Tag Archives: homosexuality

The Femail Project

The Femail Project

I am pleased to announce that two of my photographs, “Bride and Bride” and “Freedom Colour,” have been chosen to be exhibited at The Femail Project exhibition in Birmingham, UK. This is the first time that my photographs are being exhibited in an art gallery and that’s why I am sort of over the moon.

About the photographs:

1. Bride and Bride

Bride and Bride_Sanchari Sur-WATERMARK

Bride and Bride, Toronto Pride Parade, 2010.

Taken at the 2010 Pride Parade in Toronto, “Bride and Bride” represents the freedom to marry the one you love, and the ability to celebrate that freedom. To me, this picture undermines the norm of  compulsory heterosexuality; it embodies the idea that love does not need to be confined within patriarchal norms.

2. Freedom Colour

Freedom Colour, Kolkata, March 2012.

Freedom Colour, Kolkata, March 2012.

Taken in Kolkata, India, in 2012, this photo represents the Hindu festival of Colours (or, “Holi”) where “play” using colours allows for a freedom of transgression between caste and class lines in India.

About the project: https://www.facebook.com/thefemailproject

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Good Indian Boys Do Not Cut Hair for a Living

Posting an old interview that was published by South Asian Generation Next on 7th July 2010.

Gay, Proud and Successful: Sunil Prakash on his Life as a South Asian Hairdresser

What happens when your first-born son comes up to you and says, “I want to become a hairdresser”? Do you blink rapidly like a goldfish and wonder to yourself that maybe he is joking? Or, do you balk and then give in to your urge to scream?

Then...

Suave, sexy and a true gentleman, Sunil Prakash, the co-owner of ‘The Lid Lounge’, a high end salon in downtown Toronto, and a hairdresser himself, had the following reaction from his Indo-Canadian father: “Any idiot can cut hair!” Not one to take things lying down, he answered, “Well, if any idiot can cut hair, then you go cut mum’s hair, and we’ll see who’s an idiot!”

... and now

With a far-away look in his eyes and a tiny smirk, he says, “I got cut off financially… I didn’t know what [my father] was trying to do at that point… I got student loans, did my own thing… and (with some pride creeping into his voice) [have] been quite successful ever since.” And, indeed he has, since his salon boasts of famous clientele like Shyam Selvadurai (author of Funny Boy).

Of course, becoming a hairdresser and admitting his desire for an alternative career (as a South Asian) was not the only concern for his parents. When asked if he had a difficult time ‘coming out’ to them, he glibly responds, “Yeah, absolutely… and, as a first-born son too!” He admits that his relatives back in India were more “okay” with it than his parents. He further goes onto explain why most South Asian parents may be reluctant to open up to the idea of homosexuality as a reality within the South Asian community, “Most South Asians here [in Canada] are immigrants or have come with an immigrant mentality, meaning, their socialization has sort of stopped… They are not socially current as Indians [in India] are. You go to India today and Indians of the same age as my parents are far more liberal. My dad left India in the 1950’s and his Indian values are of that someone from the 50s. But (he adds hurriedly) [he is] all cool enough… now.”

However, he admits that it wasn’t easy for his two younger very-straight brothers either, “When they started to go out with their [girlfriends,] my parents started with ‘These Canadian girls’. They had a problem with that too… I don’t know why! (Laughs)” Thinking for a second, he offers an explanation, “Think about it. My father’s Indian. Mother is from England. My brothers and I are all biracial. [We] are both of our parents and neither of our parents. They could relate to us on many different ways but in some ways they couldn’t relate to us because we were slightly culturally different from them.”

Talking about his partner, with whom he co-owns his salon, he says, “My partner and I have been together for twenty years… My parents really respect us for being together for so long. We owe the longevity of our relationship to the example which my parents set for us. And, my partner’s parents have been together for… forever [as well]. We have pretty strongly rooted families… Time is a great leveler, so it all worked out in the end”.

And, are you guys married? He shakes his head and replies, “By the time they changed the same-sex legislation, we had already been together for such a long time that [it didn’t matter]… The commitment is to each other. [Marriage] would be an afterthought at this point”.

Sunil ends with his words of wisdom that maintains its hold on me as I walk alone to the subway to catch my train back to Mississauga, “Never be afraid to be yourself. I haven’t and it’s worked out for me”.

For more informaton on Sunil Prakash’s salon, visit www.lidlounge.com

Photographs: Copyright Sunil Prakash

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Marriage Aaj Kal*: An Ultra-Feminist Take on Arranged Marriages

From the Kamasutra

*Today and Yesterday 

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 3rd March 2011.

Chanakya of the Mauryan dynasty, and a prime minister of his time, is said to have remarked, “A good wife is one who serves her husband in the morning like a mother, loves him in the day like a sister and pleases him like a prostitute in the night.” It’s impossible to confirm whether he actually said this, but it isn’t too difficult to imagine based on the time period he hailed from. What I find strange is that after all these centuries Indian men still harbor a similar attitude. This attitude can be traced to the Kamasutra as well that he allegedly wrote (many historians assert that Vatsyayana, author of the book, and Chanakya are the one and the same). As mistakenly understood by many, the book is not just about the art of making love, but also about the male art of making love to women without committing sin. According to the ancient text, it is perfectly ok to sleep with another woman if there is an ulterior motive involved. For example, in an English translation by Deepak Chopra, a rule states that: “I love another woman, who is this woman’s best friend. If I sleep with this woman, I can get to the one I really want.” Another example, “By winning this woman over, I can kill her husband, whose riches I covet”. Note that these rules apply only to men, and deem it tolerable to objectify women in order to satisfy personal again.

