Dear We Are the Youth,
I’ve been in India for close to two months now, and I wonder how my mind can fit everything I’ve seen, experienced, and learned. Last time I wrote to you, I was in Udaipur, which provided me with a comfortable platform to look beyond the discomforts I was feeling in Delhi and meet some young folks working on alternative education and community building. But it wasn’t until I got to Mumbai (Bombay) that I felt like things started to get into full gear for my project.
I had a couple of contacts who are a part of LABIA (Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action) which publishes two magazines a year, runs a hotline and conducts research on members of the queer women and trans community. I took the local train to get to the trendy neighborhood of Bandra to meet up with my contacts, getting looks the entire way since I chose not to sit in the women’s compartment. It’s an interesting phenomenon whereby any women in the “general” compartment are hassled to go to the women’s compartment.
Once with the two members, I had a great time learning about the history of LABIA and was excited to get a few issues of their publication “Scripts” plus a queer erotica book one of them had recently edited and published called “Close, Too Close.” Turned out there was a queer party happening that very night as well, called “Salvation”, so I decided to check it out with my new friends. It was my first time going out to a queer party in India and although the ratio of men to women was unsurprisingly disproportionate, I had a great time watching the performance by queer artists and got to know some community members. After the party, we all went to a popular late night snack joint close to the main promenade of Bombay, Marine Drive, where according to my friends, on weekends hoards of gay men hang out. (more…)
Dear We Are the Youth readers,
I’m writing to you from a city called Udaipur, in the dry Western Indian state of Rajasthan. It has many lakes that were man-made four hundred years ago, and the effect is shimmering, reflecting, floating, and rejuvenating. The window frames in Udaipur are scalloped, made out of stone, wood or concrete and it makes you feel like you’re in a fairy tale.
Before arriving in Udaipur, I spent a few weeks in New Delhi, trying to get acclimated to India and slowly searching out queer communities. After quiet and controlled Singapore, arriving in India was a feast to my senses. Of course, the intensity of sounds and tastes can be alarming and draining if you’re also experiencing Indian culture for the first time. So let us suffice it to say that I’ve had a difficult time adjusting, as I had two bouts of the stomach bug, fell into a scam (which was scary but fortunately ended well), while dust and loud honking has numbed my orifices.
Thus, while my previous posts have included zines that I completed, I’m still working on my zine for Singapore AKA haven’t been working on it and so it’s not yet finished! I’m learning to pace myself as I accept that I can’t always do things in the speed that I want.
However, I still have things that I want to share with you! In an attempt to find queer communities in India, I put my feelers out via email and social media, which gave me some great leads. I think that whenever I look for kindred souls, the internet has been quite helpful. In this case, I was led to a friend of a friend of a friend. He’s a trans person who went to a small liberal arts college in the US but is from Southern India and now lives in New Delhi at a fantastic organization that goes around giving sex education. He taught me a lot about how he feels as a queer individual in India, and was a soundboard for me when I was experiencing frustration with my gender presentation here. (more…)
Dear readers of We Are the Youth,
I’ve just arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the federal capital of Malaysia from Singapore where I stayed for three weeks. Singapore was a shockingly different place from Australia where I stayed for two whole months. In fact, while I was expecting stricter laws, within the first two days of arriving in Singapore I already felt like I had to act differently than I was used to. Singapore is a city-state known for its rather extreme laws such as no spitting, no durians (a delicious but strong-smelling fruit) on the subway, no selling gum, no walking around your house naked, etc. But beyond law-enforced actions, I felt like people were watching my every move to make sure I followed the rules. On more than a few occasions, I was scolded by Singaporeans for small misdemeanors like not putting my spoon back on the plate at a buffet.
Despite feeling watched, I can confidently say that Singapore was the most mind-expanding country I have visited so far on my trip. Each day, I learned something about the place, the world or myself that challenged me in the best way possible. It was within such a structured and rule-regulated society that many things I hadn’t thought about before became clearer in contrast. One of those things was the highly visible religious communities and the diversity of races. Never had I been exposed to so many practicing Muslims before, and I had eye-opening conversations with women who wore the hijab who identified as feminists as well.
In terms of the queer scene, I found that just below the surface was a network of artists and activists who were doing incredible things. Thanks to the artist/activist/educator extraordinaire Tania De Rozario, who was a contact from when I interviewed her on Asian, Gay and Proud, I got to know a section of Singaporean society that was critical of their government, prolific in their art making and organizing events around queer and feminist issues. An important fact I should mention is that according to Section 377A of Singaporean law, male homosexual acts are illegal and punishable. This has been a strong propelling force behind many activist groups that are working hard to fight homophobia.
