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A placard against a black background, on which is written 'Idea Junction, Colombo Pride 2018.'
CategoriesPower and SexualityThe I Column

The Ocean in My Veins

A few days ago, I celebrated my 45th birthday surrounded by friends from diverse parts of my life, parents, and family. I was celebrating my birthday with my parents in Kolkata after 22 years. I had organised a party for my friends from school, college, and activism. As I was preparing the guest list, I was worried about how my diverse worlds would interact with each other. Further, the fact that I was singularly planning the party, without the help of a romantic partner bugged me. I felt a sense of shame and incompleteness for being 45 and single. I could hear an aunty’s voice in my head, “Here you are, lonely and single, planning your own birthday party.” Thus, being single compounded my shame of being queer as I was assembling the list of invitees.

Debanuj DasGupta at Galle Fort, Colombo.

Debanuj DasGupta at Galle Fort, Colombo.

At the party, my guests gathered into distinct group of friends, seemingly enjoying their own reunion. I felt grateful that all of them had assembled in order to celebrate my birthday. I would look around the room, and have flashbacks from my college days. I could see my 22-year-old self, afraid to reveal my sexuality, ashamed of my feminine gestures. And, then I would have to attend to some details related to the party. This would bring me into the now. As I blew the candles in order to make a wish, I had a sudden realisation. I felt a deep sense of calm running through my body. I realised that I have converted all my fears about desire, pleasure, bodies and disease into collective power and knowledge. Power which remains coiled inside my body.

“Where do I feel power in my body?” I ask of myself.

I feel energy coiled in my groins

I am at the hospital. The nurse is looking for my arteries. She needs to conduct an auxiliary blood gas (ABG) test. The syringe for the ABG test is thick, and it hurts since our arteries are thinner and way more sensitive. She has found arteries around my groins.

She pierces into my arteries. Blood oozes out like a fountain.

deep red metallic liquid flows incessantly

splashes of red on white hospital sheets

my dark brown hairy body, and the green hospital curtain

red, green, brown upon white

a rich tapestry of color

 

I touch my groins today

I can feel the prickling sensations of the needles

Drawing me deep inside my body

Red blood cells, bile ducts, and intestines

I wake up from my poetic reverie

I have to write…

I look at the pictures of my birthday celebrations. I look happy. My parents and friends are seemingly having a good time. Many of them are posing for selfies, or are busy recollecting our school or college days. A part of me wants to announce loudly, “I was very unhappy in college. Many of you rejected me as I came out of the closet.” And yet, this was over twenty-two years ago. I have created knowledge and activism from all that is traumatic and painful.

I can feel the rumblings of the ocean in my groins. I touch my groins. Scenes, voices, faces, sensations run through my body. There is no linearity to my recollection. The recollections form an intimate collage, reminding me of how power flows through all bodies.

I can see the ocean

Waves crashing upon waves

Colombo ocean front

Two beautiful dark men loiter

My lover bites me around the groins

Licks my ears and neck

Kiss

Saliva

Sweat and cum

Debanuj with Rosanna Flamer Caldera, Executive Director of Equal Grounds, Sri Lanka.

Debanuj with Rosanna Flamer Caldera, Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND, Sri Lanka.

I am in Colombo to attend the Pride 2018 celebrations organised by EQUAL GROUND (Colombo’s largest LGBTQ organisation). I am attending Idea Junction, the event billed as an intellectual exchange between feminist, development and queer activists. Idea Junction is being held at the premises of the Sri-Lanka Federation of University Women. Rosanna Flamer-Caldera (the executive director of EQUAL GROUND) explains to me, how she has had to work laboriously behind the scenes to get clearance for the Abhimani film festival. I have known Rosanna for over 20 years now. I am seeing her after several years, and witnessing the world she has birthed through tireless advocacy. I sit at the table organized by the National Transgender Network (NTN) of Sri-Lanka (a newly formed national network of transgender community members). Buddhi from NTN is applying mehndi on my hands as we discuss transgender politics in Sri-Lanka. She had lived in Kolkata for eight years attending the Rabindra Bharati University. She explains to me the differences and similarities between the trans communities in Sri Lanka and India. The dark mehndi color reminds me of blood oozing from my groins. A handsome, dark, man flashes a smile at me. I feel a pleasurable sensation in my groins. Idea Junction feels like an affective field of registers. Sensations, touch, smiles, hugs, laughter resonating through the space. In this way, sexuality is set of sensations, energy waves, a web of power relations within which our bodies, pain, and pleasure remain enmeshed.

Earlier in the essay, I recollected being admitted to the hospital for HIV treatment, as well as celebrating my 45th birthday. My groins still hurt from the pricking of needles long time ago. Yet, a lover’s touch and bite around my groins fills my body with pleasurable sensations. I feel fulfilled. I hold both positive as well as negative sensations. Our bodies are sites of excessive power. Our bodies are regulated through social institutions, and yet the sensations that ring through our bodies are sources of power and perhaps gesture toward a different politics of bodies & pleasures. Collective organising, pride gatherings, protest rallies, hospital beds, and lover’s beds form a rhizomatic chain while stringing together body parts, energies, fluids, desire, and pleasure. The circulation of our bodily energies potentially ushers queer futurities. A future that is yet to come, a future in which our bodies will not be imprinted with fear. A future in which newer creative economies of desire, love, and pleasure surround us like the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. I write this brief reflection in hopes of such futures.

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Dr. Debanuj DasGupta is Assistant Professor of Geography and Women’s, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Connecticut. Debanuj’s research and teaching focuses on racialized regulation of space, immigration detention, queer migrations and the global governance of migration, sexuality, and HIV. Prior to his doctoral degree, Debanuj worked for over sixteen years within several international development agencies, HIV/AIDS, LGBT rights and immigrant rights organizations in India and the US. In 1994, Debanuj founded the first HIV prevention program for men who have sex with men, gay men, and transgender women in Kolkata. Since relocating to the United States, Debanuj has organized LGBT immigrants & asylum seekers in the New York tristate area. He serves as Board Co-Chair for the historic Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies (CLAGS) at CUNY.

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