Sunday, August 22, 2010

Expecto Patronum

I am a little too lazy to go back and check if I have written about this already in an earlier blogpost. Even if I have, I like to believe it is worth repeating :)

Harry Potter books have helped me in a very real way. Some years ago, I suffered from chronic migraine. I still wince at the memory of those days when the terrible headaches would last for 48 hours or more. I would darken the room and lie curled up. Then at some point, I would start hearing buzzing sounds in me ears, then I would threw up, and the headache would begin to subside. But more difficult than the migraine itself was the pool of depression it left me in in its wake. It was absolutely terrible, dark and lonely.Getting back to work/ study was immensely difficult. Since, for some reason, I found it hard to explain myself to my professors, fellow students and colleagues, I tried to deal with it by attempting to get back to work with vengeance only to feel overwhelmed and burnt out very soon. It was very frustrating for me and several others around me.

I am glad that it was around that time I started reading the Harry Potter books. When I first encountered J K Rowling's description of a dementor attack, I was stunned to see how much it sounded like a description of these attacks of depression: like all happiness has been sucked out from within me and for several miles around, like it was just one endless stretch of bleakness. The depiction of the dementors themselves as dark, hooded creatures gliding soundlessly over their victims struck me as the best allegory to how these phases of depression crawled over to me. The wizards in the Harry Potter books conjure the Patronus charm to defend themselves from the dementor. What a wizard requires to do to conjure a strong Patronus is to first seek refuge in his or her memories of happiness and love and cast the charm from there. For the dementors, in J K Rowling's imagination, cannot withstand the power of even the remembrance of love and happiness. 

It appeared to me that this could be a tool I could use to combat the onset of depression. As I usually found it hard to be verbally articulate about how I felt during these phases, it helped to have a visualization that someone else had taken the trouble to come up with. Thankfully, I have not gone through a migraine for sometime now, but depression still sneaks upon me in various ways. To this day, the Patronus charm works for me. It is quite wonderful.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sickness and Health

Note: Here's something I wrote and shared with a bunch of friends by email sometime in late October 2009. I was in Washington, DC, and could not perform at a festival as planned. My knee injury had acted up, and I had to take a call and refrain from performing at the event which was, in fact, the main reason for being there in DC.My personal angst at not being able to perform notwithstanding, the festival and shows were a great success. Dakshina's (the company) team of seven dancers presented "Karna," a new work created by Daniel Singh and me, very beautifully.

My dear dancers,

I don't think I need to tell you that I was quite saddened about not being able to dance in the festival this past weekend (the last weekend of Oct 2009). It sort of became acute on the second day (Saturday), when it felt like everyone was dancing and it was only I who could not. So, after the matinee show on Saturday, I came home to cry. I did not want to sulk in front of everyone. But I am sure I did that too!

I also quietly admitted one truth to myself: that besides feeling bad for not dancing, I was jealous of you all. I just decided to face that fact, have a good cry, and get it over with. And that's what I did. 

Something really beautiful and paradigm-shifting happened after that. While walking back to the theater, I found myself humming the lines of a song that I have not remembered in months. It is a song by Subramanya Bharathiyar, one of Tamil's most dearest poets. The lines of this particular song go like this:

காயிலே புளிப்பதென்னே கண்ணப்பெருமானே - நீ 

கனியிலே இனிப்பதென்னே கண்ணப்பெருமானே ........

How do you taste so sour in this raw fruit, Oh, Kanna!
How do you taste so sweet in this ripe one, Oh Kanna!

And then, 

நோயிலே படுப்பதென்னே கண்ணப்பெருமானே - நீ

நோன்பிலே உயிர்ப்பதென்னே கண்ணப்பெருமானே 

You are what lies enervated in illness, Oh, Kanna!
You are what springs alive after a fast, Oh, Kanna!

Never before has the song made sense to me in the spectacular light in which I occurred to me at that moment. If I love my dancing, agile self, I must also love my healing, wounded body, for it is all "Kanna" finally! If I can offer my dancing body in prayer, I can offer by limping one too! :) That shift was tectonic in scale. 

I wanted to share this experience with you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On the Criminal Law (Amendment) Draft Bill, 2010; Sexual Assault, etc

I have been part of several discussions on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Draft Bill, 2010, which proposes crucial amendments to the sections of the Indian Penal Code that deal with sexual assault. Here's something I wrote for the New Indian Express, that was published on 30 May 2010, as part of a larger feature on this Draft Bill.

Gender and biological sex are two different things(Opinion | Aniruddhan Vasudevan)There are sure to be other takes on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Draft Bill, 2010 from the queer perspective, considering that the LGBT spectrum is wide and covers several sexual orientations and gender identities. This is just one. 

Section 375 of the IPC, which currently deals with sexual assault on women above the age of consent, should be made gender neutral, at least with respect to the victim of the assault. The argument often made to restrict Sec 375’s applicability to women is that sexual assault is a gendered crime. While the language of law appears to be speaking of gender, it is, in fact, speaking of biological sex. 

In other words, while the law perceives “women” as possible victims of sexual assault, it in fact means “females.” Therefore, it has been impossible for it to understand gender as a much broader axis of power, oppression and violence. 

