Category Archives: LGBT

On everything other than 100% heterosexuality.

Masters Of Sex: Wake Me Up When You Realise Sex Isn’t About The Man

I’m currently watching the TV series, Masters of Sex. It was the first show I began on Netflix when I first subscribed. I had to stop and move to other things that were easier. I’ve tried to come back several times and I think this time I’ll manage to finish it. I’m also reading the book that it’s based on, both versions being about the relationship between the two sex researchers Virginia Johnson and Bill Masters. The last time a show brought up so many thoughts was when I was being initiated into Cosmopolitans and Manolo Blahniks.

I think Masters of Sex in addition to taking on a very difficult subject also fell into the Season 2 trap of fizzling out after the first climax. The attempts at addressing racial discrimination, people of science against the might of money – none of these plotlines really worked. Having survived the subsequent season I have an idea why this happened.

Do we really need to know about yet another man’s daddy issues and how these are the reason (not gravity) that his organ doesn’t stand right up? Where’s the fun in labouring through yet another ponderous man trying to blame his infidelities, mansplaining, emotional stuntedness and instant gratification chasing on the people around? Bill Masters is not a likeable character and Season 2 rides on his cliched, boring, limited inner life.

This is especially striking because in the same frame is a character and storyline that’s solid gold waiting to be mined. Who is Virginia Johnson? She’s multiorgasmic, a divorcee, a single parent. Is she a gold-digger or a victim of sexual harassment? Is she brilliant or just great at faking it (and presumably convincing a qualified doctor to do so)? Is she that good in bed and if so, how? What paths led her to this place (inside her head, not just the superficial backstory she’s given)? What is her relationship with motherhood, her own reproductive system? We know her thoughts about sex and vaginas – or maybe not. Is she playing an elaborate game of agree-then-contradict to keep the interest of the one man who is her way out of a humdrum life? And why are these politics not explored better in a show that is literally about the politics of sex between two people who are studying, recording and analysing it?

The first season touched on some of these. It was also the first time since Sex & The City that I’ve seen a popular show acknowledge the

politics of the bedroom. What’s happening between Virginia and Bill is not an exception; it’s not ‘two fucked up people’ (that easy phrase that wrote off stories like Gone Girl). It is the truth of regular sex between regular people. People who are married. People who don’t love each other. People who use sex as an escape. Violent people. Traumatised people. Escapists. Survivors. People who don’t fit a box. People who can’t articulate their sexuality in a label. People who don’t know how to express love. People who are alien to the concept of human relating. People who are addicted to the endorphins. People who crave intimacy. Needy people. Distant people. Single people. Queer people. Cheating people. Religious people. People.

The third season attempted to steer us back into some of that but took the laborious route of nasty teenagers, whiny children, bored/cheating spouses and some casual lip service to current causes (race relations, queer representation). Still a whole lot of hullaballoo over a very boring, very self-obsessed, very dysfunctional barely human man. But the fourth season sees us back on the cutting edge stuff of fetishes, infidelity, traumas, ego clashes, gender politics and most importantly, how these play out in the bedroom.

I’m curious to know if my reactions are based on my gender and whether any male viewers agree with me. It’s not that men are not interesting in the context of sex. But this point of view, even this character is not new. There is nothing about this storyline that I haven’t already seen a thousand times over in popular music (both desi and international), Hollywood, gaming, poetry, books and theatre. We know the penis needs a lot of pandering and support and encouraging to function sexually. We know male dysfunctions are often psychological. We know of terms like emasculation and performance anxiety. What we don’t know is what’s going on in the female body? The vagina from whence we all came, she of the self-cleaning repute and multi-orgasmic ability – what’s up with her?

I was hoping Masters of Sex would answer questions like why are so many straight men fascinated by lesbian sex? The reverse doesn’t appear to be true with straight women salivating for gay sex. How about the overdone conversation around positions? Is there really a physiological reason that certain positions feel more powerful than others or it is just what we’ve been fed by the media and the big villain – patriarchy?

The researcher in me really, really wants to know and so does the woman.

Update: I’ve finished Season 4 and I unhappily report that it is a shameless pandering to current day political correctness. There’s a ghastly focus on gay/lesbian people and I call it ghastly because the portrayal feels so token and the ‘no conversion therapy’ message like they replaced scriptwriters with PR people.

I still do want to call out two things that really stood out for me in this show.

