Beyond the colours & criticisms

Through their performance, a coffee table conversation, queer activists SwethaSri and Alex emphasised the need to understand oneself.
(L-R) SwethaSri, Malini Jeevarathnam and Alex in conversation | Ashwin Prasath
(L-R) SwethaSri, Malini Jeevarathnam and Alex in conversation | Ashwin Prasath

CHENNAI: Quoting a line from Francis Kiruba Kavithaigal, “Naan thaan en melai daivadakshinam,  karunaiye pakalmal kelvi kettitteyirukk, neeyuma?(I ask questions to myself without any empathy, you also?),” LGBTQIA+ activist and independent filmmaker Malini Jeevarathnam came out about their gender identity in front of the audience at ICSA for the first time on Sunday. “If someone asks me what my gender identity is, honestly I don’t know what to say. I am still questioning. Even before society asks us who we are and what kind of body we have, we have to accept ourselves no matter how we are,” says Malini. The event ‘Exploring Queer Identities and Lives Beyond LGBT,’ organised by the LGBTQIA+ organisations Orinam, SAATHII, Thozhi and Sahodaran became a community discussion about the lesser known gender identities and lives, including pansexual, panromantic, ace, intersex, non-binary and gender-fluid.      

Shattering the box

When we are restricted and asked to fit inside boxes built by society, understanding what you need is almost impossible. Through their performance, a coffee table conversation, queer activists SwethaSri and Alex emphasised the need to understand oneself. Alex says, “I am a non-binary person who is attracted to boys. In 1995, when the movie Rangeela released everyone adored Urmila Matondkar. I couldn’t take my eyes off Jackie Shroff. But I didn’t tell anybody then,” affirming that through the nuances of your life you might understand who you are but society keeps telling you to think in a different way. Concurring that the movies we watch affect the opinion of the majority, SwethaSri says, “In most of the Indian movies romance is connected to sex. Kamatheyum thaandi oru kaadhal irukku (There is love beyond lust). We need to understand that. I am a panromantic asexual trans woman and there are a lot of gender identities and sexual identities. India will truly be a vallarasu (superpower) if we can openly say whom we love.” Alex adds, “Just because you can’t see a certain form of love doesn’t mean that it is non-existent.”

SwethaSri and Alex explain that sometimes even people from the community aren’t aware of certain LGBTQIA+ vocabulary. “There is a need for spreading awareness on the LGBTQIA+ glossary. Through discussions and community events, that is what we are trying to do. Lot of people have limited knowledge. For example, ‘Trangender’ is an umbrella term. Anyone who identifies as a different gender other than the birth gender, then they are referred to as ‘trans’,” says SwethaSri, adding that people don’t have to look a certain way or behave a certain way to be who they truly are. “I can only behave in my own way. My dress and my behaviour have always been a battle for me. Criticism is what is always there. We don’t usually talk about the real issues. Topics like sex and abuse are not spoken enough,” shares Alex.

The struggle for survival gets even more difficult considering the discrimination the people in the community face from all sectors of the society. For example, colloquially in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, trans persons are derogatorily called ‘onbathu’. “There have been hard times when my classmates used to say the word onbathu, I will turn back and see if someone was calling me. Teachers would also address me the same. There wasn’t a choice sometimes,” shares Madan, a queer artiste. “Over the years, onbathu became a pride, not an insult. But sometimes I used to wonder if I am fitting into their definition of an onbathu. Onbathu aanalum athil entha niramulla onbathu?’ I have searched if there is something beyond the colours. When my partner asked me what is the label or name that we should give to our relationship, I told my partner to call it Malini or anything as it is the love between both of us,” concludes Malini emphasising that labels aren’t necessary.

To understand LGBTQIA+ terminology, visit orinam.netlgbtglossary developed by community members and media.

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