Beyond The Curtain

The following is an interview between the Editor (E) and a gay Indian man (D)  whose identity will remain anonymous. This is in light of Section 377 and it’s criminalisation of carnal sexual intercourse in India. The Supreme Court held on August 24th, 2017 that the Right To Privacy includes Sexual Orientation and is currently reviewing a petition to reconsider the section’s validity. 

E: Begin with your experience of admission? How did you come out and to whom? How did that experience unravel?

D: I realised it would be easier coming out to women so I did. The three of us were out for coffee and they were talking about setting me up with one of their friends. They had been doing it for a while. I figured that I may as well tell them now and did so. I told them that I was Bi and currently I was exploring that side. They reacted perfectly, telling me that they understood and then dissolved into being excited about those ludicrous gay stereotypes.

E: Haha! Do you get a lot of those gay stereotypes from women? Are they what you’d expect?

Yeah, I immediately get the ‘Shopping’, ‘Devil’s wear Prada’ lines you’re likely to hear. It’s generally much more comfortable though, because, in general they won’t have an adverse reaction. There’s no fear or judgement. The stereotypes about some guys are true as well. They immediately assume you like them or that you’ve been hitting on them. That fear or consideration automatically leaves a girl the minute you tell them you’re gay. So my chances of a negative reaction are lesser. 

Whilst we discussed stereotypes and their relevance on his experiences, he concurred that stereotypes portrayed by television shows and movies still perpetuated. Some of his friends did expect him to watch female character driven movies or to be a fan of regular visits to the mall. Admitting that it did occasionally make him weary, he is happy that there’s no hurtful prejudice. He’s extremely grateful to the women he terms friends, explaining, that he never had the fear of rejection once they were aware he was gay. In his experience, men had a ludicrous tendency to either worry about their own safety or to question his motives in their friendship once he revealed his sexual identity. The unjust misinterpretation was unnecessary and he would thereafter tell a man only once he inferred their predispositions towards homosexuality.

D revealed that his journey to self discovery had many influencers and unexpected detours. He had dated a girl in school, explaining that the social pressure of having a ‘girlfriend’ surpassed any physical or mental discomfort or uncertainty he may have possessed. In addition, his curiosity about his own physical self at an age of changes propelled him to take the plunge. Culturally monikered as ‘the beard’, his girlfriend was not surprised when he revealed his sexual epiphany 3 years later and bemusedly remarked that she had known back then. They remain good friends since, as D is thankful for. He points out that he and his ex-girlfriend in fact share a better relationship than any of his previous male paramours.

E: What about your family? Do they have an idea?

D: No. It’s one of the reasons I would prefer to remain anonymous. I am the only child in a typical Indian family where the world runs according to a certain formula. My father is an extremely conservative man who believes that there is a particular time to do certain things, responsibilities one must bear and roles everyone should play in society. Anything out of the ordinary or the expected would not be easy for him to tolerate. Being the only child also means that my parents expect me to continue their lineage and give them grandchildren and so on. In their minds, being gay would destroy that hope entirely.

E: Would you ever tell them?

D : I do plan to. Right now, I’m softening them up by making them aware that one can be gay and seamlessly be a part of society. I’ve focused on my mother cause well, mothers are amazing. She’s going to love me regardless and I’ve been making her more comfortable with the idea. I’ve told her I have gay friends, I’m part of a Queer group and take part in gay marches and the like. The rationale is to get her accepting of ‘us’ first before telling her anything about my sexual orientation. With my father, I doubt he’d completely understand and accept me. We’re also from a caste and community that prides itself on it’s manliness and so the thought of a guy from this community being gay would be blasphemous. People have this impression that all gay guys are flouncy and simpering, with the limp hands and effeminate gestures. While that’s not true at all, the image is too offensive to many members of my community and so they will find it difficult to accept it. And as mentioned, he believes that the world works in a particular way and we shouldn’t stray outside the proven paths and lives our predecessors had. So with him, it will be an uphill battle.

E : How did you realise it and accept it in your own mind?

D: You deduce it slowly cautiously, in your mind, in stages. At least, I did. First came the admission that I may be different, that I may like different things. As I dated people and discovered what I liked, I started looking for an identity, for others like me or people with the same notions. Then I identified as Bi-curious, maybe secretly wishing to give myself the plurality of options. After 3 years, I conclusively thought of myself as a homosexual Indian man who dates men. It took its time and it certainly was a process as my thoughts developed in part based on the relationships that I went through, the books that I read, the TV shows that I watched and so on.