I loved that Season 3 addressed Margaret’s profound sense of betrayal while still feeling the need to be loyal to Barton. She even takes on the onus of the divorce by telling her daughter she was unfaithful, resulting in the daughter cutting ties with her. She takes on another unsatisfactory, demeaning relationship. And still, still Barton refuses to speak up. Which one is worse? – Outing someone or forcing someone else to suffer the punishment that would have been meted out to you? It’s not a question that the queer-friendly world I live in, likes to acknowledge. This is what I believe now. Outing a person is deplorable, an act of profound betrayal. But throwing someone else under a bus is also an act of profound betrayal. Being gay doesn’t make it okay to betray somebody. I’ve been facing this issue in a different cause (mental illness) and my stand is the same – nothing excuses a person from a basic code of respect and conduct towards other people. Your sexuality, your gender identification, your religion, your disability, your mental illnesses – none of these make it permissible to violate, abuse or harm another human being. This show was the first in recent times that appeared to at least imply this.

The other part that caught my eye was a scene with Virginia and a new male character. She rolls her eyes and says, “There it comes, the legendary XYZ charm”. It’s quite unlike her, the girl who seems oblivious to the unfairness meted out to her gender. She apologises shortly after, when said man helps her. But we also watch her crumble, bit by bit. She’s constantly being proven right and she’s constantly being attacked for it. I could so relate. All in all, for me Masters of Sex has been exactly like sex itself – so many insights, so much reflection but I’m not sure it has been worth all that.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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Couples You See In Rom-Coms

This piece is a writing experiment. Tell me what you think.

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They pause in the middle of the restaurant. Then he walks off towards the toilets and she chooses a seat. She sits on one side, checks her phone camera then moves to the other side. By the time he returns, she has settled in, a perfect picture. They smile at each other seconds before he even reaches the table.

The movie they’ve just watched was about gay conversion therapy. They start to talk about it, her words an eager jumble, his glances more considered. Abruptly, she picks up the menu. When the waiter comes, he places the order.

She looks slightly older but that could just be their clothes. His body language is more reticent, quiet, filling up his side. While hers, like her words flutter all over the small space she occupies. “I knew this happened but to see it depicted, I mean..” She shudders. Their order, peri-peri fries arrive and they munch on them with equal delicacy.

He takes pictures of her and she poses, laughing, smiling, looking. But when the camera is put away, he smiles and she responds with equal vigour. She asks him a question.

He tells her about coming out. She listens thinking about her own coming out memories, only no one ever calls them that. There are so many coming out conversations that each of us participates in. Statements of our identity, spoken like guilty confessions, asking for acceptance, bursting from us only when we can’t contain them inside any more. This is who I am. That is what I want. This is what I’m good at. That is where I want to live. This is how I breathe best. That feels like the best choice for me. Please accept. Please understand. Please look at me. Please see me. Please still love me.

I watch them exit. He lifts a crumpled piece of paper in one hand. She stops him, palm on shoulder. He stops mid-step. She takes the paper from him. Still talking, he hands it to her. Still listening, she straightens it out and tucks it away in her wallet, the movie ticket.

How sweet, I think. But who do they they’re fooling? Couples like these only exist in rom-coms.

Models: Ramya Pandyan & Anmol Karnik

View this post on Instagram

COUPLES YOU SEE IN ROM-COMS They pause in the middle of the restaurant. Then he walks off towards the toilets and she chooses a seat. She sits on one side, checks her phone camera then moves to the other side. By the time he returns, she has settled in, a perfect picture. They smile at each other seconds before he even reaches the table. The movie they've just watched was about gay conversion therapy. They start to talk about it, her words an eager jumble, his glances more considered. Abruptly, she picks up the menu. When the waiter comes, he places the order. She looks slightly older but that could just be their clothes. His body language is more reticent, quiet, filling up his side. While hers, like her words flutter all over the small space she occupies. "I knew this happened but to see it depicted, I mean.." She shudders. Their order, peri-peri fries arrive and they munch on them with equal delicacy. He takes pictures of her and she poses, laughing, smiling, looking. But when the camera is put away, he smiles and she responds with equal vigour. She asks him a question. He tells her about coming out. She listens thinking about her own coming out memories, only no one ever calls them that. There are so many coming out conversations that each of us participates in. Statements of our identity, spoken like guilty confessions, asking for acceptance, bursting from us only when we can't contain them inside any more. This is who I am. That is what I want. This is what I'm good at. That is where I want to live. This is how I breathe best. That feels like the best choice for me. Please accept. Please understand. Please look at me. Please see me. Please still love me. I watch them exit. He lifts a crumpled piece of paper in one hand. She stops him, palm on shoulder. He stops mid-step. She takes the paper from him. Still talking, he hands it to her. Still listening, she straightens it out and tucks it away in her wallet, the movie ticket. How sweet, I think. But who do they they're fooling? Couples like these only exist in rom-coms. Models: @ideasmithy & @anmolkarnik #theideasmithy

