Monday, October 31, 2016

These Facts Prove Everything You Know About Weight Loss Is a Lie

If you set aside the fat-shaming stereotypes about weight being a matter of “self-control,” what does science really say about weight loss?
There’s a good chance that you think losing weight takes willpower – people just have to eat less to weigh less, right?
Wrong. And Riley J. Dennis has the research that proves it. She makes an excellent point about what this means for our society’s common (and judgmental) ideas about body types.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reviewing "read for review" books - fun for free!

All About the Boy 
P.A. Friday

Disclaimer: A free copy of the book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review

For a book addict like me, one who is compulsively inhaling books in any and all possible formats and all possible subjects, the opportunity to get books for free is incredible. For a wordsmith like me, who is almost as addicted to writing as to reading, (and very, very fond of having and delivering “opinions”) the chance to be able to review someone else’s work is a lot of fun too!

So, here I was with a copy of P A Friday’s All About the Boy, a collection of male-male kinky stories, free for review! Not having read anything else by the author, I didn’t know what to expect.

It is a collection of three stories, all centered around kink – specifically BDSM – between men. And, before I even tackle a single story, I must say I had a really positive experience with the language and the general writing style. The problem with romance novels, or erotic romances, or erotica, often is that the writer seems to think that a sufficiently “hot” story means that there is no need for much else. The writing is often pretty bad, and the language – whether the author’s or ghostwriting – makes me cringe and wince with bad grammar and usage and dozens of spelling mistakes per page.

P A Friday, I am glad to say was a pleasure to read. The usual cringe-worthy language and grammatical mistakes were absent, and there wasn’t even one wince per page!

The first story, -- kind of cute. Sure, it is kinky, but it is a nice sweet mix of gay for you, kinky for you, and “long time coming”. I usually like these stories of two people having known each other all their lives and someday something just clicks! The not entirely intentional and thought out exploration of kink on part of the characters is interesting, and well written. It is not easy to write conflict, internal or external, but Friday manages it just fine.

The second story I had a real problem with. The attempt at consensual non-consent that the story seemed to be moving towards became very firm dubious consent, and made me very uncomfortable. It could be just a personal issue, but I winced through the story and could barely make myself finish it. The language, grammar, etc, were fine but the whole concept just read too much like a consent violation and made me very uncomfortable.

The third story, honestly, I didn’t get at all. Was there a point? It felt like one of those inconclusive, formless, directionless arty short stories that raise my hackles even when they parade as “literary” work. Definitely not something I would want to read again, especially as light reading and for passing time in a pleasant way. It wasn’t as unpleasant as the second, sure, and didn’t leave as much of a bad taste in the mouth. But the violence came out of nowhere, and the story ended abruptly too!

Overall then, the writer has potential. Based on the language, style and the first story, I would probably pick up another book by the same author. But, unless that second book gave me more of the stuff of the first story here, and much less of the stuff of the other two, I can’t say I would become a follower.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fiend or Falterer? – The Demonization of the Bisexual

