Lifespan of a Blooming Chembarathi (Hibiscus)

to Chinnu (Anjana Harish) 
TW: Suicide  

Did your Amma tell you too
that the chembarathi was a sign of madness?
My Amma did. You know, because Pappu
the ‘madman comic’, wears it before Dr. Sunny
gently ‘fixes’ him with a knock to his head, 
after saving Ganga from Nagavalli’s Ghost
in Manichitrathazhu, cult
psychological horror where women are
both accused & victim.
Chembarathi became this Madness–
through repetition, internal rhymes 
of malayalam comedy,
dialogue our families love quoting with
umpteen rules about being the right Malayali 
penne, all straight, like the 
goddamn pasta. Did you like penne? Or did you
like Parotta, maida layers & oil, quintessential
Malayali food? I’m an idiyappam person though.
I–I mean–my hair is as straight 
as its steamed, squished noodles. You would
get this joke. I can’t translate 
the joke to Malayalam–no words
for us, not any I know. 
You might have; you studied Malayalam, but
your Amma didn’t understand 
it anyway. I can guess. Her first
question must have been are you 
mad? I know how Ammas are. To try help you,  
she took you to school, church, therapy, where 
they knocked you around to
put sense in you/get english nonsense out, 
like a stuck chala fish-bone
they can heimlich out & not 
our ribs, cracking into heart.
Curious me googled ‘chembarathi’ and result:
represents the feminine. trope twisted stigma.
Did you know the lifespan of a chembarathi 
at full bloom was one day?
That’s how long the news cared. I dug 
through the articles for weeks, found photos 
of you smiling with her, both in matching red
and that you went by Chinnu instead – a pet-name, 
from your chosen family? Or maybe pen-name? 
We are no Kamala Das & even she went 
by Madhavikutty. I get it. 
our day to be an open book is not 
here yet.


Glossary
chembarathi – Hibiscus
chala – A type of fish commonly eaten in Kerala
Penne – Girl in Malayalam (in latin letters)
Manichitrathazhu – a famous psychological thriller/horror in Malayalam Cinema.
Kamala Das – Malayali poet and writer, famous/controversial for her depictions of same-sex relations in her poetry/autobiography/fiction
idiyappam  – A steamed rice noodle cake common to Southern India, often eaten with curries
Parotta – A type of bread, with Beef Fry; it is the most well known food in Kerala.

Written by Rouha.
Photograph by Nydia Blas, “Untitled” from The Girls Who Spun Gold, 2016.

Ethan, Or the First Time I Laid Eyes on You

By Shane Allison

A summer Saturday night at 926 Bar & Grill was the first night I laid eyes on you.
I was sipping a whiskey sour
As you sat there bald and baby-faced watching Futurama on the HD TV
That hung above Hillary’s big hair & even bigger tits.
The edge of your moustache baptized in dark beer,
Cherry red lips kissing the glass.
You’re the laid back type unlike the boys
I’m used to, who prance about in search of toxic masculinity.
Lawrence, who is much older than you was on the hunt for young twink meat,
Looking as if you’re something good to eat.
He made advances, but you’re immune to the stink of his romance.
I watched his ways, left with the lesson
That his approach is not the way to penetrate your armor.
I was five whiskey sours in, faded,
And the size of your dick has never entered my mind.
Only thoughts of kissing you in this sanctuary,
Caressing that creamy Irish skin.
I don’t come on strong.
I take it easy with you, Ethan.
You feel easy around me.
We talked of cell phones,
The lifespan of laptops until you walk away bored and beer-filled,
Into a haze of absolution.

Artwork by Shane Allison

Wild: A Collage Series

Shane Allison has been making collages since 2001. What began as a hobby soon became to him an art form. He started out decorating notebooks and journal covers with objects he would find on the street. Having now created hundreds of pieces, Shane calls his series of collages “Wild”: a romp through the playground that encompasses sexuality and the viewer’s gaze. 

