What I did this weekend.
Vivek Nemana is writing a book on changing tribal identity in modern, Maoist India.
Andhra Pradesh, India
vnemana [at] gmail.com
"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity."
- George Orwell
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
- Ernest Hemingway
— Defamation is a terrible thing.
Life in Gaza
Death in tweets.
I wrote about haleem, a slow-cooked, quintessentially Hyderabadi delicacy that comes around each Ramadan, and all the madness that happens when food and place intersect. It is an okay piece of writing that was meant for an Indian readership, so I’m happy to answer any cultural questions, hear criticisms, etc.
Hyderabad’s culture of haleem mimics the city itself – steeped in myth and multiple histories, nostalgic for the past as it strives to modernize, constantly tweaked, a source of pride, a subject of heated debate. According to the Haleem Maker’s Association, it is a Rs 500 crore business this year – one that has, like Hyderabad, grown exponentially over the last two decades. And in that strange, sentimental way that food and place connect, Hyderabadi haleem evokes in its enthusiasts long memories of the city, and, sometimes, harbingers of its future.
By the way, old school butcher houses ftw:
To report “The Great Escape,” I traveled around coastal Orissa for nearly a month, trying to understand the scale of both Cyclone Phailin’s destruction and the massive evacuation that affected so many people’s lives. Often, I simply showed up at a town, relying on the kindness of strangers to guide me and share their stories. It rained continuously in Ganjam district – the worst-affected part of Orissa – in the weeks after the cyclone; trees stripped of leaves and houses stripped of roofs were keeled over as far as one could see, and perpetually gray skies cast certain Kodachrome overtones. There was no electricity because the cyclone destroyed the power grid, so at night the rain poured in utter darkness.
Amid this destruction people were quick to help each other – and me, even though I was doing nothing to assist in the critical relief efforts. Some people I knew I would meet again. Like Swarupa auntie, a distant relative of mine who gave me a comfortable place to sleep and work, and helped translate so many interviews in Oriya.
Other relationships were ephemeral. I met Gopi in Gopalpur, a fading town home to a Telugu-speaking fishing community, where Cyclone Phailin first hit land. A thin kid several years younger than me, with curly hair and straight white teeth and a moustache that was just beginning to grow thick, Gopi came from a fishing family and was training to join the army. The cyclone blew away the roof of his family hut, just like every other thatched roof in Gopalpur, and in its place a blue vinyl tarp was all that kept the rain out. And though there was much work to be done, like fixing leaks and procuring rice, Gopi still spent the day walking me through his hometown. We became friends. He introduced me to local fishermen and spiritedly explained that I wasn’t there to distribute money, but to tell stories, and that maybe by telling these stories I could make a difference in the lives of people in Gopalpur. (I could only hope for the same.) I never ended up writing about him in the article, but without Gopi – and so many others like him – I wouldn’t have had a story at all.
Night fell over Gopalpur and Gopi insisted I stay with his family, instead of paying the extortionate auto fare to get back to my place in Berhampur. “You should see how we live in the night,” he said. “It’ll be good for your research.” I declined his offer, anxious to transcribe my notes and to rest for an early interview the next day.
in case you need to use this to respond to haters
I wish I could forget about the kiss
That haunts the space between my thoughts.
A classic example of helping a brother out. (You should be able to figure out what’s happening in the video, whether or not you speak Hindi.)
And the lyrics are absolutely lovely. A rough translation of the first bit:
In the window across from me
Lives a piece of the moon
The problem is that she remains somewhat detached
In the window across from me
Lives a piece of the moon
the blogosphere is indicative of a larger trend present all over today in queer activism that requires proof to fit into a category, a proof of transness, or queerness, of bi-sexuality, lesbianism, gayness, being a person of color who passes as white, etc. The point of this rant is that identity politics, instead of empowering us anymore, obliges us to reveal our private lives and in many cases our trauma to each other in order to have access to certain feelings publicly
I’m kind of shocked to hear about this trend queer activism demanding proof of transness or queerness or what have you, because I thought that a major pillar of queer activism was that gender and sexuality operate in flexible ways that are not so easily compartmentalized by outsiders, and in a larger sense that an external category imposed on an individual was hegemonic and oppressive (like in the way society imposes straightness and heteronormativity), which all naturally means that the way a person identifies is all the proof you need. So where is this trend coming from?
istealforksfromrestaurants said: I’m curious as to why you said language policing with regards to RuPaul. Care to expound?