But I don’t want to refer to ancient texts (or their translations) to give you the picture of unrealistic expectations of Indian men. Gayatri Gopinath, a queer theorist of diaspora, in her article “Nostalgia, Desire, Diaspora: South Asian Sexualities in Motion”, points out that patriarchal attitudes of men towards women not only exist in the homeland (India), but also in the diaspora. The female gender is viewed as “the symbolic center … [for] … “home” and “family””, and heteronormative female sexuality can only exist “within the familial and domestic space”. Thus, it is acceptable to be sexual if you are married and only with your husband, while homosexuality is either criminalized or ignored. Gopinath cites a real-life example, where the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA) was denied the right to march in the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) sponsored annual India Day Parade, in New York City, both in 1995 and 1996. Consequently, the FIA is run by a group of Indian immigrant businessmen.

All this only leads up to the question of ‘why’. Why would these men be so hind sighted to ignore that women nowadays are free, independent agencies, who are not confined to traditional gender roles whether in India, or outside of India? The only answer, in my opinion, is their false sense of entitlement. They appear to believe that they have this ancient right to have these equally ancient expectations. As the SALGA example would suggest, men outside the “homeland,” have been unable to evolve beyond their view of traditional gender roles, as applied to women back in the homeland. Maybe, it can also be attributed to parental and societal pressure that plants the seeds of such inane ideas into their heads at tender ages, so that they grow up having expectations that only become more traditional with time. For example, this summer, when I was in Calcutta, a neighbor subjected me to a volley of questions. She is currently on the prowl for a bride for her younger son (who never wants to leave India). Some of her questions were:

Do you know how to cook?
Don’t you want to settle in India?
Do you know how to wear a sari?

All her questions were addressed with a smile. It was as if she hoped I wouldn’t see through her façade of “innocent” questioning. Instead of being mortified, I was faintly amused. Really? Do I represent the ideal future daughter-in-law for your “modern” son, who also expects to have a very traditional wife at home (ironically, chosen by his mother. Really, you can’t get more traditional than this!)? I had some questions for her too: Does he know how to cook? Doesn’t he want to settle abroad? And, why on earth does he talk with that put on accent? It sounds neither British, nor American. Just an Indian trying very hard to sound “foreign”!

Source: Meera Sapra's blog at http://lifesacomicstrip.blogspot.com/

However, don’t castigate me yet. I don’t have a problem with arranged marriage. On the whole, I find the concept very gratifying. It’s really very similar to set up dating. You say ‘yes’, only if you feel you are compatible. Yet, with the unrealistic expectations of Indian males (and in this case, their mothers) all around, it’s difficult for us women to find someone to “live” with.

To assuage the attitude of men here in Canada, I had a discussion with some of my male friends on the topic of marriage and what kind of qualities do they want in their future wives.

“She must know how to cook!”
“She should keep the house nice and tidy.”
“She should be a virgin!”

I was faintly aghast at such pronouncements. These were Indo-Canadian men living here in Toronto for the past ten-twelve years. Were they actually hoping to find the “wife” described by Chanakya? The irony was that not all of them were virgins, and none of them had any experience with cooking or cleaning.

In the case of my parents, I believe they got lucky when they found each other. Their’s was a love marriage. And, even though, my father is not exactly the most liberal man alive, he definitely didn’t hope for the ideal Chanakyan wife. And, since my mom works hard at home, and at the office (she is my dad’s business partner and they work together), I can only imagine her staring scornfully at Chanakya, if he had made the mistake of making that comment in her presence.

In my case, I too have the image of an ideal man in my head. He may not be THE ideal man, but ideal enough for me. He would be someone: who looks decent (this might appear a little vain on my part, but if I had to choose between the frog and the prince, the frog would probably end up dead face down in a pond somewhere); can clean, if not cook; and has a tolerant nature, since I tend to get impatient and lazy at times. He need not be a virgin. Most people I know of my age, are not. He need not be super intelligent. However, I wouldn’t tolerate a super idiot. And definitely, he must not have too many unrealistic expectations of my abilities. I cannot speak for other women, but my girlfriends also harbor similar “attainable” attributes within their future spouses. Yes, I do believe that we are the more rational gender, but that’s my personal bias.

So, I ask you, where do we women expect to find our men? And, where and when exactly do these men of today expect to find their women? With distorted realities clashing into each other, the answers may be “in our imaginations” and “never”.

I think I have come to terms with that reality. The question is: have you?

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Pride Parade 2010 (part 2 of 2): South Asians Are NOT Gay

An edited version was published on 9th July on the SouthAsianParent.Com website.

