I'm finally legal
Red hot same sex statements on ramp
"I'm finally legal" said a facebook post on july 2, after the Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality by striking down Section 377 of the ipc, stressing that consensual sex between two adults is legal. we ask if the the historic amendment will change anything for the indian fashion industry's gay community?
India won herself political freedom 62 years ago. But it took a quiet but revolutionary judgment on July 2, 2009 to emancipate her, reaffirming her status as secular, claim members of a community. With the amendment of Article 377 permitting consensual sex between two adults as legal, and decriminalising homosexuality, the judiciary just made letting your guard down easy. "Do I look like a criminal?" asks Goan designer Wendell Rodricks. "I don't know why there was a blanket rule in the first place. As per the law, anyone indulging in sexual act apart from carnal sex, was termed criminal. So, a husband and wife who enjoy oral sex, or even same sex couples, were accused of debauchery. I am ecstatic at the verdict."
He and Mumbai designer James Ferreira have been relentless torchbearers of the cause, and what made the
"coming out" simpler is the fact that they confided in their parents early on. James revealed his
sexuality to his parents 35 years ago, and feels lucky to have had support for his decision. That he chose to pursue fashion, a profession that's far more accepting of alternate sexuality, helped. "If your family allows you to be honest, the amendment will work. None of us want to be gay. I would have had a wonderful life as a straight man. Why would I put myself through torture if I had a choice? Parents and society must realise and accept that people are born gay," James stresses.
But most admit that although the amendment might make the average Indian more accepting of the "alien concept", it will hardly change inter-personal relationships. Not when we are living in a hypocritical society where even the most established of designers live in conventional societal worlds that are nothing but fantasies, many of them living a dual life with wife and kids. "The barriers are not going to crash that quickly," James says.
Delhi designer Suneet Varma believes voting for a reformist political party has paid off after all. He is glad that India allows him the right to live with dignity, irrespective of sexual preference. "I am a law-abiding citizen. I am a good son, I'm good at what I do. I treat my staff of 250 well, pay their salaries on time. I am all that, and gay," he declares.
The Bollywood and fashion industries have more in common than what they are credited for. And there are better chances of homosexual designers coming out in support at gay parades than macho film stars of the Hindi film industry. "You think Bollywood doesn't harbour homosexuals? But the industry rests on the male ego.
They aren't coming out anytime soon. Around the world, the last three decades have witnessed a sea change in perceptions over homosexuality. In India, in the last decade, we seemed to have regressed towards homophobia," Suneet laments.
Manish Arora, Lakme India Fashion Week, 2003
One of India's most gifted designers, Manish has managed to straddle success in India and abroad (one of the few Indian designers to show at London Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week). In an interview with this writer some time ago, he had admitted to having noticed a slight shift in approach among urban Indian gays: give-away gestures, a nonconformist lifestyle and a flamboyant dress sense spelt letting your guard down, he had explained. "But on their own terms. Some are open about their sexual preferences, some hide it. I don't go around announcing, 'Hi, I'm Manish Arora, and I'm gay'. But if you asked me, I wouldn't deny it," he had said matter-of-factly.
At a show in 2003, he presented a line of sporty Lycra wear, juxtaposing the colour symbolic of same sex love, pink, with black and white. He plastered grainy screen printed images of two "boys from Banaras", their torsos bare, hands entwined around each other, on sports bras, body-hugging jackets and sling bags.
'It won't change my life'
That's what gays In the closet claim
Honestly, it won't change my life. I am still struggling to reveal my sexuality to my mother. Fortunately, I work in an environment where I am respected for what I do rather than who I sleep with. Same goes with friends; they won't change their attitude because a law has been amended.
Fashion editor with Indian edition of international fashion magazine
I am open about my sexuality, and an outdated law has been amended. But the question is, will society accept us? In India, most of us live with our parents. Some of us even work with our parents. So, a lot is at stake. You could lose your inheritance if you came out clean. We have a long way to go.