Thanks to this lack of understanding of gender as a matrix of social codes and transgressions and not as some ‘natural’ outcome of one’s biological sex, the language of law fails to perceive that persons other than women are also regular targets of sexual assault. The possibility of serious harm to bodily integrity is a matter that also concerns persons other than women; bodies that are other than biologically female. For instance, when a kothi-identified person or an aravani is sexually assaulted by a man, it is indeed a gendered violence, for it is the person’s gender expression that becomes the site of sexual violence. Why should such violence be considered under a very archaic and morally-loaded category, “Of Unnatural Offences,” under Section 377?

Our understanding of what it means to be gendered has expanded beyond the narrow perception of sex=gender. You could be biologically male (sex), but if you are perceived to step over the gender norms that are purported to pertain to that category, you could be a potential target of sexual assault. We can continue to understand sexual assault as a gendered crime, without discounting the sexual assaults perpetrated on women, by taking into account the reality that bodies of those other than biological females constantly do become targets of sexual violence. 

To deny the very possibility of violence on the bodies that are gendered in so many ways, and not only those that are biologically female, would indeed be a gross disservice to feminism which, in the first place, expanded our understandings of what it means to be gendered. In other words, to apportion victimhood, when it comes to sexual assault, only to women is a regressive move that only reinforces the false notion that both ‘the sexual’ and its assault locate themselves in (certain parts of) the female body alone.

— The author runs the Chennai-based Shakti Center

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shut Up and Dance? Really?

I am delighted to see that this article has been published in a blog. I wrote it almost two years ago and had forgotten about about it! Please click on the title to go to the blog.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Today has been a bizarre day. It brought in the thought, sight and sound of death. Of all days, I chose today to revisit my poem "Totentanze," published in Dance Macabre Issue XXXIV. I had written the first draft of the poem when I was sitting in a hospital one day, looking at my grandfather's bag of bones lying on a clean sheet. I wondered what the tubes running in and out him were for. They kind of looked beautiful as they crisscrossed in red and white, going here and there, and looked like American freeways seen from some height. I had sent this poem to Danse Macabre when they called for submissions on the theme "Dance of Death." 

Propelled by self-love and the desire to re-read one more of my published poems, I read this one again today. No sooner had I finished reading it than a mail arrived from a friend informing me of the suicide of a girl we know of. The reasons for which the girl terminated her life, and the several ways in which those reasons could have been better engaged with by her family came and hit me like a tidal wave. I refrain from sharing more here for fear of disrespecting her privacy. But this girl, whom I did not get to meet, will haunt me as do several others who have given up their lives because they love differently than the majority of the world does and that is somehow a problem for the world.

The afternoon, as casually as it smothered me with its salty summer stillness, brought in the news of someone else's death; someone who was old and had suffered. As I went to pay my respects, I could not help thinking of this grand old mystery that is death. Faces of all those whom death has plucked away from me flitted past my mind's eye. They almost appeared in front of me suspended in the solidness of the afternoon summer heat. Faces. Not voices. As I wrote somewhere else,

"Death smelled of a million things.
Of coffee from a half-drunk cup, the soap
that smoothed out the fall in the bathroom,
the old starch of the saree that strangled,
the car perfume fighting the blood stench
on the steering wheel, etc.

But mostly death was sound for me. It took
voices away. Many dear ones I mourn,
I have forgotten how they sounded.
I hear them in my own voice now,
as if reading them from a book..."

If there is a most respectful way to remember the dead, I would give anything to learn it. Until then, the aspiration should suffice, I guess. That and the desire to love and honour the living.

Looking beyond the world of toxins

A write-up of mine from the New Indian Express. It is based on my impressions about and my participation in the West Bengal state consultation on issues facing Men who have Sex with Men, and Transgender women.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Notes from the Netherworld - Part II

I am very good at knee-jerk reactions. I am such a centred human being that my poise can be upset in a moment. A sceptical twitch of your eyebrow, a tentative ‘but,’ a counter comment – are all it takes to unsettle my rock-steady sense of balance. You confront me, however unknowingly, with something about me I do not want to hear, and I will huff and puff and say things to make you feel bad.  I recently got mad at a friend for pointing out an inconvenient truth. I have this pattern of reacting from a place of anger and hurt and then catching up with the truth just moments later. If only I step back, pause, consider and then respond! The distinction that most self-help literature makes between reaction and response sounds simplistic. But it does make a lot of sense in many life situations. While working with the LGBT peer counsellor training program, the subject of reacting Vs. responding came up and made for some really insightful discussions. More on that later. Now to the specifics of this particular blog.

I am indebted to my friend for directing my attention to some important things about my depression. I am not using the word “friend” here lightly, as it is often used by many of us – to refer to anyone one even casually knows. He is a true friend who really cares for me and often helps me with his brutally honest comments on matters I share with him. This time he urged me not to get smug about the fact that I suffer from clinical depression and only got biological factors influencing how I feel. He asked me to consider if my “lifestyle” actively contributes to these cycles of depression. I immediately went on the defensive and accused him of not allowing me the space to rant, and offering advice instead. But I almost instantly knew I was fooling myself. He was offering me something important to consider. Of course, his comment about lifestyles influencing mental health is not a staggeringly new perspective. It is almost a truism. Its significance for me lay in the fact that I now feel I needed to hear it at that moment.

