A Signal Against Homophobia

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A pedestrian traffic light, showing a same-sex couple.

Vienna has installed L.G.B.T.-themed pedestrian traffic lights at 47 crossings in that city.

Instead of the usual stick man, the lights show couples—a man and a woman, two women, or two men.

h/t: AP

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A Stranger In A Dyke Village

Red Fez, June 15, 2014.

The year was 2009. I’d come across a shadowy dating portal. Its purported mission, it claimed, was to be a “matchmaker” for South Asian lesbians.

It said: “Whatever type of woman you’re looking for—high femme, femme, dyke-y, sassy, androgynous, soft butch, stone butch, openly out, out-to-degrees, privately gay, artsy, scientific, literary, career-minded, family-orientated, a mixture of any of the above,” [visit us].

Its slogan, “If she’s queer, you can find her here!” was a shoddy rhyme.

I saw this vandalized poster of Natalie Portman, featured in a Macy’s ad, at a Manhattan subway station a few years back.
I saw this vandalized poster of Natalie Portman, featured in a Macy’s ad, at a Manhattan subway station a few years back.

Unsurprisingly, it’s ceased to exist.

I found it remarkable, for nothing else, other than its tacky taxonomy of lesbians. Reality, as it turns out, is far less colorful and heterogeneous. At least, as far as the South Asian lesbian scene in the New York is concerned. It’s anything, but motley and inclusive.

I should know.

The next year, I got invited to a fobby Christmas party, on Staten Island, one to which I didn’t know a soul. I went all the same, carrying with me the same exploratory spirit as did Tom Cruise’s character in the film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” as he slipped into the cryptic masked ball. Only here, I was going as a legitimate invitee, of course, as the plus-one of a primary guest.

We arrived in the city’s smallest borough—excited—by a crowded, late-evening ferry from Manhattan. At the pier, we took a taxi and gave the cabbie our destination. It was a bone-chillingly cold, blustery night, with a nagging sprinkling. I couldn’t wait to be in the warmth of the indoors.

The sedan came to a halt on a little saltbox on a narrow street. A loud knock at the door and out hopped my hostess, a tallish, burly woman, with strong forearms, and a shock of close-cropped, curly, brown hair.

A dumpy girl, in a flowing, ankle-length skirt came scurrying out into the foyer to greet. Neither bothered to formally introduce the other as the spouse, as presumably, one would in the case of a heterosexual couple. Fortunately, a timely nudge from my acquaintance saved me from putting my foot in the mouth. They’d exchanged rings, I was told.

Inside, in the softly-lit, cozy living room, adorned by a pretty, three-feet-high twinkling pine, the get-together was in full swing. I burst into the room feeling flabbergasted, even if I didn’t betray it.

On the couch and on the chairs sat a knot of roughly fifteen homogenous-looking women, alike on many levels: sartorial choice, hairstyle, mannerisms, figures, and diction.

Nearly all wore baggy, shapeless pants that either swallowed their girth, or bestowed a modicum of fleshiness. Their manes, flat and short, sat tightly on their scalps. When they spoke, one detected hoarseness in their voices.

One even reminded me of a male Bollywood ex-superstar. They identified themselves as, what in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender subculture, is known as a butch. In their midst, one would easily feel like a fish out of water were one to have on lipstick and mascara and longish hair.

Unlike in most get-togethers, this party air wasn’t saturated with the feminine whiffs of Christian Dior and Chanel, but with the stale odor of cigarette smoke, emanating from some sweaters.

I sat in a corner, on an armchair that afforded me a panoramic view. Everyone sat with emptying glasses, sipping away drugstore wine, casting none too furtive glances here, there. The cocktails, varied and tasty, outshone the drinks.

As the booze flowed more copiously, the population magically broke up into pairs. Every now and then, someone shuffled out of their seats to get more alcohol. And each time that happened, their place would be glommed by another.

I didn’t quite notice how—because I was busy grabbing the tidbits—but somehow, everyone barring myself, had happily arranged themselves like two peas in a pod.

Suddenly, as if within a blink, the ambience turned sleazy. From the corner of my eye, I caught an image, refracted by the white wine, of the Bollywood hero-like woman putting her arm around another and kissing another Bollywood hero-like woman. Ahead, in the dining area, two women were copping a feel.

For those that don’t enjoy getting mortally drunk or flirting randomly, such soirées can be inexhaustibly boring affairs. About an hour or so into the hoopla, I felt as though I was the only non-dyke present there.

I was enjoying the libation and the nibbles, sure, but I wasn’t quiet falling into rhythm with either the conversation or with the vibes that I suspect, were being sent out in my direction, from these ladies.

I couldn’t fathom as to what constituted my desirability in their eyes, for desired is what I was that evening, by many of my fellow South Asian lesbians.

Is it because I was the only stranger in the group (well, everybody knew everybody else), or was it because, inside and out, I stood out as the only non-Bollywood-hero-like lesbian in the room?

I’d applied my customary makeup, which invariably accentuated my femininity. I’d assumed that I’d be attending a party where there’d be a variety of women, some of whom I’d hoped would be in the legion of femmes, who took pride in being women and don’t regard grooming as an anathema to a true-blue lesbian identity.

Truth be told, I’d harbored a complex, hybrid image of an Indian lesbian: a woman of beauty, refined, polished, one who could hold a talk on politics—instead of Bollywood—and food—instead of adultery—in the same breath, with equal ease and confidence.

I couldn’t partake in the excited chatter about celebrity gossip, sex and money, not because I was a prude, but because I was simply ignorant. In any event, intelligent beauty is what I’d expected to encounter.

But it wasn’t that I experienced an estrangement among that group. It was more like an intellectual disconnect that I was gripped by. I was a cat among the flock of pigeons, though a feline, who wouldn’t chase the birds.

A few of them, much to my dismay, revealed themselves to be leading double lives, with husbands and heterosexual families tucked away, somewhere back home. They seemed perfectly at home straddling the boundary between the straight and the gay. How odd though, that they didn’t declare they were bisexuals.

My experience with South Asian lesbians, whether in real life or virtual life tells me that sexuality is a strangely fluid concept among freshly-arrived South Asian female immigrants.

Don’t Ask. Nothing To Tell.

The last time I heard from them, it was a blistering 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, the leaves are turning gold. Every four months or so, when I get a seasonal e-mail from the San Francisco-based L.G.B.T. publication, Trikone, I know a group of amateurs are in the middle of their quarterly editorial ritual.

Hard-pressed to put together what they call a “magazine,” they solicit submissions (they erroneously call “contributions”) from folks who’ve written for them in the past.

They’re mostly looking for memoirs. Ordinarily, such a request would thrill me. Only, in this instance, I’ve no stories to tell. All South Asian L.G.B.T. “memoirs” I’ve across in the U.S. have only one theme. They’re agonizing tales of tormented individuals, emerging from the proverbial closet, told most blandly.

I’ve nothing to add to that repertoire. I find nothing remotely zany about writing about my sexual orientation. It is what it is, no more a novelty to me than brushing my hair. So, each time I hear from its soi-distant “editor,” it pulls me up short. I never had to “come out.” I was always out.