Art has been one of the most significant and powerful expressions of queer identity. From the Stonewall riots of 1969 which marked a radical moment in the history of LGBTQ activism to contemporary times, art has been revolutionised and assigned different meanings under different contexts. For some, it has meant visibility while for others, art has meant a way of survival. For the ones who refuse to be bound by patriarchy and do not conform to heteronormative clutches of society, art has remained central to their visibility, identity politics and expression. It has meant not only challenging the indignities and exclusionary practices and ideas associated with an assumed “naturalness” of the gender binary system but also an attempt to take over these positions of power. One such figure who has used her art to manoeuvre through her identity and express herself, is Shilok Mukkati.
Shilok Mukkati identifies herself as a Queer woman. A poet, a dancer, a theatre artist, a radio jockey and a public speaker, she has embraced her art to convey powerful messages about the queer community through a language that weaves around her personal experiences and emotions. A storyteller and a performer, Shilok Mukkati has been actively engaged in advocating for gender rights and providing a voice to those who are no more afraid to break silences and are ready tell their own stories.
We discover that one of her Kannada poems titled ‘Kabalisidha Kranthi Kadu’ has been selected as part of the syllabus for Kuvempu University. The poem revolves around gender dysphoria that Shilok wrote as part of a personal experience challenging the stigma associated with Queer identity. Shilok writes in both Kannada and English. Although, she expressed that writing in her native language gives greater freedom in communicating her emotions and telling her stories.
Language, she says, plays a very significant role. “For me art has always been about telling the right stories. When writing in Kannada language I can express myself with a lot of aggression as well as eagerness. It allows me to write in a way that’s not restrictive and does not enclose my identity in a box,” says Shilok while interacting with Feminism in India. Shilok also writes extensively in English. However, she says, in an attempt to find the right vocabulary, the essence often gets lost in translation.
One of the most significant influences in her life was an autobiography of a writer and an activist – Revathi Amma. Her book was titled The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story, written in Tamil, that talks about her struggle to break through the silences and the dehumanisation that is meted out for being born into a different body. “Before I got nirvaanam done, I was beset by a strange fear. I could not think of myself as a complete woman. But now all that was gone – the fear, the sense of unease that haunted me. Deep within myself I recognized that I was now a real woman,” writes Revathi Amma in her autobiography.
Shilok recalls, as a child she was bullied at school. She isolated herself and became extremely introverted. She took to writing and found her solace in poetry and hence started her love affair with poetry. One of the most powerful poems that she has written is titled “Kinnaras of the Dark World.” Here are a few excerpts from the same:
In the roasting prison of manly bones,
I’m the burning womanly soul,
In the world of darkness,
With the crown of Shining tears,
I’m the lightening power who rules the hurdles dawn & dusk.
Neither the masculine sea of dropping seeds,
Nor the feminine nature giving breathes,
I’m the space and peace between them,
I’m the genderless guardian angel of the gender hum…
The pages of the Vedas called us as Kinnars,
We are the two spirited people over the seas,
The Kali of revolution has come by rushing,
Hear the awaited battle of equality roaring.
Shilok Mukkati has also received the national award from the Ministry of Information and broadcasting in 2016 for one of the shows that she hosted as a radio jockey. The programme called the ‘Lesbian in the Shadows’ received immense support and celebration. As an RJ of the community radio called Radio Active Cr 90.4 Mhz, she has been an active speaker of the LGBTQIA + community and has given a new dimension to gender and sexual politics in India at large. She is also an active member of the Bangalore Poets Community. She was a guest at the Bangalore Literature Festival of 2017 where she spoke about Queer Literature.
As a community journalist, Shilok talks about the importance of bringing local stories and personal experiences to the fore. As an artist and an activist, she recognises the importance of building a solidarity both within the queer community and outside it. Through her journey as a writer, an important aspect that she places immense emphasis on are ‘personal narratives’ and rightly so. She brings to light, the issue of narratives that are constructed by others outside the community about queer lives, which are often fraught with tokenism or sympathy.
These narratives, filled with a sympathetic touch about queer lives, place the latter in a more passive position and categorise them as someone who are dependent and weak. Writing narratives in the first person, on the other hand, gives one greater agency. Through personal narratives, one voices the experiences of both resistance and domination, as Shilok has successfully narrated through her writing.
In one of her writings titled, ‘Voice from a realist: You bloody transphobic, I voice the reality that is hidden from ages’, Shilok pens down a powerful message expressing her anger at the constant belittling of the transgender community and the violence that they have to face to be accepted and recognised in society. She writes,
“Till now it was the stupidity of queer to please others for the acceptance, but now I am not going to do the same bloody mistake. I will own my dignity, voice and celebrate my sexuality. From now it will be not as smooth as requesting for thee acceptance, I don’t want your sympathy… You can’t sympathise my life too. Because you don’t know how my body feels, how my mind flows, how I breathe in this patriarchal, stereotypical and conservative social pollution.“
Shilok Mukkati further elucidates that the very idea of constructing genders in a hierarchy where one is placed in terms of ranks perpetuates inequality. Transgender people often referred to as a ‘third gender’ and women as a ‘second gender’ further reinforces a patriarchal belief where man is the ‘one’ and universal and everything an ‘other’.
When talking about how one can be a good ally to the queer community, Shilok says, “One only needs to be kind. One must always be in a process of unlearning and relearning. As humans we should always be open to learning and be considerate and accepting of others’ experiences and feelings. I want to be recognised for the work I do and not for my gender.”
Her identity goes beyond her gender and she is a perfect example of how powerful art and activism can be when combined together to express one’s roots while also revolutionising the world.
Featured Image Source: Shilok Mukkati