The simplicity of a connection is as powerful as the complexity of it.
- Two dots plotted randomly on a blank sheet of paper and a line connecting them.
- Two strangers on a train speak of life, death, love and relationships, money and politics, then share food. Perhaps they speak of sex, that’s a difficult word, so will they, won’t they?
- The sheet isn’t blank, and there are many dots and other shapes on it. Many lines, circles and squiggles connect these shapes in different ways. The paper is folded into territories.
- Two strangers on a train look carefully at each other, one is a trans man and the other is a cishet woman who wears an epilepsy bracelet. Sitting across from them is a person who is totally blind and relies on a smart cane to get about independently. What happens next? And why?
- Put a new dot anywhere upon this sheet of paper.
- This dot represents any single reader of this article
A COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP
Assuming this dot we are thinking of here is a human creature, it is easier for many to understand that it has, within itself interconnected layers, all continuously evolving: matter, spirit and energy, thought, emotion, capacity, connections within itself, relationships outside of the self.
But, we said paper. Which is two dimensional and our lives aren’t two dimensional.
So one dot – in the middle of chaos – has landed in a particular location that has past, present and an ever-unfolding choice of futures. Being human, at some stage this dot must fill a form for a birth certificate, passport, or visa, or taxes, or hospital procedure. Most such forms ask for a verifiable identity, which is generally another term for your connections in life. Father’s Name is everyone’s favourite in India, and you can’t just write motha focka, not in any language, you can’t. If this dot has no father that they know of, the chances are they’ll need a good lawyer, or human rights activist, or NGO to help with these formalities. Or a tout. (Please do note, that any or all of these will require ‘connections’ to access their services.)
Then there’s age, there’s sex, or in some forms gender, and there’s address. Growing up in an urban low-income settlement, the politically correct term for what many refer to as slum, is different from growing up in a gated community. The address represents a world of connections and associated identity, there for anyone, who accesses this data, to know.
Finally – what about sexuality? When every connection in life tends to begin with family and that family has a conditional acceptance of family members, when that family actively colludes with society to give regressive and repressive practices free rein, what is life for a dot born into this chaos? In this article that begins with discussing a June 2021 Judgement of the Madras High Court banning conversion therapy, the author notes, “Family members often perpetuate such abuses against LGBTQIA+ individuals, forcing them to abandon their own house. They are harassed physically and psychologically in public spaces, preventing them from pursuing a dignified life. These physical and psychological atrocities stem from socio-cultural practices, which include a blend of discrimination and heteronormative paradigms that make queer sexuality an ‘immoral’ representation in Indian society.”
Sexuality and gender, and the gender binary, are deeply intertwined. Not all around us is grim, we have choices. A news article from earlier this year reports that “Almost seven years after it first gave a gender-neutral graduation certificate to a student on request, Hyderabad’s National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (Nalsar) has started designating spaces gender-neutral as part of a first-of-its-kind trans policy the university is finalising.” This is good, in a world where there are primarily only two options to choose from, M / F. It is by highlighting narratives of expanding choice that we support change.
Irrespective of what the label is – queer, non-binary, cis gender, heterosexual, trans woman – sexuality is integral to life and identity. As are Connections. Between these two concepts is an unwieldy relationship.
In this In Plainspeak article from earlier this year, based on responses to a survey about celebrating sexuality, respondents wrote in to express what sexuality means to them. Some of them said:
“For me celebrating sexuality means celebrating my freedom to the best of my ability! I want to feel more free because that is more important than being in a relationship. I have chosen to be single rather than compromise my freedom in any way”
“I am a fat woman who was always told no one would ever be interested in ‘fucking’ me. And I believed that for the longest time. I was grateful for anyone who wanted to, ‘understood’ men who didn’t want to and accepted the death of my sex life for 11 years.”
Let us say this dot we have put on this sheet we are drawing on, is PAGFB, a Person Assigned Gender Female at Birth. Does this aspect of who they are, link to their connections? The dot grows up knowing and feeling their queer identity, in whatever way queer expression unfolds for them. This may include the way they wish to dress and present themselves, as opposed to what is expected of them, or what they are forced to conform to. Depending on how they are connected to the world within, their sense of self and agency, and to the world around them, power and possibilities of being who they are within their home, family, school, and community – the dot’s life will now manifest. This has great potential for pain and trauma, just as it does for self-affirming, deeply satisfying life experiences.
