By Ifsha Zehra:
Born and brought up in Kashmir, my identity has multiple, and often conflicting, layers to it. As a person from a ‘minority within a minority’ (a Shia Muslim in Kashmir), my experiences within these identities and their cross-sections have had a significant change as I moved to Delhi for graduation. I was privileged enough to receive the kind of education that I received as it exposed me to the world in a very different light.
As I graduated from college, I thought I had a decent understanding of feminism, the women’s movement in India, and its intersection with various other movements. However, I soon realized how little my feminism had provided a space for the LGBTQ+ movement. My narrative of feminism had not transcended the comfort zone which allowed me to bask in the normativity of heterosexuality.
My idea of feminism changed from women and their intersectional experiences to also include experiences of people across the gender spectrum. As an ally to the movement, I made a choice to do a photo-shoot at Ashoka University on gender fluidity and homosexuality. The aim of the pictures was to challenge our ideas of heteronormative intimacy, and break stereotypes within that construct. As the presentation was showcased, the entire class, consisting of about 100 people, was filled with excitement.
A part of that thrill and shock came from the fact that the people photographed with their vulnerabilities laid bare, were their own friends. The shock was followed by acceptance and admiration for the students who had the courage to do the same. That day, everybody in that room questioned their own biases, preconceived notions and ideologies. Such was the power of acceptance that a person ‘came out’ in public and declared their identity as a queer individual for the first time. This was followed by a number of people opening up to their friends and to me about their sexuality.
For me, the act of doing the photoshoot was nothing less than blasphemy. My context, my religion and location did not allow me in any way to do so. The only conversations about homosexuality at my home in Kashmir were about how it was haram (sinful) and how people from the transgender community were funny. But that same location and religion also acquainted me with the notion of marginalisation and made me believe that oppression of any kind is not acceptable.
Today, I use my art to support the queer movement. As children growing up in conventional households, we are often made to uphold stereotypical notions of gender and sexuality. Below is a poem I have written to challenge some of the flawed assumptions about LGBTQ+ individuals.
I was 7 when I was told ‘they’ are to be feared.
‘They’ do unspeakable things, things that are forbidden.
I was told they are a joke,
Who belong neither here nor there.
I was supposed to laugh at every time the batsman scored six
The innuendo was identified by all
It was evident in their guffaws.
I was supposed to get angry every time ‘they’ dared ask for money.
How could our existence cross paths?
My pure, sacrosanct existence that stayed far, far away from fornication.
I was 15 when Dumbledore was replaced by someone who was GAY
The news flashed on the screen across the dastarkhwan.
The elders were passing coy smiles,
And I dreaded that somebody would say the word out loud.
My little brother did.
His question was shoved with two mutton pieces down his throat.
I was 17 when the word was heard across the school
Two bad, evil daughters of Eve had tasted the forbidden fruit
Only they ate it together, as their lips were sealed into a kiss.
They were suspended like their ropes with which they tried to achieve eternal bliss.
I was 21 when I decided I won’t paint the world in two colours
We can move across rainbows and belong everywhere.
I would not keep silence in cricket matches or news flashes,
I would say the word GAY, LESBIAN, HIJRA like I would say man and woman.
I understood that Dumbledore will be Dumbledore
Regardless of who he chooses to love.
I realised that we were all bad daughters of Eve
Who eat forbidden fruit every time we refuse to conform and see through their invisibilities
As the 10th anniversary of the Delhi Queer Pride draws near, I vow to identify my privilege as a cisgender heterosexual woman and stand up for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. As a proud ally, I shall continue to use my art and activism to fight social stigma and injustice against LGBTQ+ individuals.
What are your experiences of being queer, and tackling heteronormativity?
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