I said language policing because there was a whole slew of articles that came out from that “shemale” segment controversy that ranged from straight up homophobic/transphobic confused dismissal, to Capernia Addams and Andrea James, and Our Lady J talking about the policing of language, to critiques of the show’s use of the word Tranny and Shemale based on an identity politics of “living the life of a transwoman,” and then, some accidentally transphobic radfem essentialist BS that appeared, bizarrely enough, on the Original Plumbing website. And then there was a petition against both Addams and Andrea James that appeared on Huffpo. While I think all of these voices are important, literally all the points mentioned (the ones attacking Addams, and Addam’s attacking Molloy) are all assumptions about identity: you’re probably been male too long and you’re using your male/heterosexual privilege (Addams to Molloy), and that Addams was a drag queen before transisitioning which invalidates the amount of time she’s been trans (see petition). Both points are fucking ridiculous because they rely on making assumptions about someone’s identity-formation, which you cannot, cannot, cannot, ever do because Addams could simply say that she’s felt “trans” or like a woman all her life and the petition’s argument is over, and same goes for Addam’s critique of Molloy. Not to mention it’s poor rhetorical form (Ad Hominem argument).
Which is why the critique of Ru Paul as a gay man who does drag, which bars him from any sort of trans-experience, is ridiculous to me. Just because he lives the life of a gay man who does drag successfully now, doesn’t mean he always did. It’s a discussion that would be totally warped by Ru Paul simply saying that he did sex work as a trans-woman, or in drag, or as a transvestite. Like, do we all really think that a club kid trying to make it in New York who didn’t get his big break until Love Shack could cut it waiting tables? With those legs? (For the record, this is one of those open secrets that gets passed around in NYC, like how Anderson Cooper has been gay for forever, I have never heard Ru Paul talk about sex work).
Everyone is acting like all trans people must be trans people for life, living the life of a trans person, who is passing, or trying to pass, or is in some way recognizably trans. It’s a discussion that totally ignores, like with sexuality, that gender, and certainly transition, is a process and is different for everyone who goes through it. There are people who transition back. There are people who take hormones just for the fuck of it. There are non-binary people who live the lives of trans-women, and some who don’t. There are a ton of trans people who don’t give a fuck about surgery or passing. There are people who don’t identify as trans, but have had more “trans” surgery that “post-op” trans-men and trans-women (see David Valentine’s Imagining Transgender for reference). I’m sure Ru Paul has been called tranny and shemale, and under pretty fucking violent circumstances, too (remember, this was early 90’s NYC, not today’s), but since he only lives half of his life as a drag queen, or transvestite, does he not get to publicly share in that trauma? Because that’s what “owning language” is about, isn’t it? I have had trauma that corresponds to this word (faggot, for instance) and I am still a minority because of the oppression that produced that trauma (homophobia); people who are not oppressed in the way I am do not get to use that word.
So to come back to your question Erin, I said language policing not just because of “tranny” or “shemale,” which are undoubtedly offensive to many people and make me cringe every time I watch Drag Race, but because the blogosphere is indicative of a larger trend present all over today in queer activism that requires proof to fit into a category, a proof of transness, or queerness, of bi-sexuality, lesbianism, gayness, being a person of color who passes as white, etc. The point of this rant is that identity politics, instead of empowering us anymore, obliges us to reveal our private lives and in many cases our trauma to each other in order to have access to certain feelings publicly, and that’s fucking insane because it mimics heterosexism in pretty violent ways: have you had the operation, when did you first know, have you ever had any problems being gay/trans etc. It’s also fucking insane because not everyone wants to be open about their trauma all the time, nor do you want to have to come out all the time as whatever you’re oppressed as: No, he can make jokes about HIV because he’s positive, no she can say tranny because she’s a transwoman, she can say dyke because she’s a lesbian, he says faggot because he’s gay.
It sucks that all oppressed peoples are obligated to use the language of the oppressing power in order to gain any sort of political recognition, but we can’t forget that our categories, which were only born out of oppression (medicalization of sexuality, medicalization of gender and sex) were never discrete because they were always only formed on the basis of victimizing us (it’s not their fault, they’re sick, they’re invert, homosexual, they’re dysphoric, transexual). And we are kidding ourselves if we think that those same categories are going to empower us while playing gate-keeper with them.
In America we teach our kids that our Founding Fathers were some kind of flawless heroes, that true love bloomed between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (only 15 when he first owned her, not long before he took her body). But let’s be real here: Jefferson was probably a rapist. Because, did Sally really have the right to say no?
Jefferson may have felt love for Sally but how can we possibly term this relationship a love affair? Once they returned to the US, he had the power to have her flogged, or even put to death. At anytime he could have sold her children away from her. For a relationship based in love to exist, both parties must be equal and due to the power differential between Jefferson and Hemings what occurred cannot be described as anything other than rape. Some have even had the nerve to refer to Hemings as the first Black first lady of the United States as a way of further legitimizing the relationship between the two, however; to sanitize it and call it anything other than rape, is to once again violate her spirit.
Reading this right now, and recalling with rage the nacreous, sickening bullshit we were taught in school.