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Being queer is more than just sex life. Yes, that’s correct. Raga Olga D’Silva spoke with her partner Nicola Fenton, and filmmakers and queer couple Hanan Kattan & Shamim Sarif, about living everyday life.
In a conversation with Hanan Kattan, Shamim Sarif, and Nicola Fenton, queer influencer Raga Olga D’Silva spoke about how being queer is about more than just their sex life, and how they live their truth by going to work, managing the home and raising children, just like everyone else, even as they battle homophobia and exclusion.
As straight people, we are exposed to bigotry and bias against queer people. Pop culture doesn’t help either, as it usually portrays queer people as one-dimensional villains or jokers. As a result, misunderstandings abound. Even many who are empathetic to the right of LGBTQIA+ people often don’t know what the ‘right’ things to do are.
However, all we need to do, to understand, is be willing to take a step back, and to listen to people from the LGBTQIA+ community.
This honest and candid chat on the YouTube chat show, My Pride Your Pride, for instance offers great insights into the lives of queer people.
In this chat entrepreneur, speaker, and author, Raga Olga D’Silva chats with her partner Nicola Fenton; filmmaker Hanan Kattan, and her partner, Author Shamim Sarif, about what life is like them for women who are living ‘unconventional’ lives without a male partner.
Often, as Raga points out, people are curious not about what it is to live with a person of the same sex. They want to know what it is like to live without the opposite sex. People often wonder who ‘wears the pants’ in the house.
For Shamim, it is about being gender neutral, and being able to choose who you live with. She doesn’t see the absence of a man as ‘lacking something.’ As Nicola points out, gender roles, like in heterosexual relationships don’t really apply here. It is a “meaningless construct.”
It comes down to partners playing to their strengths, and contributing to the household and relationship in the way they best can.
Narrating an incident about how an elderly person once questioned her, “how do you do it?,” Raga says that she didn’t understand initially what ‘it’ meant. Later she realized that the question was about sex.
For some reason, people have a lot of curiosity about the sex lives of queer people and it is the first thing they usually think about. However, as the panelists discuss, queer people have full, rich lives beyond the bedroom.
For Hanan and Shamim, having children was something they planned together as a couple. For Raga and Nicola, their children are from Raga’s previous marriage to a man.
For Nicola, being part of a family, with Raga and her children felt natural, and they have the same parenting issues that every other family does. The children too have accepted the relationship, and as she points out, “can’t even understand the concept of homophobia.”
Just like children from heterosexual relationships don’t feel the need to ‘announce’ that their parents are straight, their kids too, don’t go around telling people about their lesbian moms, but they don’t hide it either. In fact, as a mother in a cross cultural relationship, who has a brown son, she is more worried that he may face racism, than she is worried about him encountering homophobia.
Hanan acknowledges that breaking with tradition wasn’t easy. The issues that arose out of their coming out, didn’t come so much from outsiders, as much as they did from their traditional and conservative families. Even 25 years later, it is a bumpy road. At the end of the day, however, she says that it was important to her to ‘live her truth.’
She stresses on the need for LGBTQIA people to find ways to become independent financially, so that they can plan how they want to live their lives, and follow through with it. If the family comes along, that is good, but if it doesn’t it isn’t worth living a lie. Shamim agrees.
As Shamim points out, when they grew up, they too thought that being queer was ‘wrong,’ and that they had wished that they would ‘get over it.’ Even though she knew she was a lesbian she didn’t want to rock the boat. However, when she met Hanan, she knew she had to take a decision about whether she wanted to live by everyone else’s rules, or by her own, and so she quickly took the decision to tell her parents.
For a long time, she bent over backwards trying to win her parents’ approval. It took her a long time to grasp fully that her relationship is not a crime, and if her parents choose to look at it as one, it is their problem, and not hers.
In response to Shamim pointing out that in many parts of the world, including in India, women are pushed into arranged marriages, Raga pointed out that she herself married a man out of choice, even though she had previously been in a relationship with a woman, because she was brought up in a society that had conditioned her to think that marriage happens between a man and a woman. When she came out, her mother said that she had “brought shame to the family.” For her, it is necessary to have the support of at least one person, who can give them the courage to come out.
Nicola opines that in India, it wasn’t overt homophobia she faced as much as silence and invisibility. As long as Raga and she pretended that they were business partners or sisters-in-law, no one questioned them, even though they knew what their real relationship was.
This is precisely why Shamim thinks that people should come out and be openly queer, because it forces the necessary but difficult conversations. For true equality, it is necessary to “stand up and say that it is unacceptable to be treated poorly; or unacceptable to not even be seen and taken into account.”
As Raga correctly points out queer people need not be successful or mainstream, to be accepted. She believes that women are huge influencers, especially at the family level, and that they can make a difference.
She speaks about how it took a long time for her to introduce Nicola to others as her partner. She waited for people to accept them, but eventually felt that by not openly acknowledging the relationship, she was allowing people to be disrespectful to Nicola.
Hanan is much less inclined to suffer intolerance, and had no issues cutting off people who did not accept her relationship with Shamim. She has been introducing Shamim as her wife to people, because it is the most natural thing to her.
People treat you the way you allow yourself to be treated, and so it is necessary to be unapologetic about your reality.
Shamim jokes that the only place she is okay not speaking her truth is at the customs and immigrations desk of certain countries where homosexuality is still criminalized. It is a real fear for them when they travel.
For Shamim, her work with Hanan is one way to challenge the stereotypes. She feels it is easier to do so by creating “worlds and characters” instead of trying to explain things verbally, because people connect to characters on screen, and it is easier for them then to feel what the character is feeling.
Shamim also speaks about ‘othering.’ People don’t say that they don’t want to watch yet another heterosexual film, but films about LGBTQIA people are seen as a separate category. Which is why in her latest novel, she has attempted to break through some stereotypes. In The Athena Protocol, the point of view character is a young lesbian woman, but the book is not about her being a lesbian. In fact, the character doesn’t want to come out to her mom, not because she would be angry, but because she would think it is cool, and she does not want to please her mom!
Hanan speaks about the difficulty of trying to get movies financed. Women-oriented films, films about women of colour, and about LGBTQ characters –at each level the struggle exists. The more people consume content that is diverse, the more she sees it becoming easier to create such stories.
Nicola believes that we need films in which even if they are not the leads, LGBTQIA people are represented, as this will reduce the ‘othering.’ Queer relationships won’t seem so strange anymore.
Raga sees their work as a way to change the narrative. So that five-ten years from now, these conversations won’t be needed, as the awareness will exist. The award winning films, made by Hanan and Shamim, The World Unseen and I Can’t Think Straight, are among Raga’s favourites, and she considers them path breaking work.
Going forward, they are hoping to adapt I Can’t Think Straight as a series for an OTT platform in India.
As Nicola points out, even though the striking down of Section 377 means that homosexuality is no longer criminalized, there are still no laws in India to specifically protect queer people, and prevent discrimination against them. When laws come into place, she points out, it goes a long way in changing public perceptions and encourages acceptance. This is something she has seen happening in New Zealand.
Hanan agrees, but also stresses on the fact that even though laws may exist, cultural change is more essential. That cultural change can only come from large scale movements and activism. More people speaking up, means more the shift in opinion.
Raga, Nicola, Hanan and Shamim, are trailblazers for sure. One certainly, hopes, like they do, that the future will be a more inclusive and diverse one.
Image source: Instagram
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