Monday, December 18, 2017

The Queer Question

The Queer Question is a project started in the hope of dispelling the many myths surrounding the queer community in India. Seeing a lot of misconceptions about queer people and relationships, the lack of information leads to ignorant assumptions, stereotypes and uninformed opinions among other things. Here is a conversation with its founders, April and May.

Can you tell us a little about yourselves, in terms of what your growing years, education, work and other elements of your backgrounds are, to the extent comfortable?

April: I've grown up in the gulf (Riyadh and Sharjah) for most of my formative years. I moved to Mumbai for my undergraduate degree course and then to Bangalore for my postgrad. I am the cofounder of a support group called The Circle in Mumbai, something three other friends andi started in our third year of undergraduate college. I am an out queer person and I've come out to my parents as well.

May: I was mostly brought up in Chennai and Bangalore although my family originates from Andhra Pradesh. Honestly speaking, the former two places are more 'home’ to me than Andhra. I went to college in Pune and graduated with a degree in media studies. I did briefly work as content writer and copywriter, also did some work in marketing, but I couldn't keep my sanity there, so I shifted to doing some screenplay and production work. But soon after that, I followed my frustration and tried to do music. I've been an indie musician for the last year and half and I've been loving it. As for my family, they're supportive. They're not extremely conservative but a little bit, yes. My brother and sister in law are extremely understanding and help me a lot.

What is The Queer Question all about?
The Queer Question is a project started by my partner and me here in India in an attempt to demystify being queer in India (from the mouths of queer people) and more to demystify the existence of lesbian people in the country (both within the community and outside).

The project is very simple. We created a google form and encouraged our friends and relatives to ask us questions they've always wanted to but wouldn't, anonymously. Our form needs some bare minimum information (demographic) which we thought was necessary also because I am a sociologist and data can always be useful in case we wanted to make this a bigger project. The project has worked quite well till now, we have over 90 questions since June (when we started) and all the questions we've received till now have been very introspective and genuine, barring a few. It's helped us understand that young India is ready for change but we need to get them informed and out of the bubble of assumption. Most places we have worked at and social groups we have been in have been very heteronormative and always question the legitimacy of a relationship that has no phallus in it, and since lesbianism has always been projected as existing for the male gaze, most of us aren't taken seriously.

Since we started the project, we've also had a lot of young Indians around the world getting in touch with us to talk about coming out and dealing with things at home. Which has been a beautiful experience for us because we wished we had someone to talk to when we were of that age.

We answer the questions based on the urgency of the answer required (stated by the person asking the question to us in the form) or weekly depending on the amount of research needed on the topic we are asked about. We go by the names April and May (and identify as female, gay and gender queer) so that there is no pre-conceived notion when they fill the google form.

What inspired its creation? How did it come about?
Just the need to be there for people like we wanted people that were like us when we were young to look up to and feel like everything will turn out okay. It is also the need to create awareness and educate people about things they fear because they aren’t familiar with it.

What are some of your key goals for the future of The Queer Question?
Just consistently do what we are doing. We want to steadily be more research oriented in many ways, visibility is important and we want to be a part of more public spaces.

What have your challenges been so far? How have you / (are you) overcome / (overcoming) them?
The Facebook algorithm doesn't really help us reach the people we want to reach. It's definitely a problem especially when we're putting out answers.
In order to overcome this hurdle, we've now included a provision for people to give us their email IDs if they want us to respond to them personally. It's completely optional. We've also included a question that asks if they want us to answer a question by a specific date. This helps us understand the urgency of the situation.
Shortly after we started the Facebook page, we set up an Instagram profile. That has been tremendously helpful as instagram is used by younger queer people (as compared to Facebook) because they can follow queer accounts freely without having to worry about someone catching them (esp if they're closeted).

Could you share some anecdotes from your journey so far?
We are constantly surprised by the kind of questions we receive because they’re all so well thought out and always challenge how we think about a lot of things what we know, pushing us to search more and know more. Secondly, every time a young person texts us or emails us personally asking about coming out and how it is to be an out individual, we feel a personal victory because we could reach them and they could find us. Ultimately,even if one person is happy that we were around for them, we have reached a larger part of the journey.