If this looks bare to you, it’s supposed to be.
I’ve just finished archiving all of my old posts and giving them some new life as something else they’re not: cool.
Most things are still here, and I’ll add to it shortly.
But sometimes less is more.
If you’re into that sort of thing, check out my repo!
Wonderful but sometimes a downer.
Comfortable but invigorating.
Stable but enervating.
Fun but sometimes mild.
Energetic and delicious.
World-changing and domestic, depending on the day.
Upwards trajectory but sometimes down.
31 is about being happy in my own skin: that it’s really okay to have greasy hair and over-sized T-shirts, when you have your dog and your partner by your side.
Thank you for the most wonderful year, to everyone who has played a role in it. I am lucky and grateful to have all of you by my side.
I’ve started writing articles for Brink, a new media publication by the same people behind the Atlantic. My first piece is on Tech’s Role in Reaching Indonesia’s Rising Middle Class.
Gay clubs were for flowers.
Update: I wrote this piece before we learned more about what happened. I’m sorry about misgendering or mis-identifying the victims.
I’m 31 in a few months. Not old, but old enough to remember how coming out was not on Tumblr, it was at Taboo.
I would go with my best friends, all of us so drawn to each other (boys and girls) because we saw a spark of — what was it? We thought it was weirdness at the time — in each other. It was a badge nobody gave us, but we saw on ourselves anyway.
If only someone could have told us: this badge, it is a badge of queerness. Use it well, do not sleep with worthless people, and you’ll be okay. One day.
Why did the Orlando shootings reverberate across the world as I knew it — on the walls, timelines, of every queer person I know, and their allies?
The idea of safe spaces, and sanctity, kept coming up. Weird, perhaps to consider something like a sweaty, sweltering gay club sacred. But it was. And will always be.
Even if I never felt like I was of “the scene” (there was literally nothing for me there), being a woman, outnumbered with my persuasions out-persuaded, it was, in so many ways, where I found myself.
I’m a terrible dancer, but some alcohol with the encouragement of men who don’t care about sleeping with me, made gay clubs the only place I felt safe. I didn’t have to worry about men, even if I went alone. And most times, I did. In Singapore, in Bangkok, in Helsinki, in every place I have called home or visited for longer than a day. A gay club had always found itself on my itinerary. It was my window into the pulse of the rebels, the misfits, the mostly straight but didn’t want to be fag hags I could sometimes persuade.
Most of all, the complete sense of belonging and the unadulterated self. There, I could be myself, long before I could be that person at school, at home, in my places of worship.
When Omar Mateen went into a gay club halfway across the world, spraying bullets and quite literally hunting down gay people, my memories merged into one, as it did for many queer people everywhere. He didn’t kill 50 gays in one club, he reached into, placed himself in, and ripped up the safe space we have all found.
But how to explain a safe space to people who have never needed one?
18, venturing out timidly with my best friends. Seeing educators; kissing each other (of the opposite gender) to pretend, badly, that we were all straight.
20, between life milestones, trembling and swooning every time an older women “picked me” (hahaha, I was very young and very hot; they should have been swooning instead).
More recently in life, being protected and cared for by wonderful gay men in cities all over the world. From Istanbul to Helsinki and San Francisco.
It was not just 50 gay men that Omar Mateen killed.
It was all of us on the dance floor. The veteran gays who go to see friends and dance with them. The young man peeking out from his closet, having to hide his queer clothes in his bag. His career as a hot young stud, vanished. The fag hags who love the gay men they cannot have. The old couples who go because they want to believe they still got it. The amazing dancers. The not so good ones. The long lines for the men’s toilets; the lack of one, of the lack of a toilet, for women. The bad vodka. The cheap rum. The smell of leather and sweat. The promise of darkness and kink — but is it really that dark or kinky if you were the one getting it? The camaraderie. The cliquey lesbians who think anyone talking to their girlfriends is infidelity, even when gay men do it. The stolen kisses once outside. The sobering effect of a greasy meal early in the morning when you didn’t meet someone interesting or you made the right choices in life. Kebabs and Chinese food. Drunk friends you send home vowing to never let them drink again. The sullen faces that sometimes harbour disgust the moment you walk out of the door knowing you will not be accepted outside.
That’s where Omar Mateen took us all. He sprayed his evil bullets into our sanctuary, hiding his last minutes in the toilet of a gay club. Let that sink in for a minute. Possibly the worst homophobe the world has seen since the Holocaust. And he hides out in a gay club toilet before he dies?