A post shared by Ramya 🏊🏽‍♀️🌱📚 (@ideasmithy) on

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I Know It’s Pride Month But I Hate Strangelove | GaysiFamily

(I originally wrote this post on 13 June. But a certain prominent feminist website showed interest in publishing it, held it in queue and then decided that it was ‘too harsh’ and unsuitable for Pride Month. I don’t think I should talk down to the LGBTQIA community and letting this problematic film pass because it waved the rainbow flag, feels like just that.)

I reviewed the Netflix Original film ‘Alex Strangelove’ and Gaysi agreed to run the post. I haven’t written for this lovely site in a long time so it’s great to have my piece up there again. It’s also testimony to their inclusivity that they neither chose to question my sexuality nor edit my piece down for ‘harshness’.

This post has been read by two gay people, one bisexual person and one feminist all ratifying that there was nothing problematic with this opinion. If you are an ally, please be very mindful of what thoughts you entertain or support, in the name of the rainbow cause. Movies like ‘Alex Strangelove’ amplify some very problematic ideas, all while gaining the social credibility of doing something for Pride Month. As always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts – here or on the Gaysi site.

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Updated on 29 June 2018: This story was first published on Gaysifamily on 25 June 2018.

Alex Truelove (yes, that’s his real name, haha, look how post-hipster we are) is a sweet, nerdy boy reclaiming those hitherto derogatory labels. June being Pride Month, millennial-catering businesses are awash with ‘look-how-inclusive-we-are’ rainbowness. Let’s call gayvertising, shall we? Highly promoted on Netflix Originals, is a teen flick called Alex Strangelove. You get the gist of the story from its promos and the description text but for the purists who manage to button-mash quicker than Netflix forces promos on them, here’s your spoiler alert.

Alex Truelove (yes, that’s his real name, haha, look how post-hipster we are) is a sweet, nerdy boy reclaiming those hitherto derogatory labels. He’s good-looking enough to be at the top of the American high school hierarchy (or so other teen movies would have us believe) but he isn’t up there. He’s also class president and has a beautiful girlfriend who shares his penchant for obscure animal factoids. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to have sex with said girlfriend, regardless of peer pressure. Yay for sensitive men and down with toxic masculinity.

Then the couple decides in true teen style to ‘just do it’ (even if that is a 20-year-old reference) and set a date and venue. Only in the week before, Alex meets a charming gay boy and suddenly we have the plot of the movie.

What didn’t work about this movie?

Literally everything from here onwards. Just what about Alex makes him this attractive to members of all sexes? Let’s assume that teenage minds of every sex are wired to make bad choices. So we have a ‘regular’ teenage boy who is suddenly the object of everyone’s affections. What does he do? First he goes along with gay boy’s obvious flirtation and is a real dick to his needing-support-during-mom’s-cancer girlfriend. Then he weasels his way back into girlfriend’s good graces but also returns to the gay boy to jump his bones, then gay shames/blames him. He then runs back to the girlfriend to cheat on her (yes, it’s called that even if it happened inside your own mind especially when you’re still inside her, jerk-face). He is an utter asshole, literally while they’re both still naked. If this isn’t enough, he also later cheats on both people with a random stranger (female by the way, not that it matters when you’re cheating) at a party and the best friend (remember sage dude?) gets beaten up for it.

And what’s the end result? Shitfaced Alex is rescued in his drunken glory by the long-suffering girlfriend while best friend gets his ego and black eye massaged from the girl he’s been stalking for years. Boy, the makers of this film really hate women, don’t they?

Oh but wait, it ain’t over. Humiliated girlfriend and shamed gay boy get together to try again to give Alex the life he wants. Who does this and why should they? Alex takes every single inch he’s given and more with the kind of entitlement that makes him completely unlikeable. After the girlfriend graciously sets him up with the gay boy, he chickens out ‘because people are watching’. When the gay boy walks away in disgust, he chases him, suddenly sure that he is gay.