HEALING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CONNECTIONS AND SEXUALITY
If the connections of a human being are dependent, as they are, on location, time, place, family, friends, resources, access, ability, education, occupation, power and support systems, politics, economics, technology, culture, religion and society – there is a huge variety of ways in which the relationship between connections and sexuality plays out.
Author and illustration artist Sharanya Manivannan grew up in Sri Lanka and in Malaysia, and has lived in India since 2007. In this interview she speaks of pain as a starting point for considering life options and choices: “caused on individual and generational levels through the privileging of structures like marriage, family, caste, religion and so on. Perhaps that’s exactly where the starting point should be: in your own constellation of known people, how much sadness have you seen because of these institutions? How much joy could there be if there was more room to breathe?”
Very particularly, how does this work out for those historically marginalised, their voices unheard, such as for example, queer non-binary children, persons with disabilities, communities that still struggle to overcome the discrimination they face on the basis of race, caste and class?
Yes, this relationship needs healing.
Where does one begin? Perhaps with that ‘constellation of known people’ that Sharanya speaks of?
Or perhaps with that which is closest and most accessible to oneself.
One’s own Self.
As Nighat Gandhi writes in an earlier article for In Plainspeak, “the self is not a woman-self or a man-self. The self may be a product of material influences: biological, cultural, political, religion, social class. But what about my deepest, innermost self? My soul?”
Soul at one end, body at another, Anmol Nayak writes of being at a kid’s birthday party, “I was making small talk with some of the 11-year olds when a five-year old shouted, “Aunty, I want another Puri.” I served the kid and was checking if anyone else needed anything. That’s when [an] 11-year old replied to the child, “She is not Aunty, okay. She is Didi.” This girl thought that there was something wrong with addressing a younger woman as ‘Aunty‘ and made all efforts to make sure it doesn’t happen. I didn’t know what to say to this 11-year old girl. Young women, especially unmarried ones, either do not want to associate with the term or are expected to steer clear of it. In the Indian imagination, an ‘Aunty’ is a middle-aged, usually fat woman who is married and has children. I am fat and look older than my actual age of 22.”
Healing is an inside job.
A human being is body and mind, feelings and spirit, energy and engagement. Whether or not we understand, accept or articulate this, the connections between aspects of ourselves are often left fractured by life experiences. Whether or not anybody else knows or can see them, these fractures are real. In the smallest ways they can be identified in all of those times that a person has felt uncomfortable in their skin, and in their lived sexuality. When they have sensed, or ignored, that something about their lives, their clothing, the company they keep, the family they live with and the family values they have been fed, the partner they are with, or the emotions they feel, does not fit well with who they are.
There is disconnect. Almost impossible to identify when this disconnect feels unacceptable. At all times it is good to be aware of the small voice inside when it speaks to us, to ask what feels unacceptable, to whom is it unacceptable and most importantly, does it mean that ‘I am unacceptable to me?’ It is not possible to provide easy answers here, solutions to fix-it. But the questions themselves may be the start of a healing process.
Healing is a together job, outside of the inside!
Those on this journey know that the support of companions is crucial because healing is not only an inside job.
Companions take many forms. Using the word very loosely here, a companion is anyone the self is connected to, anywhere, at any point in time, from a family member, to a stranger on a train.
Strangers take many shapes.
They are potential friends and lovers, lawyers, therapists, police, the landlord of a rental property, a hotelier, professor with power over grades, boss deciding promotion and pay scale, gynaecologist with strong views on abortion, and a digital artist deconstructing the ableist narrative on social media. They are protestors fighting for their human rights, strangers who are companions for a period in time, united in purpose.
