When Mandy Randhawa saw the ocean for the first time in 1988 when she was about 11 years old, she couldn’t believe there could be so much water.
Imagine, then, how similar that feeling must be to how some queer women feel when they see a seemingly endless sea of women like themselves for the first time in their lives.
That’s what happens when some women attend parties by Flygirl Productions, which Randhawa and her wife, Leigh Cousins, run.
Randhawa tells the Straight by phone that Flygirl started with Cousins holding fundraisers in the early ’90s “to bring lesbian entertainment out of the shadows and basically the unsavoury parts of town”.
Meanwhile, Randhawa was conducting medical and nonmedical recruitment for the Vancouver office of Doctors Without Borders, which she says was “immensely rewarding” but also very challenging.
“I saw where humans do the worst damage is when we are only focusing on our differences, that’s what a lot of the conflict in the world that I was exposed to is about.”
Working with Flygirl on the side provided a cathartic creative counterpoint. At their events—held in venues like Playhouse Nightclub or the Sheraton Wall Centre, with both DJs and live acts like Hunter Valentine, DJ Betty Forde, and DJ Riki Rocket—unity is achieved through music and dance.
“What an honour to offer a space and do this work where I offer what I never got, from my family or from my culture, from that part of the world where I come from,” she says.
Originally from landlocked Chandigarh, India, Randhawa says she was raised by a traditional Sikh family and was “being groomed to be sold off or married off to the best guy out there”.
However, Randhawa swam in a different direction.
Although she’s been estranged from her parents for over 10 years since she came out as a lesbian, she has made peace with the pain she felt from that rejection.
“My choice was, ‘Am I going to accept unconditional love as it appears in my life?’ or was I going to suffer over getting that from specific people that I knew I couldn’t change?…And I just went, ‘No, I’m going to celebrate what I have and if everything else changes around, that will just be gravy. I’m not going to wait anymore. I’m not going to be sad.’ And something inside really shifted for me.”
After Doctors Without Borders’ Vancouver office closed in 2008, Randhawa started working full-time with Flygirl. It became part of her path to emotional healing.
She says she told herself: “I’m going to shed all the shame that is not mine. I’m going to do something that helps other people always, absolutely 100 percent feel that what they are, there’s nothing wrong with you and you can show up just as you are and have a good time and celebrate it.”
She says she’s using her life experience to create a better world for other people.
“A safe space is also where you don’t have to ever worry about or wonder what the world is thinking about you.”
The Orlando massacre, which she says “hit close to our hearts”, has underscored the importance of those spaces.
Even closer to home, her wife was punched in the face outside Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium a few years ago when she intervened in a homophobic attack by a guy on a young man.
None of that, however, has deterred the duo from their commitment to their community.
In fact, Randhawa says she’s moved to tears every time Pride comes around.
“Every year at Pride…there is this mass, it’s like a whole dance floor moving like one organism. We literally get goose bumps. That is our favourite moment.”
For information on Flygirl’s events during Pride Week, visit the Flygirl website.