Inadequate Sexuality Labels

For a film that supposedly challenges heteronormativity, this one reinforces some highly toxic stereotypes about sexuality. Alex’s reticence towards sex is set up in a don’t-virgin-shame message but ends up reinforcing the notion that if a man isn’t a ravenous for sex, he is gay.

Who are these sage best friends who shame him for not rushing into sex (a la The Big Bang Theory) but are also wonderfully conversant with the gender-fluid, pansexual, polyamorous attitudes of their generation? Speaking of polyamory and pansexuality, the writers of the movie don’t know that these are two different things, as has been pointed out by several irate people. And in this sexually self-aware world, how come no one so much as hints at bisexuality, bicuriosity or good old sexual ambivalence?

Alex is a teenager, a time in his life for sexual experimentation. ‘Man crush’ is given lip service with no depth or dimension added. The fact that Alex has been in a straight relationship for over a year suggests that he has been attracted to women too. The flimsy plot suggests that the gay liaison may just have been a one-off reaction to a fear of sex. Alex’s actions also seem to suggest that bisexual people are just entitled enough to want everything, even at the cost of other people’s feelings.

There’s nothing to indicate that Alex lives in a homophobic world. Even his toxic male best friend (who stalks women, virgin-shames and sends unsolicited nudes) knows about sexual liberatedness. Homophobia is assigned one terrible scene towards the end of the film. Even this latter is more about school bullying and at best, a flimsy excuse for Alex’s need to please. It does grave disservice to the harassment and harm meted out to queer people all over the world. And it definitely does not address the fact that Alex hasn’t been attracted to men before this or that he clearly has felt attraction for women too.

Alex Problematic

Not once is Alex’s terrible treatment of everyone else called out. Instead the film turns queerness and sexual ambiguity into an excuse for bad behaviour, no responsibility and zero consequences for hurting other people. I’d say this is typical old, white Hollywood at its worst, turning out a weak, self-absorbed white male protagonist with everyone else around serving as props in his entitled journey.

Instead of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, they have (also) a Manic Pixie Dream Gay. It doesn’t seem like the makers of Alex Strangelove actually like gay people very much or they’d be more sensitive to how the gay boy as well as a prime ally of queer people (straight women) are treated within the story. If you take pride in sexual freedom and in allying with the rainbow cause, give this one a skip.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Stance Podcast: Ep. 17: SXonomics, Modern Mumbai, A Ballet Collaboration with Zakir Hussain, Playwright Natasha Gordon

 

Last month, SXonomics met the Stance Podcast team. Stance Podcast is an independent arts, culture and current affairs podcast exploring diverse, global perspectives. Presented as a transatlantic conversation between broadcasters, Chrystal Genesis in London and Heta Fell in San Francisco, Stance aims to inform, entertain and inspire action.

We met Chrystal and her team on their Mumbai trip, to talk about collaborative performance, sex and gender activism and Mumbai. We are featured alongside our friend Praful Baweja and the podcast also includes stalwarts like Zakir Hussain.

This podcast helped me recontextualise the ideas I and we have been putting out in writing and in performance, within the global framework of important conversations around sex and art. This is tremendously validating and helps move past the misogynist attacks, the microaggressions and everyday hatred that comes my way.

Listen to SXonomics on the Stance podcast ep.17:

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SXonomics is a feminist content producer and a collaboration between Ramya Pandyan and Ishmeet Nagpal. SXonomics is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and SoundCloud. Drop us a note at SXnomics [at] Gmail [dot] com to chat about feminism, patriarchy, LGBTQIA issues, sex and love positivity!

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Do You Have A BiFF?

It’s an important question. A BiFF can change your whole outlook to the opposite sex, to love, relating, societies, work. A good BiFF is all good things rolled into one, a sort of Human Being Plus. I’d go so far to say the BiFF is like one of the X-Men. Wait, what’s a BiFF, you say?

A BiFF my dear boys and girls, is a Bisexual Friend Forever. I’m a big believer in friendship with the opposite sex so my BiFF has to be a bisexual man. Let me tell you why BiFFs are so amazing. But first, what do we know about bisexuality?

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*Image via thaikrit on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rainbows are everyone’s favorite cause on the internet and we’re steeped in images of men kissing men, women marrying each other and matched pairs everywhere. Where do we stand on people who swing both ways?

