Sunday, December 9, 2012

Why I walk the Queer Pride each year

This piece first appeared in The Alternative on November 23rd, in the event of the Banglore Queer Pride, 2012.

Pic by Amar Mitra
When I think of a pride walk I’m reminded of throngs of people oozing with excitement; myriad bright colours flashing in celebration; decibels of affirmation chanting a tune; the warm smell of hard work and above all the electricity racing through almost every person radiating the sheen of a collectively individual pride.  The very thought of walking through a street, along with a group of individuals with banners affirming Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual, Queer, Hijra, Kothi identity sends a trail of goose bumps coursing through my limbs. 

Whenever we discuss about pride celebrations, I’m often asked why queer people have to wear their sexuality on their sleeves, very literally on their clothes or bodies. There are some, most of whom are queer themselves, who dismiss pride celebrations as something unnecessary or an attention grabbing stunt. The pride is an acknowledgement that our lives are lived differently; there isn’t a single magic marriage or love formula that fits all. For most people, a religious identity, class or caste identity is something that we’ve been clothed with at about the same moment the first piece of cloth covers the nakedness of our bodies. Yet that’s not the case with our sexual identities. Our sexuality evolves as we grow as individuals. Our sexuality is our capacity of warmth, desire, pleasure, vulnerability and erotic possibilities. Its relational nature of ourselves with others leaves it open to understanding and interpretation. 

For those of us who affirm and assert a different gender and sexuality, contrary to the ones our families or society has ascribed for us, it takes a lot of grit to takes one’s stand. There are a number who suffocate in the silence of their own tight-lipped closets for years, if not their entire life. Hiding the truth about oneself and pretending to be what one is not is akin to a flower that has bloomed, when in fact it should have remained a bud forever. 

The fiercest opposition comes from our own families. Often the voices of sexual affirmation are subdued and, at times, silenced under the gaze of decency or religious decorum. And, sadly, the price that we collectively pay as a society is rather costly. Some end up marrying spouses who continue to have same sex relations after marriage, some divorce, some commit suicide, some join the religious order, some languish in silence and some sacrifice their entire happiness by marrying a partner of their parent’s choice. Little do we realize that each time we dismiss a sexually different voice in our society, we inadvertently tighten the noose around a loved one’s neck, coaxing one to either kill oneself or languish in misery. 
Pic by Amar Mitra

The pride means different things to different people. For some it’s a manifestation of rage, as much as pride. For some it’s a plea to their loved ones for acceptance, for others a defiance. For some it’s a coming to terms with themselves, for others it’s a hope that soon they’ll be able to walk without a mask. For some it’s a fellowship of bonding among people they are comfortable with, for others it’s about reaching out to others in support. And, yet for some it’s a political act of asking the government to consider their rights as citizens and end discrimination against them. Each person who walks the pride challenges another to live more authentically and freely. 

If I consider my own life and family, I find myself in a rather peculiar family.  A couple of years ago, I discovered that my dad’s elder brother was homosexual, months after his death, through his vast collection of novels that were gifted to him by an Indian Catholic priest, who would stay at my uncle’s place for a couple of  days each time he visited Bombay. When I first chanced upon this discovery, I was shocked, thrilled and angry. I was shocked by the coincidence of having a queer uncle in the family and the possibility of having inherited the ‘gay gene.’ I was angry because he took his secret to his grave and his siblings who discovered his secret only after his death, continued to keep it, by scribbling off his name on all the contentious novels. Above all, I was thrilled that through a serendipitous flow of events, I managed to possess some of those novels. What I admired about my uncle was that he chose to be a bachelor all his life. Next was my own youngest sibling, who breathed her soul into the water, depressed by the fact that she couldn’t change herself and torn by the anguish of religious guilt. It was only after her death, that I realized I had to summon the courage to affirm my own difference, the fact that I am gay. Each time I walk the pride, I walk for the dead, for those who languished with their darkest secret, for those who ended their own life, for those who were bullied, tortured, dehumanized or killed for their difference.  And, as much as I walk for them, I also walk for the living, believing that the truth is what shall set us free and hoping that all shall be well.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Homosexual Pride

A few days ago I saw a fairly attractive couple, braced with infants strapped to their torsos, absorbed in shopping for infants' items in GVK mall! The only difference was they were both men. Two daddies with their two babies. Another scene on Independence Day at KBR Park in Hyderabad. A group of ten youth did the Freedom Walk with posters stuck to their T-shirts. Each poster was worded differently. “If being gay is a choice, then when did you decide to become straight?” “I’m not gay but I support gay rights because I believe in freedom of love.” “I kissed a girl and I liked it.” The sight evoked curiosity. Some read the posters, and were aghast. And some read a few words and shied away from reading further.