It is, indeed, true that I must reconsider certain things about the way I live. And I think it is about the rate at which I live and not about what I do or what I am. I have to slow down. Also, I am now able to see better where I had come from when I reacted vehemently to his observation. People often talk about a “gay lifestyle” in a very condescending and moralistic way. It irks me when people, often those who have no clue about it, refer to being gay as a lifestyle choice. Perhaps they are influenced by the ubiquitous American sitcoms, several of which have gay characters that come with their shallowness wrapped in designer clothing, accessorized with Prada and Louis Vuitton, and scented with Gucci. I think my subconsciodus mind connected my friend’s reference to my lifestyle to these flippant references to “gay lifestyle,” whatever that means. As someone who knows me well and understands my life and work, he was clearly referring to something else. He was talking about my intense living, my vulnerabilities, and my desire and attempts to do a million things. I also know he has a persistent concern about my life as an activist in Chennai and the particular concerns of doing work related to LGBT issues. Well, so much for knowing about how much he cares for me! I read him wrong and snapped at him.

Of course, there were points where I definitely disagree with him. For instance, I do not share the belief that clinical depression or depressive disorder is an invention of Western medicine and that there is nothing that yoga cannot cure. As much as I take responsibility for how I feel, I do not want to continue to incriminate myself for feeling terribly depressed and lacking in will when I have no apparent reason to be so. I accept the fact that there are biological/ hormonal reasons for some people experience debilitating cycles of depression. In a sense, I was revolting against my friend’s comment because I felt it failed to acknowledge the fact that after years of feeling frustrated with myself for not knowing why I felt the way I did sometimes, I have come to understand the issues better and was relinquishing this added burden of guilt. Now that I know that my body is throwing up issues that unsettle the activities of my mind, I can choose to take charge and see what I can do about it. I am also aware of this bizarre domino effect where once I feel out of control and do not know what is wrong, I do things that go wrong and reinforce the preying sense of ennui. So there is definitely that space where I actively contribute to my depressions.

It may not have been intentional, but what my friend basically did was to remind me that I cannot shift the blame on to a clinical situation and go without examining the ways in which I add to this situation by my mode of being in the world. And I am now very thankful to him for that.

It is very difficult for me to think about my emotional health without thinking about what has unfortunately become a dirty S word – spirituality. I know many of us guard our true thoughts on this subject from entering public discourse for various reasons. Primarily, we do not really have a vocabulary to talk about matters of the spirit or the self in a way that can align with the political/ rational and does not degenerate either into New Agey mushiness or fundamentalist essentialisms. But I want to end this blog with something I will take up for a longer discussion in the next one. Two other friends of mine recently used the word “core” in very conscious ways while talking about emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Among its other possible meanings, for me, the word signifies basic premises, those on which one’s living is premised. In that sense, I am definitely interested in attending to my “core.”

Friday, April 2, 2010

திருமணம் உறவுகள் குடும்பம் - பாகம் 1

கடந்த மார்ச் 28ஆம் தேதியன்று 'பெண்கள் சந்திப்பு' குழுவினர் ஒரு நாள் நிகழ்ச்சி ஒன்றை ஒழுங்கு செய்திருந்தார்கள். சென்னை பெசண்ட் நகர் "ஸ்பேசஸ்" அரங்கில் "திருமணம், உறவுகள், குடும்பம் - பெண்ணிய பார்வைகளும் புரிதல்களும்" என்ற தலைப்பில் நடைபெற்ற இந்த நிகழ்ச்சியில் பங்குகொண்டது பெருமகிழ்ச்சியளித்தது. அங்கு பேசியது, கேட்டது, சிந்தித்துக் கொண்டிருப்பது ஆகியவற்றின் பதிவுகளாய் கீழ்கண்டவையும் அவற்றின் தொடர்ச்சிகளும் இருக்கும். 

குடும்பம், நட்பு, மற்றும் இதர வகைகளிலான மனித உறவுகள் - இவை குறித்து பேசுவதற்கான வெளிகள் இன்று வெகுக் குறைவு என்றே தோன்றுகிறது. அதுவும் இச்சை, விழைவு, இன்பம், பாலியல் ஆகிய கூறுகளை உள்ளடக்கி உறவுகள், நட்பு, குடும்பம் ஆகியவற்றைப் பற்றி சிந்திப்பதற்கான சந்தர்ப்பங்கள் குறைவாகவே கிடைக்கின்றன. நம்முள் சிலர் இவை குறித்து சிந்திக்க முயல்கிறோம், இதற்குத் தேவையான மொழியைத் தேடியபடியே. 

எனக்கு முன் பேசிய தோழி பிரேமா ரேவதி ரோஸா லக்சம்பர்க் தனது காதலருக்கு எழுதிய கடிதங்கள் சிலவற்றை வாசித்த பொழுது என்னுள் சில சிறிய வெளிச்சங்கள் தோன்றின. எண்ணங்களையும் உணர்வுகளையும் விவரமாக அசைபோடுவது போல் நீண்ட கடிதங்களாக எழுதி எத்தனை நாட்கள் ஆயிற்று என்று தோன்றியது. என் காதலர்(கள்) உடனான எனது எண்ணப் பகிர்தல்கள் சிறு சிறு துண்டுகளாய், பிட்-பைட் அளவுகளில், chat  சன்னல்கள் அனுமதிக்கும் அளவுகளில், வாக்கியங்கள் கண்டபடி மடிக்கப்பட்டுப் போய்சேர்கின்றன. விழைவுகளின், இச்சைகளின் பரிமாற்றங்களும் கூட இப்பொழுது அப்படித்தானோ என்று தோன்றுகிறது. குறிப்பிட்ட அளவை மிஞ்சிவிட்டால் கைபேசியில் வரும் message களும் துண்டுகளாக வந்தும் போயும் சேர்கின்றன. உணர்வை அடிக்கோடிட எல்லாவருக்கும் ஒன்றாய் மஞ்சள் நிற முகபாவனைகள். Emoticons. இச்சை, விழைவு, காதல், காமம், உறவுகள் குறித்த எனது பகிர்தல்களும் திட்டுத் திட்டாய் உங்களை வந்தடையும் என்று நினைக்கிறேன். 