At one end of the spectrum is the Sex and The City school of thought that sees bisexuality as a kind of greed, of not wanting to settle with just one sort. At the other end…well, need we call it an end since it’s pretty much the rest of the icebBoyerg? Yeah, anyone that’s not matched into One Male-One Female is not human. That. Let’s return to Sex and the City since that’s pop culture’s most recent revolutionary offering around sexuality. It’s over ten years old and that in internet years, could constitute four generations. I don’t know how bisexual people felt about it then but I’m not going to worry about that now.

Let’s set aside the theory bits and let me tell you about what I’ve seen. My first interaction with an openly bisexual man was when we were out on our first date. He told me that he had kissed another man. And then he paused in his story. What I said went on to define who I am (and I’m so proud of this),

“Did you like it?” I asked.

When he completed his story, I thanked him for sharing something so private with me. He smiled and told me that it was test to see whether I’d think of him as weird. No, I thought considering, not really. It felt as normal as anything else and I couldn’t find anything inside my reactions that felt revulsion. He went on to introduce me to John Mayer and Sex and the City. He was the only guy I knew who had even heard of the show, let alone owning the entire VCD collection. It would be a few years before I became involved in the rainbow cause and longer still for friends to start talking about their own bisexuality.

Here’s what I know about bisexual men. They have none of the homophobic hang-ups of the straight men I’ve dated. This means, they’re a lot more relaxed in their own skin. They aren’t as horrified by women’s power as most straight men (obviously or otherwise). They are not defined by limited notions of what constitutes manly behavior. Interestingly, some of them are even alpha males.

At the same time, they are not as weighed down by the discrimination meted out to the gay community (of course this may just be the specific people I know). They are not either screaming themselves hoarse waving rainbow flags or devolving into sulky passive-aggressiveness against straight people. Their sexuality is just one more thing about them, like the colour of their hair or their favorite food. Isn’t that interesting now? By being pan-sexual, sexuality ceases to define them. Think about a man that is not defined by who he chooses to sleep with.

I’ve always thought that homophobia and low self-esteem are both led and reinforced by straight men. Okay, a very specific kind of straight man. It’s that guy who keeps alive notions like, ‘Ooh boys’ night out! Because women are terrors to be gotten away from’, ‘Woman on top! Yay, porn! No, not in real life!’ You can see why I think the Bisexual man is an advancement on this breed.

Once upon a time, the gay best friend was a fashionable idea, conjuring up images of boy/girl duos shopping for pastels and ogling men together (“Is he for you or for me?”). In reality, the friendships are nothing like that. Shopping and bird-watching are the most trivial of pursuits two people can undertake together. And with people who are supposedly as emotionally evolved as women and gay men, really is that the best one can come up with? In truth, I find the conversations boil down to who is feeling more marginalised, more discriminated against (Women, of course! We’re the biggest mistreated minority in the world! But then I’m biased). If a conversation goes beyond that, it’s because we are two people who like each, regardless of our sexuality. And the sexuality bit is just something that well, we don’t have anything in common. Gay relationship dynamics are very different from straight ones.

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*Image via stockimages on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But bisexual men make for great friends to women. They think like men but they are also able to relate to the way straight women think and feel. Picture this. You’re getting ready for a first date with a hot guy. Turn and ask your caricatured gay friend for advice. Run around wheeing and clapping hands and jumping up and down. And then the rest of the week agonising about the date.

Instead ask your BiFF about the date. He’ll give you a once-over and say,

“Looks good. Less lipstick. I know you like it but if I were him, I wouldn’t want to kiss that. If you want to get kissed, lose the lipstick.”

So you go, “Hmph. It’s a first date. We are only going to have dinner.”

“So?” he counters, “Don’t you want to have sex with him?”

“I haven’t thought about it,” you bluster, “It’s only the first date!”

“You met him on Tinder,” he replies and looks away.

No, he isn’t being respectful and giving you time to wipe your tears in private. He noticed someone hot walk across the room.

“Your hair looks really nice, by the way,” he interrupts your stream of thought, as he starts to get up. “See you later.”

He pays, his eyes never leaving his target and reaches for you with one arm. You sigh and resign yourself to the side-hug. “Call me if you need to get away” he whispers into your hair and vanishes.

Yeah, like I said, the BiFF is all things good about a man. What happens if your date is a creep and you have to call him and he’s busy? Well, that’s the subject for another post.