Queer Body and Soul

As a child I was taught that my body was not
My own that it belonged
to the Church, God, and Jesus be
like the Virgin Mary
Carry the children who will
Carry the Church

I was told my body was a vessel
A sanctified womb
Protect at all costs
From men, from myself
Because I am ‘worth waiting for’

Sex is for marriage, for men
For babies
Don’t linger at the edge
I never learned how my body worked
Or what I wanted outside
of children

Without Catholic babies
Ignoring the blueprint
Owning myself
Ignoring old
Men behind pulpits
Or red hats marching

To the Church my body
Malfunctions
Because ‘God doesn’t make mistakes’
Without procreation
My love is null and void
An unholy marriage

But my body is mine and
mine

Alone

Artwork by Marcus Fessler “The Boy Who Raised Poisonous Snakes II” h

The Internet Saved My Queer Soul

Francis Picabia Hera.jpg

The internet is weird and scary, but it is undeniable that it is one of the most important tools for shaping the LGBTQIA+ community and culture.

When people broadly talk about how the internet is the bane of their existence, I immediately think of  pre-teen gay kids living in towns of 500 people or less. What physical community exists for them? Would they have access to a GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) or accurate non-bigoted information in their physical space? Realistically, sometimes the only place to see people like them who are living happy and fulfilling lives, is online. There is plenty of terrible information on the web, but the only way to learn about the many facets of their community is to log on. Information on queer health or history is not so accessible anywhere else.

GLAAD, a non-governmental monitoring organization for LGBTQIA+ representation in the media found that of the 109 releases from major film studios in 2017, only 14 (12.8%) of them included characters that were LGBTQ. This represents a significant decrease from the previous year’s report (18.4%, 23 out of 125), and the lowest percentage of LGBTQ-inclusive major studio releases since GLAAD began tracking in 2012. Not one of the 109 releases had  transgender representation.

It is painfully isolating not to know anyone else who is gay or trans. It is excruciating not to have the vocabulary to define yourself. Representation is still so difficult to find in mainstream commercial media, and when it exists, it tends to be drowned in stereotype and tragedy. Access to indie shows, books, art, and music that is created for and by the community needs greater importance. Storytelling is a way we can explore ourselves and our identities and have the power to speak our truths.

The internet amplifies stories and the practice of stories. People become able to look up the historical figures absent from their history class. They can find books that never got a chance to be assigned in a high school syllabus.  They can create and share things that are typically discarded as different or abnormal, and find similarities, celebrate differences.

The positive impact of internet culture on the queer community is quantifiable. While there aren’t many studies on queer youth’s online interactions, scholar  Leanna Lucero has explored the “the numerous ways that multiple marginalized LGBTQ youth use social media as part of their everyday experiences, in an attempt to safely navigate their lives through learning, participating, engaging, communicating and constructing identities in digital spaces.”

She explored participants’ accessibility to social media and the frequency of their activity on various platforms. Her data-driven analysis suggests that social media can be a safe space for LGBTQ youth to delve into the complexities of their sexuality and gender in more nuanced ways.

Obviously, the internet is not always a safe haven. Harassment, bullying, and death threats plague online spaces, and can be especially directed at the queer community. Sometimes negativity and harassment even comes from within the community. But without it, so many of us would feel increasingly isolated, only hearing hateful or ignorant voices from whichever ‘real world’ we happen to be situated in.

But the internet isn’t going away. Social media will continue to evolve beyond our imaginations. It’s important for us to make sure that the internet becomes more of a shelter for queer communities. In small towns and high schools, people don’t always get to see a reflection of their identity in a positive way. Comfort and acceptance can be found in everything from Autostraddle to queer barbers on Instagram. Learning identifying words from folks can make you finally feel at home with yourself. Technology can be our weapon and our shield against the world, and we must continue raising and practising awareness of this power and responsibility in the digital age.

 

Artwork by Francis Picabia “Hera”