Ismat Chughtai was summoned by a Lahore High Court. The formal document which read “George the Sixth versus Ismat Chughtai” amused her, for Chughtai found the idea funny that a King would spend time in reading her short story. (1)
This story was “Lihaf”. It dealt with the issue of homosexual relations that took birth in the hidden confines of a Nawab’s Palace. Chughtai was criticized by readers for bringing out obscenity and vulgarity in her writings. She was even arrested. It was in 1944.
In 1977, Shakuntala Devi, a magician in mathematics, and a voracious “queer” activist, launched her study on homosexuality across the globe titled “The World of Homosexuals”. The book was met with immense positive response not only in foreign lands but also in India. The book details the lives of two real life homosexual couples with instances from various others.
What changed in 30 years? Did India, if not the world, suddenly forgot that homosexuality was deemed as “vulgar” and “obscene”? Or the apprehension towards the world of gays, lesbians and bisexuals suddenly went down?
By the 1970’s the feminist ideology was heading in multiple directions. (2) The feminist discourse took a drastic turn in every field of art; from sketches to painting; from photography to literature; from films to television. It was this time, the discourse of lesbianism became active. Why was that?
The process was psychological perhaps. When the rise of feminist ideology took place, the women of the society found in themselves a similar bounding factor. The same sense of enslavement, the similar desire to be free; the same rushing fear, the similar goal to dream; the same discouragement, the similar courage to fly. Perhaps this is why Adrienne Rich says in her poem Diving Into The Wreck (1971)
We are, I am, you are by cowardice or courage the one who find our way back to this scene carrying a knife, a camera a book of myths in which our names do not appear. (3)
Rich identifies and associates herself with all the womankind. She sees their “courage” and their “cowardice”. And she urges all to “find our way” even though the world does not recognize them.
This sense of emotional connection and intermingling of complex identities that womankind have shared for decades now, have brought about a sense of “sexual fluidity” in them. The phrase as used by The Guardian writer, Stephanie Theobald, perhaps actually define the true essence of lesbianism in her online article “Lesbianism: Sexual fluidity is a fact of life for women”.
Lesbianism is no longer about homosexuality amongst women. It has become a way of life for them. So you see Kate Perry singing about how she kissed a girl and she likes it while Madonna smooches Britney.
Spears on stage. You see Shakira and Rihanna in a sensuous video raising eyebrows, and celebrities like Ellen Page daring to go on stage and announce to the world that she is a lesbian.
Even in today’s twitter and Watsapp generation one could actually check out the photographs of girls hanging out together and differentiate it from men’s outing. Women tends to be more expressive, connected and loving towards their female friends in photographs. Occasional pouts and flying kisses and “love you baby” texts are frequent among girls. This is not a stereotypical mindset. It is a reality of a modern women’s life.
Often one might hear a girl say that she wishes she was a lesbian as there are no good guys out there. This statement marks the very essence of sexual fluidity that Theobald talked about. The desire for a different sexual orientation amongst girls showcase that they wish for a different lifestyle than the male counterparts provide them. For they know, that girls do have fun when they get started.
Some critics might think that by talking about this form of fluidity I am arguing the fact that there is no such thing as a “lesbian”. But I have no intention to do so. On the contrary, I am very much affirming the idea that “lesbians” are very real but they are not different from any other women in the society for “lesbianism” is an intrinsic part of a modern women’s world.
Lesbianism is simply a way of life for women and it is an illogical mind that does not recognize it.
By: Karan Prashant Saxena
Masters in Convergent Journalism, Ist Year
1. Kumar, G. (2009) Censorship in India: Studies in Fundamentalism, Obscenity, and Law, Har Anand Publications, page 219
2. Digital History. (2013) The Growth of Feminist Ideology. [Online] Available from: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3343
3. Rich, A. (1971-1972) Diving Into the Wreck: Poems, Norton Publications.
Image Source: Lesbianism
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