In XX Factor news, longtime friend and well-wisher of my blogs, Meetu (also known as WOGMA) joined XX Factor as its newest guest-contributor, giving her own introduction with her first post ‘Mom-me‘.
- ‘Why Marriage Is A Declining Option For Modern Women‘ (via Guardian, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
- ‘Pick A Number‘: A hilarious point-scale of sexuality (via NewYorker)
- A graph on how the sexes name colour – Do men and women really see colours that differently? Or are men just plain lazy? (via Venks)
- ‘The Top 10 Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable Into English‘: Sex and the City gave us ‘La Douleur Exquise’ but who knew the deliciousness of ‘Retrouvailles’ or the sensuality of ‘Cafuné’? If you’re confounded, the article explains their meanings. (via BigThink, link courtesy Smriti Ravindra)
- ‘The Surprise Spanx Make-out‘: A fun read on the battle between getting help to look good & letting the world see that. (via Salon, link courtesy Lakshmi Jagad)
- A dating site and my new project!: ‘Ten Things Men Should Never Do While Dating‘ (via LoveBeckons)
- ‘Biggest Relationship Trends of 2011‘: The accompanying images are more than half the fun! (via Glo)
- ‘She’s Got Game‘: I’m not the kind of girl gamer she talks about. But I’ve felt the same ‘You’re off your territory’ attitude in the comics section of bookstores. (via Michelle Oraa Ali, link courtesy Ashwini Mishra)
- A way to get men to stop making those %^$ period jokes! (via RaggedTag)
- A funny cartoon on haircuts, men and women (link courtesy BlogAdda)
You can catch the links as they come in and even post your own to the XX Factor Facebook Page.
A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
It wasn’t nothing. Tell all!
I said, I haven’t liked any woman.
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,
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?
A colleague of mine from the Paris office came to visit and stayed in Mumbai for three months. We became friends and I was delighted to meet her again a year later. In conversation about the country she said she had fallen in love with, she suddenly remarked,
There are a lot of gay men in India!
I was surprised. We debated briefly on whether this could be possible. I mean, since human beings are fundamentally the same worldover, barring superficial differences of physical appearances, can something as deep-rooted as sexual orientation vary by region?
The debate petered off when it fell into the abyss of ‘Why does a person turn out to be homosexual? Heredity? Environment? A deviant childhood experience?’ Neither of us had enough information to make a call on that, and true to our analytical roles, we let it drop with a unanimous judgement of ‘Data insufficient’.
But I went back to her original assumption later and discovered that it boiled down to a laughably simple point. She said she kept noticing men all over the place with their arms slung around each other’s shoulders. At my confusion, she clarified,
In Europe, only gay men do that. Straight men never put their arms around each other that way.
It took me awhile to get over my surprise at that to tell her that it was common practice in India among men, straight or not and no one thought twice about it.
It was a telling point. Cultures vary and etiquettes differ. On one hand, the West is a lot opener about displays of affection between opposite sexes. So kissing, hugging and dancing are all regarded as normal where these would raise a few stares in most parts of this country. On the other hand, behavior between people of the same sex is rigidly demarcated in a way that it doesn’t even occur to Indians to think about.
After the above conversation, I’ve been studying how we behave with people of the same sex. There is a fair degree of physical contact between men, with the arm-around-shoulders being the most common one. A man riding pillion on a bike and scooter is at ease holding the rider by his waist or shoulders. Older brothers, fathers and authority figures express their role of ‘benevolent benefactor’ by the arm on the middle back of their protege. Friends will massage each others backs in a gesture that would seem quite erotic if they had been from opposite sexes.
Women with women are even freer. There is plenty of hugging and kissing in the more Westernized factions. And in the others, there is a lot of touching, of holding hands, of squeezing up next to, of putting heads on the other’s shoulder or lap. I’ve done it myself without thinking about it, for years on the end.
In fact the one interesting thing that came to light recently was when I realized that two women would not mind sharing a bed but a lot of men would be uncomfortable doing so. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this since the same two men would be perfectly fine with sharing their personal effects and talking about deeply intimate things that women would shy away from.