We saw them in Syria when a man killed his sixteen-year-old daughter because she’d been raped by a relative when she was fifteen. Demonstrators marched together, says this news report, “some wearing a white t-shirt marked “No to violence” in red letters. “Stop killing women,” read one sign. “There is no honour in murder,” said another.” We see them coming together to protest in Iran over the custodial death of Mahsa Amini. The morality police responsible for her death gave this reason for her arrest – that she did not cover her hair completely. Rohitha Naraharisetty in this article online says, “When women rise up as a force, it is often with a specific intent that sets these protests apart from others: reclaiming not only space, but the body itself. In claiming ownership of their own bodies — as a collective — women’s protests blur the arbitrarily imposed line between the public and the private.” We are familiar with stories of protest, past and present, and the connections between strangers are not just restricted to women. Here’s a story of politics, police and a pandemic connected to protests by transgender persons in Jammu last year. “Unclothed protestors blocked the Jammu-Pathankot highway and were later lathicharged by the police and thrown in to a van …This triggered a wave of protests in the city.”
That’s not even a scratch on the surface of a whole lot of stories of people, connections and sexuality.
Healing is not always peaceful.
If strangers feel too far removed as companions, one can look closer home, literally, and consider the family.
In an article called 10 Ways to Deepen Your Connections With Others, the writer lists ten points that include listening with your heart, actively loving and consciously communicating. These have a delicious potential and yet just the words and concepts have the power to touch an ignored, lived-with, sadness in the pit of the stomach. This sadness is located in those connections we call family. Amongst the readers of this article, some will understand with flashback experiences, others with the presence of sadness in the now. There may also be those who immediately think of someone in their life they know they should do this with, listening, loving, communicating, but find it impossible because there are seemingly insurmountable barriers. These include their own sense of who they are and what is acceptable to them, how the others in their lives including the next-door neighbour will view them, and a long practice of power through intolerance.
In this article on the subject of being LGBT in India, Manavendra Gohil is quoted thus, “It was for no small reason that I was in the closet for 41 years,” he says. “I know of someone who got a sudden rush of inspiration from a TV programme and decided to come out to his family. It didn’t work. He lost his home, his job, everything. I always tell people to be fully aware of their own reality. Be financially prepared. Detach a bit from your family both emotionally and financially before you plan to take this step.”
This article came out in 2016.
Six years later, in September of this year, a Supreme Court bench said that family takes different shapes and includes domestic unmarried partnerships and queer relationships, that all these deserve equal protection under the law.
For some folks this support and recognition from the law is too late. Some lost the families they were born into, others lost their lives in honour killings, and many lost out on the chance to create a family of choice that includes a partnership of mutual loving choice. Many have loved and connected deeply in queer relationships that were sometimes acknowledged and sometimes not. They have watched the ones they love marry someone else because conforming to the norms of heterosexual lives is easier.
It is beyond the scope of a single article, or a single issue of In Plainspeak, to explore deep themes such as equity and equality, justice and rights, that intersect with connections and sexuality. It is within the scope of our lives to wrap our hearts and heads around some of this.
The author of this article says, “Why do we live? Why does anything exist? How does everything hang together? Enticed by the prospects of deeper understanding and the cessation of ignorance, scores of seekers endure sitting crosslegged for long sessions and, in some traditions, commit endless prostrations, to advance along the path toward grasping the ultimate view of the universe and everything.”
So those strangers on a train could have any kind of conversation, and connect, based on the understanding that each is a dot, connected to others in seeming chaos. Each is a universe, quite unknown to the other. Assumptions could become uncomfortable. The cishet woman with the epilepsy bracelet, may also be homoromantic and pansexual. Her epilepsy bracelet may or may not indicate her willingness and capacity to connect on issues of disability, or sexuality and disability both, with either of her travelling companions, the person who is blind, or the person who is a trans man. This question of the willingness and capacity to connect would also be relevant for these other two dots. For the independence afforded by the smart cane, the user has negotiated with others in their life and therefore agency may be a deeply sensitive subject for them, as it may be for the other two. As for the trans man, is he an activist? Comfortable with conversations about gender and sexuality? Has caste been an issue in his life? Will any of these dots assume that there is or there isn’t any scope for meaningful connection with these companions?
We ask the dot who has read this article through to the end: How do these dots connect in the fullness of the human beings they are, in this space – or any other? Should they just travel together in silence?
The simplicity of a connection is as powerful as the complexity of it.
Cover Image: Photo by Bekky Bekks on Unsplash