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Beyond the heteronormative confines, let’s celebrate love that is real, joyful, innocent, and proud!

A student from Delhi University shares their love story—something that started off as a childhood crush, a relationship ended on unfinished terms, and a friendship that’s mature and understanding.

“So, as a kid, our family moved around a lot, so I was always the new kid that could never really make good friends as I wasn’t a conventional “girl.” I used to cut out pictures of Deepika Padukone from magazines, but obviously I was straight! The first boyfriend I ever had also turned out to be queer, so that was great. When I was in the 8th grade, our family moved to Orissa, and we lived in a corporate township. There was this girl with curly hair who soon became my benchmate. Since we lived pretty close to each other, bicycle rides, study sessions, and long conversations soon became the norm and blossomed into friendship. I started penning poems for her in my diary: “Her hair glistened in the sun,”  reminding myself of the fact that “I’m definitely straight.”.

Soon I realised that “kuch toh hai.” I don’t want to be just friends with her. I started justifying my identity too. The pandemic sort of gave me a sense of stability as well. I assured myself that “being a lesbian is valid.” After the lockdown, we started hanging out again. I used to call her up at night, asking her “homework samjhado.” She knew I had done the homework, yet she explained everything. One day I just called her (it was the 14th of July), and a cyclone was about to hit, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to meet up with her for some time. We met up, and I told her, “Oh, I think I’m gay,” and she said, “I think I’m gay too,” and we just cycled back to our homes. We met up again on the day of our SST exam. She said, “I’m not into girls,” and again, we cycled away. A couple of days later, she tells me, “I like you,” and again, we just cycle together. There is just a lot of delusion going on. Time passed by, and she was about to move out to go for JEE coaching. I knew I couldn’t beat around the bush anymore. So I just told her, “I like their pronouns.” We just cycled together again. We were having a 6th standard type of love story in the 11th standard. She finally moved away.”

(Trigger warning: s**cide.)

 “We started flirting over Whatsapp. She came back from the hostel, and we held hands and walked around; she was stable. My mom thinks, “She’s a very good friend.” Yes, a friend, with whom I used to spend hours in my room studying (making out). Thanks to my sister for always being there for me. Letting me “hang out” with my “friend” in my bedroom. My sister has always been my biggest support system. She used to always ask the barber to cut my hair just a little more. She bought me binders and fought for me to have even the little bit of freedom I could in my house. When I came out to her, she said, “I knew since the time you were simping over Deepika Padukone.” ! The second standard made me extremely s**cidal. Our parents started to question our sexuality. Her parents thought I was a bad influence on her. We were constantly pitted against each other. Family and academic pressure were extremely high. We broke up without even speaking to each other. I didn’t want to see her anymore. And we left on unfinished terms.”

“During our CUET exams, she came back. I saw her on the day of my first slot. Our eyes just locked together across the exam centre. My mom asked me to go say hi to her. I was extremely shocked, and I just stared at her. And I ran away; it seems like we were just always running away. On the second day of CUET, we met again. This time, we hugged each other and just bawled our eyes out. Then, we left things on unfinished terms again. After our CUET results, we were both getting into the same college, but her parents didn’t want her to go near me. They didn’t allow her to come to DU. We then called each other up. I guess we were much more mature then. We spoke to each other for hours and decided to end our relationship. She said how I should have always known she liked me back in school. “You were giving me gay panic back when we were bench-mates, and you used to run your fingers through my hair’, she said. We are still extremely good friends. I did love her first, and I guess I’ll always love her, but this is not a love story. We left things on unfinished terms so many times that we didn’t realise when our relationship became toxic. I guess I was always the red flag. But I just want to say that I’m much more confident, mature, and just a better human being now. We just grew up. We still sometimes flirt with each other. By the way, she’s in a relationship with someone now, and she constantly reminds me to stop flirting with her, but I guess old habits die young. She sends me origami swans, and I like to bind books, and I always do it for her. I once gifted her a hand-bound copy of “The Blue Umbrella,”  her favourite book, and that’s just our love language. I still love her. I always will. We sometimes joke about how, when we’re 50 and neither of us have wives, we will just marry each other. But again, just to reiterate, this is not a love story. I think it’s a story of friendship and support. Her, my sister, my friends in college now, my people—they are all my love.”

A student from Hindu College shares their journey of self-love, self-acceptance, and being loved.

 “I went through a lot of internal strife before even considering sharing this. You’ll realise why when I tell you who I am—a gray-romantic bisexual AFAB (she/they) dating a straight cis man.

Throughout my life, when I was aware of things like my romantic and sexual orientation, I’ve always been at odds with my feelings. It took me so much effort to come to terms with who I am—the constant question of, Am I straight? Am I gay? Or am I just seeking attention? coupled with the feeling that something’s wrong because, as much as I find men and women and envy people hot, I did not cry desperately like my friends did for love. I had no clue why I had to be bi when I didn’t feel the need for love only?! I sought validation in queer media and online queer spaces, where again I could relate to the struggles of being bi, the biphobia, etc., but my other half of the struggle was left unseen.