previously published here

There are various types of creatures in the whole LGBTHKQIA+ community, some visible, some not so visible; some accepted and some demonized. One of the most common creatures is the bisexual. They form a major and important part of the community and play a key role in the fight for visibility and rights. After all, the very name of the common larger movement and community LGBT – acknowledges that bisexual people are a major part of the community (after all the B is a strong 1/4th of the alphabet soup).
Coming out is difficult under any circumstances. But given the high amount of bipohobia, suspicion, derision, and demonization faced by the bisexual people, even within the LGBT community, not to mention the larger society, coming out becomes even more daring.
There are some popular misconceptions about the bisexual. Bisexuals are very commonly classified as either confused and naïve creatures who don’t know what they “really want” and are just wandering off the path a bit on their way to true gayness; or as lecherous people who  cannot be trusted to make a commitment;  or as people without any kind of ethics, morals and choices; or as sellouts, who are just keeping their options open and always have one foot in the “straight” world so that when the going gets tough, they can easily go back to the nice and cozy heteronormative life.
Things get much worse if the person happens to be in a relationship with someone of the “opposite sex”. Even if you do not believe in the gender binary and your partner does not identify themselves as either male or female, the moment you are in a straight passing relationship, it is as if all the suspicions of everyone within the community have been confirmed. And if, by any chance, you are in a monogamous relationship and not actively reinforcing your “gay” credentials by either having relationships or flings with people of the “same sex”, it means that you have converted or more specifically, you have turned straight.
If you are single and ready to mingle, and thanks to modern technology, are looking for possibilities online, then as a female bodied person identifying herself as a bisexual on any dating portal, you have to brace yourself for some standard responses. First and foremost you will have to explain what kind of an animal a bisexual is – again and again until you want to scream, smash your head against the wall and finally ask for forgiveness for committing this grave sin!
Due to some unexplained reasons, having this particular identity means that you have the moral responsibility to educate every tom, dick, harry, ram, shyam, jodu and modhu about not just sexual orientation but also about gender identity. Believe me, you will spend a good amount of time explaining that … bisexuals are not “hermaphrodites”, and they do not have “half-half” genitalia (whatever the hell that means).
As soon as you cross that bridge, you can almost always expect to be asked for a threesome; especially if the responder is a male and this probability increases if you are in a relationship with a female bodied person. For some strange reason, your stated bisexual identity is an open invitation to any and every straight man to invite themselves into the bedroom with you and your girlfriend.
For both male and female bisexuals, some things remain the same. No one trusts you, especially the straight world.  If being “gay” is just a phase, being bi is not even considered a thing. You are just doing it to be mean, to make people uncomfortable, and to torture your parents. After all, if you do like the “right” gender then why are you pretending to like the “wrong” one too? Why not just stick to the correct and approved path? Even in the LGBT world, being a ‘bisexual’ is not fine. It is still a phase. It’s a pit stop on the road to coming out as “really” gay. Either that or you are still confused, or worse, a sellout.
The kind of vitriol a bisexual seems to attract from both sides of the divide is scary, disheartening and depressing; but it is something most bisexual people have had to learn to deal with on a daily basis. And it is often the negativity and the demonization from within which is harder to accept. When we realize that we are “different”, most of us accept the fact, that we will have no support from the traditional support structures such as Family, friends, relatives, state, police, judiciary, health workers, and mental health community.
That’s why our communities are so important and that is why visibility is so powerful. We have to create alternative sources of support for ourselves and for others. The thing which hurts us the most is when those alternative support structures turn around and join hands with the “Straight World” in oppressing us. Those wounds leave deeper scars. It feels like losing one’s family all over again!

