Our stories die with us or are transferred as oral history. That doesn’t mean we never existed.

The making of Queer History It should matter that we existed and fought
Blog Tuesday, July 19, 2016 - 11:13

By Moulee

The victors write history. There are many stories that have never been written and the history and legacy of subaltern communities are usually oppressed and erased. To add to that, we also belong to a culture that heavily depended on oral history. Today we have observed and documented what suits us. The rest is discarded or not spoken about.

When I came out to my mother, she said that she had friends in college who were involved with people of the same sex. The concept of homosexuality was not new to her. But she struggled to find more resources to understand what her son was going through. And she had no clue how my future would be as a gay man. I had the same issue. As a young adolescent boy, the only reference I had to gender-non-confirming individuals been of transwomen. And our media in the 90s were not kind to them. The other news that covered same-sex relationship always portrayed the men involved as perverts.

The first time I came across the word homosexual and gay was in a teen magazine that I read. It was the first article I read about homosexual individuals, which was in a positive light. That day I said to myself “I am gay” - I was 14 then. Later, from time to time I read about homosexual men in the last pages of Tamil pulp fiction. The reporting would be that of disgust and outrage. But these meagre resources - positive and negative - kept me going. I knew I wasn’t alone.

Today we have many published novels, poetry and websites that focus on queer lives. Tamil folklorist and author Ki Rajanarayanan wrote Gomathi, a short story about a gender-non-conforming person five decades ago. Vadamalli by Su Samuthiram was the first full-fledged novel in contemporary India to describe the lives of transwomen. Biography books and poetry collection by transgender activists Living Smile Vidya, Priya Babu, A Revathi and Kalki Subramaniam marked the start of an era of transwomen writing for the mainstream publications and audience. Poets, writers and filmmakers like Kutty Revathy and Leena Manimekalai are pushing the envelope by writing and making documentaries about queer lives without fuss. The Susurrus: Beyond the Sky is a novel about two gay men set in Chennai, written by an author who calls themself Junius. Tamil mainstream film makers are still struggling with the old stereotypes. We also have movies on transwomen like Navarasa, Narthaki, and Naan Avanalla Avalu which did not see a major release in theatres. Lawrence’s Kanchana remains the only mainstream film that has transwomen as the main protagonist. And transgender theatre artist Angel Glady plays a gracious part in Miskin’s Oonayum Aatukkutiyum. The only mainstream Tamil film that had gay men portrayed in a non-judgmental way was Goa. It even had a same-sex duet.

When we talk Queer history of India, one must acknowledge that the visible face has always been transwomen. The long visible struggle of transwomen has encouraged many mainstream writers to fictionalize transwomen in Tamil literature. When it comes to same-sex couples; we always have to interpret writings, which could be or could not be of same-sex in nature. This ambiguous nature of our history frustrates many same-sex individuals. Transwomen’s literature did not come out of thin air. The transwomen community fought not just for their rights, but they paved the way for others in the queer spectrum to come out and fight for our respective rights. Most transwomen carry their journey as painful memories and scars on their body. Despite making considerable achievement in the legal front, the trans community is still the most ostracized group when it comes to housing, education and job.

Most gay men, gender non-conforming men and transwomen were/are derogatorily referred to as ‘omboddhu’ - number nine - in Tamil. This term played an important role in bringing certain demography of queer men together in the early 2000s. Queer men occupied “Chennai Global Chat Room No 9”. Today, I do not miss to ask people around my age if they have visited “…Chat Room No 9”. And to my surprise, many have - that includes two of my exes. When Yahoo! announced the closure of its chat service in 2012, the first thought that crossed my mind was “…Chat Room No 9”. I thought that would be an end of an era. Today we have quite a few social groups for gay men to meet and socialize. We call these safe-spaces. But the truth is, none of the safe-spaces are safe for us. We learn to navigate society in a way that some of our spaces and some of us stay invisible. We have made many cafes, restaurants, and movie halls and houses ours. These spaces in the city are part of our story and history; some would be remembered, some documented and some would just wither away.

The evolution of new age media has made it easy to document the queer existence in India. Many queer individuals share their stories and lived experiences. More books are being published. We also constantly show our existence through Pride parades, cultural events, film festivals and protests. The fact that the queer life is intermingled with Indian lives is evident in Akash Kapur’s India Becoming. India Becoming – a book that documents the change and economic development of modern India could not escape the existence of a gay man being part of the India’s ‘development’ story.

Oppressed communities always find ways to get together. We use various available methods; we use loopholes to navigate the society. We create safe-spaces. We create our own subaltern culture and history, which are ignored and in many cases erased. Our stories die with us or are transferred as oral history. That doesn’t mean we never existed. Our history is in the form of discrimination and oppression, suicide and harassment. Today, many individuals, groups and NGOs are working to document our stories; through blogs, social media, publications, podcasts, videos and plays. Our stories range from self-realization, coming out, harassment, sexual abuse, workplace, housing, love, loss, mental health, sexual encounters, partying and so many more. Every media report about the queer community is a documentation of our history, including this one.