How do you write desire? Some answers come from the fifth issue of Gaysi Zine, which, in its scope, is more a book than it is a magazine, and it reads like a conversation.
This collection of essays takes us through confessions, secrets, images, illustrations, and, as is typical of all conversations, always interrupts. Perhaps the most jarring of these interruptions has to do with disrupting our own preconceived notions of sexuality. For it pushes us to take the politics of pleasure of the body seriously. And not just the bodies of those queer people over there, but of desires – wet and slippery – that firmly hold us all in their grip.
The compendium is published by The Gaysi Family, a family of desis determined to widen queer spaces and heighten queer voices in South Asia. Formally, the organisation runs a blog and forum that, apart from publishing writings about and by the LGBTQ community, refreshingly dismisses our uncles and aunties who claim queerness is a western disease, or that sex is to be enjoyed only within the “sanctity” of marriage.
The kind of conversation that Gaysi Zine brings to light is one that you would normally catch only in the dark, in whispers and between giggles. And it is all artlessly candid: one page opens up to a guide on how to give yourself multiple orgasms, another to the various positions in which to “scissor” with your partner. It’s not the kind of conversation that is brash and arrogant in its openness, but warm and inviting.
A section titled “Cities of the Interior”, borrowed from Anais Nin’s classic, is a hot, sticky, confluence of ideas about female masturbation. But of course what Rosalyn D’mello, its author, unravels is a history of repression: of quiet moans, minimal movement, or of neither, because of how much of a taboo masturbation can be, especially for women, and especially in India. “Cities of the Interior” is about one woman’s journey with her body, which arrives not only at her climax, but with the realisation that the act itself is so deeply political, rewriting, with her body, what desire means to women.
Writer Parvati Sharma, another of the magazine’s many contributors, examines desire at a granular level, suggesting that our desire to write, speak, express, love, is rooted in our need to articulate, or in her words, “make real”. In doing this, the collection does something radical: it makes language itself material – something to be groped, felt, caressed, like a body.
I should mention that there are no straight answers here. The essays offer no insight into what it “means” to be queer, or how to navigate between spaces of vast abstractness – grappling with questions of language and queerness as Sharma does – and unreserved candour, like Abhishek Chaudhary’s photography that captures a woman enjoying a strap on. Instead, it asks us where we lie on the spectrum, because whether we like it or not, we most certainly lie somewhere.
Transgression, really, is the mode of such a text. It wouldn’t be fair to palm off Gaysi Zine as an art magazine, or a literary one, or call it a lifestyle magazine. Like its layout, its contents overflow: photographs spill onto illustrations, which turn into pieces of poetry, only to open up to a comic strip.
The writing shines
What’s even better is the kind of self-reflexivity with which these authors express themselves. Journalist and writer Dhurbo Jyoti poignantly writes about how his body, marked by caste and queerness, is targeted by the heteronormative, savarna, cis-gendered majority, putting the spotlight on you and me, the kind of people likely to pick up this collection. But even here, in the margins, there are precious moments of elation, “For me, the joy of desire comes in fleeting, insurgent ways – in the way queer families are born, how friends come together to feed each other, how a touch, a nudge or a lick can make you shiver (or quiver)”.
So the Zine has fun with being in this ambiguous trans-space. If it gives us tragedy, it gives us humour and positivity in equal part. Artist Balbir Krishnan, for example, has lived an unbelievably harrowing life. His piece, “Lust for Life”, tells the kind of story that will have you doing multiple double-takes: he grew up in a farming village in Uttar Pradesh, where he was raped by peers and members of his family. He escaped to Delhi only to encounter more violence – nearly fighting other men to death, selling his body, picking up odd jobs and working as a cleaner. By the time his artwork was discovered, Krishnan had already attempted suicide, which took both his legs.
Yet he writes (in beautiful prose) with such freshness and hope, “coming out has become a mantra, the truth about who I am, and everything I want to do and be…forty years of catastrophes and triumphs later, [I am] stepping out, journeying out, still coming out, into the world, and lusting for life”. He now lives with his husband Michael Giangrasso in New York, and has won multiple awards for his artwork.
“Just bcoz u lik it up ur arse dsnt make u queer.”
Or so says an anonymous contributor on an online forum. The spectre haunting this collection asks us how queer we are, or what “queerness” would even constitute. On the one hand, the Zine is like a slice from a universe most of us choose not to engage with. On the other, it’s a universe so uncannily familiar that it becomes impossible not to relish these stories of love, heartbreak, marriage and friendship.
The cover features an illustration of a woman whose head is thrown back, eyes closed, with the words “All that we want” scattered across a black background. It’s an image so universal: at once yearning and still so strangely at peace, that before we realise, has already drawn us in, holding us gently.