Saturday, October 13, 2007

God Bless Oprah Winfrey

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

20 Years Later, Oprah Still Is a Champion

Twenty years ago, I sat in Oprah's studio audience on her National Coming Out Day episode and Friday's show was on transgender families. When I went to the discussion board, there were many positive postings.

Same day, different side of the world: On p. 19 of The Times of India, I spotted, "Dancing her way to social acceptance," a story from Chennai, featuring Narthaki Nataraj, an award-winning Tanjore-style dancer.

At the end of the article she said:

Things have changed a lot now. I have become financially more secure and my relationship with my family has also improved. My parents have accepted me....However...nothing seems to have changed in the way people look at me. To them I am still a transgender. I want them to see me as a dancer. That will happen. I shall continue working towards that.

I related to her statement. I want all people to see GLBT people as people, to recognize our humanity. That's likely a huge part of my drive to demonstrate my humanity through self-expression as fully as I can.

Speaking of Dancing...

Well, it's more than an hour into the big folk dance Dasara party at the Palace Grounds and Pat and I aren't there. We just couldn't do it when we found out that the same sort of dance celebration will occur right in our neighborhood next Sunday, and much earlier in the evening.

We're not in our twenties anymore. We just couldn't bear the thought of going to bed at 3:30 am, and then my having to get up and study/work all day, which is the plan for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Pat's watching what sounds like the Indian version of "Entertainment Tonight" in the living room while I blog here in home-office space with the door open and the ceiling fan whirring.

Bindi Flirtation

A lovely person rubbed bright-red bindis on our foreheads at the clubhouse tonight as we went in to dinner. The clubhouse is celebrating the Navratri festival by honoring all diners with a bindi and a few grains of rice thrown over our heads for luck, and applied to the bindi.

And there is a shrine outside the restaurant with realistic, little, plastic dolls of all of India's major gods and leaders, including Nehruji and Gandhiji ("...-ji" is an honorific suffix). And the steps up to restaurant are lined with the sort of little candles you can float in water. Pat took pictures and I expect that she'll post them on her photoblog soon...maybe even one with me, sporting a bindi. Like a number of photographers, Pat hates having her picture taken, and refused to pose with me, though I tried again tonight.

Good Over Ego

The festival, I've been told enthusiastically by a couple of colleagues, is about the triumph of good over evil. When I checked an article to learn more, I was reminded of Judaism's concepts of the yetzer tov (the good urge or impulse) and yetzer rah (the evil urge or impulse). (The link I chose for "concept" was the best I could find, though the article reminds me of how I sometimes don't feel included among Jews, since I'm female; note the gender it's addressing.)

For days, if not weeks, I've been thinking about how, other than women's textiles, religion is the most visible dimension of diversity in India in my experience so far. I've been meaning to comment on it here sooner than I have done.

Public Pluralism

In my experience, people are so "out" here about their faith. They don't talk about it so much, unless I ask questions, but they live it visibly and pubically. I see Muslim women in hijabs and burqas and Muslim men in kufis. I see Sikh men in turbans and Hindu women and men with bindis and vari-colored streaks of ash on their foreheads. And I see Christians, wearing small, gold crosses.

The diversity of people of various religions, going about their days openly, is the most interesting part of India to me so far. I understand that there is tension between some Hindus and some Muslims, and that some Christians face discrimination, and yet people persist in public displays of their faith.

This is not a formal study that I'm doing; it is based simply on observations during my commutes, and in my workplace and neighborhood. By contrast, other than my last name and features (e.g., blue eyes and dark hair) -- and most Indians I've met are unaware of classic, Jewish surnames, or Russian-Jewish complexion-combos -- there's nothing visibly Jewish about my daily dress or jewelry.

I kind of wish there were something that signaled people. Of course, at nearly 5'10" and with my skin-tone, I stand out, but if everyone else is free to demonstrate their religion, I'd like to figure out a way to be free likewise.

Meanwhile, I'm bindified for a few more minutes, before the washcloth gets to wear it, so that my pillow-case doesn't. I like the bindi and wish it were part of my religion. I don't want to trivialize it by wearing it for fashion, but I enjoy whenever it's offered to me.

Until I can come up with a better Jewish visibility system, I'll just keep teaching Hebrew and Yiddish phrases to my colleagues here. Most recently, my mom told me she went up to a speaker after his talk, "I couldn't resist telling him," she said, "Gezunt on dayn kepele," (Yiddish for "May your darling head stay healthy.")

I'd like to tell Oprah Winfrey and Narthaki Nataraj, and anyone else dedicated to good, triumphing over evil, "Gezunt on dayn kepele."

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