Claim, carve and create
We are still in a hostile situation...
It was 6.30 pm on Tuesday. As we tuned into Queer Chennai Chronicles’ (QCC) Queer LitFest on Twitter’s #TamilSpaces — to hear panellists Negha (trans artiste) and Surya discuss the need for creating queer spaces — we were reminded of an earlier conversation with a gender right activist. “Spaces — be it public or private — are always gendered. This affects those who are on the fringes,” they said, making us cognizant of inclusion.
While QCC’s discussion focused on spaces beyond the design perspective and architectural metaphors, it addressed pertinent points — of cyberbullying of queer persons in the online world, tapping on virtual platforms to raise funds for the ‘queer constituency’, the necessity to form channels that offer support and space to more queer voices, among other aspects.
“While things have improved in the past few decades, the lives and lifestyles of queer people haven’t entirely changed. We are still in a hostile situation. We need spaces that address varied issues,” said Moulee of QCC, setting the tone for the discussion.
Negha walked the listeners through her experiences of curating a series of Instagram live sessions on topics including transphobia and homophobia along with artiste Angel Glady, during Pride month 2021. “We wanted to curate these sessions to educate people about different kinds of negative attitudes that people from the LGBTQIA+ community face from the society and their experiences. By talking about it in a public forum, I felt it will sensitise the community,” she shared.
While Surya’s vision too was similar, the engineering graduate tapped on a different platform. Along with a Twitter friend, Surya used the Spaces feature to curate Tamil Queer Spaces, where people from the community could discuss everything from art, literature, politics and representation. “For five weeks, in the Spaces, we picked a topic. Self-respect, queer representation in art were some. We even conducted an open mic and a talent show! We wanted to take the narrative that queer persons were multi-faceted to the outside world. Except for stray occurrences of hate speech it was predominantly very positive. We also raised `22,000 for the Trans Community Kitchen in Chennai and all our contributors were those who participated in these sessions. The space turned into a powerful platform to take our stories, struggles and abilities outside,” shared Surya.
While Negha agreed on Instagram Live platform too being an influential medium for those from the community, she shed light on its flip side. “In one of the live sessions, the hate comments were too toxic. The speaker for that day was at capacity and broke down. Those were the times I questioned the mindset of the “larger” society. It’s not fair to ask us to be strong every day. A change should come about in the society’s mindset,” she said.
However, despite the bullying, she chose to stride forward. “Though the comments were toxic, I didn’t want to pull myself away from the space that I was presented with. I wanted to use it to break the stigma through conversations. We were doing it to create a better future for the younger generation of non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals,” she shared, adding how, in this journey of carving spaces, one has to be mindful of their mental health and safety.
For over a year, several from the queer community have been stuck within the confines of their home due to the pandemic. But such online spaces have been connecting people. “I was able to virtually connect with many from the ilk through these spaces and I see that as a positive impact. We should continue talking about what’s rightfully ours,” added Surya.
While solutions for spaces that go beyond architectural elements, where people from the LGBTQIA+ community can exist in their skin without judgment or the need to be incognito remain sketchy, the current need is to keep the conversation going. As one of the organisers said, “We shouldn’t have to shrink our circle and live in fear. We need to have more relatable conversations…it gives us the strength to go forward. This is an important step to amplify the discourse.”