dirty words, filthy mind, profane body–reclaiming language & god

Women porters Madras 1920s

Women porters Madras 1920s

In that never never time of memory, a decade ago when Mum was alive and Swami too, I worked at the Western Canteen, pre-dawn, mornings, afternoons, and evenings. A dog used to accompany me there, leave me to work and sometimes even appear to take me back. Pappu was my Mum’s dog, really, but she took it upon herself to assume responsibility for me.  (Who owns whom?)   Eddie, a co-worker seeing Pappu’s solemn duty, joked, “one man and his dog.” Without thought, I reacted, “No Eddie, love, its one woman and her bitch.” Eddie found my come back apt, but funny, as I did too at the moment. But, my own quip remained with me through the years: unconscious knee jerk reaction to language and its sexism.

Now, when I’m writing this blog, putting words down after a silence of almost twenty years, I find that words like ‘bloody’, ‘period’, ‘bitch’ run through my sentences. I wonder at myself that I gravitate instinctively toward words or phrases resonating with women’s sexuality. An Young Woman in Sari, Rides BicycleGrowing up an overweight child prone to tantrums, fits of withdrawal, I had my parents worrying about my mental health.  [See Mollow’s article that looks at fat discrimation even in the queer community: http://bitchmagazine.org/article/sized-up-fat-feminist-queer-disability] Getting my periods early didn’t help either, nor that I possessed a shrieky witch’s voice too loud for the surroundings.  These traits added to a mind that couldn’t take anything for granted meant that I invariably got singled out.  Trouble followed me around.

My discovery of Audre Lorde, when doing my doctorate in the States, lifted a weight off me.  Reading “The Uses of Anger” and the poems in “The Black Unicorn” and meeting Lorde herself gave me a role model. I fancied Lorde literally bulging out of the confines of white racism and academic restrictions with her big black lesbian body.  She thrust the physicality of her black, woman’s body in the midst of white anemic writing. Lorde Myself too big, too loud, too argumentative for my Indian context–the well behaved, upper class schoolmates, or conversely, the conservative, modestly hindu collegemates in Anantapur–I rejoiced to be one among the big, black women I met.  [On going against the norms of modest Indian womenhood, read http://thefeministwire.com/2013/05/walking-the-tightrope-good-indian-girls-race-and-bad-sexuality/ ]  Called “nigger” by my black friends, I learned the painful ironies of that sisterhood.

Running out of beer late one night, Jackie, my girlfriend, and I walked down to the corner store only to be told by the lone clerk that we couldn’t buy alcohol after midnight, although we knew that the cut off was 1 pm.  When Jackie and I suggested that he wasn’t selling us the liquor because we were black, the store clerk was on the verge of pushing the panic button, thinking he was about to be attacked by us.  Merely the sight of our skins signaled aggression to him.  Where then is the difference between black and brown.  Did Indian culture and upper classness distinguish me any from Jackie, my  tough black ghetto woman?

A month or so later, Jackie left me, jailed for shooting a dealer when he intruded on her territory.  I wonder if I’d been around in that park whether I’d have been arrested too regardless of my involvement or not. [For a look at internalized racism and its workings, see http://shotgunseamstress.blogspot.in/2012/10/radical-anti-racist-racism-or-rarrrrrrr.htmlanti-socialLater, while writing my dissertation, I wrote of a black/ brown/ colored woman’s, particularly a lesbian’s, “monstrously feminine” body in the convoluted prose of critical theory.  The jargon of ‘high’ theory protected me against the messiness of words, the dirt of description and anecdote, the visceral secretions of women’s cussing.

Growing up, I learned first to lisp English syllables.  Speaking the different vernaculars of Coorg and Tamil communities, Mum and Dad, educated intellectuals both, spoke fluently the language of our colonized past.  Indian English is my first language, and I now dig in the mire of its sexist, racist, and classed legacy.  I speak my woman’s self and body, not to abuse my self but to savor the curious delight of an identity too big for others’ comfort.