XXFactored Feb&Mar2011: Sex Charts, Mad Men & Causes Gone Wrong

I didn’t post an XXFactored update in February because the month was so busy that I barely had the time to scout for links. Other people however, did share links and I really wanted to showcase them. While on this, allow me a brief crib about the new Facebook page format. It shows the page admin’s links on the main page but other members links in a tiny box. Not cool, I say. It totally kills the spirit of community that link-sharing used to do.

Now on to the links.

  • Someone’s idea of what happens to people of either gender when they fail their exams. It sparked off a heated debate. (via Lakshmi Jagad)
  • HOWL-a-rious! ‘- 14 Realities of Romantic Relationships in chart form‘ (via Cracked)
  • In memory of a remarkable woman and a talented musician laid to waste – ‘I’m Every Woman
  • I’m sure a whole lot of us will be silently thanking the makers for this handy tool! – ‘5 Signs You’ve Been Stalking Your Ex Online Too Much‘ (via How About We)
  • Harsh, hard-hitting….dare I say…true? The undeniably justified cause of gay rights, seems to have become no more than a free ride of attention and entertainment for those so privileged.  ‘The Queer Movement is dead; Long Live the Queer Movement!‘ (via DNA Newspaper, link courtesy Dhamini Ratnam)
  • A hilarious set of charts – check out the ones mapping people who use Twitter daily versus others. – ‘10 Charts about Sex‘ (via OkCupid)
  • Why Indian Men are still boys‘ (via Tehelka, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • No, Catcalling is not a compliment and here’s why’ (via Hello Giggles, link courtesy Ashwini Mishra)
  • If this 60s show has sparked off your fancy, here’s a look at some of the female stereotypes of the time by how Don Draper sees them. ‘4 Types Of Women Don Draper has Dated.‘ (via YourTango)

  • What Your Favorite Mad Men Lady Says About You‘ (via TheGloss)
  • This is totally off the edge – ‘Marketing Xenosexuality: Women & the Sex Robot taboo?‘ (via Future of Sex, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • “Lighten up” can be the most passive-aggressive chauvinistic phrase ever! ‘The Million Little Barbs of Lighten Up!‘ (via BuzzFeed)
  • Where Have All The Young Men Gone?‘ (via HR Blogs, links courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • This is true of any movement – rabidity only works against you in the long run. ‘How Pro-Lifers made me a Pro-Choice Activist.‘ (via TheGloss)
  • 5 Warnings to go with 5 Types of Men who make great husbands‘ (via From Outside The Mall, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)

You can catch the links as they come in and even post your own to The XX Factor Facebook Page.

Dirty Talk 2012 (Open Mic) By Queer Azadi Mumbai & Gaysi Family

The first month of this year promises to end on a colourful, vibrant note, thanks to Mumbai Pride Week. The week leading up to Queer Parade will see a host of related events. Queer Azadi Mumbai will host ‘Dirty Talk’ – an Open Mic event of original performances about & around the gay cause.

Expect an evening of varied performances including skits, music, poetry & other original expression. Here are the details of the event:

Dirty Talk 2012: Open Mic

Venue: The Big Nasty, Shatranj Napoli Building, Carter Road, Bandra West, Mumbai
Date: Wednesday, 25th January 2012
Time: 6.00 p.m. – 9.30 p.m.

If you’d like to participate, get in touch with GaysiFamily. To keep the evening safe & enjoyable for everyone, the organizers are asking participants to submit their pieces before the event. Come on along for an evening of fun & your expression!

Fabulis: An Online Gay Community

My friend Nikhil (okay, no pun intended there, that’s really his name!!!) told me about a project that his firm was working on recently and I thought it would be interesting to the Gaysi community. This is Fabulis, a social networking site for gay and gay-friendly people.

Fabulis appears to sit on top of the Facebook framework (it requires a Facebook account to login) and works more like an extended application than a network in itself. I guess this has its advantages since Facebook is an Internet phenomenon now and anybody who is anybody is on it (or is that Twitter, again?).

The site asks you to provide an email address and a location. My first entry threw up the following error message:

“Oops! Please enter a valid city. Please enter text as Boston, MA or Paris, France”

But when I started to type ‘M’ (since that looked closest to Mumbai even if Mumbai doesn’t abbreviate to MA), the drop-down menu of suggestions did list other cities including my home city.