After Lesbos and Sappho, Lesbian love in Indian mythology

previously published here
The presence of alternative sexualities can be found in many mythologies around the world. From ancient Greek Mythology and the Roman Empire to the Age of Renaissance and the subsequent Modern world, there have been a lot of stories, tales, poems and fables about Gods, Goddesses,  kings and queens who didn’t have a ‘strong heterosexual leaning’.
Where are the Lesbian love stories in Indian myths?
The modern retelling and understanding of the Indian mythology has seen a gradual eradication of alternative sexualities, which were so prominent in the ancient texts and scriptures, in order to align itself with the views of the modern society. Although most people have a vague knowledge about Sappho, the Greek poet who was reputed to love women and is considered a symbol of female homosexuality, majority of them have no idea about such lesbian love stories or tales closer to home. The general public is much more familiar with the Greek island of Lesbos (from which the very name lesbian is derived) located in the northeastern Aegean Sea than our own myths.
This complete “absence” of any kind of reference in popular mythology makes it difficult for the people here to accept and understand female homosexuality. In this country, one can easily find stories of gender bending in our Epics and religious texts such as the tale of Vishnu becoming Mohini and the story Arjuna living as Brihannala. The only thing which is completely absent in our myths, religious texts and epics is the presence of inspirational lesbian love stories. So, are there no such tales? Is there no evidence in ancient scriptures and mythology which can prove the existence of some sort of lesbian identity in this ancient country? The truth is that there are such tales, and there is strong evidence in the scriptures and the texts, but they have been systematically ignored and kept hidden from the general public.
The child of two mothers
One of the major characters of Indian Mythology, Bhagiratha – the man who brought the holy river Ganga or Ganges to Earth and in whose honor, the head stream of the river is called Bhagirathi - has a very interesting birth story. In most recent texts, he is simply stated to be the son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dilip of the Surya Dynasty (an antecedent of Lord Rama himself). However, the Krittivas Ramayana, for example, tells a very different story.
In this version, the Gods become very worried when King Dilip dies without an heir. Ayodhya cannot be without a ruler and the succession line cannot be broken as Lord Vishnu himself is going to be incarnated as Rama later in this royal lineage. After a consultation, the Gods send Maharaja Dilip’s two widows to Lord Shiva, where they come to know that one of them will be able to conceive a son by having sex with each other. The child that is born to them is a boneless lump of flesh (ancient Indian beliefs being that the sperm provides the skeleton). The shamed, grief stricken mothers decide to throw the child into the Sarayu River but they are stopped on their way by the Sage Vasishtha who asks them to leave this devilish child by the roadside instead of throwing him in the river. After they leave, the sage Ashtavakra sees the deformed child and cures him and then delivers him to their mothers who, after seeing the transformation in their son, happily take him back. Ashtavakra names the child Bhagiratha, since he is born of two vulvas (bhage bhage janam hetu bhagirath nam). (a simple google search will give ample articles on this)
When Shiva became a woman to please Parvati
There is a popular tale in Indian Mythology, well fleshed out in the Tamil Matsya Purana, and the Ramayana, where Lord Shiva, in order to please his wife Goddess Parvati, transforms himself into a woman during their intimate moments. All the creatures in that forest also get magically converted into their female forms. (One such person is king Ila, and his story is another fantastic tale of gender bending in our myths)
Valmiki Ramayan has them too!
There is a well known description in the Valmiki Ramayan of Hanuman during his time in Lanka. There, he sees the women “laying scantily clothed in each others’ arms”.
Ganesha’s Birth
In Jayadratha's Haracaritacintamani, a 13th century Kashmiri text, Ganesha's birth is the result of the physical intimacy between two women. Parvati's elephant-headed handmaiden Malini gets aroused while massaging the goddess with unguents before her bath and as a result she “swallows a mixture of the unguents, dirt from Parvati’s body, and Parvati's menstrual blood” and becomes pregnant. In time she gives birth to Ganesha, making his existence the result of an all-female union. 
Ancient lesbian poetry
There’s a Kashmiri poem written in the original Sharda script by a Kashmiri Hindu poetess in which she graphically describes her experience of ‘soixante neuf’ (cunnilingus) with a woman. The poem was penned in the 11th century and references to the poem can be found in the works of Professor Arthur Llewellyn Basham, the reputed Indologist.
Scriptures and other references
The Manusmriti discourages and criticizes lesbian sex and relationships, (thus proving that lesbian love in India is not a new phenomenon). It has strict instructions for the regulation of love/sex between women. It states, “If a girl has sex with another girl, she should be fined two hundred mudras, be made to pay double the girl’s bride-price, and should receive ten lashes. But if a mature woman does the same with a girl, the woman’s head should be shaved or two of her fingers should be cut off, and she should be paraded on a donkey.”  However, the text does not consider lesbianism a sin or as something which leads to damnation’. After all, nothing is permanent in the Hindu ethos and the path to atonement is always open.
The Kama Sutra states that homosexual sex “is to be enjoyed for its own sake as one of the arts.” In the Kama Sutra, Chapter VI, lesbianism in the harems is described, and in Chapter IX, male and female homosexuality is mentioned.( “…in all things connected with love, everybody should act according to the customs of their country and their own inclinations.”) The Kama Sutra refers to the women who refuse marriage with men, have no sexual bars and are independent as svairini. The various practices of lesbian sex are described in detail in the Second Part, Eighth Chapter of the Kama Sutra (The Kama Sutra Of Vatsayana – Part 2, Chapter 8 Translation by Richard Burton (1883).
The Sushruta Samhita, a highly respected medical text dating back to around 600 B.C., mentions the possibility of two women uniting and becoming pregnant as a result of the mingling of their vaginal fluids. It states that the child born of such a union will be “boneless.”
Lesbians and women who are either masculine or impotent for a variety of reasons are mentioned in various other Hindu scriptures under terms such as nastriya, stripumsa, shandhi, etc.  (See Kama Sutra 2.8, in the chapter entitled “Virile Behavior in Women.” For the complete list of the 48 terms used for the various types of third-gender men and women, along with their sources in Sanskrit texts, refer to Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex by Amara Das Wilhelm, pp. 39-58)
Although inspirational lesbian stories may be few and far between in popular media or in common perception and the coming out stories of lesbians may be a rare and a modern phenomenon, the presence of lesbians themselves or of lesbian love stories in Indian mythology and scriptures are not. There are many such references, across texts, across languages, and across time. 

