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Valentine’s Day, as a queer woman in India, isn’t easy, especially today. Here is why I, a queer, young hopelessly romantic woman, feel so!
I spent almost my entire childhood and teenage thinking I’m Not Like Other Girls. But it was a little different for me, in the sense, I WANTED to be like Other Girls. Quite desperately.
So, after a while of being called an eclectic array of not at all offensive names used offensively, I decided to try and be more like girls who thought they were Not Like Other Girls but were in reality exactly like them.
This obviously meant that I started dating silly boys and that I ‘stole’ a female friend’s crush at 13. Well, I still am sorry I did that and honestly, the guy was not even worth a half hour’s conversation. And with that, I, a young, not very feminine presenting young girl, entered what I call my Exaggerated Femininity Phase.
All was well and good until the closeted homosexual that I was, kissed a (conventionally hot) guy for the first time and almost gagged on him. That happened on one fine Valentine’s Day. I came to the conclusion that maybe Valentine’s Days are not for me. But thankfully, I did not really consider myself a particular fan of romance, anyway. So, there was only a very mild tinge of regret with my discovery regarding 14th February.
Being from a certain background and being brought up in a metropolitan city meant certain things. Mostly that what I face as an able-bodied lesbian is very different from what lower class or Dalit queer and trans people face.
There are always some snide comments here and there, even from random strangers in public. And the rejection and alienation from some friends and almost all acquaintances. As well as a very real probability of being cut off from my birth family upon their discovery of my sexuality is all.
I have had the social and cultural capital to pave the way for me to have a relatively comfortable future (here’s hoping). However, the state still treats me as a second-class citizen, society continues to hyper-sexualise my identity while perceiving me as a pervert. Despite all this, I did have very easy access to concepts and theories like equality and feminism.
This meant that I had no real need for Valentine’s Day. Actually, I actively rejected it. Given the myth of how Saint Valentine embraced ‘forbidden love’ with open arms, 14th February should actually be more about inter-faith, inter-caste and queer love. But the reality is far from it.
The day dedicated to romance became widely popular in India in the 1990s. Not very surprisingly, the love it celebrates is the heterosexual love between cisgender people of a certain class and caste background. The man in this heterosexual pairing has to be older, taller, earn more and obviously hyper-masculine, for their love to be celebrated.
But the feminist critique of Valentine’s Day does not end here. There is the angle of capitalism and consumerism, as well. The very system behind the invisibilisation and criminalisation of queer bodies also sells a wide array of gifts and discount coupons specifically for ‘him and her.’
So do we need a separate day to celebrate a love that falls in line with every demand of patriarchy and capitalism?
My path towards acceptance led to the most wonderful thing that I was craving for so much. It led me to the realisation that I am exactly like Other Girls and I really like Other Girls; but that I am also completely, absolutely, wholly, unconditionally, to the core, (and whatever other adjectives fit here) like Other Lesbians.
I fit the lesbian stereotype one hundred percent. And I was ecstatic. I have two cats, I can’t talk to girls. In fact, I’ve watched a bunch of tv shows solely for the token Woman loving woman (wlw) representation with no regrets. I have watched Carol (2015) half a dozen times and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) more than a dozen times.
Oh, I also have a weird short haircut. Most of my friends are queer. I have fallen in love with both – a best friend and a straight girl each, obviously both unrequited. To go on, I’m pretty politicised, I’m a “man-hating” trans-inclusive radical feminist, and so on and so forth… You get the drift.
But my biggest discovery was that, like other lesbians, I’m not really averse to romance and all of the silly romantic tropes in movies, after all. The only condition is, they have to be gay. I realised that the reason I was indifferent towards romantic movies or PDA was that they were invariably heterosexual.
This put me in a fix. I was comfortably hating on Valentine’s Day so far. How do I align my feminism with my hopeless romantic side?
Last year around Valentine’s Day when I was debating with myself about all this, the only older wlw couple I knew was going through a breakup. People go through breakups all the time. So, these 30-something women realising they’re better off without each other shouldn’t have been a big of a deal to a 21-year-old acquaintance. But it was. It devastated me.
In a society that puts a staggering amount of importance on romantic love, I felt like I could see no future in terms of my love life. The only older women in love I personally knew fell apart.
It wouldn’t make sense to you until you understand what zero visibility actually means. What having no vision of a future means. Lawyers Maneka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, feel more like a fantasy, even with the ideological differences parts of the queer community have with them.
During this time, one day I was out with a queer friend in a public place and there were two middle-aged women near us. Be it our gaydar or simply wishful thinking, we thought right away that they are queer. And wonderfully, they turned out to be so, too.
My friend and I are your usual typical Kolkata college-goers. We are overly pretentious, know-it-all, left-leaning ones. Those always critiquing the disease called capitalism and its subsidiaries, homophobia and transphobia, that’s us. But here we were, all giddy at the idea of being seen (!!) by some older queer women.
We started behaving like pre-teens, talking loudly and laughing too much, even jumping around, trying to draw their attention towards us. And they did see us and recognise us. They held their hands for a second, two visibly queer 50-something women in public, in what we like to believe a nod towards us, acknowledging us. And almost a year later, we still talk about it sometimes.
Episodes like these work as a reminder of the importance of visibility. And as certain outfits intensify their violent opposition to ‘unconventional’ love around 14th February, lesbian suicide rates continue unabated. Meanwhile, custodial deaths, police harassment and moral policing of queer individuals keep rising.
As the ruling dispensation continue heralding in a culture increasingly intolerant and violent, visibility becomes, even more, life-threatening, as well as, a symbol of defiance.
Queer bodies have existed since time immemorial. And it will continue to exist. Queer love exists and deserves being celebrated, too. In such an environment, Valentine’s Day needs to be reclaimed for the identities society invisibilises or unleashes violence on.
Valentine’s Day can be for everyone. The only precondition for me is, not falling into the trap of consumerism fashioned for 14th of February.
Picture credits: Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels
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An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional
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