In Flexible People on April 2, 2011 at 9:00 am
A new biography of the Mahatma Gandhi – Great Soul, by the acclaimed journalist, Joseph Lelyveld – has sparked controversy after reviews in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal published revelations that Gandhi may have been bisexual.
While working as an attorney in South Africa, Gandhi apparently left his wife and moved in with a male friend, a German bodybuilder and architect, with whom he also exchanged homoerotic letters.
In Cultures on March 13, 2011 at 7:51 am
I posted previously about widespread bisexuality among men in South Asia, but I noted that women’s sexuality in South Asia has remained somewhat invisible. Equal Ground, an organization addressing the sexual and gender rights of the Sri Lankan community, has just launched a campaign to make women’s sexuality more visible. Check out their powerful poster, which reads, “A Woman Loving Another Woman is Also a Woman: Respect Her Rights.”
Homosexual acts are still illegal in Sri Lanka (if widely practiced by men who think of themselves as straight) and homosexual status is persecuted, but we should keep in mind that Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to grant suffrage to women, and it was the first country to elect a female head of state. Also, nearby India recently decriminalized homosexuality. So change may be under way.
If you are interested in bisexuality (and the history of women’s suffrage) in Sri Lanka, read the excellent historical novel, Cinnamon Gardens, by Shyam Selvadurai. He is also the author of another beautiful novel, Funny Boy, about growing up gay and gender atypical in Sri Lanka.
In Cultures on September 17, 2010 at 6:56 pm
Very little is published about sexual behaviour among women in the Indian subcontinent. Women are universally expected to have a feminine appearance, to marry, and to have children. A woman’s virginity and fidelity are of much greater concern than a man’s, so premarital sex between women might be restricted and condemned more than between men, though perhaps less than between unmarried men and women.
It is likely that some women find opportunities to express physical affection and erotic feelings for each other away from the gaze of men. Intimate friendships between female friends have been celebrated in India, sometimes in frankly sexual terms, as in the 19th Cent. Mughal poetry called Rekhti. More recently, Deepa Mehta’s movie Fire, which tells of a love affair between two married women (Radha and Sita), was critically praised but publicly protested.
One small study of female university students in India found that one-third described themselves as “homosexual with certain heterosexual tendencies.” Only half identified themselves as straight. The remainder said they were lesbian, bisexual, or something else. (This is in contrast to the male students, of whom only 5% said they were something other than straight, but similar to the findings of a recent study of college women in the United States.) This provides a hint that a substantial number of women in South Asia may feel attraction and affection for their female peers, at least until they fulfill their familial duty by getting married.
A recent article in India’s weekly newsmagazine, India Today, portrays bisexuality among cosmopolitan couples sympathetically as a growing and “chic… phenomenon [that] is here to stay.”
In Cultures, Media on September 7, 2010 at 8:40 pm
Since I refer to this blog as a “kamasutra,” I should give a shout out to the original, which was written seventeen hundred years ago by the sage Vatsyayana in what is now India. The Kamasutra was written for metropolitan playboys in pursuit of women, and it catalogued a variety of sexual practices without judgment. A fascinating and authoritative translation by Wendy Doniger was published in 2002 and is now available in paperback (the following quotes are from her translation).
Vatsyayana was well aware of the bisexual potential of men and women. The description of oral sex between men is among the longest and most ecstatic descriptions of a sex act in the entire book (which is saying something). Vatsyayana describes eight stages, from the initial placement of the lips on the head of the penis to the swallowing at climax. He reports men “who care for one another’s welfare and have established trust do this service for one another,” though oral sex was more commonly obtained from a masseur. A commentary by the scholar Yashodhara goes further, describing how men “take one another, in friendship, and give one another the sensual pleasure of ejaculation. They say, ‘You do it for me now, and I will do it for you later.’ Or both of them do it at the same time, by turning their bodies head to foot, losing all sense of time because of their passion.” These Indian sages were referring to men who were otherwise straight and interested in sex with women.
The same commentary by Yashodhara also describes oral sex between women: “Certain women in the harem, unable to get any tools, trusting in one another, excite one another with their mouth on the vagina.” Vatsyayana also describes how sexually unfulfilled women in a harem would “give pleasure to one another with the following techniques. They dress up a [girl] like a man and relieve their desire with dildos or with bulbs, roots, or fruits that have that form. They lie on statues of men that have distinct sexual characteristics.” Again, these were not lesbians in the modern sense but women who were otherwise expected to enjoy sex with men.
See also my posts on Sex Among South Asian Men and Bisexuality among Indian Women.
In Cultures on August 8, 2010 at 9:45 am
A first time visitor to South Asia might think he or she is surrounded by homosexuals. South Asian men and woman commonly show physical affection for each other in public, for example by holding hands as they walk down the street or through the park. In contrast, such public affection is almost never expressed between a man and a woman. South Asian men also make strong eye contact in a way that can be misleading to a Westerner, who assumes that an unbroken stare indicates sexual interest.
Over the last decade, concern about the spread of AIDS in the Indian subcontinent has led several researchers to examine men’s sexual behaviour with other men, with surprising results. Even though almost every man gets married, rates of homosexual behavior were generally in the range of 10-50%.
Ten percent of single men in rural villages reported that they had had anal sex with another man in the previous year alone. The highest rate was found in Orissa, in the east of India, where nearly one in ten married men and one in five single men had had anal sex with another man in the past year. Two other studies found that seventeen percent of male college students and six percent of male slum dwellers in Chennai had had sex with another man in their lifetime. Among the college students, about half of the men who had had sex with men had also had sex with women. Nearly one third of male prisoners in Uttar Pradesh had had some sort of sex with a man, mostly anal.
Several studies have focused on truck drivers, because they are seen as a potential vehicle for the spread of AIDS. A survey of long-distance truckers in Lahore, Pakistan found that half had had sex with a man. Half of these truck drivers were married, and rates of sex with men were no different among those who were married than among those who were single. A survey of truck drivers and their helpers in Dkhaka, Bangladesh found one in five had ever had sex with a man, most often with a friend, and mostly anal sex. More than eighty percent of men who had had sex with a man in the previous year had also had sex with a woman in the previous year.
These surveys suggest that men are not having sex with other men because they lack opportunities to have sex with women. In fact, the men who reported having sex with other men were more likely to have had sex with women as well (even if they were not married), more likely to have had multiple female partners, more likely to have paid for sex, and more likely to have had anal sex with their wives. In most cases, homosexual acts appear to be just part of the repertoire for a South Asian man with a strong sex drive and/or close male friends.
In Cultures on July 21, 2010 at 8:32 pm
A Uniquely Indian Perspective On Gay Marriage
by Sandip Roy
July 21, 2010
A commentary about Indian parents who bless their children’s decisions to get married, and perhaps have children, with someone of the same sex. New laws make it possible to satisfy old values.
This month also marks the one-year anniversary of the New Delhi High Court’s decision striking down the prosecution of homosexuals.