Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Living on the edge

Vartanama, Sep '15
By Pawan Dhall

Who would have thought that an airport security check would have been the most adrenaline- generating moment on a recent trip to wondrous Manipur? The purpose of the trip was to interact with mental health professionals on issues concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities in a seminar. While there was a good exchange of ideas and experience during the post-event networking and it was heartening to see queer concerns gaining currency among mental health professionals and researchers in the state, there were no pointed questions or clarifications sought in the seminar itself. It could have been the auditorium acoustics, political correctness or my presentation was just not invigorating enough. But one was left wanting for greater engagement on the matter, especially when queer individuals across India continue to report negative encounters with mental health professionals.

In contrast, the brief but sharp interrogation at the Imphal airport during the journey back was more thought-provoking. “Sir, I had seen you arrive yesterday, and you’re already on your way back?” – this from a young security official with an engaging smile and alert eyes. To my response that I just had a day’s work, she wanted to know what my work was which could be done in a day. I was taken a bit aback with this question and could feel an agitated response taking shape in my head. What came out was simply that I worked for an NGO and had to attend only a seminar with a psychiatrists’ body the previous day. I was about to add that the seminar was on LGBT issues, but the official quickly lost interest as she moved on to the next passenger and left me comparing the experience and hormonal sensations in my guts with the times I had come out to people about my sexual orientation. Indeed, for a wee moment, the official’s questioning woke up a corner of my mind, buried below several layers of reason, to a potential attack on my sexual orientation – like a dog’s ears raised in default alert mode!

Poster of documentary Walking the Walk (Moses Tulasi, 32 minutes)

Quite irrational perhaps, and yet not entirely so – where does such defensiveness around one’s gender or sexuality arise from? Years of fighting with one's back to the wall? Indeed, sex, gender, sexuality . . . all seem to have constant run-ins with ‘authority’ figures – parents, elder siblings, spouses, teachers, bosses, health care providers, lawyers, the State, and in so many of these encounters there is violence and even counter-violence – implied, if not actual. How do we reduce this tension at the individual and social levels? How do we ensure that communities marginalized because of diverse genders and sexualities, or any marginalization for that matter, don’t have to live in constant fear of violence?

No quick fixes here, but then there are individuals and groups of people taking charge of their situation and destiny. Some of the stories in this issue of Varta will give you a glimpse of such courage – see Trans-ing the College Roll Call by Santa Khurai and Pawan Dhall, or the second and final part of the interview titled Brother Queer Brother (the first part was published last month). Pallav Bonerjee, on the other hand, collaborates with a patient in Battling the Depression Demon!

For another story of courage and commitment, read ‘Walking the Walk’ Film Screening, September 4, 2015 on Varta’s Facebook page. This is a short report on Varta’s first interactive event based on a film screening held at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences in collaboration with the Gender and Sexuality Forum of the university. The documentary Walking the Walk captures the momentous '1st Telengana Queer Swabhimana Walk' (2015), which attempted a commendable amalgam of queer pride, social inclusion and intersectionalities, a strategy many other queer pride marches in India have not paid much attention to and something that seems to be the future direction that the Indian queer movement should be considering.

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!

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