All across the world violent acts are performed on minorities every day. Queer people are persecuted. Women are beaten. Trans people are murdered. Immigrants are hunted. Other ethnic and religious groups including atheists are tortured, hated, cussed at. What you think is casual racism, homophobia, transphobia, funny jokes that won’t hurt anyone, magnifies with a weapon in its hands.
So if you’ve ever stopped to say, _why are you people demanding your rights? It’s a playbook from Western activists wanting to erode our culture! What next, marriage? Yes. _We are demanding to not be massacred. To not be spat on and beaten in Albania. To be not pistol-whipped and left to die on a fence in Wyoming. To be not raped — correctively and incorrectly — in South Africa. To not be kidnapped by your parents and sent to “pray the gay away” camps, all over the world where evangelical Christians have found money and warped theology.
We are here and we are queer. Do not kill us like deer.
12 years ago in Kolkata. At the time still much referred to as Calcutta. Now less so.
The city doesn’t change; but you do.
Every picture I have of it from 12 years ago still looks like it could have been from December, when I last visited. Perhaps even today. When I land at midnight later, there will not be the crisp, muddled air of the winters I love in that city, just the night time counterpart to the heat that I know will pound on my face, and the ground, sometime in the morning.
All that I know, all that I do, I owe it to this city, even if it will never know it.
When my school friends were road-tripping across European cities for ‘summer break’, or perhaps even the big cities of China and America for work and school, I found solace here. It can be hard to see, but Kolkata is a hard act to beat. It’s the ultimate summer. Followed by monsoon. And the sounds of….
It’s a monsoon and the rain lifts lids off cars
Spinning buses like toys, stripping them to chrome
Across the bay, the waves are turning into something else
Picking up fishing boats and spewing them on the shore — James, Sometimes (which somehow always comes to mind when I think of this place
How to beat it?
The start, really, of empire. The fall, or rather the fading away, of one. The majesty of India’s cricketing hopes and dreams, and occasionally the dashing of, projected unto Eden Gardens even when the matches aren’t in season. The death of Marxism, available for the world to see at every adda and every failing piece of infrastructure. Tagore’s poetry. Indian Coffee House. The children of Tollygunge, who taught me so much, 12 years ago. Sandesh.
On hot afternoons when the sun hits the ground and meets engine oil, the smell reminds me of my first love among the many other putrid Asian cities I have come to love:
“So in the streets of Calcutta I sometimes imagine myself a foreigner, and only then do I discover how much is to be seen, which is lost so long as its full value in attention is not paid. It is the hunger to really see which drives people to travel to strange places.” — Tagore, My Reminiscences
This foreigner is not done discovering.
Not for the first time, I found myself in a tiny room on a hot day, the youngest among old women. Each with a different thing to say to me, also the only person not from around these parts.
“You’re so old now! And unmarried!”
“Your hair is too white! Eat more soy beans!”
One woman rubbed my tattoos, making a screechy sound with her teeth, before announcing to all the other old women around her: “these are real.”
No judgement, no scorn – I was local enough to be in a place like that, but not local enough to be judged.
“Can you bring me some white chocolate next time you come, girl? I had them once and only in your country (Singapore). I’ve never had them since.” She rubbed my back some more.
At places like these old women collectively talk, soothe each other’s tired or injured muscles, and together not give a damn about anything outside of those doors. At least for an hour.
I went often to places like these, my severe back pains often needing urgent attention from anything that would give them rest. In Jakarta, I am a frequent visitor to Haji Naim – a group of famed healers in the Betawi community. I figured that if it didn’t work there was at least delicious soto Betawi to be had next door. Now that I come here so often, a massage almost always precedes a lovely bowl of soup and beef.
I’ve always been glad to have the ability and opportunity to bond with old women anywhere in the world – their wisdom and unlikely sorority is what I look forward to, whether in Yemen or India or Singapore. Here, the Betawi women took turns rubbing my tattoos, shrieking when they discovered (repeatedly) that they were real.
Most of my time in this city has been about discovering, for the first time, scenes that played such a large part in my youth. Hot afternoons with old Indonesian women. Dusk on the street with teenagers singing with their guitars. Children begging. Families living under bridges. The Indonesian movies that used to play so often in my tiny, hot Singaporean shoebox apartment, now alive in parts of the city.
And yet the other parts of it are real, too. Large gleaming buildings. New shiny things. Cocktails as expensive as Singapore’s. Malls full of only imported things. My feet in both worlds: one in the village and one in Pacific Place. One in meetings with fancy people, another under the firm thumbing of extremely old women.
It’s a difficult balance to keep up, but I enjoy each moment. White chocolate in Betawi houses; going home to my $5 room after a day out in $5 coffee houses. Improbable things and inevitable places. As I chug along at work and in life, I’m relieved to have the opportunity to make things work again.