(Designed by Amar Mitra)
Instances, such as these, of lesbian and gay visibility are increasing by the day. And that’s something extremely refreshing and positive. Yet that does not happen in all places. There are some who take objection to that. A friend asked whether gay people have to wear their sexuality on their sleeve.

Homosexuals would not have to wear their sexuality if they were in a society where they were considered equal. I’m sure you have not seen heterosexual men and women walking in a parade, holding banners stating their heterosexual preference. They do not have to. They are not discriminated against within their families and work places because they love or are attracted to someone of the same sex. They do not have to live in insecurity of whether it is fine to share about their life with someone they consider close, out of fear of losing a relationship. They do not experience hatred or confusion or silence from their closest relatives, only because society and the state does not acknowledge and validate homosexual relationships.

The pride of being homosexual is a personal experience which manifests itself as a political act. It is a desire to be acknowledged for who one is in society. It is an invitation for others to accept them for who they are and for who they love. It is cry for wanting to have the same rights as those who love a person of the opposite sex. It is a hope that some more people would be considered equal and not be discriminated for loving another person.

This need to come out is an intrinsic act of survival. One might wonder why some homosexuals do not feel need to foreground their sexual orientation, while others do. The reasons could be various. For some the risks are very high, which would involve the loss of their loved ones, threat to financial security, or perhaps a certain kind of middle class “shame” to the family. For some others, it is the inability to live a life of suffocation where homosexual relationships are not even recognized, least of all considered a norm. While for a few others, their sexuality is visible and their personal, social and economic lives depend upon how others treat them.

Our stubbornness to acknowledge and accept homosexuality has only deteriorated heterosexual marriages. The parental expectations of their children’s marriage, the fictitious belief that the “gay phase” is transitory and the possibility of social ostracism have only led to many unhappy and torturous marriages. Often it is the most vulnerable who have to pay the price. Those who can afford it, get divorced. Most languish in their unhappy marriages. Others commit suicide. Little do we realize that every time in every conversation that we denounce homosexuality, we are unconsciously condemning someone to life of affliction.

For the moment we take great pride that we not only have those who risk themselves fighting for gay rights and but also those who live their lives quietly forging new kinds of relationships and families.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

You and I: The poetry with

A piece I had written earlier for Prathibimb in 2010.
A celebration of love for another, the heart-warming desire for another body and the discovery of the ‘I’ through the ‘you’. Sometimes love, in its ever-intriguing physical and bodily form, is the most palpable and understandable of feelings. 

I looked into your eye. I am. Just the way I am. Your eyes looking at me. You are. You are the most beautiful being I’ve seen. I see your eye sty, your blackheads, your acne, your dimple, your stubble, your ear, your eyebrows, your marks, your hair, your skin, your contours, your body. Your glance. You looking back at me, reminding me that I am. 

As I look at you, I realize my own opacity. Who am I? Who am I but in relation to you? I am me for you. As I am with you, I am not the same person I was, before I was with you. I am a mystery to myself as much as you are a mystery to me. The more I want to know you and lift your veil of mystery, the more I am aware of our distance.

Who is this life behind this body? The person behind this skin. I look at you with wonder. I experience the beauty of your body. Where are you? Where in your body are you? My arms are wrapped around your body as we sit on the couch. I feel the warmth and the touch of your body against mine. Our touch reminds me that I am on you and you are under me. Yet, where are you? Who are you?

This moment of being with you inebriates me. I feel charged by the grandeur of your body. You overwhelm me and I am blinded by you. I long to be within you and lost in you, so that we are not you and I, but we, where both, you and I, are not two entities, but one. Yet I know that it cannot be, because you are and I am. We are separated by the exterior of our skins, whose impermeability refuses to climax into the fusion of ourselves. We will be distinct, no matter how much we desire to lose ourselves with each other. We are in this moment, where time converges on the now. If only we could be this way, eternity would be a moment. Together we would be lost in the comfort and bliss of each other. 

