For the month of March I am going to be featuring a variety of women from different walks of life. The woman who saves your life, the woman who captures your happy memories on camera, the woman who has not spoken to her father for many years because of her sexuality, the woman who suffers with MS or the woman who dedicates her days to making others a better person or the sister who looks after your children.
The woman I have chosen to open Women of Substance month is Rohini Soni.
Poet. Woman. Writer. Lesbian. Spiritual person. Inspiration. Girl. Daughter. Sister. Which stands out to you? For me it is the inspirational poet. The first person I have chosen, and someone I eagerly wanted to open women of substance month is Rohini Soni. I met Rohini through a social networking site and immediately felt a connection with her after I had read her poetry. Most probably because I could relate to her words. Maybe not in the way she has intended for me personally to but sometimes there doesn’t need to be a reason for everything. On speaking to her I began to find out more and more about her life. After reading her poems I realised that she isn’t straight.
How wonderful it was to meet someone who wasn’t afraid to hide what she was from the world. Once I had read more of her work what struck me was how passionate she is about love, life and everything around her.
I was intrigued and wanted to know more. Upon speaking to her and asking Rohini whether she would like to be the opening interview Rohini told me she was a victim of childhood abuse and was keen to speak out about her history and her sexuality. Because if she doesn’t speak out and help people other women will continue to suffer in silence and not receive the help and support other women deserve.
I wanted to get an idea about what Rohini does, who she is and what the future has in store for her. So the first thing I asked her was as an Indian woman how easy or difficult was it when you were ‘coming out’ e.g. how open was society to accepting you for who you were? Did you face taunts or did people embrace it? And how did your family and friends react?
Coming out in any culture is not easy at all. Our culture perhaps more than others since it tells us that women should get married, have babies and be good wives and mothers. While that is certainly something that is praiseworthy, the pressure to conform to the sometimes harsh expectations is tremendous. Please don’t misunderstand. I love my heritage, my culture and I am very dedicated to my faith. It is just that our culture is not very accepting of gays, lesbians or transgendered people. So revealing the fact that I am a lesbian was a traumatic experience for both me and my family.
I came out to my family fairly early in life (I was a teenager and was caught by my mother kissing another girl on two occasions), and that meant I was taken to psychologists and psychiatrists because my family just couldn’t accept the fact that their daughter wasn’t straight. They were certain I was just insane. My father to this day refuses to accept it and doesn’t speak to me anymore.
For me that is the most painful part of coming out; losing my papa. I was so close to him growing up. He was my hero. I love him so much and yet he’s grown to hate who I am. My mother has quietly accepted my sexuality, but is very uncomfortable talking about it or in meeting anyone I am dating. Fortunately my older sister understands and is very supportive of me.
I did face some taunting by extended family and often in school. I wasn’t very good at hiding my sexuality in school and most of the time openly flirted with girls I liked. Sometimes it got me into trouble, like when one girl punched me in the face for just saying she was pretty. She knew I was a lesbian and was apparently violently uncomfortable with me paying her a compliment. When word got around when I came out I lost some friends because they were uncomfortable with my sexuality, and some I lost because their parents refused to let them hang out with me anymore. It was very isolating. Even though it has been sometimes difficult and painful coming out, I don’t regret it.
However it has made me a profoundly lonely person, even when surrounded by others.
What are people’s reactions when you tell them that you aren’t straight?
That depends. I’ve had a wide range of reactions. Sometimes they quit speaking to me like I’m going to be some sort of pervert, though that response is rare. I find that my generation and even up to people in their late thirties are more accepting of gays and lesbians.
The most interesting reaction is from those women in the desi community who confess to being lesbian as well and hiding it, or who are attracted to women but have never actually acted on their attractions. Of course I keep their confessions secret knowing how hard it can be to come out. I’ve even known some married women with families who confess they are lesbians but because of cultural and familiy pressure accepted an arranged marriage rather than “shame” their family by coming out. Those are the people I feel the most compassion for.
Where did you grow up and when and how did you realise you were attracted to women and not men?
I was born in India (Mayapur) and lived there for a portion of my childhood, but really grew up here in the U.K. I don’t know when I really first realized I am attracted to women, but I do recall at a very young age (maybe 11 or 12) realising that while other girls were becoming flirty with boys I was feeling that same thing for other girls. When boys came around and my girlfriends started flirting with them I can remember being jealous for my girlfriends’ attention. I didn’t hate boys (and don’t hate men), but just never found them attractive. I was never confused by it. I just knew for me that it was natural.
You seem very open about whom you are and you told me that you are a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I’d love to hear your story, and would you mind sharing it with us?
Yes. I really only tell this in the hope that someone else may be helped by it.