வந்தடையும் என்பதே ஒருவிதமான விழைவு, எதிர்பார்ப்பு, வேட்கை. பேசுவது கேட்கப்பட குரல் மட்டும் போதாது. நாம் பேசுவது போய் நிற்க ஒரு வெளி வேண்டும்; ஒரு கருத்துச் சூழல் வேண்டும். நம்மையும் நாம் பேசுவதையும் அடையாளம் கண்டுகொள்ள ஒரு கட்டமைப்பு வேண்டும். மொழியாலான ஒரு இடம். நாம் பேசப் பேச அந்த மொழி வெளி உருவாகிவிடும் என்று பலருக்கு நம்பிக்கை உண்டு. இது பற்றி எனக்கு சந்தேகங்கள் உண்டு. நீங்கள் தாராளமாகப் பேசலாம். ஆனால் கேட்கப்படுவது நீங்கள் பேசியதாக இருக்கும் என்று எதிர்பார்க்காதீர்கள். பல வடிகட்டிகளும், சுருங்கச் சொல்லுதல்களும், தொகுத்து வழங்குதல்களும், மேற்கோள் துணுக்கெடுத்தலும் வழியில் உண்டு. இவற்றைத் தாண்டி நீங்கள் பேசியதாய்ப் போய் சேர்வதை அடையாளம் கண்டுகொள்வது சில சமயங்களில் போர்க்காலப் பிணங்களை அடையாளம் காணப் போவது போன்ற நிலை. 

மாற்றுப் பாலியல் விழைவு, இச்சை, அடையாளம் என்ற தளத்தில் இருந்து பேசுகிறேன். நான் இவ்வளவு கூறியவுடனேயே பலர் என்னைப் 'புரிந்துகொண்டு' விடுவார்கள். அவர்கள் சிந்தனைச் சிதறல்களில் ஒரு Key Word search  செய்தீர்களானால் இவையாக இருக்கும் - "ஓரினப்புணர்ச்சி," "இயற்கைக்குப் புறம்பான," "தில்லி உயர் நீதிமன்றம்," "மனித உரிமைகள்," "கலாச்சார சீரழிவு," "தனி மனித சுதந்திரம்," மேற்கத்திய நாகரிகம்," "எச் ஐ வி," "மனப் பிறழ்வு" - இம்மாதிரியாக. மாற்றுப் பாலியல் குறித்து பேச/ கேட்கப்பட இன்று இவையே வெளிகள். "ஒன்று மனித உரிமைகள் என்று பேசுங்கள் அல்லது எச் ஐ வி/ இதர பால்வினை நோய்கள் என்று பேசுங்கள். இச்சை, விழைவு, இன்பம் இதெல்லாம் எதிர்பால் நாட்டம் கொண்டோரே பேசுவதில்லை! நீங்கள் வேறு! உறவுகள் பற்றி நீங்கள் பேசினால் பொறுமையாகக் கேட்க ஒன்றிரெண்டு பேர் இருக்கிறோம். ஆனால் இருவர் உறவுகள்/ ஜோடிகள் பற்றி மட்டும் பேசுங்கள். புரிந்து கொள்ளுங்கள். நீங்கள் பேசுவதைக் கேட்காவிட்டால் அது எங்கள் முற்போக்கு அரசியலைக் கேள்விக்குள்ளாக்குகிறது. அதனால் தான் கேட்டுக் கொண்டிருக்கிறோம். ஆனால் நாங்கள் ஒன்றும் பாரபட்சம் பார்ப்பதில்லை. பெண்ணியத்திற்கும் இதே உபசரிப்பு தான்"  என்பதே நாம் பேசிக் கொண்டிருக்கும் பொதுவெளி. இன்றைய இந்த நிகழ்வு, இந்த உரையாடல்கள் போன்ற சிறுவெளிகளில் பேசுகையில் ஏதோ ஒரு ஆசுவாசம் ஏற்படுகிறது. வெவ்வேறு புள்ளிகளில் தொடங்கி உயிர்த்துக் கொண்டிருக்கும் இயக்கங்களும், சிந்தனைகளும் பல புள்ளிகளில் இணைவதும், இந்தப் புள்ளிகளில் பின்னல்களில் சேர்ந்து சிந்திப்பதற்கான இயங்குவதற்கான சாத்தியங்கள் நிறைந்து இருப்பதையும் காணும் பொழுது நம்பிக்கையுண்டாகிறது. 

