguise of duty (farziath). His final solution was for me to give one chance to let go of my gender identity and that would also require me to go under medication to curb the pain of such a sacrifice. The family therapy session ended with conversion therapy as a religious and medical option on the table.

I Don’t Want To Be A Girlboss

[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!

I AM MY KEEPER!
I AM!

Top 10 Songs On My Playlist

[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.

Managing Social Anxiety At A Public Event – A Guide From My Own Experiences

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.

The Good Child Review: A Hilarious Look Into Being Queer And A Stoner

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.

Metaphors For Labyrinth

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?

Love, Void, Desire… And You?

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.

House of Cards – OUT NOW!

PURCHASE LINK – http://tinyurl.com/up2t6kkp

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.

CREDITS

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

How I Found Refuge For My Gender Through Stand-Up

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…’.

What Is It Like As A Transgender Woman In Corporate India?

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”.

A focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace is vital for retaining team members. In the largest survey of transgender people to date, 78% of the respondents reported experiencing at least one form of harassment or mistreatment at work because of their gender identity; more specifically, 47% reported being discriminated against in the hiring, promotion, or job retention processes. The LGBTQIA+ community is aware of this and individuals seek out places of work that are sensitized and have diversity in the workplace.

“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.”

Also read: Three Years after the Historic NALSA Judgment, Have Trans Indians Truly Benefited from it?

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.”

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GHOSTSPOTS

Is this goodbye, then?

It is.

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.

Heartstopper S2 (Mostly) Aces It

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-yTM party (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?

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 ?

‘One Night Only’ But Might Stay With You Longer. Here’s Why

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.”

Chicken Dinner

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.

“What?”

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…”

“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.”

“You’re the worst.”

Sense And Sensuality

“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.

Dear Mean Girls

Dear Mean Girls,

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.

Queer Rest: Nurturing Resilience And Self-Care Post-Pride Month

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.

Longest Whatsapp text

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.

Living By A Rape Schedule – Navigating Time And Vulnerabilities

TW: mention of abuse, rape and sexual violence

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.

There is this compelling need to be constantly aware of your surroundings and watch out for possible threats. My body language is different in public too – hunched shoulders so that my breasts go in, I don’t walk too fast or jump so they don’t bounce.” [26, Cis Woman]
 
The biggest thread that emerged was that of how these experiences lived on in the bodies of respondents. Almost all respondents, especially queer folks, shared that they had a heightened awareness of their surroundings, their bodies had adapted to being in survival/fight mode constantly and that they were always finding ways to shrink themselves to not draw attention.  Over time this had led to seeing our bodies as a permanent site of violence and conflict. A parallel that emerged was the inability to engage with desire playfully or without a perception of threat to oneself, limiting the possibility of intimacies and connection. For one person their first encounter with expressed desire had been through harassment (being catcalled on the street), leaving an imprint for future interactions and a questioning of their own needs and desirability, “Can I only be desired in a way that violates my agency?”.

“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.

There seems to exist a complicit understanding universally that there is a steady threat of sexual assault and violence for certain gender identities. However, the onus of resisting it seems to rest on them as well and not on the systems they inhabit. Such institutionalisation, amongst other consequences, can lead to further victim blaming when and if sexual assault does happen. What we need institutionally are efforts to enable the full participation of all people in every aspect of life alongside massive awareness-raising efforts that build understanding of and undo existing gender relations.
 
The fact that so many people could relate with and respond to the idea of a rape schedule is indicative of a systemic failure to care about or prevent sexual assault. Persistent rape culture has shaped dominant narratives of how sexual assault happens – building up the idea of stranger danger when 95% sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the victim, internalising in vulnerable individuals the belief that there is something we can “do right” to prevent getting sexually assaulted / or that there is something we must be “doing wrong” and that is why we deserve this violence. It is also related to people responding to the high incidence of sexual assault with further policing of those vulnerable to such violence rather than supporting our quest for liberation.

Barbie: A Hilarious, Reflective Tribute To The Cultural Legacy Of A Queer Icon

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.  

Verdict:

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.

Queer, But Not Enough.

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!

What Even Are Labels? – A Gaysi Guide On Labels And How To Use Them

In collaboration with The Quiet Queerness Project

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

      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.

      The Art of Inclusion: Kathegala Kanive Redefines Representation Through Photography

      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.

      Nottingham’s Punjabi Forests: Talking With Nadia Whittome, The UK’s Youngest (Queer, Indian) Member Of Parliament

      “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. 

      Nadia Campaigning with other MPs for climate action in the run up to COP26

      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.

      Nadia on a picket line in Nottingham with striking telecommunications workers

      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.

      Nadia at Nottingham Pride

      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.