Then I met a friend who suggested the term “aromantic.” She identified me as Aro-ace, and yet again, I was torn—it seemed like I was an anomaly. My two halves would never be reconciled. I dehumanized myself and saw myself as some heartless monster who could never enjoy the beauty within people. I had come to terms with the fact that I would just not be able to relate to love; everybody is hot, and it is okay. I would get myself a cat, and I would be the single crazy cat lady forever.

That was until I met my partner. I am that extroverted person who can talk people’s ears off and yet not open up a single thing about herself. I had trauma growing up, and it created giant walls around myself, and because of my nature, very few people notice it and try to get past the walls.

It is safe to say that the people I let in just created more trauma for me. They saw me, but I never felt seen. And here comes this shy but playful boy, who saw me at one of my worst times, holding my hand and telling me, “It’s okay. You’re not a monster. You’re just another human who was let down by people who should’ve never done that in the first place. I promise that I’ll try my best not to join them.” For the first time in my life, I felt seen. I had not known what it’s like to feel love, but for me, that was it—to  be seen. To be understood. To be supported.

Now I smile whenever his text pops up on my screen. I love him with all my heart; he’s been nothing short of wonderful, caring, and supportive. I am happy and content with everything I have in my life. Then what’s the strife? Again, I’m a gray-ro-bi AFAB dating a straight cis man. Every word of that sentence is a plot twist. There aren’t days when I don’t feel like maybe I’ve just been lying to myself and everyone all along—that maybe I’m just a straight woman who might not have “found the right guy yet.” I thought I had defeated my internalised aro-phobia and biphobia long ago, but now I realise it’s never as simple as that. Queerness is never a static thing; it flows and does so in beautiful ways. I might feel like I’m a walking and talking contradiction and that I’m not queer enough to be in queer spaces. But those are just that—just feelings. I’m still gray-romantic, still bi. Still queer, and a loved one at that too.”

Dear reader, let’s not let “love” be restricted to an idea, romance, or mainstream holiday. I believe it’s a celebration, something we experience every day, and there’s love in our joys, our sorrows, our laughter, and our tears. Your love story is valid; it’s real, and it’s yours. Let there be love, and let there be light!

 Read Also: https://dubeat.com/2024/02/11/feminism-a-belief-or-a-tagline/

Featured Image Credits: Sukriti for DU Beat

Gauri Garg

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What distinguishes Taali is that it is one of the first biographical works that focuses on the challenges and life of a transgender person, therefore providing a glimpse into their tough lives from their own perspective.

Taali is a biographical drama series based on the life of Shree Gauri Sawant, a transgender activist played by Sushmita Sen. The series, directed by Ravi Jadhav, lasts for three hours and is broken into six thirty-minute parts. It is available on the Jio Cinema platform in India. I was thrilled to watch the show after watching the teaser for the first time and being aware of the real-life inspiration. While inclusion of the LGBTQA+ population in mainstream films and series has expanded recently, there are a few that highlight the realities of the transgender community, such as – Laxmii, Super Deluxe.

What distinguishes Taali is that it is one of the first biographical works that focuses on the challenges and life of a transgender person, therefore providing a glimpse into their tough lives from their own perspective. Many notable biopics based on the lives of athletes, freedom fighters, army officers have been produced by the film industry. Taali thus adds a feather to the cap because it is innovative in its approach to raising awareness and praising the efforts of many such activists who seek to improve the status of the Third gender in India. This is certainly one of the most compelling reasons to watch this series.

Before we go any further, here is a quick summary of the transgender activist as to why she is remarkable –

Shree Gauri Savant is a transgender activist from Mumbai who has been working diligently for the transgender community for many years. Gauri established the Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust in 2000. The NGO encourages safe sex and offers transsexual counselling. In 2014, she was the first transgender person to petition the Supreme Court of India for transgender adoption rights.  She was a petitioner in the case of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), in which the Supreme Court declared transgender as a third gender. She also starred in an affectionate Vicks commercial and in Kaun Banega Crorepati. In 2019, she was appointed as the Maharashtra Election Commission’s goodwill ambassador.

Taali, focusing on the Supreme Court’s watershed decision in 2014, which officially recognized the third gender, It flashes back and forth in time to Gauri Sawant’s life, from her days as a child battling with identity to her days as a mother advocating for equality. The show seeks to cover major events in her life, such as her childhood and troubles with her father, gender affirming surgery, adopting a child, and handling the atrocities of the society. In the first episode, named Teesri ladai, she explains how her battle is separated into three stages: struggle for identity, struggle for survival, and struggle for equality, with the final one referring to the Landmark Case.

Krutika Deo’s performance as Young Gauri, known as Ganesh, helped viewers connect to the character’s predicament of feeling unfit. Her desire to be a mother, which no one around her understands, her loneliness after her mother passed away and her father’s reluctance to accept her identity are all major points where the audience can relate to the helplessness faced by young Gauri trapped in the body of a boy, wishing to be a girl.