When you sign in, you are asked to identify yourself as either a ‘gay man” or a ‘friend to gay guys’. Barring the obvious oversight in leaving out gay women, it’s a nice enough start. You’re also asked to enter tags to describe yourself and your interest with a default tag of ‘friend to gay guys’. I changed this to ‘friend of gay people’ and happily found that the drop-down menu of suggestions contained various versions of it.

Fabulis pulls the information from your Facebook account (including privacy settings), imports photographs and also shows you which of your friends are already using the application. It also draws up information from your Facebook calendar and posts updates of your public events inviting responses from other users of the community.

Once you’re in, the network works a little less like Facebook and more like Twitter. That is to say, you don’t exactly befriend people. You can follow them and/or be followed by them. The privacy settings allow you to raise the bar on who can follow you.

In addition to the obvious networking features, it also has its own network currency of Fabulis bits. Fabulis bits can be earned by participating in activities. Similar to the Zynga Games model, you can also earn by engaging in side-offers. These are plowed back into the monetary ecosystem as you spend them on answering other people’s questions or helping them along in their contests. You can also use Fabulis bits to buy upgrades and cheat codes for the games and contests. And finally, Fabulis bits are what you spend if you really, really want to follow someone who is ultra-picky about their privacy and has enabled the setting that forces followers to pay for the privelege.

I also tested the account deletion options (after an unsavory experience with ibibo.com which still refuses to let me go and insists on bombarding my mailbox with spammy messages). Happily Fabulis doesn’t believe in clinging on and the detachment process if fairly simple. You just click on ‘Settings’ under your profile name on the top-right which takes you to a list of options. The last of these is ‘Close Account’ with the expected “Are you sure?” message. Do note though, that if you choose to leave the network, you’ll have to go to Facebook and delete the application from having access to your account. If not, your Fabulis account will still be connected a la social networking on life support systems.

The prizes for the contests are apparently available to users in every location and are supposed to be very attractive to the gay community. I can’t confirm this myself since I haven’t participated in any of the events but it sounds like an interesting way to target the community. I guess a social network undergoes a collective learning process. Identifying itself as a network that addresses itself to this community is the first step and it will probably depend on the user group and how they choose to utilize the features that the site offers.

Fabulis is also on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

* Cross-posted on Gaysi and The Idea-smithy.

The World Of Straight & Gay-Friendly

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Port...

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Portal:LGBT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had the privilege of being the straight voice of Gaysi for a year and a half now. I’ve listened to coming-out conversations. I’ve met openly gay people. I’ve attended the launch of a book about gays in India. I’ve faced my own conflicted confusion and resolved it. I’ve even been hit upon by a gay person. This is all me and how homosexuality fits into my head.

With Section 377 and Indian Gay Prides, my world mirrors the world around. People are talking now, yes. Some agree, some don’t but at least it is being acknowledged. Ordinarily, I should have been an indifferent observer since I’m not gay myself. But I’ve been drawn into the world of these questions, first by friends closetted-suspected-gay, then the blog and finally all the other people and associations that happened as a result. It’s changing my life.

Being a straight and gay-friendly person is not as easy as it looks. Having sorted out (mostly, I hope!) where I myself stand on the issue, I find there’s a whole new can of surprises (and now, let’s not call them all worms) opening up. Some I resolve, some I rationalise and on some, I’m still ambivalent. The list has the four most important areas of my life, which is a good indication of just how big the question has become even for a supposedly uninvolved bystander.

Family

When I first started writing for Gaysi, I worried about what my parents would think. They could be tempted to associate my still single status, my fiery (often anti-male) behaviour with possible queerdom. It took a lot of self-examination before I could stand by my belief without righteous indignation and only a rational stating of facts. I’m happy to say it went through quite smoothly. It’s possible that they may be thankful that I’m only writing about homosexuality and not practicing it but I’m willing to live with that.

Love life

The average Indian male seems to be homophobic, this is true. At some point of time, the question of homosexuality comes up (it has been in the news after all). I’m in a dilemma when I come up against homophobia. I have friends who are gay and to be involved with someone who may not treat them right, doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, I also wonder if this topic is like politics and religion, where differing viewpoints can be respected and need not interfere in the relationship.

That doesn’t sound fair to me.

