A queer pride parade held in Mumbai in 2014
A queer pride parade held in Mumbai in 2014

From dealing with homophobia, facing rejection and societal pressure to, in some instances, being met with warmth and understanding, growing up queer in India can be a strange experience. Giving us an insight into these gut-wrenching, heart-warming and often hilarious experiences is a new podcast called Keeping it Queer.

The show, launched by Indus Vox Media, is the brainchild of comedian Navin Noronha, who identifies as gay. "LGBTQ issues are usually shunned. Everyone knows the community exists, but nobody wants anything to do with it.

I want to make it everybody's business," Noronha tells us in a telephonic conversation.

The first episode features Harrish Iyer, who is among the most prominent spokespersons in the country for LGBTQ rights, and a child abuse survivor. In the 58-minute-long podcast, Iyer talks about his life, beginning with his childhood, his first crush, a classmate, and then speaking up about a difficult phase in his life — being raped when he was only seven years old.

Navin Noronha with (right) Sridhar Rangayan, a prominent LGBT filmmaker and co-founder of The Humsafar Trust
Navin Noronha with (right) Sridhar Rangayan, a prominent LGBT filmmaker and co-founder of The Humsafar Trust

Divulging the moment he first realised he was different, Iyer shares that it was when he was watching the 1985 Bollywood film Tarzan, starring Hemant Birje and Kimi Katkar. "There's a scene where Katkar's breasts are visible through her clothes, but instead of looking at that, I found myself captivated by Birje," he says.

The most recent episodes are a two-part chat with prominent LGBT filmmaker and co-founder of The Humsafar Trust, Sridhar Rangayan. In addition to touching on other topics, he talks about his partner Sagar. "I met him on the road... he was walking the other way. He was not my type (chuckles), but there was something about him," says Rangayan. "I was older, so I had to chase him a bit... But we have been together, through our ups and downs, for the last 22 years." This, Noronha and Rangayan discuss, goes against what most conservative people believe — that gay relationships aren't built to last.

Harrish  Iyer at a queer pride parade held in the city
Harrish Iyer at a queer pride parade held in the city

Of all the individuals featured on the show, perhaps the most painful story shared is that of transgender activist Urmi Jadhav, who talks about her struggles before launching into the problems the transgender community faces in the country. "Eighty percent of us end up living in slums because it's so difficult to rent a house. Even if we do find a house, we are asked to shell out a higher rent or deposit amount for it," she says.

While the seven episodes uploaded so far feature well-known names from the community, Noronha adds that the forum is also open to closeted individuals, should they wish to share their experiences. "A friend of mine recently asked me if he could be a part of the show, on the condition that his name be withheld as his parents don't know. It doesn't matter whether someone is out or not — their stories do."

As Noronha says in one of the episodes of Keeping it Queer, "Before you come out, the conversation has to come out of the closet."

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