Artist Priya Dali grew up in a home that was different from most. She watched her mother run the household in a matriarchal set-up, and her parents adopt non-normative gender roles with ease. This concept of gender would reflect during her time with her friends. When they got together to play “ghar ghar”, or house, she would often take on the role of the man of the house – a role, she realised, she related to and enjoyed more than that of the woman of the house.
For Dali, who identifies as queer, this act of portraying gender roles and understanding her sexuality are linked. The question “when did you realise you are gay?” is one she has to contend with often, but rarely knows how to answer.
To explore this question, Dali, a graphic designer and an illustrator who recently graduated from the Srishti School of Art Design and Technology in Bengaluru, created a short comic book about “coming out”. The fictional comic titled I Wanted To Be The Man Of The House is created from the point of view of a girl child who adopts the husband’s role while playing house and realises how natural it feels to go against the norm and choose to live her life with a female partner.
Dali posted the comic on her Instagram page for her nearly 3,000 followers. “There is a lot of curiosity among people, sometimes positive and sometimes not so much, about a person’s moment of realisation,” said the 22-year-old. “They want to know real stories lived by real people, but the thing is that while some people remember their ‘aha’ moment, there are many who don’t. So last year I was just reflecting over this, and was wondering if it had anything to do with my childhood, and how I can communicate some of these things to a larger audience.”
The game of house essentially involves taking on stereotypical gender roles: the husband goes to work wearing a tie and carrying a briefcase, while the wife wraps a dupatta like a sari and takes care of the cooking and the baby. “You are essentially acting out roles that you are eventually going to play 20 years later,” said Dali. “So you are already imagining something that is way beyond you, and I feel it is a gateway to the future.”
In Dali’s comic, the little girl pretending to be the husband is handed the role because she has short hair. She goes on to play the “superhero husband” and then “superhero daddy”. Dali, however, questions why having short hair automatically casts her as the husband, or what it would mean to be a wife, whom she imagines as a damsel in distress.
Telling the story through a child’s voice was important to Dali. “There is this aspect of innocence in a child’s action and no filter in what they talk about or decide to question.” After her comic appeared on the website Gaysi, she has been receiving messages from people who have had similar experiences while growing up. Many related to the artist’s version of “ghar ghar”.
One Instagram user, with the handle Ajoo_Bi, commented: “Thank you so much! It bought back my childhood memories of always playing the man and wanting a man’s voice. Hmm. I never thought about its connection to my sexuality till now. So, thank you.”
Discussing sex and sexuality does not come naturally to Dali. Despite growing up in a liberal household, she always felt uncomfortable talking about sex even though her immediate circle of friends were not as inhibited. “A large part of the population is like me,” said Dali. “They talk about sex in a very secretive way, which is weird because everyone does it and we talk about it in the context of marriage and call it ‘family planning’. Being tight-lipped about sex affects your personal and intimate relationship, and also the conversations you have with your partner.”
In order to get over this awkwardness, Dali set up a blog earlier this year and called it S se Sex. In one blog post, she explores the dictionary of sex, where A is for “arousal, anal and abstinence” and B is for “breasts, blowjob and BDSM”. Another post addresses the pros and cons of talking to your partner about sex.
Dali feels that India is going through a sexual revolution. Conversations about sex, opening up and even the LGBTQ community are finding representation in the media. “At one point, sex was talked about in hushed tones and there was no mention of the LGBT community at all. In the past decade, the way it is portrayed in movies or visual media is coming of age and hopefully we are moving forward in a better, more open, direction. We can already see these topics being explored in the works of more designers, artists and illustrators.”