(Pattanaik (2001), p. 116 --

Biphobia – The reality and the price

previously published here 

What is Biphobia? Most people have heard of the term homophobia by now, even in larger society. Biphobia, like homophobia, is an irrational aversion toward bisexual people as individuals and bisexuality as a social group or identification. And, like hompophobia, biphobia causes a lot of pain, and is a source of much discrimination against bisexual people, based simply on negative stereotypes and irrational fear.

Given that the funding for research on issues that affect bisexual people is rare and inadequate, bisexuality is still a seriously misunderstood and highly marginalized sexual identity. This means that even in countries with legal and social support for LGBT people, coming out as bisexual not only opens you up to attack from society at large as well as the gay and lesbian community – but you have to deal with it with less legal and healthcare support.

On the other hand, what disturbingly limited research does exist shows a dismal picture. Research suggests that there is a higher risk of poor mental health among bisexual people when compared to heterosexual, and even gay, and lesbian people.

The one thing people seem to be unable to understand is that identity has nothing to do with a person’s sexual behavior. Just like being gay does not automatically mean being promiscuous and shallow, bisexuals, unlike the sexually insatiable image, vary vastly in their behavior. Being bisexual merely means that the person has the potential to be attracted to more than one gender/sex. It has nothing to do with their desire or capability to be monogamous in a relationship. Some bisexuals are monogamous, and some are not, just like the rest of humanity. And no, they do not lose their bisexuality and become either “gay” or “straight” depending on the gender of their current partner.

However, since bisexual people cannot be easily defined by their partners, they can become invisible within both the heterosexual and the homosexual frameworks. Very often bisexuals are dismissed, even within LGBT spaces, and told they are "confused" and must “choose." At best, many LGBT people claim to support and understand bisexuality only because they also identified "that way" in the past, before they arrived at their "real" lesbian/gay identity.

Some creepy people, both gay and straight, assume that bisexual people are eager to fulfill their sexual fantasies or curiosities, always ready for a threesome, for example. Most people just accuse bisexuals of being greedy, wanting to have endless sex with everyone. And almost everyone is suspicious of their ethics, assuming that bisexuals, given half a chance, will always choose an "opposite" gender/sex coupling for long term relationships to get the social benefits of a straight passing relationship.