குடும்பம் என்ற அமைப்பின் ஆணாதிக்க ஆதார அடித்தளமும், முதலாளித்துவக் கருத்தியலின் குறியீடாக அது இருப்பதும் எல்லா முற்போக்கு இயக்கங்களாலும் பிரச்சனைக்குள்ளாக்கப்பட்டுள்ளன. பெண்ணியவாதிகள் எல்லோரும் குடும்பங்களைத் தகர்த்தெறிய முற்படுபவர்கள் என்றொரு சித்தரிப்பு உண்டு. அதென்னவோ அவ்வளவு சுலபமான காரியம் போல! தகர்த்தல், கட்டுமானங்களை உடைத்தல் என்ற சொற்களுக்கும் அவை சார்ந்த செயல்பாடுகளுக்கும் மாற்று கற்பனைகள் அவசியம் தேவை என்று எனக்குத் தோன்றுகிறது. தகர்ப்பது உடைப்பது என்ற சொற்கள் பொதுவெளியில் சில விதமான மனக் காட்சிகளை விடுவிக்கின்றன. இந்த மனக் காட்சிகள் கொடிய வன்முறை சார்ந்தவை,  ஆழ்ந்த சிந்தனையும், அன்பும், பரிவும் இல்லாத ஏதோ ஒரு பொங்கியெழுதலின் விளைவுகளை அவை சார்ந்த உணர்வுகளை மனதின் எல்லைகளில் நிறுத்துபவை. 

என்னைப் பொறுத்தவரை வழக்கத்திற்கு மாறான பாலியல் உணர்வுகளையும் செயல்பாடுகளையும் கொண்டவன் என்ற நிலையிலிருந்து குடும்பம் என்ற அமைப்பையும் என் குடும்பத்தில் எனது இடத்தையும், அதன் மற்ற அங்கத்தினர்களுடனான என்னுடைய உறவுகளையும் மறுபரிசீலனை செய்வதற்கான வாய்ப்புகள் எனக்கு நிறைய கிட்டியுள்ளன.எனது ஒருபாலீர்ப்பு குறித்த எனது அறிவித்தல்கள் நல்ல முறையில் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளப்பட்ட தருணங்களிலும் உறவுகளின் பிணைப்புகளும் அன்பின் இருத்தலும் உறுதி செய்யப்பட்ட சம்யங்களிலும், ஏதோ ஒருவித்தில் இந்த மனிதர்களுடனான என்னுடைய உறவுகள் மீண்டும் புதிதாகத் தொடங்கின என்றே நினைக்கிறேன். "இதனால் ஒன்றும் மாறவில்லை. கவலை வேண்டாம். நம் உறவும் நட்பும் இருந்த வண்ணமே இருக்கும்," என்று பிறர் சொல்லிய நேரங்களில் இந்தக் கூற்றுகள் அவர்களின் உண்மையான விழைவுகளின் வெளிப்பாடுகளே எனினும் நிச்சயமாக இந்த உறவுகளில் மாற்றங்கள் ஏற்பட்டுள்ளன என்றும், அவை புதுப்பிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளன என்றும், நானும் அவர்களும் ஒருவருக்கொருவர் defamiliarize ஆகியிருக்கிறோம் என்றும் நினைக்கிறேன். ஆகையால் இந்தத் தருணங்களையும் இவற்றை நிகழ்வித்த எனது பாலியல் நிலையையும் மனித உறவுகளைப் பற்றி சிந்திப்பதற்கான, மறுபரிசீலனை செய்வதற்கான, புதுப்பிப்பதற்கான சாத்தியங்களைக் கருத்தரித்திருக்கும் தருணங்களாய் நான் பார்க்கிறேன். 

இதனாலேயே, ஒருவித விளிம்புநிலை அனுபவரீதியாக, எதிர்பால்விழைவு (heterosexuality) என்பது இப்போது இயங்கிக் கொண்டிருக்கும் மனித உறவு வகைகளின் கட்டமைப்பின் மையத்தில் (எங்கும் ஊடுருவி நிற்கும் மையம்!) இருக்கிறது என்று புரிகிறது. பெற்றோர்களின் எதிர்பார்ப்புகள், ஒன்றும் சாதித்திராத வம்சங்களைக் கூட விருத்தி செய்ய வேண்டும் என்ற வேட்கை, நண்பர்களின் கிண்டல் கேலியான பாலியல் இச்சை சார்ந்த பேச்சுகள், இவற்றால் ஏதோ ஒரு விதத்தில் உறுதிப்படும் நண்பர் குழாம்கள், இவற்றில் பங்கேற்பதினால் அந்தச் சிறு சமூகத்தில் உறுதிப்படும் உங்களது இருப்பு, காப்பீட்டு நிறுவனங்களும் வங்கிகளும் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளும் உறவுகள், விளம்பரங்களும் திரைப்படங்களும் காதலுக்கு வழங்கியுள்ள definition -- அவை அனைத்தும் எதிர்பால்விழைவு என்ற மையத்தால் தாங்கிப் பிடிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. எனவே நீங்கள் மாற்றுப் பாலியல் கொண்டவராய் இருக்கும் பொழுது இந்த அமைப்புகளை, அவற்றின் எதிர்பார்ப்புகளை, நியதிகளை, அனுமானங்களை கேள்விக்குள்ளாக்குகிறீர்கள். இது வெறும் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளல் (acceptance) குறித்த விவாதம் அல்ல. இந்தப் பெரும்பான்மைச் சமூகத்தின் மையமானவற்றை, ஆண்-பெண் உறவின் தனிப்பெரும் நிலையை, அதனின்றும் எழும் குழந்தைப் பேற்றை, குடும்பம் அமைத்தலை, அக்குடும்பத்தில் யாருடைய பணி என்னென்ன என்ற தீர்மானங்களை -- இவை அனைத்தையும் நீங்கள் கேள்விக்குள்ளாக்கும் பொழுது, இவை எனக்கு உகந்தவை அல்ல என்று நீங்கள் கூறும் பொழுது, உங்களுக்கும் இந்த அமைப்புகளுக்கும் சமூகத்திற்குமான உறவு என்ன, உரையாடல் என்ன? ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளுதல் என்பது, அது அதிகாரச் சமநிலையற்றது என்னும் பொழுதும், எப்படி நிகழ்கிறது? உங்களையும் என்னையும் ஏற்றுக்கொள்கிறேன் என்று கூறுபவர் எந்த ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளுதலை எப்படி நடைமுறைப்படுத்துகிறார்? நம்மை அடிக்காமல் கொல்லாமல் இருப்பதன் மூலமாகவா? திருமணத்திற்கு வற்புறுத்தாமல் இருப்பதிலா? உங்களது விழைவுகளையும் உறவுகளையும் அதன் ஆழங்களையும் அங்கீகரிக்கிறேன் என்று கூறுபவர் அந்த அங்கீகரிப்பை எப்படி வெளிப்படுத்துகிறார்? கடவுளே இது என் வீட்டுப் பிரச்சினையல்லாத வரை நன்றி என்று உள்ளூரச் சிந்திக்கும் நிலையிலா? ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளல் என்று எதனை அழைக்கிறோம், அது பார்ப்பதற்கு எப்படியிருக்கும்?