      Nadia attending a Diwali event in Nottingham (left) and Nadia at home with her dog, Hattie (right)

      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:

      Nadia’s Recommendations!

      Book I’m reading right now: Honey and Spice, by Bolu Babalola

      Playlists: Deutsche Musik, COYR, Musique Francaise and Big Gay Night Out!

      Places to go in Nottingham:

      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!

      About Threesomes And Media Representation On Escaping Purity Culture

      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.

      Reflecting On Reflections

      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.

      An Evening Remembering Baba Saheb

      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:

      (TW: R*pe)

      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.

      Now they are used to being raped.

      We Will Make It Through Pride

      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.

      We got each other and we will make it through.

      And we will stand proud.

      I promise.

      The Ultimate Toy Chest: Unleash Your Inner Wild Side With These 9 Sex Toys

      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.

      The Fifty Shades of Grey Nothing But Sensation Nipple Teasers are easy to use and can be enjoyed during solo play or with a partner. Combine them with a blindfold or other kinky props to enhance your experience.

      Screaming O Soft Touch Vroom Bullet Vibrator

      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 Pom Pom Feather Tickler

      Awaken your senses and ignite your passion with the Bijoux Indiscrets Pom Pom Feather Tickler: the tool you need to explore the most delicate and sensitive areas of your body.

      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 Labyrinth Of My Gender Troubles

      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.

      My Walking Stick And I

      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.

      #Itstartswithyourname: Starbucks’ New Campaign Celebrates Diversity And Encourages Acceptance

      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.

      Scarred Rewind

      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?”

      “Of course!”

      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.

      Why Indian Patriarchy And Patriotism Is Against True Marriage Equality?

      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.

      “A wife must always obey her husband”

      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.

      Today, most Indians (55%) agree that “women and men make equally good political leaders,” yet in the very same study 80% also responded that “men should have more prominent roles than women” with 9 in 10 Indians agreeing with the notion that “a wife must always obey her husband”, including nearly 2/3rds who completely agree with this sentiment. The patriarchal structure has been in existence for centuries and has shaped our culture, values and how we engage in politics.

      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”.

      This is probably why SG Tushar Mehta also said in court, “Right to marry can’t mean compelling the State to create a new definition of marriage.” In the eyes of the Centre any other kind of marriage is outside the very definition of marriage. He also stated, “There are prohibitions related to age of marriage, bigamy, who you can and cannot marry, the concept of marriage is not only a union of two individuals but also a union of two families”.

      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.

      Sources

      “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

      https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/samesex-marriage-hearing-in-supreme-court-ten-things-said-in-court-on-day-5-101682503441219.html

      https://news.yahoo.com/supreme-court-india-same-sex-082318406.html

      https://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/report-supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-hearing-what-are-we-fighting-for-3039074

      https://www.livemint.com/news/india/highly-inappropriate-scba-condemns-bci-resolution-on-same-sex-marriage-hearing-11682671197020.html

      https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/samesex-marriage-plea-only-marriage-between-man-woman-valid-says-centre-in-delhi-high-court-101635188830742.html

      https://www.outlookindia.com/national/same-sex-marriage-6-days-6-key-takeaways-from-supreme-court-hearing-news-281859

      https://www.vogue.in/content/same-sex-marriage-meet-zainab-patel-whose-story-moved-the-supreme-court-during-the-marriage-equality-hearings

      https://www.thequint.com/gender/bar-council-of-india-same-sex-marriage-resolution-lawyers-react

      SC Same-Sex Marriage Hearing Highlights: Petitioners argue ‘straight couples who can’t procreate are allowed to marry, so why not us’ | Explained News,The Indian Express

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bharat_Mata

      https://www.shaalaa.com/question-bank-solutions/bhaarat-maata-kee-jay-aapake-vichaar-se-is-naare-mein-kisakee-jay-kee-baat-kahee-jaatee-hai-apane-uttar-ka-kaaran-bhee-bataie-prose-class-8_157374

      Queer Classics: Our Stories Of Joy, Hope And Resistance

      What do you mean by queer classics?

      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:

      1. Films: Sholay’s Jai-Veeru and their mighty friendship. Did you see possibilities for stories of queer friendship?
      2. Advertisements: Queer folx and families on ‘Humara Bajaj’ scooter?
      3. 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?
      4. 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’. 

      1. Only original and unpublished work will be considered.
      2. 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’.
      3. 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.
      4. 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.
      5. 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.
      6. All visual art submissions, your pitch must include the following details:
        1. Title of the piece. 
        2. Nature of the piece (graphic narrative, illustration, photo-essay, photo series, collage, etc.)
        3. Brief overview of the concept and how it relates to the theme.
        4. 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).
        5. Color treatment (B&W/4-color, etc.)
        6. A little about yourself (a brief bio and your SM links).
        7. 4-5 samples of most recent/relevant work.
      7. Any content that is even mildly offensive or in any form derogatory to the LGBTQIA+ community will not be considered.
      8. Due to the volume of queries and submissions normally received, do allow us two weeks to respond from the date of receipt.