Whilst discussing the Television shows that influenced his thoughts, D displayed an unflagging preference for Will & Grace, the 90’s sitcom about a gay man, Will and his best friend, Grace. As regular people in the city of New York, Will and another gay character, Jack are politically vocal and desirous of change in the way gay men are perceived. In addition, he loves the relationship Will & Grace share together, stating that they were soulmates in a way and the harmonious dynamic is precious. While Modern Family has become the most recent bandwagon for the majority of people to be aware of the lives of gay people, D surmises that the characters ‘Mitchell’ and ‘Cameron’ aren’t either politically active or purported to be voices of the community. On the contrary, they do their best to create their own perfect little world with their friends and family, leaving the campaigning to others.

E: So now you unequivocally identify as a gay man.Would dating women be conclusively ended now?
D: I haven’t ever gone back since and I doubt I will. But I’d rather not close it off completely, as well, I like attractive people as they are, irrespective of gender. Someone who I find extremely intelligent & attractive woman would definitely have an effect on me so I wouldn’t want to say with certainty that I will never be attracted to a woman again.

The conversation switched it’s attention from his life to the plight of homosexual communities in India today. As a country which deems certain carnal acts between two consenting adults punishable by the Law, there is a foreseeably arduous journey before an entire community can feel that they are treated equally. In discussing his society’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, D expressed optimism. He has observed an increasing multitude of young people in cities being more supportive of homosexuality. It bodes a promising future when people can feel empathy for other human beings despite their dissimilarities. 

While the Section does not discriminate against all gay people, it considers carnal sexual intercourse (Anything that is not reproductive in nature) illegal. This places many gay men in overt conflict with the law. While heterosexual couples are also likely to contravene this archaic provision of the Indian Penal Code, it is gay men who are the focus of those upholding this law. Regarding the Government and their response to the flood of gay pride marches in recent years, D is grateful that they haven’t increased oppression. He noted that while they may have not achieved much to bring about a decriminalisation of Section 377, at the very least they haven’t responded with violence and intimidation. He recounts the historical path of the Right to Privacy and Liberty as enjoyed by the LGBTQ population in America and points out the instances of outright repression. The ‘Stonewall Riots’ of 1969 in New York were a landmark example of the state-sponsored oppression and organised prejudice faced by homosexual communities in the United States which, thankfully, haven’t been repeated in India. While a select few Indian politicians like Shashi Tharoor have extended their support to the LGBTQ community, India is in the company of the harshest regimes in the World with Section 377. D predicts that a gay person elected to the legislature is an inevitable milestone, presumably by a person contesting an urban constituency. He currently does not envision himself being a political figure, though he wouldn’t exclude it’s possibility either.

E : Would you ever want to be a voice for gay rights? Lead the community and redress certain conditions?

D : Not at the moment. I wouldn’t rule it out but it would depend on the personal support I have. My friends and family would first have to be onboard for me to consider it. So right now, I would not plan it but I hope to make a difference in the future for Us.

As someone who has dated both men and women, D muses that the experience has made him more of an individualist. People are innately different, with each person having their own unique set of characteristics that aren’t categorised by gender. When straight people picture two gay men, they think it would be a ‘bro’ situation, he chuckles. He regularly gets inquired by people whether it is easier to date men because of the shared gender, and by assumed extension, shared interests. Being clingy or any similar negative traits as traditionally depicted in women, he says, have only been done to make men feel better or superior. Men are equally culpable of the same and it’s time they realised it.

Growing up in the city of Pune, D says he has gratefully rarely experienced any resentment or discrimination. Pune’s unique composition as a city of colleges does ensure that most of the local populace are younger, more urbane and educated and in effect, more tolerant. Thankfully, D hasn’t ever been abused or sneered at, lectured or threatened as is common for other gay men in India. Ironically, he recounts his only experience of ever being made to feel uncomfortable happened in Bandra, Bombay. Whilst eating at a popular restaurant with his boyfriend, he noticed a young couple starring daggers at them. Though there were older people around who even smiled at D and his friend, this couple continued to glare and simmer angrily. It was at moments like this that he realised that while his hometown of Pune and Bandra – in general- might accept him without reservation, he could – and possibly would, find homophobia everywhere.

While he awaits a positive judicial response from the Supreme Court, D believes that the increased activism has awakened many to the country’s callous treatment of an entire community’s fundamental rights. The recent swell of support had reassured him that the country’s direction on the path to individual freedom had made progress, even if it seemed delayed. He hopes that it will continue with more awareness and participation in shared activities.

E: Alright! Thank you for giving us this opportunity to get a first hand account of your life. Ending on a lighter note, which celebrities/public personalities would you wish were either gay or a spokesperson for the gay community?

D : I would definitely start with Rohan Joshi. The cute, good boy next door is a huge favourite.I would add R. Madhavan to that list as well. People have this impression of him as a ‘chocolate boy’ but he’s much more than that. Oh and Matt Le Blanc. The Silver-fox look is mesmerising. I would just ask him to re-enact scenes from Friends.

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