இப்படிப் பல நிலைகளில் மனித உறவுகளைப் பற்றி, சமூகக் கட்டமைப்புகளைப் பற்றி இச்சை, பால்விழைவு என்ற நிலையிலிருந்து யோசிக்க முடியும். ஆனால் இந்தப் பணியில் இப்போது குறைந்தது இரு விதமான தடைகள் உண்டு.ஒன்று பாலியல் குறித்த நுட்பமான சொல்லாடல்கள் இன்று இங்கு இல்லை என்பது. இச்சை பற்றிய சொல்லாடல் யத்தனிப்புகள் மனித உரிமைகள் என்ற பரந்த வெளியிலும் எச்.ஐ.வி/ எய்ட்ஸ் பற்றிய விவாதக் களத்திலும் திராணியிழந்து விடுகின்றன. தவறாக நினைக்காதீர்கள். இந்த இரண்டுமே முக்கியமானவை தான். உரிமை மறுப்புகள் வழங்கல்கள் நிச்சயமாக கவனிக்கப்பட வேண்டும். எச்.ஐ.வி/ எய்ட்ஸ் மற்றும் பொதுவாக உடல் நலம், மருத்துவ பராமரிப்பு, நோய் தடுப்பு ஆகியவற்றைக் கவனிப்பதில் தாமதம் கூடாது.எனினும் விழைவு, இச்சை, உறவுகள் ஆகியவற்றுக்கு இவற்றில் இடம் மிகக்குறைவு. இவற்றிற்கென்ற வெளி வேண்டும். ஊடகங்கள் அமைத்துத் தந்திருக்கின்ற ஒரு மாற்றுவெளி கண்டிப்பாக உதவாது -- பாலியல் கிலுகிலுப்புகள், பரபரப்புகள், குற்றச்சாட்டுகள் ஆகியவை; படுக்கையறை இரகசியப் படப்பிடிப்புகள், ஒளிபரப்புகள் பொன்ற வியாபாரங்கள். எனவே ஒன்று வெளி, தளம், சொல்லாடல்கள் இல்லாமை குறித்த பிரச்சனை. இந்த இடத்தில் காயத்ரி சக்ரவர்த்தி ஸ்பிவாக் கூறிய ஒன்று நினைவிற்கு வருகிறது. குரல்கள், பேசுதல்கள், கேட்கப்படுதல்கள் குறித்து உரையாடுகையில் அவர் சொல்கிறார் இது உண்மையில் குரலின்மை, பேச இயலாமை குறித்த பிரச்சினையன்று; நாம் பேசுவதையும் செய்வதையும் அடையாளம் கண்டுகொள்ள ஒரு சூழல், ஒரு கட்டமைப்பு வேண்டும்; infrastructure of recognition  என்று கூறுகிறார். 

இரண்டாவது, இயக்கங்கள் மற்றும் கூட்டுச் செயல்பாடுகள் குறித்த ஒன்று. உரிமை மறுப்புகள், வன்முறை நிகழ்வகள், அநீதிகள் ஆகியவை பல மறுக்க முடியாத காரணங்களுக்காகப் பிரதானமாகின்றன. உரிமை கோருதல், வேண்டுதல், பெறுதல் என்ற அதிகாரச் சமன்பாடற்ற செயல்பாட்டில் ஈடுபடுகையில் திட்டமிடுதல் முக்கியமெனப்படுகிறது. எந்த எந்த விவாதங்களை முதலில் முன்வைக்கலாம், எவற்றை இப்போது பேசினால் வேலைக்காகாது என்று பிரச்சினையிலிருந்து பிரச்சினைக்குத் தாண்டும் செயல்பாட்டு முறை. எல்லா இயக்கங்களுக்கும் உள்ள பிரச்சனை மாதிரி என்று நினைக்கிறேன். "பெண்ணுடல், உடல் அரசியல், பெண்களின் பால்விழைவுகள் பற்றியெல்லாம் பேசி எழுதி பொதுவான ஒரு கருத்துச் சூழலை உருவாக்குவதெல்லாம் திட்டவட்டமான செயல்பாடல்ல. இட ஒதுக்கீடு குறித்து பார்ப்போம். இந்தச் சட்டத்தைத் திருத்தியமைக்கும் மசோதா பற்றி பார்ப்போம்" என்பது போன்ற நிலை. 

