Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Queering Care, Belonging, Support, and Families - Safer, Loving spaces

  • Repeated iterations from speakers at a queer conference about how care is of two types… either familial or “bought”. So the only two sites for care are the family and the market. 
  • Someone mentions “kinship” as the feeling of belonging, the clan feeling of being part of this larger whole where love and care and support will come from, AKA the family. 
  • A question from the audience seeks to know whether the ”sisterhoods” of feminisms can be transformed to “kinships” and is answered with a question of why they are trying to turn queer feminist spaces into facsimiles or replicas of family. 
This is a theme that recurs. Again and again, in the presentations and in the break time conversations, there is this lament of how family becomes the site of so much violence for queer people and how the only other option is to buy care. Which, of course, is not nearly the same thing or enough.

All I can do is wonder. Wonder why family and market seem like the only care sites to so many. Wonder why they find it so hard to imagine alternative forms and sites of care and support. Wonder why kinship to so many means only clan/family of birth and sanguinity. Wonder why our queerness does not extend to the idea of family or clan or tribe too. Wonder at our narrow definitions of kinship and family in spite of our “other”ness and the age we live in. wonder at the power of conditioning.

And above all, thank my stars, the universe, the crazy gods of queerness, the deities of witches, the universal feminine, or the flying spaghetti monster that I have had no such experiences, that I am simply unable to comprehend the limitedness of these definitions. That i have always had care outside the natal or accepted clan which has helped me survive so much of the shit that I have had to wade through. That my tribe today is the single most important, effective, and loved support system in my life. Quite literally, specially for the last six months or so, my tribe is what keeps me alive and functioning.

The other main topic of discussion in the community currently is “safe spaces” and how safe and accepting and wonderful they really are. Given the mistreatment of a group of female bodied people at the fundraiser for the Delhi Pride this year (last week), and the blatant misogyny and class/caste aggression displayed there not by random male bodied “Queer” people but also the overall milieu, it is not surprising.

And this is not a new topic either. We have been talking for years about the misogyny and sexism in LGBT+ spaces, online and off, for years now. Not to mention the biphobia, transphobia, femme phobia, ageism, ableism, body shaming, sex shaming, and so much more. People like me have acquired a reputation for having no sense of humour because we regularly, repeatedly, and routinely point out these issues in so called “funny” posts. The reply, as always, is to “chill out” because it's a “joke”.

Rituparna says in her recent pieceA safe space is a place (virtual and offline) where anyone can express themselves freely without the fear of being judged, made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, unsafe on account of one’s gender, sex assigned at birth, caste, class, sexual expression, religious affiliation, mental or physical ability. This safe space has certain ground rules to ensure that each person’s self-respect and dignity is taken care of.”

I am lucky, grateful, and immensely glad to have been able to try and create such a space, and to be part of it. Yes, we could do better in terms of venue (as the overpriced food and drink at the current one can be a deterrent to many), and we are trying to find a cheaper place to hang out which is kind of central and/or easy to find and get to. But, as the venue choice for kolkata pride fundraiser this year shows, that’s not always so easy to find.

But I think we have managed the other things to some extent. Everyone is welcome regardless of identity of any sort. The basic rule is respect. Anyone who misbehaves, is abrasive and aggressive and confrontational based on the beliefs, orientation or identity of someone else will be asked to leave and not come back unless they can speak and behave with restraint and respect (and yes we have had to do that occasionally). We argue, often heatedly, about the various things we believe, feel, think… but arguments never become fights. And we SHARE. Lives, experiences, good/bad memories, learning, just talk about things we can’t in most other places.

overall, i am immensely glad of what the space and the group has become. It has become our alternative family - given that like many people queer and otherwise our “home” spaces may not be the best of places or situations. It has become our support group, providing ears to listen and shoulders to cry on whenever we need it.

It has become the source of sage advice and alternative points of view based on lived experiences. It has become a place to theorise, rant, and engage in intellectual masturbation. It has become the place we bring our questions - personal, emotional, mental, political, intellectual - and more often than not, walk out with a whole different perspective, and some ideas for a solution or coping, if not an outright simplification. Where we can share writing, and art, and poetry and not be afraid of being ripped apart even when being critiqued. Where the feedback is meaningful. Where the silent and vocal encouragement to follow dreams and ambitions we didn't even know we had (or had forgotten) can sometimes be scary!

It has become a space where we can be truly and entirely ourselves without being judged, or excluded, for it. It has become a space where one can just be, stop trying so hard, not have to “fit in” or appear to be like everyone else. It has become the place we can breathe, where the love and acceptance is tangible. Where just being there for other members is something we just do, no questions asked.

It has become the place where I can send a text at 6pm needing help and support and walk in at 11pm to find a group of people not just forcing the cafe to stay open (by refusing to leave and begging and pleading) far beyond its normal closing time, but waiting with food, caffeine and hugs. It is the place where I can fall apart on text at 8pm and by 8.30 have three people waiting to just watch me disintegrate and then put me back together. It has become the space where I can weep (something I hardly do around anyone, let alone in public) and rant and not care who else is around because of the warmth I get from the group.

More than ever before, it is the reason I have made it through the recent times of horror and am managing as well as i am. It is the only thing that can make me happy to get out of the house these days, which i feel no reluctance to have to “dress” for. In fat, in the last couple of months, as i have withdrawn more and more from just about everything, and become a semi-recluse, it is the only thing that can make me voluntarily leave the confines of the home on a regular basis, and not resent it. The only thing i actually look forward to in a long line of drab, grey, uninspiring days.

To me, The Sunday Adda is undoubtedly my tribe. These are the people who are really THERE. This is where i find my care, belonging, support and clan. This is my queer family. And i hope we can be that for many, many others in the future.