Body language is as nuanced and subjective as any of the verbal ones; possibly more since it is the one language that speaks only the absolute truth. This may be why the loose-limbed gesture that popular media often patronizes comes across as juvenile to real gay people. It could be why we occasionally blunder on the gay/straight perception divide and why ‘gaydar’ isn’t down to a precise science. And it may also point to the fact that sexuality isn’t a binary defined world (one or the other) but as fluid as our moods and passions.
I was at a seminar with a group of people recently when one of them declared that he was gay. In the lunch break, one of my friends slipped over to me and whispered,
Of all the people, I never would have guessed that this guy was gay.
I didn’t follow my friend’s surprise. I hadn’t really had the chance to think about the guy too much since his declaration came pretty early in the day. But if I had had a chance to spend a little more time and if I’d been asked to hazard a guess, I’d have guessed him to be gay.
Why? According to my friend, he didn’t display any of the ‘classic gay mannerisms’ by which I take he meant the whole effeminate-loose-limbed thing that Bollywood portrays as ‘a mature view of homosexuality’. Obviously. This person was very ‘normal’ in his body language and expression and there was nothing effete about him.
And still I’m quite certain I’d have caught him on my gaydar. There was something, a little difficult to describe that set him apart from the straight men. A softness, a gentleness, a certain something that showed him to be very close to and cognizant of his own emotions.
I’m not saying that straight men are insensitive or stupid with their emotions (though a number of them may be). I’m saying that women and men, straight men that is, process their emotions and express them differently. What do we mean when we say that women are ‘in touch’ with their emotions? It means that our emotions are as close to our conscious, working minds as say, our clothes are to our bodies. We don’t really need to think too much about how we feel because well, it’s a film that’s constantly running, we already know. Chances are, if you ask a woman how she feels about something at a point of time, she will articulate her feelings much more precisely and vividly and accurately than the average man. I don’t think it is because women feel more or that we talk more. I think it’s just that we tend to keep our emotions closer to our consciousness and constantly some part of our brain is processing,
How do I feel about this? What is this feeling called? What else am I feeling? Do they contradict each other? Do they overlap?
I have a feeling men do this slightly differently. Obviously since I’ve never been a man, all I can do is guess but I’m thinking emotions are more like furniture in their mind. They don’t really think too much about it unless there’s a new piece to fit in, which they do as quickly and painlessly as they’re able to. Once that’s fitted into their minds, they focus on other things and don’t bother about it anymore, unless something demands their attention. Which may be when you pose the same above question to a man, his response will most likely be to look startled as if the thought of thinking about emotions (furniture?) didn’t occur to him at all. After which he pauses to think about it or look around inside him mind and perhaps he’ll catch something amiss. Wherein we go on to his taking time to analyze what’s different (or not). If it isn’t like the way he’s expecting to find it, he’ll probably be even more confused and dumbfounded over why you brought it to his notice in the first place.
Okay, so all of that is just the difference between men and women and how they handle their emotions. I’m saying gay men do this the way women do and not the way (straight) men do. It’s really subtle and after all, you can’t really tell what anyone’s thinking inside their heads. But if you pay attention, you might catch a glimpse of what goes on behind by what passes on their faces.
Our gay colleague didn’t hesitate for a minute in identifying and airing his opinions about the so-called soft issues of emotions. What’s more, his speech was liberally spiced with words like “I feel” as opposed to the more straight-guy-speak of “I think”. These two are used interchangeably in everyday speech but if you think about it, you may notice that women use “I feel” more than men do. And our gay pal did too, unlike the other men in the room. And hence quipped my internal gaydar,
Another thing to add is how men react to a woman’s physical presence. This isn’t something I could comment on in this particular case since Mr.Gay was seated across the room and most likely hadn’t seen me till then. There is a certain way men look at women in the first few moments. There’s an internal data-capture happening of all the visual aspects and as a woman, you can sense it. In streetspeak, it’s called ‘being checked out’. Sometimes it happens in a flash of a second, a full body scan in a second. All men do it to all women they meet. With the exception perhaps, of gay men.
Do you notice that gay men look at you straight in the eye while speaking and continue to keep looking right there? They’re waiting, watching for your response, seeking your validation, trying to guage what you’re feeling. Very like a woman. Straight men on the other hand, look at you, look around, occasionally look down, sometimes fixate on your bustline or waist or nose. They only look at you straight in the eye when they’re being aggressive, either threatening you or trying to intimidate you or going all out to seduce you. In all cases, a focussed, aggressive action. Straight eye contact is aggressive as far as the straight man goes. It’s connecting as far as women and gay men go.