      To All The Women I Didn’t Know I Loved

      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 amoreAmore 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.

      Maaz: A Longing

      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.

      Marriage Equality: What Has Been A Distant Dream, For It To Feel So In-Reach Is Excruciating!

      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!

      Breaking The Silence: Trixie Shares The Harrowing Ordeal Of Conversion Therapy

      TW: Mention of abuse and Conversion Therapy

      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 Ordeal

      Image Source: Google

      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 the video, 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.

      Zenana

      TW: Mention of bullying

      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[1]. 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.


      [1]        (Derogatory) An effeminate man

      The Judges That Will Hear The Same-Sex Marriage Petition(s) Tomorrow

      Image Source: Google

      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.

      Members Of Trans Rights Now Collective Roughed Up By Cops In Chennai

      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.

      Also read: https://gaysifamily.com/lifestyle/why-are-dba-transgender-folx-demanding-horizontal-reservation-all-you-need-to-know/

      Landmark Ruling For LGBTQIA+ Rights In India: Gender-Neutral Restrooms And Online Appearance Slips Mandated By Supreme Court

      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.

      What It Is Like As A Transgender/ Non-Binary Identifying Model At Lakme Fashion Week.

      Seeing all three of them walking at the Manish Malhotra X Lakme LFW Finale Show is one of my most cherished experiences at LFW. At par with what it felt like to see Saisha Shinde’s – the first transgender fashion designer to have a show at Lakme Fashion Week 2023.

      Left to Right, Anjali Lama, Glorious Luna ‘Suruj’, Gaia Kaur walking for Manish Malhotra at the LFW2023 Grand Finale
      Left to Right, Anjali Lama, Glorious Luna ‘Suruj’, Gaia Kaur walking for Manish Malhotra at the LFW2023 Grand Finale

      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.

      Left to Right, Anjali Lama walking for NYFW, Glorious Luna ‘Suruj’ in an article for Vogue India, Gaia Kaur for Abu Jani & Sandeep Khosla’s Latest Campaign shoot.

      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?

      Backstage LFW2023 images, Anjali for Namrata Joshipura, Luna for Ritika Mirchandani & Gaia for Saisha Shinde. Creds-FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week / RISE Worldwide & @saishashindeofficial.

      “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.

      Glorious Luna wearing Anavila. Creds- FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week / RISE Worldwide

      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”

      Anjali Lama walking for Antar Agni at LFW2023. Creds- From FDCI X Lakme Fashion Week / RISE Worldwide.

      “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.

      Gaia Kaur walks the ramp during One Infinite Presents Disha Patil Fashion during Lakmé Fashion Week 2023 at Jio gardens in Mumbai, India on 11th March 2023.

      “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 walking for Sejal Kamdar Designs. Cred- FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week / RISE Worldwide

      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?

      Left to Right, Anjali Lama for Vaishali S., Glorious Luna ‘Suruj’ for Nirmooha, Gaia walking for Akaaro, designers at the LFW2023. Creds- FDCI X Lakme Fashion Week / RISE Worldwide.

      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.”

      Left to Right, Anjali Lama for Hiro, Glorious Luna ‘Suruj’ for Ranna Gill, Gaia walking for Nitin Bal Chauhan,at the LFW2023 show. Creds- FDCI X Lakme Fashion Week / RISE Worldwide.

      “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.

      Fashion 2008

      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.

      Naomi Cambell shot by Daniel SIMON

      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

      Fan art of Glorious Luna by @souchaaaaaaa and Anjali Lama with a fan at LFW.

      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.

      Anjali Lama the first transgender model at LFW 2017.

      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.”

      Breaking the binary fashion and Left to Right, Toshadaa  walking for Manisha Malhotra, Anjali Lama walking for Iro Iro, Glorious Luna walking for SIX5SIX and Gaia Kaur walking for INIFD Launchpad show.

      “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 

      Ten Really Awesome (Queer) Artists’ Work To Follow!

      @ramaanticise (rum)

      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 rumnpoke@gmail.com.

      @veermisra (Veer Misra)

      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.

      @comics_in_crisis (Shoi/Saimita)

      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.  

      @gauravvikalp (Gaurav Vikalp)

      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.

      @koncham_artsy (Praveen)

      https://www.instagram.com/p/Bzqix0CFb5m/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

      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. 

      @soulstuffjunkie (Meghna Menon)

      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 meghnamenon94@gmail.com.

      @_countenance_ (Harshinee Rajkumar)

      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.

      @_jojorambles (Jyotsna)

      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