I was sexually abused at an early age and it really has had a lasting impact on my life. The abuse I suffered is really one of my earliest memories. To this day I experience night terrors as a result of my experiences. You never really heal completely from something like this. I don’t want to get into details, but I want to tell other women and young girls out there to speak out! Don’t be afraid to tell someone as soon as it happens!
Don’t allow yourself to be frightened into silence. I know from experience you must tell someone you can trust to take care of you, and you have to do it immediately. I allowed myself to be frightened into silence for almost two years and it only encouraged my abusers. So please tell someone as soon as it happens. Even something as simple as unwanted and uncomfortable touching should be addressed at once!
Do you think that this has affected your relationships, how you see people and life?
It has had a profound effect on my relationships. I would be lying to say it hasn’t. I am sometimes very hard to read. I can become very closed and introverted.
I get depressed, push people away who care about me, and sometimes downright distrustful of people. I have to fight these tendencies all the time. I struggle to be affectionate and giving, only to find myself becoming smothering and dependent. I crave real love and affection so much, but get scared when it is there.
It is like certain phrases or situations will trigger an inner defence mechanism and I go from being me (the real me who deeply loves) to being someone else completely. My closest friend jokingly refers to my darker side as the “Voodoo Bitch”, a part of me I hate with every fibre of my being.
My experiences have also made it difficult for me to have more than surface friendships with men. I’m extremely uncomfortable with men in a physical sense. What I mean is even something as simple as touching my arm or shaking my hand really bothers me and takes all my effort not to cringe at. Intellectually I know that not all men are like my abusers.
However on that emotional level, instinctive reactions happen and I have to fight them. It isn’t easy. The good part is that fighting it has helped me meet some very goodhearted and genuine men. I’m a better person for knowing them since they’ve taught me some valuable lessons.
You are an amazing writer and poet and some of the work you have done is incredibly deep and inspiring yet painful at times. Do you think the issues you faced when you were younger have affected the work you do now?
Thank you. I don’t deserve all of those compliments, but it is very kind of you to say.
My writing is certainly a reflection of my past, my present and the yearnings I have inside, so really I’m not any different from any other writer or artist. I hesitate to even use those terms for myself since I really don’t see what I do in those technical terms. I merely write what my soul forces out of me. Sometimes it is a reflection of that darker side I mentioned that tends toward self destruction. So I have to say that my issues of the past, as well as whatever I am facing today, certainly come out in my writing.
My poetry is the one place where I can be myself completely and without fear. It is a place where I can reveal myself- the anger and hatred inside, as well as the love and pain- to anyone willing to read. In a sense, my poetry has become my therapy. I’ve been told by several women that my writings seemed as if I had known them and their situation or feelings intimately. So if someone reads something I write and comes away from it knowing they aren’t alone, that is something I cherish and find very humbling.
I do have difficulty in communicating though. As odd as that may seem to you. The difficulty I’m having lately is expressing the good things-the joys in my life. I have a hard time expressing them because I guess for some reason I don’t believe they’re real or lasting. I have this very strange dichotomy at work in me of optimism for a better future, but pessimism when the building blocks for that future are right in front of me. It is as if I don’t believe I deserve it. I think that in some ways my writing is also informed by a dislike of certain aspects of myself. Funny, I never really considered that before now.
Do you feel you are where you want to be in life whether it is personally or professionally?
No to both. I am not content with my life. I honestly feel that contentment can lead to complacency if you’re not careful. I like learning new things, meeting new challenges. Again, that dichotomy at work in me. I never want to be so content that I cease to seek adventure in life. That could be anything from reading a new book, to learning how to garden, to international travel. Though on a personal basis I would like to get married, perhaps adopt a baby and live happily ever after with my life partner. That is my dream. I suppose that dream is shared by most women, so it’s not really unique other than my life partner would be a woman.
I really feel the urge, the inner need to be a mother, so adoption is very much in my mind these days. And even with adopting a child I’m not content to adopt just any child. For me motherhood must have a deeper significance than my mere biological programming or instinctive need to be a mother.
I want to adopt a baby girl who has perhaps very limited chances in life under the cultural or socio-economic situation into which they were born. Issues such as racism, caste, or what have you. I’ve told several friends I would like to adopt a dalit girl and shower her with everything I can give her in life.
This is one of the reasons I financially support the Dalit Freedom Network. http://www.dalitnetwork.org
Professionally I’d actually like to branch out and get into talk radio or perhaps investigative journalism. I’m very aware politically and don’t find myself standing in any particular camp comfortably. For example, I’m very supportive of the Palestinian people and their struggle against ethnic prejudice and injustice. On the other hand, I’m completely against violence of any kind for any purpose whatsoever. I am a committed pacifist. So neither side can really embrace me completely, nor can I embrace either side completely myself. I’m a bit of a mess.