With a little more awareness on the issues facing bisexuals as a sub-group within the LGBT community, biphobia is being recognised as a specific mental health and rights issue requiring targeted action. The 2014 Movement Advancement Project report and Rainbow Health Ontario have thrown up the following:

•    The percentage of bisexual women struggling with PTSD is 26.6% compared with 6.6% of straight women.
•    Bisexual men are 6.3 times more likely than straight men to consider suicide, while gay men are 4.1 times more likely.
•    Bisexual people are less likely to come out to healthcare providers, employers, family, and friends than both gay and lesbian people.
•    Bisexual people may experience higher rates of childhood sexual and physical abuse.
•    Bisexual people have reported higher rates of substance abuse than gay and lesbian people.
•    Bisexual people report higher rates of anxiety, depression, and mental illness than gay and lesbian people.
•    Programs created to help bisexual people receive only 0.3% of funds given to gay and lesbian support programs.

The power of bisexual invisibility works to make bisexual people unseen, erased, and misunderstood. Popular representations are conspicuous by their absence even in a world of information technology where lesbian, gay, and even trans people are beginning to have some visibility. Media depictions of bisexual characters, where they exist usually paint the character as indecisive, promiscuous, and untrustworthy.

In most cases, a potentially bisexual character gets depicted as a gay or lesbian but confused or yet to come out. Celebrities who are self identified bisexuals or could be bisexual get slated as gay or straight depending on their current partners with headlines like “10 gay celebrities who once dated women”.

It is conditioned into straight as well as non straight people that being bisexual means that you are a slut, just trying to get all the attention, or just confused and going through a phase, if not an unethical moocher who is keeping their options open to fit in with society. To make matters worse, bisexual people absorb these stereotypes and become ashamed of their own identity, and suffer from guilt and mistrust towards themselves and others like them.

This rampant discrimination, demonization, and internalized biphobia prevents bisexual people from becoming a community, creating safe spaces, and constructing support systems to help them deal with their – often very lonely and misunderstood – lives.  