But, twenty years down the line, doctorate or no, class markers or no, I am yet prey to a secret guilt that I am too gigantic, too clumsy still for the spaces in which I live and write.  That these negative socio-cultural attitudes persist, internalized somewhere in my psyche, is proof of the immense power of cultural norms.  I fight against these dictates of womanliness, but in moments of self-doubt they rise like specters to haunt me.  I shut myself up in an ashram room, go for walks only at first, faint light, and speak to hardly anybody but Tippy.  Grie Verd, the my private childhood nickname for myself fits snugly into the “malformed series of noh masks” by a Japanese artist in a collision of non-white hurting(s).  Apt indeed that I find these malformed faces/ masks beautiful! [see ‘About’ page: https://quiescentbeing.wordpress.com/about/]

And what about my clumsy quest for otherness, the ache of longing for some vast awareness that  includes all, animate and inanimate, and judges none?  Any route or religion seems to demand purity, often an ascetic purity involving continual cleansing of humanness–of the dirty woman’s self and body, in particular.  But I’ve been born with a being who hinted otherwise, that total acceptance of the self and universal process leads, will nilly, to surrender.  Surrender which rejoices in just being, worship and adoration without mind,  a sense of arbitrary divinity—I am tumbling through Generation-Organization-Destruction, process, entropy, cosmic chaos, multiverses.  I live in god. I am everything and nothing—loud, big, messy, dirty, bloody, slutty, womanly, angry micro in the macro cosm.

"Venus Variation Large" Artist-Susan Grabel

“Venus Variation Large” Artist-Susan Grabel


9 thoughts on “dirty words, filthy mind, profane body–reclaiming language & god

  1. I feel the pain that you have been carrying all these years. I felt it is kind of abrupt. I didn’t quite understand what you are trying to convey.I still feel you are too harsh on your self. I am not either an intellectual nor smart being. I have learnt to accept myself as I am though frustrating to do it. Love, P


  2. Hello,
    Thank you so much for your kind words about my Bitch magazine article! When my partner and I read your post in the Comments, we both started to cry, because what you said was so lovely. My partner printed out some of your blog for me (I am not able to use a computer because of my disability; hence, my delay in responding to you), and it is great! I am honored that you have a link to my article in it.


    • Hey Anna,
      I’m really touched by your response….and your article further motivated me to write the next post on “Fat Comfort.” Social media can be such blessing when we can create a community of like minded queer folk across the globe, giving us the courage to go on. These words from you and your partner are treasured….and so glad you both like my blog!


      • Hi Grie (is this the name you go by?),
        Wow, I can’t wait to read your post on “Fat Comfort”! When it is finished, perhaps you can send me a note; because I’m not able to go online myself, I probably won’t just happen across it. 
        Also, just wondering: where do you live? Jane (my partner) and I live in Sonoma County, CA.


      • Yeah, Grie is a sorta pseudonym for privacy ‘cos i live in an Indian ashram, and don’t want my views on spirituality to hit the BIG MEN in charge too abruptly. Friends know, but hey this is a small small community, and I want to some real writing out there before I reveal myself! Wish I could meet up with Jane and you, but I don’t see leaving India in the foreseeable future. Check me out under Grie Verd on FB and maybe we cd ‘friend’ each other and msg better. Here’s the link https://quiescentbeing.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/fat-comfort-wrestling-with-the-image-police/ I’d love to read yr other articles. Been down sick with a virus, but must get back on the net.


      • Hi Grie,
        Thanks for sending me your blog. It’s very powerful. What an awful thing for that woman to say to you—and I hear you about being called “oversensitive”! I’m glad you are now “rejoicing” in your size. And I love the artwork, especially the first and last images. What a great line: “fat enough for comfort”! I am not on facebook, and because of my disability I can only send emails once in awhile (I can’t use a computer and so I pay an assistant to type for me). But I will let you know of my new writings, and I hope you will do the same. 🙂


      • I was thinking about you…been off the blog ‘cos of family related stresses, and wondering if you could use fb or not. How do you write? do you dictate? Would love to read more of your stuff. The article in Bitch mag was was perceptive, brave, and cogently argued. Hope we can keep in touch and offer feedback through the mail. Thanks for taking the trouble to reply so soon.

        Really glad you liked the article, and the blog…


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