Upcoming Fashion designer
Aki Narula, Lakme India Fashion Week, 2003
His showing at Lakme India Fashion Week in 2003 was wild alright. But then that was expected of Aki Narula.
His street style, a mix of sporty grunge and whimsical punk, was evident in the collection that could be summed up in one simple line: sex goddess goes to war, and then to a bar. Zippers, leather straps, tap-shaped pendants, ghungroo detailing on shoes each of the 170 separates he showcased incorporated a sliver of stylish sleaze. Everyone who was there remembers the show for the models who strode in wearing gothic eye make-up, warrior head gear and Afro hair dos. The icing on the cake when two pairs of female models, Carol Gracias and Bhawna Sharma, and Binal Trivedi and Diandra Soares indulged in an impromptu teaser that is every straight man's fantasy: a bit of tongue locking right there before an audience of a hundred.
Abu Jani & Sandeep Khosla, fashion show in 2005
Wonder boys in white, Mumbai designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla share a relationship they have nurtured for over 20 years. It was while working for Xerxes Bhathena that the two first met and discovered a common passion for films. The invisible style force behind Dimple Kapadia, Parmeshwar Godrej and the Bachchan family, they have an appetite for privacy, and rather let their aesthetics do the talking.
But 2005 was different. The year spelt freedom. The fanatically fortified garb crumbled at a fashion showing that celebrated their two decade-long association. Robust male models swaggered on ramp in kaftans and white skirts strung together with gigantic pink bows. Among bare backs branded with the impact of a strenuous workout regime, the object of the evening's affection was a faceless male model who revealed little except his behind draped in satin, in a moment that celebrated the male form. Their honesty saw them publicly
proclaim, "We won't separate like Dolce & Gabbana."
I was part of the Delhi Queer Pride, representing the gay community, not the Indian fashion industry. A change in law is half the battle won. It validates the struggle, gives you confidence
Varun Sardana, Delhi fashion designer
I wish I was in Delhi to stand up as a proud Indian rather than a member of a minority that has been frowned upon for decades. Until Wednesday evening, we were discriminated against for being homosexuals. We were illegal, it was as if our existence was invalid.
Aki Narula, costume director for Hindi films Dostana, Bachna Ae Haseeno and Kambakth Ishq
Hopefully, the fallacies surrounding gays will vanish. No more twisted depictions in silly Karan Johar movies, or the stereotypical Bobby Darling running to our rescue.
James Ferreira, veteran Mumbai fashion designer
Do most Indian designers shy away from gay marches?
It's stodgy paradox. Although the Indian fashion industry is crowded, if not packed, with homosexuals and bisexuals, you would have to strain to spot a designer coming out in support of the community at a march, like the Queer Pride parades that were held in urban cities. But then one young fashion designer argues, "Do we attend the Republic Day march every year? Then why should we participate at gay parades?" Never one to mince words, veteran Mumbai designer James Ferreira prefers wearing his sexuality, and his opinion, on his sleeve. "Most designers are too busy concealing their sexuality. You can't create beautiful clothes when you are living a lie," he shrugs.
The ever-pragmatic Wendell Rodricks has a solution. "If I were to ever organise a gay parade, I'd urge all designers who work with Bollywood stars to support the cause. Everybody is glamour-struck. Actors have the power to change perceptions. Imagine the impact if an Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan or Salman Khan were to drop in for a march? Celina Jaitley is not enough."
Gay parades now make for primetime television viewing, with publications investing enough time in getting their facts and nitty-gritties about the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community right. "Events like these give visibility to the cause. Until now, we saw an extreme right wing denial over homosexuality. It was believed that this breed doesn't exist in India. With parades, we are in their face," says Wendell.
Delhi is fortunate to have been blessed with iconic faces of Indian fashion Rohit Bal, Suneet Varma, Manish Arora and budding designer Varun Sardana participate in the Queer Pride held on June 28. But is that enough?
"Most gay designers in our country are married. Dropping in at a parade is going to create issues with the spouse, children, and old parents," says Suneet, who can't stop talking about the rush he felt while striding down Barakhamba Road with two gay priests from Chennai for company.
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