 Here be Lesbians! – The Almost - Mythical Creatures of the Rainbow

previously published here

Think of all the gay men you know globally – in media, in movies, in books, in “celebrity” circles, among your friends, in online forums and groups. Now think of all the lesbians you can think of …
See the problem? For every visible, out and proud, and instant-recall lesbian you can think of (and yes that includes Ellen DeGeneres), there are likely to be a dozen gay men you can recall. 
Now transpose the geographical location to India, and the scenario becomes almost surreal! One could easily believe that the lesbians in India exist in a roughly 1:100 ratio to gay men. Now let’s think about it for a moment. Is this possibly a representative of any kind of reality? 
Given that science has almost agreed that being of a different gender or sexual orientation than the world wants you to be, is an inherent quality, seems not. Although debate continues to rage over whether it is genetic, hormonal, acquired or something else, estimated percentages for how much of the human population is LGBT range from 5 to 11%. In his 1940s research, Alfred Kinsey estimated, from research data, that 10% of the human population is non heterosexual. Many successive research projects seem to support his estimate.
The math then becomes pretty simple - 10% of the population is not straight, then assuming a population of 1.3 billion in India, there are roughly 130 million (13 crore) LGBT Indians. And assuming naturally occurring ratios, there should be roughly as many women as there are men. So there should be 5 odd crore LB women, at least.
The question, of course, is – where are they? And this is not a new state of affairs either. I remember when I was at the university, when I first met some lesbian and bisexual women, how much of an accident it was. I had spent the previous 20 odd years of my life assuming there just wasn’t anyone else in India, much as I intellectually rationalized that there must be. Either that, or I figured, I would never meet any because of how invisible they were. Blessed be the reporter for a local magazine, who while interviewing me on a totally unrelated topic asked if I wanted to meet this lesbian couple she knew, and started off my path of community organizing, activism, and more.  
The next two decades – while my circles of friends, acquaintances, and allies of all genders and sexual orientations expanded – I kept wondering where the dykes were. It is easier to find others now, with support groups, social media, and younger people being more comfortable acknowledging their orientations, at least in some circles. And yet, the disparity in visible numbers, remains. And not just here, in 2012, a BBC report criticized the 'invisibility' of lesbians and bisexuals on television. It found that lesbian women are “relatively invisible compared to the level of coverage of gay men”, however stereotypical and narrow that coverage might be. 
At community events, meetings, hangouts, discussions, workshops, parties, it is a glaring imbalance. There are hardly ever any cis-women, and many of the ones present are allies. In the news, the only time lesbians seem to garner any kind of mention is when they try to or succeed in killing themselves. In any other way, they may as well not exist. Even in LGBT organizing or rights based activism worldwide, they are conspicuous by the smallness of their numbers. Many cities in the west, where Pride Marches have become a regular and much celebrated visibility event, are opting for separate DYKE and Transgender Marches as a part of pride week celebrations to give women a way to feel visible. Similarly, if you flip through any of the “queer” magazines that you find and check out the advertisements, most feature and target only gay men because – like everyone else -- the writers and advertisers either don’t see lesbians as a large enough market, or they assume that, like straight women through history, lesbians will tolerate being left out of advertising and still engage with their products.  
Where does this invisibility come from? We all know by now that lesbians do exist, but where are all the lesbian bars? Where are the hundreds of short films for lesbians? Why is only porn the overwhelming majority of Google search results if you type in lesbian? We are becoming more and more aware of the fact that great fashion and art have come from gay men; however lesbians seem not to have made a similar contribution to global culture. Where are the lesbian designers, artists and comics? Why is camp humour a thing, but not dyke humour? 
It is possible that worldwide, one of the forces that keep lesbians invisible even within safe LGBT community spaces  – but definitely in the larger and public spaces – could be simple, all pervasive, patriarchy and the resulting conditioning. We are just programmed to privilege men and their issues over women and theirs. We are just that much more comfortable with men being vocal, assertive, demanding. Whether it is leftist spaces, or activist spaces, or even in some feminist spaces, women have repeatedly experienced being sidelined, silenced, or simply overlooked. 
Add to that the repressive and taboo filled attitude our society has to female pleasure, sexuality, independence, identity, and the waters get murkier. In a land where women are never supposed to want or enjoy sex, where they are only supposed to exist as total asexual beings until married and then be sexual only with – and as far as – their husband demands, where is the question of acknowledging that women may not just want intimacy, but might want it with each other, outside of the hetero-normative, socially imposed framework of a “marriage” with a “man”.
Then, there is the layer of constraints and restrictions. In the national scenario, women still face enormously more restrictions on their movements, expression, freedoms, (yes, even in many upper middle class or upper class educated homes). They are also enormously more vulnerable. Simply walking down the street is an exercise in survival, where every action is scrutinized and controlled and punished the moment it crosses “lakshman-rekha”, where violence is a 24/7 issue, where most women have less than no choice in selecting their life-partners, where marital rape is not just “non-criminal” but actually considered a pillar of the Indian family, where just getting an FIR registered for domestic violence or rape is horribly difficult, where judges tell women to “adjust” with abusive husbands and in laws, or marry their rapists. This is the daily reality of women even without making the almost impossible decision to be an out and visible lesbian. Even if she does manage to self identify, what are her choices to live her own life or to find others of her kind?
In public lives, too, women have fewer choices. Whether it is in media, or the arts, or business, or careers, it is difficult enough to be a woman. A large part of a woman’s success in these things, or even the mere presence, depends on tacitly toe-ing the line laid down by society and in appealing to the male gaze. Even Hillary Clinton is examined more for her clothes and whether she is smiling or not, than for her politics. In India, social and cultural mores make it worse. Even gay men find it extremely difficult to be out in public lives in many spheres… let alone women.
Until we can create a truly gender equality based, equal opportunity, rights, and respect based society where everyone is really free to be themselves and gets a platform for expressing their inner selves, Lesbians will – I fear – continue to be these almost mythical creatures that everyone has heard of and only a few have ever met.