To empower queer women towards greater involvement and presence in the community
Advocacy for LBTQ women's rights at CEDAW
Sayoni was at the United Nations in Geneva in October 2017 to bring Singapore LBTQ women's issues to the forefront. The CEDAW Committee heard our concerns and raised recommendations related to LBTQ women in their Concluding Observations for the Singapore government.
Sayoni is a Singapore-based feminist, volunteer-run organisation that works to uphold human rights protections for queer women, including lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. We organise and advocate for equality in well-being and dignity regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and sex characteristics.

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2. What inspired you to get involved in research?

I wanted to travel in India, wanted to explore what it really was also intellectually and culturally, so I also started re-learning Sanskrit. It was a very organic desire, I had the space and was perhaps 'mad' enough. I had dropped out of school at 15 as I hated the idiocy of convent education. That decision gave me so much freedom to live differently although it was and continues to be an existence on the margins.

So I bought a small pick up truck, met a 66 year old woman who wanted me to taxi her around. I drove her 6,000 km, much of it on rattling bad roads and that's how the research started. Then I was literally driven like someone possessed.

3. How has this changed your life?

Completely. It became a lifestyle – traveling all over, discovering old texts. Initially, I still felt a deep rupture between what I was finding and the society in which I was living. It was very taboo, this research, even in feminist circles, and there was no lesbian group or anything.

Now, I see a continuum in my own life, not that society around me has changed, but the kind of energy and understanding that I draw is very different.

4. What inspired you to write Sakhiyani?

I was just very angry at the invisibility and appropriation by indologists, even by the 'secularists' and so called progressive people here, and of course in the way Hinduism was being constructed. Nobody was willing to confront these traditions.

Even till today, I have never once been asked to present Sakhiyani, I have never done a reading on it. So it was a mix of sheer rage and a kind of responsibility to somehow bring out these histories. The publishing house actually took out about 80 pages and I do not like what they made out of the book.

5. What are your goals and aspirations, and future projects?

Actually, my artistic projects are getting very abstract, what I call a kind of visual music. The other projects are to give this work off in different forms: mobile exhibitions, workshops, enlarging the website, occasionally taking women travellers to some of these sites.

6. For the benefit of the readers who have not read your book [it is actually rather difficult to get hold of], how did you arrive at your interpretation of Sayoni as a lesbian concept?

Yes, it is out of print, but as an aside, my newer book Moebiustrip is available with Spinifex, also in an electronic version.

But coming back to Sayoni. It took me years to come to the connection. There is so much material in the Rig Ved about 2 yonis and once I started to glean it out, it became clear. Also with the phonetics and etymology, the prefix sah would ellipse into Sayoni. Sah indicates togetherness.

The other thing is the contextual usage of Sayoni. Some of the hymns in which it appears was written by a woman. I also think that the fact that you all have tuned in to it is also part of the tremendous archetypal energy it contains.

7. What are your views on the place of lesbians in mythology, beyond what you discovered about Sayoni? 10. How has the discovery of Sayoni, and other lesbian mythology affected the way you view your sexuality?

It’s so extensive, the literature. When I worked on the Rig Ved , there were so many citations of the dual. One of them has an association of jami sayoni and mithuna. Mithuna means both ‘twin’ and ’sexual entwining’.

I hate the new language of sexuality, for example intercourse – as if it’s some kind of discharge and dirt. I think that's why there are so many curse words around sexuality. Whereas if you have another language, another imagery, your whole experiencing of sexuality and eros is very different. It takes you into the liminal.

The later texts have several kinds of straightforward lesbian mythology: two queens who get together – two women from different castes, a queen and her attendant. Then you have dual pairs.

Then there are versions of gender crossing.

What for me is even more subtle, are the constellations.

For example, the desire-kinship-liminal matrix : The birth of Ganesh – One mythology is that Parvati drinks the mal of an elephant-headed goddess. This mal ‘feminine fluid’ (as opposed to semen) is transported by the river goddess Ganga. Parvati drinks it from her mouth and an androgynous, elephant-headed god is born. He is to be the gatekeeper the shaman. This mythology in sexual terms is a sublimation of sambhog (mutual pleasure implying oral sexuality). The kinship matrix is again between the feminine and even the son has an in-between gender, andro-gyn.

Another example is that of the mahavidya (a form of knowledge-consciousness) Chinnamasta. The iconographic form is that the woman-goddess is holding her own cut-off head. There are tongues depicted as 3 streams of blood gushing out; one goes back into her own head, the other two go into the mouths of her two woman-yogini companions. Blood-tongue is also described as wine and the triadic circulation as eternal circulating pleasure and eros. The word for pleasure is again feminised as rati. Again, there is a triadic flow of fluid exchange through the mouths. There is another aspect to this kind of erotic experiencing ,as a healing to rape (e.g. Chinnamasta tantra).

Both examples see the sexual-erotic matrix as a flow based on erotic circulation and mutual pleasure, the experience of which also contains the possibility of healing and liminality.

I see sexuality more as sexual and erotic energy now. It is one of the most powerful energies and there are several dimensions that I feel that it can be lived out. I search for the magical which does not happen everyday but a few times in my life. Above all, it is one of the deepest forms of touching through the body, whereas the erotic need not go through a kind of physicality. I think each deep attraction brings out its own form.

Sayoni for me is not just about touching, but being in the same yonic space, which then becomes much more that just the yoni. I thnk that's what twins go through; they inhabit the same womb and are umblically linked. I think in that deep looking for ones jami and then the experiencing of the Sayoni is perhaps closest to the above.

8. So, many of our readers surely are wondering by this time… do you have a girlfriend?

I am a die hard lesbian but I am happily single since many years.

9. Tell us something about yourself most people don’t know.

I am just a very private person; spend hours alone and love gardening.

10. Lastly, do you have a message for our readers?

Assume and celebrate ones desire & eros along with consciousness and responsibility.

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