Tag Archives: queer

The Erotics of a Queer Fantastique

Source:

Source: “Hallucinations” http://xkcd.com/203/

This came to me in a dream.

Sometimes, dreams hold the keys to your creative innards, the threads of which you must then pull out and knit together, make a boutonniere of sorts, and make a peace offering.

To cleanse the self. And, to gather your innermost self.

Sometimes, it is the only way to release that part of you, to release what is inevitably you, and yours.

My short fiction piece (my most queer piece, and I do not say this lightly), “Regular,” is in the last issue (themed: The Erotics of a Queer Fantastique) of LIES/ISLE. You can read it here. And, trust me, there is nothing regular about this one.

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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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Clearing the Air on World AIDS Day

Posting an article I wrote last year on HIV/AIDS for World Aids Day. It was published by South Asian Generation Next on 2nd December 2009.

HIV/AIDS: Myths and Misconceptions

“How do you get AIDS?”

“What do you think?”

“Kissing?”

“No.”

“Hugging?”

“Wrong again!”

“Touching then?!”

“Not really…”

First of all, let’s get the facts right. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a disease, and HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) causes it.

So, what you “get” is the HIV virus. Think about it this way. H1N1 is the virus, while swine flu is the disease. Similarly, HIV is the virus, and AIDS is the disease.

Now for the misconceptions. HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to another through the following bodily fluids- blood, semen, breast milk and vaginal secretions. It cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat, tears and urine. You don’t get the virus by breathing the same air. It’s not a cold! You don’t get it through hugging, kissing and touching. These are simple misconceptions that alienate those who need help the most.

A former York student (name withheld) revealed an incident that threatened to shake his existence about five years ago. He had to take the medical tests during his Canadian immigration process and he had been tested positive. He had been scared and nervous. He had wanted to kill himself. However, he confided in his family who persuaded him to take a retest. The result? He was negative.

This is not common, but not unlikely either. In June 2004, a young man in Faridkot, Punjab, India, was mistakenly tested positive for HIV. The result nearly destroyed his life. His engagement was broken off and he became an outcast from his social circle. Just like the former York student, he thought of committing suicide. However, before he could do anything rash, he was persuaded by his family to seek a second opinion. To his relief, he was tested negative. Just to be completely sure, he sought a third opinion. Same result.

Yet, what compelled these young men to take a second test? They had their family to give them mental support.

But what about those who are HIV positive or living with AIDS? How can they survive if they don’t receive the mental strength that only their loved ones can provide?

Of course, don’t just blame the family. There just isn’t enough awareness among people out there about the disease or the virus itself that can allow for understanding. For example, a South Asian woman who is viewed as the sacred center of her household; who does not indulge in promiscuous sex; how can she be susceptible to HIV?

Well, she could have contracted it through her husband. It’s a definite possibility. But she is the one who is questioned; not the husband. And, then, there is this huge misconception that HIV is contracted through promiscuous sex only, and those who have AIDS are being punished for their lack of morals.

Well, breaking news folks.

Sex is NOT the only way you can get HIV. It can be acquired through sharing un-sterilized needles (syringes, body piercing, tattoo instruments), blood transfusion (Since November 1985, ALL blood products have been tested for HIV in Canada. Therefore, the risk is low) and vertical transmission (an HIV positive mother can infect her child during pregnancy, birth or through breast milk).

Another misconception running rampant is that it’s a “gay disease”, and is a divine poetic justice for being gay.

Not only is it a stigma for a person of the queer community living with HIV, but it’s a double stigma because he/she is queer. What has led to this misinformation?

Media can be blamed to an extent. There have been movies made in the past that sent the wrong kind of messages to the public, confusing the real with fiction. It created a huge stigma among the South Asian community, especially since there are many individuals within our community who believe that HIV/AIDS does not exist. That it’s a non-South Asian gay disease.

First of all, there ARE South Asian queer people. And, there are South Asian queer people living with HIV/AIDS. And being queer is NOT a choice. Secondly, it can affect ANYONE. Straight or homosexual. ANYONE. And, thirdly, like I explained before, it is not a punishment from God, as would be the likely belief, but a lack of information that led to the lack of prevention in the first place. 

What has been done to create awareness? Well, for one there has been an increase in movies and books that help to promote AIDS awareness.

In 2007, Mira Nair’s Jaago campaign gave rise to four short films, and in 2008, Negar Akhavi compiled a book of essays (Aids Sutra: Untold stories from India) to help bring awareness among the public. But these attempts can only help up to a small extent. For example, the short films were screened at film festivals. Film festivals target critics and avid movie goers who can afford to pay for and watch movies. They are also available online, but if you don’t have any access to the Internet, then how do you get the information? Therefore, the populations belonging to lower social economic status have little or no access to information. And, as a result, suffer the most. They have to rely on outreach programs that help spread awareness.

Fortunately, we live in a country where most of us can afford to get this kind of information. There are plenty of organizations that promote HIV/AIDS awareness among the common people. Specifically for the South Asian community, there is ASAAP (Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention). They are a “community-based, non-profit, charitable organization committed to providing health promotion, support, education and advocacy in a non-discriminatory manner”. They also have multilingual services in Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil and Urdu. They are highly confidential and have been providing counseling and other support to their clients since 1989. In addition, they have had many outreach programs in the past that help promotion HIV/AIDS awareness and education among the South Asian community.

When I was an ignorant happy-go-lucky shallow individual who didn’t care much about the world and only about good grades, latest gossip and latest fashion, I had some misconceptions of my own as well. I thought people with HIV/AIDS die early and that you can tell them apart from other people. But, that’s not true. They look just like you or me. And, with advancements in medical technology, it is possible to live for much longer with HIV nowadays. All my misconceptions were dispelled ever since I decided to volunteer for ASAAP. They have a wonderful knowledgeable staff and an amazing network of approximately thirty active volunteers who do their bit in creating awareness throughout the year. Their most recent event was held on 27th of November at three subway stations- Finch, St. George and Queen’s Park.

I was stationed at Queen’s Park with two other volunteers and we were assigned to sell lucky bamboos as a World Aids Day initiative. It was an enriching experience just interacting with the different kinds of people who passed by our little table. Most of them were supportive. Even if they didn’t want a bamboo, they wanted to donate. It was moving to see this kind of support from complete strangers.

And that makes me think, if complete strangers are willing to change their misconceptions and help support a great cause, then why not you? It is easy to ignore how deadly HIV can be and how easily it can be contracted. We can all act like camels with our faces in a sand hole hoping the storm will pass when it’s really raging all around us. All we need is to open our minds just a little so that we can help individuals come forward and identify themselves in order for us to help them and provide them with the information and support that they need. So that they don’t feel the need to hide behind aliases and find it easy to tell you their credentials and hobbies as simply as being able to say that they are HIV positive without experiencing the feeling of being caste aside or stigmatized. So that we can help prevent this “thing”. This deadly insidious thing that can strike any where, any time and ANY ONE.

It’s World AIDS Day today. I did my bit by writing this article. What are your plans?

Resources: www.asaap.ca, www.actoronto.org, www.hivstigma.com

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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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