That’s the difference. And the ability to catch that is what we call gaydar.
Friend and openly gay writer, Parmesh Shahani in his book Gay Bombay says that being gay isn’t just a sexual preference, it’s a lifestyle.
My sexuality was something that I had compartmentalized as something that was surreptitious and all about the sexual act, not about an identity.
Yes, perhaps. I guess I can’t claim to understand fully since my choices go by what society sees as the norm and anything else is forced to be defined starkly, clearly as separate.
I was recently at a party and ended up sitting next two friends who both happened to be gay, one guy and one girl. I’ve known each of them independently for years now. Till a few months ago, I didn’t even know that they knew each other and from what I can tell, they’ve only recently become friends. That they get along so well suits me just fine since they’re both such lovely people and besides I understand for each of them, considering the staggering enormity of the cause they each champion, it is good to meet a kindred soul. Add to that the fact that they’re both such rollicking fun that getting together with both of them is usually a blast.
I turned away from the conversation on my other side to get back to them and found I had moved into a private guy/girl-watching session. He was checking out the geeky looking dude on my left while she had her eyes on a fiery femme fatale at the other end of the room. Chuckling and commenting on each other’s choices. I was about to join in with an elbow-nudge and a side-joke when he said,
How about an introduction? You know him?
I hesitated for a minute, because I really didn’t but also because I wondered if bespectacled eye-candy in question was gay as well. I shook my head and told my friend that I didn’t think so. Both of them exchanged meaningful glances and almost in unison said,
She wouldn’t know. She’s not one of the family.
I’m not sure exactly what happened in that one remark but I suddenly felt cut out of the discussion. I’ve examined it over and over in my head. Is that really true? As a straight person, do I also not feel attraction, ponder on it, act on it? Do I not run through similar thoughts of whether the object of my affection reciprocates? And does it really matter that I’m crushing on the opposite sex while my friends are ODing on the same sex?
What’s with the family bit anyway? That part really annoyed me. I’ve never judged either of them or been anything other than respectful of their choices, their opinions and feelings. Each of them is a real, live person to me, not a body bearing a tag that says ‘Gay’. Then why do they hang the tag of ‘Straight’ on me and behave like it makes me less kin to them than to each other? I felt excluded. And I felt betrayed, that’s what.
I must ask whether the gay community hopes to ever get the respect due to it, considering what a tremendous backlash they are and will continue to face in years to come? And whether in the process of defining themselves clearly, they aren’t drawing boundaries between straight people and gay people in a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ scenario. If the gay community wants to enjoy the same rights as others, on the premise that they are no different from anyone else, I think they should start thinking of themselves as the same as everyone else. And family is people who love and accept you, not necessarily people who like the same things you do. But that’s just me.
Another new blogging project. My brief – to be the straight voice of a gay desi blog. I’m excited.
I wonder who the readers will be. Will they be gays and lesbians and if so, will they have any interest in what a straight person thinks of homosexuality? Will they be people like me, straight and opinionated, in which case I’ll essentially be preaching to the converted? Will they be homophobics? And with the last question I recoil immediately. I’ve met with so many of those, especially recently, that I think I’m homophobic-phobic! As homosexuality comes out of its closet in India, so do the homophobics and to me they are no less despicable than fundamentalists opposing something they are afraid of rather than in disagreement with.
Anyway, I tell myself not to agonize (as I’m wont to do always) too much about who’s reading. So I switch to agonizing over what my co-bloggers here think. What does a gay person feel about a straight person? Do they ever find my views presumptuous, considering I am not really in the same experiences as they are? Do they ever resent the fact that my lifestyle choices are more mainstream and enjoy unquestioned acceptance while they have to fight for what (we all believe) is rightfully their choice?
And finally, I must admit I wonder what everyone thinks of me. A friend has taken to calling me a lesbian-magnet since I made the huge mistake of telling him about a time a woman hit on me. I started off thinking I was standing up for my friends’ choices but I find I end up having to defend my own as well. I particularly like what Raghu Ram (producer, audition judge of MTV Roadies, yeah the bald guy) says in HT Cafe today,
We are not strictly pro-homosexuality or pro live-in relationships. We’re pro-choice. And pro-tolerance. I can’t help but notice that intolerance comes from ignorance, and the saddest part is we don’t even try to find out about a subject before forming an opinion or passing a judgment, because it outrages our sense of morality.
