Naz and After

by Les-what?

 

In 2008, when a two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court delivered a judgment decriminalizing ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’[1], I was thirteen years old and had scarcely begun to grapple with the uneasy awareness of my incipient sexuality. The newspaper was emblazoned with uncharacteristically vibrant images the morning after the judgment. I can’t quite recollect the words that were strung together to create the headlines that day. I do remember recoiling slightly, my insides lurching with embarrassment at what I had just read. I hastily turned the page with the tips of my fingers, stealing a quick glance around the room to make sure that no one had seen.

Our household, where evenings descended into raucous, impassioned dissections of the day’s political happenings, bore an odd hush. I wonder if that evening, as my family and I sat in front of the television with dinner on our laps, I was the only one who willed words- happy words, angry words, any words, to somehow carve themselves out of the dismal, unarticulated silence that gripped the living room. Words seemed to pour forth from the television in an uninterrupted, silent volley. I remember little of the discussions or debates, which aired on television that evening. News channels relayed images of people celebrating. People leaped out from the screen in vivid, glorious bursts of colour, swathed in multihued splendor. The words were silent because I did not know how to hew meaning out of them.

For as long as I could remember, I had been attracted to other women. My family leaned towards the political right, and I went to a girls-only ‘convent school’. True to stereotype, sex-education was provided to us annually by an elderly nun, where we were told of the dire consequences of engaging in pre-marital sex. Handed to us as souvenirs were nauseatingly cutesy, baby-shaped brooches that were worn proudly, signaling our deep commitment to pro-life motherhood. We were taught about AIDS, the teacher’s lips curling into a slight snarl, spittle coating her words as she spoke of ‘gays’ causing the numbers afflicted by this disease to rise with their deviant sexual proclivities. I did not know what to do with the stirrings of sexual desire[2] that I had begun to feel. In my small universe, there was no word for someone like me, someone who desired and craved for the kind of intimacy that I did. Desire was not spoken of- tremors of desire coursed through the hushed whispers that accompanied gossip of boyfriends and news of furtive glances exchanged with strange boys. Lesbians were girls who were whispered about; attractive, impish girls who locked themselves in restroom cubicles, two at a time, and engaged in the unspeakable. I did not think I was a lesbian. Lesbianism was dirty, aberrant. It surely did not describe how I felt.

Naz was important to me. It did not immediately push me to question hetero-patriarchal structures, hetero-sexist institutions. It did not urge me to question my almost visceral revulsion towards words that captured queerness. What Naz did was make me aware, for the first time, of the silence that enclosed me. The world had not given me words with which I could explain myself to myself. Naz heightened my consciousness of the gaping holes in my epistemic vocabulary, gaps that that I had never seen before. It chiseled out the contours of what had for long remained unarticulated, the hollowness of what had been carved out resonating a still emptiness.

Four years after Naz, I remained unarmed, vocabulary-less. I was scared of seeking. Sometimes the silence beat down upon me heavily, a battering-ram that threatened to dismantle the fragile existence that I had spun out of desperate, contrived hetero-ness. But I knew that an attempt to fill the silence with words and to acquire the kind of vocabulary I longed for would be a difficult quest. Afraid to accept my aberrance, oddness; the mammoth implications posed by the confirmation of what I had vaguely toyed with for years, and the sheer wrongness of it all, I actively avoided anything that corroborated, even slightly, these feelings. I was terrified of the silence and terrified of having to leave the silence.

My first semester into law school changed everything. Leaving home and school, traveling to a different part of the country, encountering the sheer diversity of the student body[3], being given the opportunity to engage with perspectives and opinions that were starkly different from my own, and most importantly, my involvement with a student group that was engaged in drafting an anti-sexual harassment code for the campus, altered the course of my existence. Desire was okay. Desire was not just okay but was acceptable, embraceable, celebrateable. I met and admired from afar people who were comfortable with their queerness. I began to explore the existence of desire outside heterosexual paradigms, finally gathering the courage to escape, once and for all, from the silence that impounded me. I began to look for words to fill that silence.

At the end of my first semester, Koushal came along. The repository of strength that I had acquired in my escape from that stern, unrelenting warder suddenly froze, and I could no longer draw upon it. At home for the holidays, I watched numbly as news channels held their debates and streamed those images again. The numbness was austere. I was in that curious position where I had escaped the silence, and was just beginning to grasp at the words that would both snuff out and help me make sense of the silence. Another nighttime curd rice and pickle meal in front of the television, the simmer of another friendly, intense family argument over the news, and then there was a sudden, throbbing silence. It blocked out everything. It was a short, painful silence. Words. Not aloud, cutting sharply through the chilly Bangalore air, but as faint murmurs, traveling with a startling nimbleness through different parts of my body. I could hear the words that had managed to fill the silence.

There was an outburst where my family watched, shocked as I railed illogically, incoherently at the television, ribald curses flung haphazardly at the panelists in the news. I did not tell them about the words that were ringing out loudly, clearly, magnificently, in my head. And then there was the difficulty of balancing my anger at Koushal with the sheer, flushed fulfillment of having found those words to replace the silence. Naz brought with it the awareness of the silence, and Koushal heralded the words that filled the silence.

Now I identify as lesbian. The word still rolls of my mouth a little uneasily; my slight lisp and the unfamiliarity of it all still make it difficult to say. Lesbian feminist, queer feminist, radical lesbian feminist – my politics and my sexuality are an important part of my identity. I cannot now imagine a way of living where I do not ascribe to these labels; Foucault’s ‘points of resistance’. I sometimes wonder if expressions of the self, articulations of identity can exist independent of the scaffolding of language, whether imaginings of the self are constrained by the vigilance of placement, the frolic of the semantic. But perhaps to transgress the limitations that are inherent to language, one must, paradoxically, first create identity through language, and only then attempt to realize a self unfettered by its limitations. It is only after arming oneself with a vocabulary of emancipation and a vocabulary of resistance can one hope to transcend the precincts to which one is confined.  Naz and Koushal have helped me script narratives of desire and longing, untainted by shame. Most importantly, they have gifted me with the ability to articulate what had for so long remained unsaid- a vocabulary that has enabled the creation and assertion of the self. They have armed me with an utterance that is radical, revolutionary and wonderfully, gloriously liberatory.

(My decision to remain anonymous is very personal, and has been made after much deliberation. While I have come to terms with my sexuality, I am not comfortable at this point with letting people outside of my immediate friend circle know as I do not feel fully equipped to deal with the consequences that may follow)

 

 

 

 

[1] Carnal, I thought rather foolishly; my vocabulary pruned largely by Ruskin Bond, Rowling and R.K. Narayan, was surely another word for evil.

[2] Always, always tinged with shame.

[3] A year into law school I began to wonder if it truly was diverse- whether beneath a veneer of heterogeneity there lay an overwhelming homogenous populace that exerted a strong assimilationist pressure  on the rest

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3 thoughts on “Naz and After

  1. It’s not really difficult to figure out who you are with all the bits and pieces of information given here.

    That said, hope you find true happiness and acceptance.

    Like

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