(வேறொரு சமயம் தொடர முயல்கிறேன்...)

Notes from the Netherworld - Part I

“Why should you want to exclude any anxiety, any grief, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what it is that these conditions are accomplishing in you."
- Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet

I am only as 'out,' if not more, about my depressions as I am about my sexuality. Most friends know about it, and many strangers read it from my face. My dear friend Shakthi once told me that I am one big heart walking around. It is a very flattering description. But to someone prone to depression, it points to other things as well; primarily to the degree of vulnerability we experience. I have also been quite vocal about my bouts of depression, my different modes of combat, etc. But I feel I have reached a crucial phase where I am engaging with the issue in a very committed way, informed by my rather new sense of importance of my own emotional and spiritual well-being. That's where these notes come from.

I am reading this beautiful book, "Sunbathing in the Rain - a Cheerful Book about Depression," by Gwyneth Lewis (Flamingo, London 2002). I find this book very insightful, the writing very honest but also very gentle most of the time. Whenever I think of honesty and truthfulness, I am reminded of one particular session during my Yoga course. We were discussing concepts. Our beautiful teacher, Jyothsna, explained the twin concepts of Satyam and Rtam, truth and the appropriateness of that truth. We talked about the possibility that we walk all over someone in the name of honesty, wielding it like a dagger. We discussed the importance of considering if the utterance of a truth is appropriate for a time and context, if the intended recipients of the truth are in a position to engage with it, if the manner in which that specific instance of honesty is performed is appropriate to that setting, if it would do more damage than good. Considering this book is written for "those who are depressed at the moment and who are looking for something nourishing to read as they go through their terrors," (p. xx) understandably, it has been written with what Amitav Ghosh calls the one word in English language that is known only by its absence - ruth! 

However, Gwyneth has a brilliant note on truth and truthfulness in her introduction, which is very strong, and hit me right at the spot that I was shielding from such intelligent attacks. It is not about living truthfully as much as it is about living one's truth. Gwyneth Lewis clearly explains that she is aware of several kinds and levels of depression and that her discussion is "not about the catastrophic events in the blood chemistry but about the kind of depression which seems to be a combination of genetic inheritance, emotional habit and stressful life events" (p. xvi). Her sharing of how she has come to see her depression as "an important gift" is not a sign of nauseating positive thinking but one of acute self-awareness and self-reflection. This journey, she says, began for her when she met the Australian poet Les Murray for the first time. Though Gwyneth Lewis starts this anecdote with a specific reference to her artistic activity as a poet, and its links to mental illness, she expands the understanding as she proceeds. Here's the excerpt: 

When I first met the Australian poet Les Murray, who has written his own book on the black dog, he suddenly turned to me and asked, 'Do you suffer from depression? I was very taken aback, as I was then perfectly well and hadn't mentioned the disease. 'Ha!' he exclaimed, when I confessed that I did. 'I told you I could see round corners! ...Later, I asked Les what was the cure for depression. He didn't hesitate: 'The truth.' We are all artists of our own lives. We shape them, as best as we can, using our experience and intuition as guides. But we're also natural liars and we get things wrong. It's so easy for the internal commentary that forms how we live to become a forgery. Approached in a certain way, depression is a lie detector of last resort. By knocking you out for a while, it allows you to ditch the out-of-date ideas by which you've been living and to grasp a more accurate description of the terrain. It doesn't have to come to this, of course, and most people are able to discern their own truths perfectly well without needing to be pushed by an illness. But my imagination is strong and it takes some people longer than others to sort out pleasing fancies from delusions. (p. xiv and xv) 

Personally, I found it important to stay with this paragraph for a while. In fact, I continue to stay with it. Nothing has, in recent times, propelled me into a committed introspection and self-reflection as these lines have. But, interestingly, I proceed in an almost neutral frame of mind. It has not further depressed me. It feels like an interesting project with myself. For today, I will end with another quote from the book:

If you can cope with the internal nuclear winter of depression and come through it without committing suicide -- the disease's most serious side effect -- then, in my experience, depression can be a great friend. It says: the way you've been living is unbearable, it's not for you. And it teaches you slowly how to live in a way that suits you infinitely better. If you don't listen, of course, it comes back and knocks you out even harder next time, until you get the point. (p. xv)

Thanks, Gwyneth! 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Families, etc

I seem to have angered a few people by writing the piece that was published in the Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, 30 January 2010, entitled "What does your family value most." It has appeared to a few as my recommendation to lgbt people to valorize the family as a most sacred thing, to get married, to found their own families and blend in with the marital-familial normative world. Not at all. My concern in the article was about the several young people who are still staying with and/ or strongly connected to their parents.

Lack of acceptance in the family of a son or daughter's sexual orientation and/or gender identity leads to a lot of pain and suffering. We hear, almost regularly, about threats from parents to children, asking them to stop being gay or lesbian or bisexual and to marry a person of the opposite sex. There have been several instances in the past many years, and particularly in the past few months following the visibility around the Delhi High Court verdict decriminalizing adult, consensual, same-sex behaviour, where parents have approached psychiatrists and quacks for unethical and painful reparative therapies on their children to make them heterosexually oriented. We also hear of very violent exorcisms being performed on lgbt youth, often at the request of the parents.

