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A Space of Belonging

Close-up shot of a leaf with its veins forming an interconnected pattern

For a while now I have been so overwhelmed by consultancy work, creative art projects, community-building activities and interventions, all happening at the same time, that my own time is limited, and reflection and retrospection-introspection have become a rare exercise. That means I seldom find time to write or creatively indulge myself, especially by writing a long essay or a short story or curating an exhibition. However, one of the ways I have nurtured and preserved my sense of connection to writing is through long captions written for my Instagram Story or Feed Post.

Oh, I almost forgot that I have written two short stories published by Zubaan, written a chapter for a Routledge publication and also edited a soon-to-be-published anthology before I head off to Arunachal Pradesh for the Literature Festival at Namsai in the first week of November

Over the years I have acquainted myself with the world of writers and readers, we have connected with each other, and I have found spaces and friendships where my sexuality found acceptance and belongingness. But the world of writers and readers in the English language is a privileged one which has significantly shrunk for me as I relocated to Moirang, Manipur. Even my creative and community work at The Chinky Homo Project (TCHP) around documentation and writing about LGBTQ lived realities also shrank. I tried my best to consistently nurture and keep alive the art of writing as community work and personal practice, yet I lost the consistency required for this.

On the other hand, my lack of training and association with the Meiteilon literary language and craft also added to the downslide. Maybe if I had access to and familiarity with the Meiteilon literary circle, this would have opened some avenues for me. But that has not happened as well. Today, that sense of connection to words, texts, writing, is unfortunately fast thinning and it is only once in a while that I write about my sexuality and queerness on Instagram and share this with the world.

As this world shrunk for me, other worlds grew for me. In 2020, I founded Matai Society – an initiative to build an inclusive society for queer and trans persons and women. I found like-minded queer and trans persons and women with whom we built a community space by claiming an erstwhile Computer Coaching classroom at Moirang Lamkhai. The space belongs to my parents whose worldview is largely determined by heteronormativity and sexual taboos. Yet we claimed it, we are still in the process of claiming it bit by bit. My sexuality had to somehow find people and a space to belong, just as my collaborators and friends needed something of that sort. We found this together in part with Matai Society. We work from there when there is work, we spend nights together there at times. We also hold community meet-ups and official meetings in that small space.

This space is gradually serving as the space through and around which connections among queer and trans persons and women are gradually being built in the locality. It is also gradually serving to build further connections with families, friends, colleagues, and other locals. Our day-to-day activities and gatherings are also visible to our families and the society around us and therefore new connections are being forged and negotiated. In this way, Matai gives me, and us, the ground on which our sexuality and selfhood are being legitimised in our society, slowly and gradually. This does not mean that everyday sexism, homophobia and transphobia have stopped, it continues, we fight it everyday.

This way or that way, claiming spaces has been an elemental aspect throughout my life. In an interview for In Plainspeak, I have talked about queer intimacy in the context of Manipur where I clearly remarked upon how queer intimacies are pushed behind cheap hotel rooms, shady secluded spaces in the hills or jungles, where one continues to experience intimacies with a sense of fear and stigma.

Matai as a space, and society in the making, destigmatises our sexuality including those of cis women whose sexuality is tabooed in so many ways in our societies. Our camaraderie and solidarities therefore are also strongly founded on our own sexuality, our sexuality of different shades. None of these came about easily, there have been misunderstandings amongst us about each others’ experiences and sentiments, as well as internalised heteronormativity that often comes out in many forms. We teach each other the correct pronouns and correct gender to use for each other. In the process, we have realised that it takes a lot of intimate sharing and connections in order to unlearn, learn and accept each other. It also takes time and effort to build that connection without which such acceptance and unlearning remain half-baked.

At times I contemplate the workshops and capacity-building trainings that encourage us to empower oneself and build connections based on our sexuality and gender identities; sometimes I feel the lack of intimacy, trust-building and bonding in the very design of the workshops and trainings. Is there a need to make such sessions more intimate, more personal and storytelling-based? Do we need a more intimate personalised space for that? Do we also need a language and framework that is more intimate and personal instead of module-based? How does one convince a funder of a community-based organisation to believe in such a process?

I must not undermine the significance of such workshops and trainings through which I built my own capacity as well, yet there is a lot to talk about along these lines. But what I have learnt for sure is that a non-formalised safe space where storytelling and intimate bonding can happen will surely nurture possibilities that will encourage us to transcend or break the barriers of class, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. And through which connections can be better formed or strengthened. I can say this because I have seen it, I have been part of it.

Connections to me therefore are not fixed entities that have a concrete shape, meaning and form. It is an evolving concept for me, more of a process that plays a pivotal role at different times in one’s life and it may differ from person to person. Connections for me are also elements that get saturated or reach a point of maturity over time and have no further point of growth. And there are also connections which remain more of a quest; unsatiated and incomplete – and maybe some connections are a bit of both the way I feel. For instance, my relation and connection to my parents and old friends are quite saturated and reached a point of completion because of the sense of familiarity, disappointments, predictability, fading sense of purpose while my connection with Matai society is a newer one filled with freshness, a sense of quest and discovery as it grows and reaches more people.

And yet, with the passing of time and retrospection-introspection on one’s own worldviews and emotional intelligence, I am also realising the avenues for freshness, quest and new purposes in my long-standing connections with my parents and old friends. This is precisely because there has been so much we haven’t spoken, shared and confronted about sexuality and desires. And based on the outcome of such confrontations and sharing, one can decide for oneself if such connections are to be nurtured or cut off. One must not nurture and tolerate toxic, sexist, homophobic, transphobic connections, right?

And the ever mysterious, on-going search for a lover or lovers whom we often fantasise about, and who we hope will bring us a sense of completion, care and belongingness goes on. Do the one person and the one connection even exist? I can’t tell for sure.

The biggest unlearning and learning for me is that it makes so much sense to find connections in the way they work for one’s own self. They can take any shape or form and we can find them if we search for them and listen to our innermost instincts and desires because the fundamental connections to be made are based on these innermost instincts and desires. My search for them continues.

Photo by Meg Jerrard on Unsplash