This year’s attendance on my part at the Pride Parade was a revelation in more ways than one. Don’t get me wrong. I have many friends who are allies and whom I support wholeheartedly. But despite being in Canada for six years, somehow, I always ended up being out of town during the Pride Week. This year, though, I made it a point to keep this particular weekend free specifically for the parade.

The parade itself had few South Asians marching with different organizations. For example, there was a South Asian female cop marching with other cops, and a South Asian volunteer from Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention (ASAAP) who was marching on behalf of the “Free Speech” group. And, even though there were groups representing different ethnic communities, I failed to see even one group marching on behalf of South Asians. This was something I had noticed at the Dyke march a day ago as well, where women from different ethnicities were marching proudly on the behalf of the queer women of their communities, be it Hispanic or Asian, among others. Except South Asians. I wonder whether this exclusion of South Asians of themselves from their community is deliberate or accidental, and whether it is exclusive to Toronto.

This evening I had a conversation with my dad. He stands by his “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He knows what I do. Who I hang out with. And, what I believe in. Occasionally I try to make him see that being queer is ok. It’s NOT a deviation of the mind, or non-existent, as many South Asians would like to believe. In fact, wasn’t homosexuality an accepted practice in ancient India, before the British took over and slammed the Sodomy law onto us? If we didn’t make homosexuality abnormal, it would not be such a taboo. Can we atleast promise to learn and educate ourselves?

These are arguments I use. Sometimes, I win. But I think till we change our attitudes, the South Asian representation will always be little to non-existent, as those who need the courage the most, will keep away in fear of being kept out.

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur

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Pride Toronto’s 30th Anniversary Media Launch Party, sans the G20 madness

I had been warned. Not once, but several times. 

“Are you mad?!”

“What if something happens?”

“Can’t you go after the G20 is done?” (My ever worried mom.)

“You know, they arrested 1000 protestors in New York last year.” (A concerned friend who claims he was not trying to scare me. Right.)

“You are so irresponsible. When will you grow up? Anything can happen down there.” (My dad. Obviously.)

However, being a little lusty for a first time experience, and reminding myself that a professional journalist wouldn’t bat an eyelid, I took off yesterday to attend Pride Toronto’s 30th Anniversary Media Launch party in the heart of downtown.

Held at Woody’s and Sailor (465-467 Church Street), in the midst of the LGBTTIQQ2SA* community in downtown Toronto, the event marked the kick-off for the Pride Week this year.

Gia Heart Cox

Gia Heart Cox

Being a newbie attendee, I quickly attached myself to a nonchalant man with a huge camera hanging down his front sitting quietly at one of the corner tables. He turned out to be David Marsden of Marsden Global. The Mars Bar. I didn’t know who he was yesterday, and now I mourn my ignorance. Over my vodka tonic and his large red drink, we discussed homosexuality in the South Asian community. We were soon joined by Igor, his assistant (?) and a freelance photographer (who is a business analyst by day but didn’t like talking about it).

Choreography by Scott Fordham

Choreography by Scott Fordham

Marsden enlightened me with nuggets of information about the history of the LGBTTIQQ2SA community in Canada. For example, it was Pierre Trudeau who first abolished Canada’s sodomy law that allowed for the decriminalization of homosexuality. He is fondly remembered for his famous quote, “The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”. Marsden was surprised to hear that such a law was eradicated in India as recently as last year.

Christian Jeffries

Christian Jeffries

Miss Conception

Miss Conception

Dubbed as being worse than an Indian wedding by a fellow newbie attendee due to the lateness of the starting time, the show kicked off by a performance by Miss Conception, who had the crowd roaring at her depiction of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”.  Other performances included Gia Heart Cox, Christian Jeffries and a choreographed dance by Scott Fordham.

Deb Pearce

Deb Pearce

Deb Pearce, the emcee, kept asking the audience to throw toonies into her “vagina”, aka the white bucket between her thighs, in return for free drink tickets. Her sarcastic wisecracks kept the livewire ecstatic atmosphere alive.

 
 
 
We were also joined by Glen Murray (the former mayor of Winnipeg (1998-2004) and the first gay mayor in North America) as well as, a mother who was proud to support her gay son. Murray was slightly miffed about the Pride Week Toronto being pushed back a whole week due to “20 assholes”. 
Glen Murray

Glen Murray

I left the party happy, glad to have attended despite all the many warnings. Until I heard the news on the radio this afternoon.

 Apparently, a bunch of “G20 protestors” dressed in black and with ski masks, vandalised parts of Queen street in downtown Toronto by breaking windows and setting police cars on fire. Known as Black Bloc (tacticians who disrupt peaceful protests instead of an actual organization), they forced many places to go under lockdown such as hospitals, Eaton Centre and the Union Station. The Yonge-Bloor subway line (the same one I used yesterday) was shut down as a result of their violent behaviour. Some peaceful G20 protestors were hurt in the rampage, while many shopkeepers watched on helplessly as their shops were vandalised.

I wonder if the violent reaction had anything to do with the raids and arrests of many peaceful protestors last night

In any case, only one more day of this G20 madness.

In the meantime, happy pride week?

Launch party pics: Copyright Sanchari Sur

* Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited and Allies

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