January 20, 2020
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Of Love And Loneliness

First-person account by a Delhi-based writer-activist for lesbian rights.

Of Love And Loneliness

IGNORANCE. When something is ignored it will gradually lose any vitality it once had, first becoming invisible and then finally lost. If memory is not passed on in some coherent way, then that which is not remembered no longer exists and it can then be said that it never existed.

Lesbian loneliness is not just about loneliness. It's about isolation. It's about being with a bunch of friends who would land up at my home to discuss their traumas, their abortions, their marital quibbles but were never ready even to hear out my bit. Because my crises were, of course, so unnatural, alien. That's when I withdrew even more completely. Again all I had was myself. The best I could hope for? A long-distance relationship. Tough in those days before e-mail, fax-phones and easy visas. Where was the someone to love, to talk to, to have, to hold. It was tangible isolation, one I could sense all around me. Where were the public spaces? Even the man who served me in the cafe was male. No pubs, no meeting points, no box-spaces to answer to, communities to revert to, role models to relate to, counsellors to talk to. Not then. Not today.

No individual non-representative history this. Some time ago, a small-town Haryana girl came to me with her story of lesbian loneliness. In love with a woman she wanted to marry, she believed her options were suicide or sex-change. Her lover was married off forcibly, even as she was undergoing the operation. Alone, confused, she lives on. Like so many others who write to me from all over the country. From places as far-flung as Burdwan and Haridwar, Coimbatore and Vizag, Patiala and Auroville... Lesbian angst is not a metro malaise or affectation but shared misery that cuts across caste, class and sub-cultural identities. Some write to share their loss of a loved one to a marriage that has been forced on them, other about having no one to share their sorrow with. Yet others talk of breakdowns they've suffered, suicides they're contemplating.

Many succumb to the institution of marriage. Like this lesbian couple, friends of mine, who lived together for 10 years before getting married to men. They just couldn't handle the pressure of the landlords giving them hell.

Landlords and cultures that deny space—that's the lesbian story! The efforts to deny us our rightful cultural space has been mammoth! There are hardly any cultural representations, be it in film, popular art, history which acknowledge or validate lesbians. And what follows this isolation is the burden to conceal one's sexual identity, thereby not even allowing for a collective presence of community. In comparison to any other kind of marginal or minority community, one doesn't even have the possibility of articulating a collective identity like religious, ethnic or economic groups like the Muslims, Dalits, and the "working class".

It's frightening really. Over the last 10 years, they have been continually erasing us from history as well. I've documented the destruction of lesbian sculptural images. At Taran Taran temple at Orrisa, at Konark. When they've not been destroyed, they've crudely been heterosexualised. The agenda? Self-evident.

This lesbophobia manifests itself everywhere. It's on the streets, in the parks, in the trains. Travelling with my lover once, I was asked by a co-passenger in the compartment not to sleep with our heads on the same side. It all ended with the ticket checker throwing us out. Often it gets worse—this butch-looking woman was beaten up and thrown out by women in a ladies' compartment, because a female passenger's teenage son complained saying she should be in a male compartment. The teenager continued the journey in the ladies' compartment.

Yes, it's hard. I work on issues of Indian lesbian culture for which I have to solicit funds, support from abroad. No largesse or liberal space for me here to do my work. What I do get as lesbian, liberally, are death threats, car-scratches, obscene calls. It isn't easy being Indian and lesbian.

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