Some steps forward

Published: Dec 29, 2012, 08:21 IST | Vikram Phukan |

The gay community has to concentrate on chipping away at old attitudes and stereotypes to continue the slow transformation to acceptance rather than concentrate on overhauling the world

Last year, in our year-end feature, we had marked out some interesting signposts for gay people, some of which may have indeed been travelled past, while others remain bewitchingly enticing in the distance. Usually, year-end lists smack of wish-fulfillment rather than a realistic sense of what the queer community can achieve in a time-span of 52 weeks, given the odds that are stacked against it. The race against time hasn’t been something we’re particularly good at. Similarly, they’re not really like new year resolutions, because change is not something that the community can engineer only within itself - a lot of what Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) folk look forward to in the new year has to do with the parochial attitudes around us crumbling as we speak.

SPEAKING OUT: The community has joined in the voices protesting violence against women

As we continue to await the Supreme Court ruling on reading down Section 377, acceptance is still the by-word. Not just in select pockets in big cities, but across suburbia, and inside mofussil interiors, in the hearts and minds of common Indians. Given the track record we have demonstrated regarding the emancipation of women, the queers will have to wait in line for several years, or decades. In the meantime, we can look ahead and chart a more achievable course that doesn’t depend upon overhauling the world around us, but chipping away to bring some colour into the bleakness that must no more be our birthright.

MAKING A STATEMENT: The community talks about love but lasting relationships are forged with difficulty 

Be your own idol
Something that LGBT people usually reconcile themselves to is that when they come out as gay to their peers, they could lose out on the goodwill they have accumulated all their lives. Social standing becomes this precarious anvil on which are hinged notions of self-esteem, of pride, of success. Many become the de facto black sheep in their families, ostracized in some cases, or treated as an aberration that must merely be tolerated.

Gay folk spend years fighting the self-loathing that they seem to have almost inherited. In 2013, the queer men and women who decide to come out in the open, can hopefully turn this around and stand up and be counted as role models in their own right, or exemplars of some virtue, rather than lost causes. The examples are all around us. As more and more tired stereotypes are rested, the contributions that queer folk have made to society become more visible. You will find them in the ranks of entrepreneurs and CEOs, bankers, executives, service professionals, chefs, artists, you name it, all chipping away to contribute to the well-cogged machinery that is life itself.

You don’t need to wait for a celebrity or two to come out and lead the herd. More and more ordinary people have become role models looked up to by their peers, or their parents, or their children, who are proud of who they are, and where they’ve arrived, irrespective of their sexual orientation, which is no more the albatross around their necks.

End of culture policing
This is not something only the queers of Mumbai have had to experience, since the culture police have been out and about looking to bait anyone letting their hair down in the wee hours, irrespective of whether they are gay or straight. However, because gay nightlife centres upon so few events in a calendar, the effect of such encroachment becomes all the more pronounced. When they raid parties, the police come armed with technicalities and legalese, but underneath there is a pervasively regressive tenor to their actions. We have all heard about the Voodoo’s shut-down. Revelry, especially of the homosexual kind, has become a bad word for the men in uniform. A respectable lounge bar in Khar had to shut down their once-a-month queer night, equally popular with both men and women, because of the spectre of cop Vasant Dhoble looming large. In 2013, we hope the police tend to matters of more pressing urgency, rather than turn up uninvited at every gay do with their threats and exhortations. Hopefully, the two Indias can coalesce and co-exist. It doesn’t take very long for a homophobic mindset to become institutionalized. We have just emerged from the clutches of a draconian law. These attitudes must be stamped out, now that the laws that the police are anyway meant to uphold are on the side of the once criminalised. An unprecedented five parties will cater to the community to bring in 2013. Hopefully, the year won’t begin on a sour note.

Need for safe spaces
Some pink outlets, like the erstwhile Azaad Bazaar, had become little havens where people of any persuasion could congregate and talk of their lives and concerns, or laugh (at a rather high decibel) at the ironies that they are faced with on an almost daily basis. With Azaad Bazaar shutting shop, there are now very few such spaces in the city. Parties can sometimes be more isolating than integrating. There are groups like Yaariyan (the Humsafar Trust’s youth wing) which organize monthly activities like gay heritage walks and a queer fete called the Gulabi Mela, but these events need to arrange themselves neatly into an itinerary. There are no safe spaces where one could spontaneously just turn up to meet other gay folk, who may not be in your immediate social circle. There is a smattering of gay-friendly establishments around the city, with beaming welcoming owners, but sometimes you’d rather be part of a clique than just an honourable guest.

Usually, whole venues find themselves forced into the closet, unable to wear their queerness on their sleeve, worried about being swamped out of the reckoning by the mainstream. Their worries are rather unfounded as these days, a gay clientele with financial clout has quietly emerged as a demographic to reckon with. Hopefully, in 2013, a proliferation of newly minted queer outlets like libraries, cafes, bistros and bars, would open their doors finally to a community that has waited long enough.

Stability in love lives
On a more introspective note, gay men continue to look for love. More and more dating sites have added themselves to the roster of portals of cupidity. Some have notched impressive numbers in terms of the gay profiles been registered. However, the track record of this relentless shooting in the dark hasn’t been heartening. While there are no figures to confirm this, the common wisdom is that hook-ups (the one night stand of yore) continue to be the order of the day in a scene where lasting relationships are only forged with great difficulty and great investment.

In fact, there are schools of thought that actually question fidelity of any sort, even as there are no nurturing agents in our environment that can actually support the blooming of a budding romance into something meaningful and bonafide. We are not even getting into the whole gay marriage imbroglio. Homosexual dalliances continue to be illicit affairs clandestinely engaged in, away from prying eyes. It is difficult to rise to the surface when stones have been tied to your feet. Everyone carries baggage, and sometimes in a relationship, the issues get compounded.

Of course, gay men have also long been conditioned to carry forward the kind of attitudes that cast them into rigid types that sometimes create an even smaller niche of available men, where there is already less to choose from. Hopefully, we can understand ourselves better in the coming year, and examine these prevailing attitudes, because these secrets have to be unlocked in order to allow ourselves the room to create space for others in our life. 


What is Section 377?
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is a piece of legislation in India introduced during British rule of India that criminalises sexual activity “against the order of nature.” The section was read down to decriminalise same-sex behaviour among consenting adults in a historic judgement by the High Court of Delhi on July 2, 2009. Section 377 continues to apply in the case of sex involving minors and coercive sex.

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