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CategoriesTime and SexualityVoices

A time to #metoo or not to

#metoo has caught me at a personal time in my life when I don’t want to communicate about anything to anyone in a blanket way. This is in conflict with my actually writing this piece. Of course I’m a #metoo. I didn’t raise my hand to be counted and I’m not the only one. I think it is possible that every woman I have ever known could say #metoo. Many other persons that I know, not women, would say #metoo.

I need to pause and rewind a little in time and sequence and go back to where I began this piece. I spoke of ‘a time in my life’, as a way of stripping time of its power to sequence, order and arrange in clean mathematical progression, yesterday, today, tomorrow, ten, twelve, twenty two, infant, child, adult and old. This power time appears to have is our response to what is often a straggly, untidy and sometimes incomprehensible, unsequentiable life. This is most particularly true of sexuality. As a writer of fiction and TV serials, I have often scripted life events for characters I am glad I have never met. I gave them an acceptable, predictable sexuality, something media consumers will switch on the TV for, to see what they would like to see happen in these lives. I am afraid that were any of these characters to ever surface into reality, and ask me if my experience of sexuality was as boringly predictable as the ones I crafted for them, I’d have to say, no. So why is it that we want to see a neatly ordered, easy to manage and digest sexuality in ourselves, around us, in our families, in our children, our parents, our partners and our friends? Why does every birthday mark a milestone based on the sequential order of time? At thirteen you must sprout a pimple, at sixteen you must kiss and hold hands, at eighteen you can get married in India if you’re a girl, not if you’re a boy, then the sequence must progress to age twenty-one. Baby at twenty-five, thirty is stretching it and at thirty-five you’re a geriatric mom!

There was a time in my life that I experienced a kiss I will always remember because I almost dropped dead with desire, followed by nothing, no further story. A time that I hit that milestone many people refer to as ‘going all the way’. A time that I threatened a sexual predator with retaliatory violence and a time that I acted out some part of that threat, but on someone else, who belonged to a different time in my life and shared nothing in common with sexual predators. A time in my life when I felt that sex was a sort of by-product of a successful life and felt sorry for the person who wasn’t ‘getting any’. A time in my life when I felt damn sorry for myself because I wasn’t getting any in the sexual identity I was beginning to come to terms with. Then a time in my life when I thought nothing was better, nor more perfect than this moment with this person.

Rearrange these in sequential order of their happening and it won’t match any assumptions of a time-based progression of experiencing sexuality. Drop dead kiss ­–age 30, threaten sexual predator – age 14, sex as by-product of successful life – age 21, sexual identity coming to terms with – age 35. Nothing better, nor more perfect – age(s) 22, 32, 42. (Ah, 52 arrives in another couple of years.) To drive home the point – I was certainly a child at my pre- and early-teens with a deep knowledge of abuse of power, of my own vulnerability and the foxy strategems required to keep sexual secrets, and I was certainly a child at age 35 coming to terms with sexual identity, swallowed by a snake at the top most bar of snakes and ladders, dropping to the first bar of a different game altogether. It’s what is called, back to square one. Just a different one on a different board. As I read what I have written, I am struck by the reference to snakes and ladders and board games. Not selling sheep on a virtual farm in between participating in online campaigns. Definitely geriatric.

Not for any of us will the sequence be, as we often assume it to be, from childhood, through the teens, into adulthood and the senior years. A sort of growth and development from shaping identity, to interest in others, to kiss, to going all the way, to whatever, wherever. It is never so simply sequenced and most importantly, it is never about one dimension of time.

So I return to #metoo. #metoo will be familiar to most if not all readers of this piece. A movement that gripped social media, it actually originated about a decade ago, when Tarana Burke launched a grassroots campaign to connect with survivors of sexual assault. ‘Me too’, in Burke’s words, “was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible”. #metoo today is a social media campaign begun in response to the Harvey Weinstein stories, by actress Alyssa Milano.

I’ve read posts and comments from friends questioning why many people they know are not speaking up under this hashtag. I have a response to that question. Long before there was social media, yes at other historical times, there were still spaces where people met, where they shared or did not share personal stories, secrets, revelations, pain and anger. Long before #metoo, there were individuals who started speaking up in front of others in private and public spaces about their own experiences of sexual harassment and abuse. These individuals helped others, less ready to articulate and share, think about doing so and actually proceed to do so. On the other hand, there have always been those who do not speak up, or limit where they speak and what they say. I am one of these, limiting sharing and expression to varying degrees. All degrees of sharing and expression in spaces online and not online have their own personal context for each individual, at a point of time in their lives.

Sexuality for me has been about personal discoveries in my life, and some crucial discoveries have taken the shape of first-time realisations that did not happen when I was young, but when I was an adult, a very experienced person of the world. I knew things. That kiss at age 30 happened way after many other milestones in the history of my unfolding sexuality. It wasn’t a teen-age romance followed by a slowly unfolding story of love and discovery of desire. It was a strange story of loss of identity, reshaping identity and making a fool of myself for another twenty years or so. Isn’t all of that what we expect people to do between the ages of say fifteen to twenty three? And then we expect people to settle down to a relationship? To marriage? Family and Amazon Diwali offers? For that you switch on TV. The reality is that time is as deeply personal as is sexuality, and as deeply political, as deeply private, or public, as sexuality. Time and sexuality, neither is one-dimensional, neither is neat and both have a way of being always in a state of movement, whether we like it or not, flow with it or not.

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Reads, writes, does Sudoku, grows plants and walks with dogs as a reasonable option to running with wolves. Is a consultant with TARSHI, focusing on health, disability, gender and rights issues. A post-graduate from XLRI, graduated from Hindu college, Delhi University.

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