One of the main events that was happening while I was there was the Slut Walk. It’s organized predominantly by queer women, and leading up to the actual event were several events where queer artists and activists gave talks, and workshops on consent were conducted. Another organization that I got to know was Pink Dot, a Singaporean rendition of the Western Pride Parade. Unlike pride parades around the world, Pink Dot focuses on being family and straight-friendly by using famous straight Singaporeans to act as ambassadors, MC-ing the day, as well as using a cute pink mascot and encouraging everyone to wear pink to show solidarity. They gather in Hong Lim Park (which is the only place Singaporeans can all gather to “protest”) and essentially form a massive pink dot! The effect is quite something:
While more radical groups and individuals on the ground think that Pink Dot is playing things too safe and promoting homonormativity, I think that their approach is one that many Singaporeans are more willing to accept. During my stay, I also visited an incredible art show called Archiving Cane at an independent art venue, The Substation, where artist Loo Zihan created a powerful installation, which included many newspaper clippings, his recent performance “Cane” and a wall that displayed the several licenses he needed to apply for from the government. To backtrack a bit, here’s some historical context. In 1994, 12 gay men were arrested and caned for soliciting on the streets. They were arrested because 12 cops went undercover and propositioned these men. The response from the gay community was obviously of anger, but one artist Josef Ng decided to do a performance art piece in protest. He set up 12 tiles, with a block of tofu and bag of red paint on each. He then symbolically caned each piece, bursting the bag or paint and crushing the tofu. Then he turned around, snipped some of his pubic hair and added the finishing touch by sprinkling some on each piece of tofu. At the end, he asked a member of the audience for a light and he took the lit cigarette and pressed it against his skin saying “maybe, a silent protest is not enough.” The media pounced, denouncing his work as an obscenity and reporting on the state reaction, which banned him from performing ever again in Singapore as well as ending public funding for performance art for the next ten years.
Flash forward to 2012, Loo Zihan re-enacted the performance but this time with a few alterations such as shaving his pubic area, and when it came time to extinguish the cigarette, he said that he would move outside because it was illegal to smoke in the building. And for his show, he wanted to make everything as transparent as possible, by including the government and by showing every last detail of what remains of the Josef Ng story.
When Zihan and I sat down for a chat, I learned about the subtleties of how the government works its censorship. For instance, his show which had to be rated R (21+), if anyone under the age of 21 entered, the $20,000 down payment would be taken away. In the 90s, when punk rock was becoming popular, they banned moshing, requiring show organizers to pay $2000 in the event that someone was caught moshing. The result of course was that the punk rock scene died down. Who would pay $2000 to put on a show that was expected to produce just a few hundred dollars?
There are many more stories and people who are doing amazing things to expose such facts in Singapore. If you’re interested in seeing all of the people I interacted with, you can check out the links under Singapore on the following page:
Last but not least, I completed my Australia zine while I was in Singapore. Check it out:
Miyuki Baker, the founder of Asian, Gay and Proud is trekking around the world on The Watson Fellowship to join the movement in creating a worldwide network of queer artists. She’ll be posting updates on We Are the Youth over the next few months. You can check out her blog, heymiyuki.wordpress.com, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MiyukiBaker.
Lots has happened since I last posted from Peru. After my stay in Cusco (close to Machu Picchu), I spent over 2 days in buses and in transit trying to get to Buenos Aires, Argentina where I plopped myself down for the three remaining weeks I had in South America. People told me I should visit Patagonia, the Iguazu falls and other famous spots in Argentina but you know what, I had had enough moving around in South America that it was okay for me to just stay put for a bit. My first few days in Buenos Aires were quite a surprise to me because not only was the city much larger than the other Latin American cities I had stayed in, but also because (in part, due to its size) the gay community seemed so spread out and at least on the surface, extremely commercial. Argentina was the first country in South America to legalize gay marriage, thus gay tourism in Buenos Aires has really taken off. Everywhere I looked, there were gay maps, gay bars and gay-friendly tourism. It was a bit off-putting actually, since a lot of what I was finding seemed to be unhealthily linked to profit.
When I dug a bit deeper though, I found that just an hour from Buenos Aires, in a smaller city called La Plata, was a strong counterculture lesbian culture and community. I met with the members of a feminist lesbian group called “Malas como las aranas” which means “Bad like the spiders” and they were throwing day long lesbian festivals every Sunday of the month of September! I went to one of them and performed a piece I developed in Ecuador about female masturbation (see my Ecuador zine for more info on the performance) and had a great response.
In the end, I had quite a diverse collection of submissions for my Argentina zine which you can see below:
The night before my trip to Sydney, Australia, I got to the airport early and stayed up all night drinking mate, (a classic Argentine drink), reflecting on the four months I had just experienced in South America and how I was about to return to an English-speaking country with all of the “comforts” I was used to back in the US. I had many difficult moments in South America where things were stolen or when I felt like I had to always be on guard as I was in transit, but I was given many wonderful opportunities to develop my art in really safe and supportive queer communities as well. There is such a wealth of activism happening in each country I visited in South America and I’m counting the months until my next visit. (more…)
We Are the Youth has an exciting new addition to the blog! Miyuki Baker, the founder of Asian, Gay and Proud is trekking around the world on The Watson Fellowship to join the movement in creating a worldwide network of queer artists. She’ll be posting updates on We Are the Youth over the next few months. You can check out her blog, heymiyuki.wordpress.com, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MiyukiBaker. Here’s Miyuki’s first post!
Hey folks of We Are the Youth,
I´m writing to you from Lima, Peru, the third city so far on my trip around the world looking for queer artist activists. My name is Miyuki Baker and I just graduated from Swarthmore College (liberal arts queer haven 30 minutes outside of Philly) with a BA in studio arts, Asian studies and Chinese. I´m planning to go to a dozen more countries around the world (see the full list here) but first let me tell you a bit about the project. It´s called ¨Visibly Queer: Exploring the Intersections of Art and Activism¨ and to put it simply, I want to see what makes a queer artist choose a certain medium (or media) to do activist work or to express their identities. In addition, I´m making zines in each place I visit. Below is the first edition, from Ecuador. Hope you enjoy it!