And yet, as we are together, I sense that I am all alone. As I look into your eye, I see you are not here. The feel of your touch seems distant. Probably, you do not feel the same way as I do. Probably, you are in a moment and time so far away from now. And yet, for me, this moment is beautiful. I am thankful that my life was a prelude to this moment, where we are, just this way. You and I.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Coming Out at the Work Place

This post is meant to be read as a piece of fiction. Honestly, I have to confess that I really can’t afford to step on anyone’s toes, knowing that matters such as these are of a highly volatile nature. Any resemblance to a real incident might have only worked its way into this text at my subconscious level. After all, I’m sure you’d agree that it’s impossible to write bereft of any experience.
Those of you who work in a corporate set up would have definitely been subjected to experiences when your managers brag about their wives and children. You can’t fail to notice that twinkle in their eyes, the swell in their chests and the raised chins. Not forgetting the zillion times they make the ‘wives at home’ vis-a-vis the ‘manager in the office’ comparison during meetings and their pep talks! But if you’re a guy and you dare mention your boyfriend, immediately their faces contort into grotesque sneers. Often, over training sessions new entrants at my work place inevitably inquire whether I'm married and I reveal that I'm not, but would definitely like to get married to my boyfriend sooner or later (though, I must admit, I still haven't broached this topic with my boyfriend yet nor do I know how he'd react.)

On a lighter note, going out with some chums for a sutta break or chai can be a lot of fun! There are those guys who can’t resist telling you how ‘ripe’ and breathtakingly ravishing a particular woman in the office is. Apparently, the woman’s scent or her gait almost makes them wet, sorry, melt in their pants. I often wondered how they could possibly feel that way, until I happened to point out to them a guy who had sturdy thighs and a delicious chest chair! 
Knowing my temperament, I usually like to have a book beside me at all times. There are times when I have to wait for ten long minutes or more for my computer to reboot and I have a paroxysm of guilt that I’m wasting time, doing nothing. These guilt trips concerning time wastage only heightened after watching Andrew Niccol’s In Time, where the protagonist’s mother died only because she fell short by a few seconds of time, which meant life in her case. One day, it so happened that the book on my desk caught somebody’s attention. Little did I realize that a title such as Undoing Gender would ruffle anyone’s feathers. So I was discreetly advised not to get a book which had a title (like the word “gender”) that makes a political statement. I was somehow given to understand that if I sported the book with a contentious title, I was advocating gender ambiguity. And ironically, it seemed perfectly alright when the same person had a gender related discussion with someone of the other gender. So much for undoing gender! These little exchanges might seem rather trivial and mundane. But they also reflect how constricting our language and interactions are on a daily basis. Anything that upsets this forced internalized normalcy is often met with violence or is subtly ostracized if not penalized.

Image taken: Times of India
At least at the workplace, after being out to my colleagues, I assumed that things would be rather smooth! Yet, I was sadly mistaken. Of late, I’ve had to share my cab with a particular homophobe. {Perhaps he isn’t a homophobe, but he merely dislikes my straight hair.} And to make things worse, he’s got a certain designation which has not only put me on the not so sunny side of things but has also earned me a cab full of others who share the same feeling as the Daddy Bully Homophobe. {I hope I’m not pushing it too far in painting myself as a victim of sexual discrimination.} Initially I took it in my stride that I cannot expect everyone to like me. I tried to overlook their not wanting me to sit beside them and their smirks. However, now I’m honestly beginning to feel scared. I am uncomfortable that they know the place where I live. Their cumulative acts of arrogance and bravado behind a facade of normality unsettle me. This has upset me so much that at present I have five ulcers in my mouth, something that happens only when I’m agitated (and I have never had more than two). Perhaps, I’m worrying too much and compounding my own fears. I know at this point in time, I have to put an end to this. And I will have to stand up for myself. My first step is to admit that it’s happened to me and it’s real. That’s why I have written this post as well. And I know what I have to do next. Speak out to them (and as simple as it might sound, I pray that when the moment arrives I would be able to.)

I have to make sense of this; I know this is certainly not right. That these acts of intolerance might only increase in frequency, if I don’t find a healthy way to survive this ordeal. Yet, I’m also sure I would get passed this. Perhaps I have to find newer ways of relating to these people. I refuse to admit defeat in this little battle of misunderstanding and ignorance. I believe that under the veneer of toughness, there’s also kindness that we all share. And that’s one thing which gives me a lot of hope. 

(I hope you did not let your emotions get carried away; this is certainly not a cry for sympathy nor is it an attempt to assassinate anyone’s character, living or dead. As I said in the disclaimer, you have to read this as a piece of fiction.)