Friendship

Before introducing a straight friend to a gay friend, I make sure to mention the gay orientation. It’s not part of the general description to make a person interesting (“She’s a film-maker. He speaks 5 foreign languages”). It’s a veiled safety-clause that says, I’m telling you this beforehand so if you have a problem with it, say so now or forever hold your peace. I hate having to state that since in an ideal world it shouldn’t matter. I know it smacks of underhanded discrimination but I’m rationalizing it as a practical solution.

But even this is complicated by the fact that a lot of straight people are not homophobic as much as homo-apathetic. That’s until they’re faced with a situation and then their reactions could go anyway.

Recently, I introduced a gay friend to my companion at a party. It turned out they stayed close to each other and my gay friend offered my companion a lift. Later that night, he called me in a huff. It transpired that in conversation during the ride, my straight friend had asked,

“Are you hitting on me?”

Now it could be that my companion was just joking. Or he may have been serious whereupon it might have been a deep-seated phobia or just an innocent misreading of signals. My gay friend on the other hand, prides himself on being able to discern the gay strain in others, even through confusion or outright denial. He might have been on track there or he might have been mistaken.

It’s an awkward situation for me in the end, even though I wasn’t even a part of the conversation. They’re both friends and I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to think about who is closer and who I may have to, eventually, let go.

Professional life

This hasn’t actually posed a problem but I’ll add a ‘yet’ to that. I had a coming-out experience of my own kind recently when I dropped my  five-year long anonymity and revealed my identity to my readers. The worlds of social media, writing and work are merging and I’m finding it more practical to consolidate than to compartmentalize. My blogging activities are now ennumerated in my resume. No organisation will openly admit to being gay-unfriendly. But I’ve been a woman in the corporate world and I know all about biases and prejudices that are never acknowledged but hinder you anyway. I wonder whether I’m setting myself up for yet another one of those and I’ve been tempted (several times) to take Gaysi off my list. It’s the easy option but each time I hit delete, I also get that bad feeling in my head that feels like cowardice.

In each of these situations, I’m faced with the question of how important this issue is to me. I’m not gay, I’m not a close relation of anyone who is (that’s to say, I’m not living with or supporting anyone who is). Why then should I bother? Because it’s the right thing to do, this is true.

But there’s just this much I can do. And while I will never endorse discrimination, I often wonder if I can just pipe down instead of crusading for a quest I’m not even a part of. In this world of so many sins, I must pick my battles. Homosexuality is on the list but I can’t honestly say I’ll always have the courage to keep it there.

What To Do When A Friend ‘Comes Out’

The answer is simple. If you are truly sympathetic and supportive, you let it show. You can do it without saying a thing. Just for posterity, I’m going to tell you about two ‘coming-out’ conversations that I’ve been a part of. Each one is a sweet memory, a verbal token that a friend trusted me and shared something deeply personal.

Telling All

He’s a pal, a friend from the times when ‘chaddi-buddy’ was both a literal and figurative description of the relationship. He’s family in that way where I can call him over to cook for me when I’m hungry, make him sit through a rerun of an old Tamizh movie he doesn’t understand and he cribs and complains all the time but does it all anyway.

One Sunday morning, I called him and demanded that he meet me for an early morning movie. He cribbed but he turned up anyhow. And since we hadn’t talked in over a year, I tossed out a ‘what’s news’ line. It led into an unexpected conversation.

How are things?

What things?

You know…are you dating anybody? How’s the dil ka haal, that kind of stuff. I haven’t heard you talk about any women.

I haven’t liked any women.

Turn left here. What were you saying?

Nothing.

It wasn’t nothing. Tell all!

I said, I haven’t liked any woman.

Ah.

What?

Nothing.

Really?

Well…that’s all?

Hmm.

Ah.

Then the movie started and we were both absorbed in it. Later, over lunch, he referred back to the conversation and asked me what I thought. I said,

I think you’re going to pay for lunch. I paid for the movie after all and I’m broke now.

A Silly Girl

The second time was a chat converation with the girl in this post. At the time of writing it, she hadn’t said anything but I knew she had read the post anyway. She went off for a pee-break and when she returned, abruptly typed,

You wrote one post about your gay friend.

Trepedition. Fear. Mischief. I decided to play safe and just replied,

Yesss?

Who was that about?

Ha! I thought and I typed back,

A very silly girl I know and adore.

:-).

Then I went off for lunch. A month later, we were having coffee when she suddenly piped up,

And I told her that you wrote a post about me!

My turn to grin.

Who says laughter and fun can’t be a part of important conversations?

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