Personal Stories

On Queer Anarchy – A Note From Gotagogama Protest Village In Sri Lanka

I am tired of being questioned about myself, and would love, for a moment, to forget that I am trans in a society that constantly feels the need to remind me of it in a not-so-joyous way.

Artwork By Vasi Samudra Devi

I remember the words my date-and now one of my poly companions-told me about her experiences with cis women in Sri Lanka while driving me back home. These women had been looking to step out of their comfort zone with her and experiment with other women. She told me about the upsetting, and very real stigma and shame surrounding women’s bodies, especially that which queer women, had been subjected to while growing up, which had made them fear any kind of experimentation. I reassured her that I had no such issues with my body, for I had already dealt with a lot of shame and self-hatred. The feelings of imprisonment within my own body, had subsided. I had learned to love my body during the last two years of medically transitioning.

The rest of the date went wonderfully. It still boggles my mind to this day, that I, as a queer trans woman, could still find happiness and comfort with someone amidst the worst economic crisis this country had ever faced. As time went by, we became more comfortable as friends and not partners, which was lovely in itself. In fact, thinking about the future while fixing my present personal relationships is currently stressful for me. Taking care of so many people close to you, and seeing to them constantly is one of the stresses as well as joys of being non-monogamous. I also wish that the collective hateful mindset in Sri Lanka would become more loving and tolerant with time. Queer people are raised with shame from the beginning, under the pretense of upholding the toxic culture of the country, which praises unquestioning, militaristic uniformity over diversity.

The country is also currently going through a severe economic crisis, and the presence of the LGBTQIA+ community is being forgotten and pushed aside even more as time goes on. I believe that now is the time to act.

I am transgender. I grew up with a different relationship to my body than a cis woman. It is objectified daily, policed by the medical and legal system, and made to feel like a prison due to years of dysphoria. Adding polyamory and an attraction to women to the mix, brings further nuance to the discourse about the beautiful mess that I am. And through my date and several other queer women, I gathered that there were quite a few who felt stifled by the idea of monogamy, just as I do.

I have been in one monogamous relationship, and it was more than enough for me. I also detest the mere idea of marriage, and relationship escalation. Monogamy feels like a prison to me. Quite simply, I am very much a queer anarchist in my political beliefs. I currently spend my time painting large acrylic artworks on canvases at the Gotagogama protest village. The camp is self-governed, and there is even a push for gardening on the premises, with land being reclaimed for the growing of crops in small plots, and with an on-site community kitchen.

In short, plenty of commentators online have noted that it runs according to anarchist principles of self-governance and mutual aid. However, there is, clearly, a long way to go for queer liberation in Sri Lanka, a country that progresses at a glacial pace. I have spoken to hundreds of deeply repressed and closeted queer people, who, like myself and my openly queer peers, have been harassed on-site.

Artwork By Vasi Samudra Devi

The queer population of the camp is all over the place, spread out across the various fields of work that we occupy. We do not always meld into the ecosystem at the camp though, as there is no truly united front at the site. If this autonomous zone is an echo of Sri Lanka’s heavy push towards cis straight male-dominated political and social spaces, then it also carries the country’s worst aspects within it. The racism, misogyny and queerphobia remains intact, having seen it first-hand in the space and simply brushed away. I and a few other transfeminine people are currently planning Pride for Gotagogama, and it promises to be a huge undertaking that is also much-needed. With the mostly cis straight male majority of the camp either not understanding our needs for safety, or simply being the majority of the organizers on site, the need for Pride has become more urgent.

I am excited by the prospect, in fact, of bringing Pride closer to its roots for a country as close-minded and conservative as Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka as a whole progresses so slowly that it was just recently that the tax on sanitary products for those that menstruate, was taken off.

It is no accident that I wish for queer anarchy to set a standard for a future that can emphasize on the protection of its LGBTQIA+ community. Anarchy at its core, is often grossly misunderstood as a violent state of lawlessness and disorder, which should be quelled. However it is simply a criticism of state terrorism and cruelty. Queer anarchy is a radical rejection of forced hierarchies, and queer individuals are historically able to prosper under systems that focused on liberation, that does not force us to assimilate into discriminatory social systems such as forced gender binaries, police brutality against queer individuals, and the treatment of trans people as being pathological, while insisting that gender dysphoria is not a mental illness. Queer anarchy is not based on the assimilation of queer people into the status quo, but about the generational fight against the violence of the state.

Queer anarchy is a concept which is beautiful and liberating to all who encounter it, and not just as a political movement. It has been co-opted and popularized by many non-monogamous people, myself included, who identify themselves as “relationship anarchists”, who do not focus on differentiating their relationships via hierarchies. I was more drawn to anarchy itself through this strange subsection of it, having stumbled upon the idea towards the end of last year. Quite simply, to a relationship anarchist, love really is love. Romance with just one person is not the ultimate form of love to me either, and it never has been. I even spoke to a friend from the Himalayas about this. They said they wished to love everyone freely and universally, and I wish to do the same. I have spoken to various folx from the heterosexual society, including to a cis man who asked me what I characterize as me, he asked me who I am, in a very philosophical sense which is how most cishet male ‘intellectuals’ even like to approach sex. I simply told him, in Sinhala, the language that we spoke in, “I’m Vasi. Vasi Samudra Devi”. Later last night, I related this to a friend, herself a cis straight woman who I love and care for dearly, and she certainly agreed with me that a mindset change was needed. I am tired of being questioned about myself, and would love, for a moment, to forget that I am trans in a society that constantly feels the need to remind me of it in a not-so-joyous way.

The Sri Lankan queer community is mostly hidden, with the majority being afraid to come out, or being forced into marriages that they cannot stay in. Several of us are forced to live through severe trauma, with no help in sight and nobody to help due to the cultural stigma against us, a holdover from British colonialism. The penal code of Sri Lanka also still criminalizes homosexuality. Changing the laws to decriminalize homosexuality is an important step forward, but queer liberation should not end there.

Sri Lanka is a country that stays in stasis for years on end, seeing none to very little progress for its marginalized communities. If we cannot even understand ourselves beyond a cruel system that was imposed on us by a colonial force, what are we fighting for, really?

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Vasi (she/they) is a Sri Lankan non-binary transgender woman who makes art related to her identity as a sapphic woman, hoping for affection the way she draws it.
Vasi Samudra Devi

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