Nicely sums up why I dislike Femen so much.
It’s been two and a half months since I left India. Time has moved both immensely slowly, as it seems like forever ago that I was surrounded by autos and cows, and motorcycles trying to run me over on the pavements, and yet it’s also gone too quick. I don’t know how I’ve managed to squeeze in so much: writing endless job applications, becoming an Avon lady (needs must, and the makeup is cheap :P), getting a job on my first interview with a London-based charity, starting the job, and finally becoming one of those irritating London commuters who gets frustrated when a tube doesn’t turn up within thirty seconds.
I’m where I was aiming to be. This was the plan all along – to reach India, get some experience and spend some time away delving deeper into the culture I love so much, and eventually return to land my first real job towards my career in the charity sector. Done. Box ticked.
But that craving and gnawing absence is starting to creep up on me again. It’s the same feeling I had after leaving India the first time in 2009, like an addiction that cannot be numbed or forgotten by anything other than re-immersion in the thing that first caused it.
I don’t even know what it is that I am missing – surely not the lecherous little men, the misogyny, the hopeless inefficiency of every government office…? This time on returning to the UK from a starkly different culture, more strongly than any time before, I can almost taste my own frustration at the banality of some people’s worries and conversation topics. But that’s not it. Everyone becomes absorbed in their daily lives, and the issues relevant to their own bubbles. Indians are definitely guilty of doing it too.
When you’re trying to essentialise a feeling of longing though, for a place, a thing, an idea, it’s like trying to strip down what defines an entire culture to its bare bones. I can’t say what exactly it is about India that has me so hooked, but perhaps it can be most simply put as a sense of belonging, of being home. So many little things which come automatically to me are not shared with those around me in the UK. If I start humming a Bollywood tune, people won’t complain that I’ve got it stuck in their heads all day; when I try and cram myself into (what looks to me) a half-empty tube, people gawp at me; a freudian slip of ‘auntie’ in addressing a stranger makes you weird.
It seems natural to express the very Indian body language of bending my head side-to-side, or flicking out hand from forehead to emphasise a point. My syntax has been irrevocably changed, isn’t it. The non-verbal cues and signals I’ve internalised are now entirely void from the culture that presently surrounds me.
Perhaps then, it is these little everyday embellishments to human interaction which I miss. Without them, the act of conversing seems to fall flat. There’s an absence of nuance, of drama, of the complex social dance that constantly shifts and changes between two people in navigating and judging each other’s social status.
Whilst histrionics and tantrums can be symptomatic of how many Indians tend to deal with unwanted outcomes, they are part of a tapestry of lively and socially stimulating interactions, without which your life becomes filled with empty time. That dull task of catching your bus is suddenly a thrilling race to nab the driver’s attention, of listening with all your senses for information, a whisper of “is it that one” from the crowd, the satisfaction of navigating the confusing cacphony with practised ease. Like a boss.
Or maybe in England it’s that we’ve forgotten what significant problems really look like against the backdrop of the world. I recently read an article on Armpit August (or something like that), challenging the biased misconception that it’s unfeminine for women to grow out their underarm hair. Fine, go ahead. You actually already have the choice to do it anyway, so you’re not really changing anything, except your own self-acceptance of a certain body image. It’s a little bit sickening against the relentless conveyor-belt of honour crimes, trafficking, rapes, sexual harassment, incest, and gendered poverty that I was fighting whilst with SICHREM. I can’t help feeling disenchanted after having actively battled against such degrees of violence and for seemingly futile gain.
This is perhaps just a rant on my part, and so I shall end on a positive note: instead of grieving for something I know I can’t have right now, I’ll instead try to engage others in all that I find makes India amazing, and special, and irritating but hilarious as hell. Good job it’s Diwali coming up.
For all those who missed it
Yesterday, I attended this meeting with LABIA – a queer feminist women’s group, who were releasing their new report on Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth (PAGFB), and their lived experiences across Indian cities.
An extremely interesting study, a copy of which I of course purchased, presented yesterday through a series of case studies and quotations. I enjoyed listening to their explanations for the empirical methods chosen – for example taking their sample from first wanting to cover individuals not conforming to gender-normative expression, to individuals assigned gender female at birth, thus ensuring that persons self-identifying as ‘men’, ‘women’ and ‘other’ were included from a wider angle.
My notes from yesterday’s Bangalore release and discussion of the report can be read here: Breaking the Binary.
Breaking The Binary (2013) is a study by LABIA – A Queer Feminist LBT Collective. Based on a research initiative that began in 2009, its findings question and challenge many of our fairly basic assumptions about gender, sexuality and sex. That sounds alarming – but only until we realise that this questioning of rigid norms leads to more and more ease that allows people to live and breathe in their own skins rather than suffocate inside somebody else’s impossible boxes.
The sub-title of the study is Understanding concerns and realities of queer persons assigned gender female at birth across a spectrum of lived gender identities and yes, that’s a mouthful. A mind-tingling thought-provoking mouthful of words, which the authors are at some pains to explain and elaborate in their report – and at its release in 6 cities between 27 April and 11 May 2013. For now, suffice it to nrmsay that for this study we spoke to 50 people across the country, and it is their voices and stories that we bring to you, accompanied by our own understanding and analysis.
Through this study, we explore the circumstances of queer PAGFB who are made to, or expected to, fit into society’s norms around gender and sexuality. We look at their experiences with natal families and in school; we chart their journeys through intimate relationships and jobs; we attempt to understand what happens to them in public spaces, and how they are treated by various state agencies; we discover where they seek and find support, community, and a refuge from the violence and discrimination that mark far too many lives.
Most significantly, this research has given us new insights into gender itself, which we feel are crucial additions to the current discourse in both queer and feminist spaces. Finally, the study flags areas of particular concern, and highlights some necessary interventions.
We ourselves are amazed at the richness and complexity of our findings and are impelled by the need to share these as widely as possible with all queer and feminist groups and individuals, activists and academics, all people working specifically with LBT persons as well as broadly in the areas of gender and sexuality — and of course all of us who are interested in knowing more about our selves.