Queer movements across the country have developed over the years as platforms for security and self-expression without the fear of being judged or discriminated. Nevertheless, they are yet to encompass and provide adequate space to the multitude of experiences and identities other than upper-class/caste urban narratives. Northeastern queer folk are one such case, and Kumam Davidson and Pavel Salgolsem wished to do something about it. As Davidson tells us, “The subjectivity and experience of northeast queer is one which is hardly understood, discussed or represented in queer spaces, queer movements, and media in general. There is clearly an inherent racial undertone to it, but also regional, class, linguistic, cultural etc though race is the most obvious feature.”
Salgolsem believes that even if Northeastern concerns are fairly popular, only a few issues are handpicked into the national context and that too within the purview of the limited information and glimpses that the ‘Mainlander’ has. “Often the power doesn’t lie on our hands as we again belong to one of the most underdeveloped parts of the country. With the power not in our hand, we have no choice but to conform to the existing dynamics and try and figure what’s best for the self in the bound of what is given to us.”
From their personal experiences as well as of those around them, they reached a point where the birth of the project was inevitable. Davidson tells us, “In February this year, I wrote a short piece about being Northeastern and queer in Delhi, shared it on my Instagram page and changed my account username to ‘chinkyhomo’. The experiences of both subjectivities were always there as a queer migrant from the Northeast in Delhi and at that point, I must have reached the threshold and couldn’t be silent anymore. So, I started blogging on Instagram along those lines, and the first few posts caught the attention of some people including Pavel.” Salgolsem felt that the name hit exactly where it should, he immediately called Davidson, and their journey began.
The name of the project does raise a few eyebrows, with words that generally have oppressive connotations and are considered slurs. Their intention is not to reclaim it, but to strike popular imagination and engage a critical dialogue of their unique situation. “Bringing together of the two words was quite inevitable, particularly talking about the experience of a queer person from the Northeast, who are not even represented in popular discourses on and of the region,” says Salgolsem.
Despite this, they are quite aware of the shortcomings and do not believe that the title captures the diverse characteristics of the Northeast holistically. They acknowledge the deep hurt that people have undergone through the use of these words as well as those who identify with another gender, sexual and ethnic identities from the Northeast who the title may not include. They are working towards making the right noises through the project, to reach a space where a wide range of voices and experiences can be heard, to make it more complex and nuanced. “We might encounter many people coming out with their stories and thereby bringing out the diversity of ideas, thoughts and preferred way of life of the chinky homos. Once liberated from the bound of stereotype, we might not need the two words anymore. Each will be treated as human and on judged personality and ability rather than ethnicity and cultural background,” Salgolsem tells us
So far, the project has been collecting testimonials and experiences of people on its blog, collectivising and generating dialogue and peer support for queer migrants from the Northeast.
The Founders hope for growth in many directions, medium wise as well as linguistically. “Given the availability of more resources, bringing in visual arts such as photography, videography and other artworks on queer issues has been under discussion for a while. Making it multilingual and giving a wider representation and readership across is another goal of the Project,” says Davidson. “For now, it’s a real challenge to keep it multilingual, so we are relying on the translation of testimonials from original to the English language. The other challenge is to document testimonials from more remote corners of the region where coming out, English language and queer advocacy are distant realities.” They also slowly hope to start releasing print material in various languages.
Though we may use the term “North-east” ad nauseum, it would do well to keep in mind that the region is definitely not homogenous and neither are the queer movements within them. As Salgolsem explains, “States such as Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya face a lot of backlash from Christianity. The organising of queer in these states has a very integral connection with the queer-friendly interpretation of the Bible and God (Jesus) and creating alternate spaces of faith apart from the churches.” This is in contrast to certain pockets in Manipur, as Davidson says, where transwomen have more visibility and economic independence, as well as a fair number of transmen who have groups based in the state. In Guwahati, young activists have been able to collectivize more strongly and staunchly as compared to other northeastern states, owed to urbanised structures.
Traversing these wide differences and travelling to different parts of the region, especially to remote areas to collect queer voices is an important agenda for the Founders. They are also planning on tapping into visual performers and artists, and a video documentation project of testimonies and lived experiences from queer people from the Northeast. Collaborations with other LGBTQIA+ groups are also definitely in the works.
An important part of the success of the project also depends on how we, as ‘Mainlanders’, react and sensitise ourselves to the experiences of our fellow citizens from the Northeast. It is no unknown fact that they are often ridiculed and infantilised as minorities, treated like the “Others”, as those who have no space of inclusion in the national conscious. Salgolsem comments, “As such coming out into the mainland and trying to have voice comes with a lot of inner struggle to fight off that fear of the majority and also the sustainability of self among the majority.” He believes that a space of empathic understanding can be created if people listen more, rather than commenting arbitrarily based on assumptions made through stereotypes.
Feature image courtesy of Kumam Davidson and Pavel Salgolsem.
If you liked this article we suggest you read: