Infinite shards and shades of queerness

The medium of cinema has also misrepresented communities, pushed hateful agendas, and has been restricted to heterosexual actors, points out Negha.
Infinite shards and shades of queerness

CHENNAI: As June begins, so does the time of celebrations, festivities, memories of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, and other revolutions that punctuated history. The word ‘pride’ echoes among the LGBTQIA+ community every year — whether during or beyond June — with each protest nudging society towards an inclusive future. After all, pride is protest, embracing the fluidity of identities, defying labels, and discarding definitions.

This June, Escape 24 in Alliance Française of Madras has rainbow ribbons descending from the ceiling, and a sparking disco ball mirroring themes of celebration. At ‘Pride with Prakriti’, hosted by AF Madras and Prakriti Foundation, we are reminded that the fight for safe space begins with communities coming together and expressing themselves boldly and unabashedly.

“What is a ‘queer poem’?” asks The World That Belongs To Us: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia, edited by Aditi Angeras and Akhil Katyal. Harish Subramanian and Ranvir Shah of Prakriti Foundation flip the pages of the slim book, an archive of expression and varying identities, and read out works of various writers including Riddhi Dastidar and Joshua Muyiwa. Poetry is best savoured with eyes shut, and gradually the anthology’s question is forgotten, leaving only the urge to fight for a better society. A poem by Chand, a research scholar declares: “Queer is the galaxy of endless possibilities situated just behind those prisons of the binaries, Queer is me realising I can be everything and nothing that I don’t have to choose, Queer is the driving force that makes me want to break the fetters I am bound in Amma, Queer is me I am Queer, Amma.”

Love is political, asserts writer Agni Pradeep. “We have not learned to love but created a (cis-het framework of love) learned from cinema and society. How do we acknowledge love — is it singing a duet behind a tree? We should find our forms of love.” she says, reciting her poems from ‘Andharapoochu’. Emphasising the need to assert self-respect for the community, not just during the Pride month but throughout the year, she underscores the importance of reading people and books vastly, questioning oneself, and relationships with people.

Of portrayal and policy

Demure women pining for men, duets, and declarations, a train chase ticket to a “happy ending” — cinema has shaped our idea of romance and what it means to love and be loved. Yet, this space has always been restricted to straight love stories. “Why can’t we love freely like everybody else? We deserve it,” says a voice in the trailer of the docuseries Rainbow Rishta. Featuring narratives of couples from the LGBTQIA+ community, the show documents six stories of challenges, moments of celebration, and finding and accepting love.

“Making Rainbow Rishta is healing for me. (Films and shows) have tropes of the community as victims, villains, jesters. There are no stories of my desire, loneliness, or what queer loneliness is like,” says director Jaydeep Sarkar. He adds, even among the queer film-making community, cis-het queer voices dominate and there is a need for nuanced stories waiting to gain the spotlight.

The medium of cinema has also misrepresented communities, pushed hateful agendas, and has been restricted to heterosexual actors, points out Negha. As the first trans woman to win an award at the 52nd Kerala State Film Awards, she says art has been healing. While tackling hate from society, she was forced to choose stereotypical and negative roles and face the brunt of the transphobic film industry. “There is a lack of opportunities in the industry and the representation needs to change. As I am an outspoken person, I have also been boycotted...While we are seeing visibility of trans women, there is a lack of visibility for trans men across India,” says Negha. Outside of cinema, the state has made strides in inclusive policy, from notifying a glossary of inclusive terms for individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community to prohibiting conversion therapy.

L Ramakrishnan, vice president of Saathii, flagged the lack of safe spaces for the community, and flaws in the medical system where queer people are misrepresented in medical curricula. “Within the queer community, there are hierarchies of caste and class, we need to ensure all media center voices that are the margins and need to pass over the mic, camera, and pen,” he says, adding that there is much to be done.

The evening concluded with a Trans Fashion Show by the NGO Sahodaran, with 15 models transforming the hallways of AF Madras into a runway. Vying for the title of ‘Trans Rani 2024’, the models were clothed in stunning attire, from colourful saris, and comfy jeans to lehengas. The dance floor beckoned everyone present to groove under the pride flags, holding the promise of a better future.

(Inputs from Sharon S)

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