For people whose gender identity and expression are very visible aspects of their personality, for effeminate men (gay, bisexual or otherwise), masculine women (not necessarily lesbian), for people who transgender -- for all those who are seen to be transgressing gender and sexual norms in a million different ways --the way their families deal with these changes is of crucial importance. A major reason for the great number of school drop-outs among Aravanis is the fact that during their adolescence many of them find their parental homes to be extremely hostile spaces that they must run away from.

These are of concern to me. Several of my friends, many of those who call seeking counsel, and many others who write in to share discuss situations that involve their parental homes, the pressures they face, the violence they experience, etc. I find it hard to see it simply as the response of weaklings. If some people want to engage with a situation, their families, and want to choose the best possible response that comes from a place of love and compassion, I support it. People often seek help to gather the courage to step out of their homes as well. And then there are those who feel their situations are not dire and want to think the issues through.

Not everyone has to walk out of their families. Just as not everyone has to found one. This calls for a larger discussion. There is a lot of potential for lgbt people to redefine relationships and families; our sexual difference has already called the role of family, marriage and other relationships to question. I hope these possibilities, new modes of relating, loving, communing and cohering (and new modes of not relating, not loving, not communing and not cohering, too) will be more widely discussed and realized and not swept away in some kind of a majority (within the minority) move to valorize only coupledom, marriage and the family. Yes, a lot of people could want these. And they should have them. But the desires of those who do not want it should not get erased in the moves to institutionalize only one kind of relationship, as it seems to be happening in the United States today. And when we want the marriage and the family, it would be great to see how we can ensure we do not replicate the structures of oppression and violence that do not only characterize many heterosexual marriages and families, but seem to inhere in the very structures of these institutions.

Friday, March 5, 2010

On The Shakti Resource Center

'Shakti' is right now what excites me, scares me, confuses me and possesses me. I am very thankful that I met Padma Govindan three years ago and we got together to found 'Shakti.' But it took me so long to feel sure of my desire to co-run an organization that with my flightiness I made myself exasperating to work with. Being an individual activist and out-queer man was hard enough for me. I repeatedly felt that my officializing it all with an organization and the attendant commitments was going to make me even more visible and vulnerable than I already was. And then there were the concerns about personal finances, and the kind of time that I would need to spend on setting up 'Shakti' with Padma. But at some point I stopped resisting it and started going with the flow.

The Shakti Resource Center is now a registered trust. In the last two and a half years, we have done some exciting work - media outreach, public events, trainings, workshops, film screenings, collaborating with other organizations in organizing Chennai's first Pride, etc. We are in the finishing stages of the LGBT peer counsellor training program. It has been a pleasure collaborating with the Center for Counselling in conducting this training program. So many of us queer folks find ourselves in situations where our peers seek counsel or are in difficult situations that call for active intervention on our part. But often we do not know if we are equipped to engage with certain problems; we do not know if we are helping. In some extreme cases, we get very drained in the process. These are some of the things that made Padma and me go for a training program for peer counsellors. Thanks to Padma's efforts, LLH Norway funded this program with a seed grant. The manual and resource book for peer counsellors, in Tamil and English, should be ready soon. And then the helpline. But all of us trainees are already seeing the benefits of this training program, for we are all engaging with our peers on a daily basis already.

The resource library is shaping up, too. Some years ago, when I started my PhD on queer literature -- a project that was aborted for various reasons -- I had a very hard time finding access to relevant material. Thanks to the fact that I was travelling a lot at that time, I could get my hands on some material. But this experience made me resolve to setting up a resource library. Padma and I pooled in all our collected material in our office space. Friends, members of local support groups, students working on issues related to gender and sexuality, and other activists started borrowing books. Now there are around 250 books on subjects related to gender, sexuality, sexual health, queer studies, etc. And some magazines, journals and pamphlets. There have been some excellent, recent donations of books from the USA. Once the collection is catalogued, we will have it open for people to use. You can donate us books and films themed around gender, sexuality, sexual health and reproductive health. Check with us at We have a list of stuff that we need. You can buy them for us! :)

The last film screening we organized at 'Shakti' went very well! Shohini Ghosh's "Tales of the Night Fairies" is an excellent documentary film on the collectivization of female sex workers at the Durbar Mahila Samanvay Committee, famously knows as the Sonagachi project. I never expected the event to be listed in the 'Engagements' section of The Hindu that day (20 February 2010)! It was great to have a mixed audience. It was not a congregation of the "converted," where everyone agrees with everyone else, where everyone's politics aligns itself very nicely with everyone else's. Different views and opinions on sex work, questions around decriminalization of sex work, etc., came up and were discussed. It was fun!

So we march on, I guess. Well, who is this "We"? There is me, then we have Asma volunteering a lot of time, tut-tut-ing me away whenever I feel terrible about not being able to pay her yet. We have Shakthi Nataraj, working hard on the English draft of the manual and resource book for peer counsellors and excited with several brilliant ideas. Ajay Gabriel is a wonder kid, juggling a night-shift job and several other commitments along with the tasks that Shakti requires his help with!

And then we have those wonderful souls who help us keep it all going - friends who give money when it is required -- we have so far needed very little, but still, to have it come when needed is nothing short of magical!

Oh, writing this makes me feel much less anxious now. We are doing good work. We will do better.

What does your family value most

A short piece of writing that appeared in the Sexualities page of the Zeitgeist Saturday supplement to the New Indian Express, 30 January 2010