Tell me about your relationships… how easy or difficult has it been to find love and are you single or is Rohini a taken woman?
Relationships in our modern society are so often transient. It is almost a violence to refer to them as relationships. Relationship implies a serious degree of commitment. I don’t think we find much of that today. Everything is fast. Fast food, instant this and that. And while that may seem simplistic to some, I think this “fast food” mentality has seeped into human interaction on the romantic level.
People fall in love fast, and just as fast fall out of love and into the next bed. So finding love is extremely hard under such conditions. And yes Rohini is single. That is probably more my fault than anything else. I don’t go to clubs, so I don’t meet many new people from the lesbian community. I just think the club subculture is indicative of the mess I spoke of- fast “love”, if we even want to abuse the word in that way.
Sure you can go, get inebriated and find someone to sleep with for the night (or if you’re really lucky, the weekend), but is that really fulfilling? Not for me. As a result most evenings I am home, cooking dinner, interacting with a few people I know who are on Facebook, reading a book, writing or watching a good film alone or with my roomie if she is around. That isn’t to say I don’t crave that sort of lasting and loving commitment. I crave it so badly that at times I physically feel it.
I really believe I experienced intense love recently. In the end she is forced by culture and circumstance to remain hidden, so I was forced to let her go. Even now I have to question sometimes if what I crave is real. Maybe someday I’ll know the answer.
Run us through a typical day with Rohini Soni
Boring really. I usually get up at 04:30 am, shower and do japa. I try to be very attentive to my spiritual practices each morning. My faith means so much to me and has been a comfort in very difficult times. So I never lose sight of that.
Then I grab some fruit and out the door to work. Work is paperwork, phone calls, travel, meetings and arrangements. My evenings I’ve already accounted. On Saturday’s I take yoga. See? Boring. Not exactly the type of life you’d find used as a script for “The L Word”.
Recently Justin Bieber stated that being a homosexual is a ‘choice’ how much do you agree or disagree with this statement.
Justin Bieber is an idiot little boy who would be better off mowing lawns in the comfy cozy conservative suburbs of Glenn Beck, and treating his acne rather than speaking on topics he’s so woefully ignorant of. I didn’t “choose” to be a lesbian.
No gay man, lesbian or transgendered person chooses to be who they are. Who in the hell would choose to be someone that a large segment of society ridicules and hates or objectifies in various forms? No one chooses to live with family hating them, misunderstanding them, losing friends, etc. simply for a shag or some misguided social statement!
To reduce the issues gays and lesbians face to one of “choice” is utterly stupid! Comments like that really piss me off!
Who would you say are the people inspire you? These could be people in just your day to day life or anyone in the media that has had an impact in your life.
One of my biggest inspirations is my friend Sabina England. She is a fantastic desi artist, writer and playwright who pushes the absolute limits of convention and in my opinion has expanded the boundaries of what women can say and do in media.
I’m not overstating what I feel when I say I believe she is the perfect woman; strong, intelligent, artistic, enterprising, with a rapier wit, and a keen eye for seeing through the world’s trappings to the real essence of life, while at the same time being an embodiment of the most sensitive qualities associated with femininity. I would say she is an iconoclast, but that shallow word doesn’t do her justice. She makes an iconoclast look like a pathetic conformist. I am intimidated by her and adore her all at once.
I’m also inspired by such people as Anuradha Koirala (http://www.maitinepal.org) who tirelessly and selflessly works to rescue girls and women from the sex slave trade throughout India and Nepal. She has been threatened and beaten, but never gives up. She is just an amazing person, and if I could be one tenth of a percent as courageous as her I would be happy.
What does the future have in store for Ms Soni?
Suffocating mediocrity? Unlimited success? Who knows? Whatever it is I’ll likely be dissatisfied with it either way.
Are there any books or music that you would like to share with us that describes the way you are feeling right now?
Books I recommend are “Ruby”, by Rosa Guy, “Annie on My Mind”, by Nancy Garden is a classic. I also like the work of Sarah Waters.
Music that reflects me is a hard one, since my moods change and fluctuates like the shifting winds. I enjoy everything from Mozart, to Grime, to Punk. Right now the artists I enjoy the most are Ms. Dynamite and Miss Pooja.
As for music that reflects what I’m feeling about my life right now, I would have to say Sade’s “Somebody Already Broke My Heart”. Her music always speaks to me:
“You came along when I needed a saviour.
Someone to pull me through somehow.
I’ve been torn apart so many times
I’ve been hurt so many times before
So I’m counting on you now….”
I would like to thanks Rohini for so many thought provoking words, for her time and for sharing her experiences with us.
It can be extremely painful to speak out about so many heart breaking experiences yet I hope that someone, somewhere will speak out against their abusers after reading this. If you would like to speak about anything in confidence do feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org