I recently spoke to another blogger about Gaysi and he smiled and asked,
Great but why the clarification on the ‘straight’ part?
Awww hell, why does sexuality have to be such a loaded issue carrying so many fears and insecurities? Bleh, at least I’m not going to run short of things to talk about (yup, you guessed it, that was worry no.2 which mercifully gets struck out now). Come join me while I take a walk down this alley.
That’s like asking if a guy and girl can have a platonic friendship, isn’t it? The question is given the possibility of a sexual/romantic connection, can a relationship exist even without it?
Okay, let me get out of the pseudo-intellectualising and go real-life. I do know some lesbians. One of them is a friend. She hasn’t actually ‘come out’ as they call it or even ‘confessed’ to me, if such a revelation can be labelled a confession (as if it were a crime and one should look shamefaced about it!). Yet, I know. Don’t ask me how. I’d be a terrible friend if I didn’t realise it. As it is, I’m probably not as great a friend as I ought to be if she hasn’t felt comfortable sharing the truth with me. Or perhaps it is just too personal, too precious to her to speak about it. Either way, I’m fine with it. After all, I don’t consider friendship as a permission to sit in judgement and I also don’t think that one’s orientation bears judgement by others.
So that’s as far as it goes regarding our conversations (or the lack of them) about her sexuality. However there are other things…undercurrents, emotions and grey areas. For example, how far do I go with my displays of affection? I’m a natural born hugger, I love hugging my family, friends and people I feel close to. Thus far the only complication has been with men, particularly the ones in my age bracket with whom there is/could be a a certain attraction. Like most other women, I’ve tried and tested the waters and reached a certain comfortable balance of physical promiximity with the various men in my life. Now we arrive at the new complication of having to consider the same thing with another woman as well.
Personally I believe that sexuality isn’t binary with a person being either homosexual or heterosexual (and how does that account for bisexualilty?) ; it is more like a range of shades and all of us fall somewhere along the scale. Oh perhaps we even move up and down the scale at various points in our lifetime. Note now I’m talking about orientation not actual action so for the more conservative-minded, I’m not accusing you of doing anything that could shock you. And if you follow my belief it means that each of us is capable of feeling attraction for any other human being, male or female at any point of time in our life. I’ve written about my own bi-curiosity (as Desiblogging termed it) before. I’m quite unabashed in my admiration of other women. But I find it stops right there and I have no desire (physical, hormonal or otherwise) to go any furthur than that. That in my mind is what determines my orientation and keeps me in the dating pool of male partners.
How do you distinguish the affinity and closeness that like-minded women share from sexual attraction? How far do you go with someone you think there could be a spark of attraction with? How close do you get to someone you suspect might be attracted to you?
And therein I find I’m back on the same territory as I was a few years back when I discovered the opposite sex, attraction and love. Friendship is so wonderfully simple but the hormones just come and complicate them all, don’t they?
To come back to the case in point, my lovely lady friend appears to be in a relationship as well. How do I know? No, she hasn’t mentioned that either but it is clearly visible to anyone who knows her well. I wish I could speak up and tell her how happy I am that she has found someone special. When her eyes light up at the mention of her girlfriend, I wish I could tease her and hug her in sheer glee. But I don’t.
I also wonder sometimes what her girlfriend thinks of me. Just as I wonder what the wives and girlfriends of my guy friends think of me and I walk around on eggshells until I’m totally, completely 120% sure that they have no qualms about my closeness – I wonder in this case too whether her girlfriend ever resents me or even, well, frowns a bit at our closeness. Oh well, I think not. She seems a good sort in herself and I’m guessing if I had known her before I’d have been friends with her as well.
So to answer my own question of whether it is possible for a straight and a lesbian woman to be friends. Yes, yes, I think so. After all, sexuality is physical and perhaps mental but friendship, love and loyalty come straight from the heart.
A good conversation is one that leads to several more. And I had the benefit of one such conversation with the queen of desi blogdom. Do check out her starting post on what we were talking about, ending with a promise to take it furthur. I’ll put up my thoughts on this as well, shortly.