Sushmita Sen, who plays a grown-up Gauri, does a fantastic job in the part. Her performance was a combination of grace and aggression, accurately calibrated to the necessities of the scene. Sen is depicted in the story’s midsection, where Gauri works with an NGO and as a waiter to earn and teach at the same time. These were the rare sequences where Sen seemed out of place in huge Kurtas, shirt trousers and even a fake moustache.

The story progresses from her days of survival to finally founding her own non-profit organization, dealing with other transgender people. The affection and warmth between Gauri and her new family could be seen in these specific scenes. Sheetal Kale’s performance as Nargis, a fellow transgender, was another highlight for me. Her friendship with Gauri, from once saving her life to presenting her a neckless that Gauri tressures as a trophy, are heartwarming experiences that will also have an impact on Gauri’s life.

Aside from the impressive performances, the show had its own set of flaws. To begin, despite the fact that the show drew out Gauri’s life across six episodes, it failed to give greater space to crucial moments that required more creativity, more time for viewers to absorb it and appreciate the depth of it. Factors such as Gauri’s transformation as a mother and her struggle to gain support from her own community were mentioned but not adequately developed. There are several situations in which Gauri faces adversity and hatred from members of her own community who believe that her work is harming their daily lives, even to the point where a fellow transgender tries to poison Gauri. However, these scenes are addressed with dialogues such as Mere paas na dushmano ki directory nahi dictionary milegi (you won’t either the directory or the dictionary of enemies with me) or inhone mera makeup kiya hai mei inka pack up karwati hoon (they did my makeup, I will do their pack up).

What was missing was a genuine confrontation moment to really show why many transgender people believed Gauri’s work was harming them, and it could’ve led the viewers to the real issue of why many of them are resistant to these changes. This alternate perspective was not properly explored.

Another letdown was the addition of sequences that felt like an attempt to inject some drama into the show. Scene of Gauri celebrating the commencement of her womanhood while dressed as a bride, was paralleled by her father performing Ganesh’s final rites. This was done to symbolically represent Gauri’s father’s reluctance to embrace her new reality.  Instead of this addition, it would have been good to devote more screen time to Gauri’s metamorphosis.

Other attempts at eliciting emotions were made with background music and almost poetic dialogues. It seemed as though Gauri’s every response was designed to be an inspiring statement. Gauri’s more open exchanges with people, such as the flight attendant on a trip to the United States or the school principal, were much appreciated.

Taali provided to the audience something that they had already seen on the internet and in the news. There was a lack of artistically narrating the story so that viewers could better comprehend the perspectives of the third gender. Taali remains an amazing first-of-its-kind biopic packed with a number of profound performances, and we hope that mainstream cinema brings out more work of such activists while providing LGBTQ people the opportunity to play these parts.

 

Read Also : https://dubeat.com/2016/09/03/transgender-accepting-the-non-conformist/

Featured Image Credits: JioCinema

Priya Agrawal

While the idea of fluidity in gender might seem new to people, it is not a modern phenomenon. Examples of bending identities from history and myth can pave the way for deeper perspectives on this long-established concept.

When I was first introduced to the concept of gender fluidity, the notion felt familiar instead of strange. As a devoted explorer of mythology and folklore, I had long been reading about Gods and mortals who transcended the confines of the gender binary. On the contrary, a well-received opinion today is that fluidity is a contemporary phenomenon. A 21st-century ‘invention’, even. Doesn’t this claim conveniently erase the rich history of fluid identities throughout cultures of the world?

For a brief overview, gender fluidity means flexibility in one’s gender identity or expression, or both. It’s about not feeling tied to a single gender label, allowing it to shift and change with time. It plays a significant role in understanding diverse gender identities. For centuries, if not millennia, traditions across the world have recognized and honoured gender nonconformity. As we celebrate Pride this month, it’s imperative to show appreciation and learn from them the vast ways gender can be perceived.

A recurring theme in Hindu mythology that I grew up fascinated with, is that of Gods and Goddesses often blurring the lines between masculine and feminine. The ‘Puranas’ recite various tales of this including one where Shiv merges with Shakti to become Ardhanarishwara, (Sanskrit: Lord who is half-woman) who is seen in many Southeast Asian sculptures. Another story is that of Shikhandi, who was born into a female body but always knew was a man and later entered the battlefield of Kurukshetra as one. It was also ordinary for Gods to turn into Goddesses to enchant ‘Asuras’! In Norse mythology, Loki is a famous gender-bending entity. In Greek myth, the prophet Teiresias spent seven years as a woman, and in Mesopotamian lore, the Goddess of fertility and love is depicted with both masculine and feminine elements.

Ardhanarishwara sculpture in Mumbai, Source: Elephanta Caves Web,

While such beliefs provide significant insight into the perception of gender thousands of years ago and still remain a part of cultures worldwide, people may find it hard to see some sense of reality in it as it is lore, after all. This is why it’s essential to also discuss credible historical accounts of gender fluidity that go a little less far back into history.

Flourishing cultures have not only accepted but also revered the dynamic nature of gender. One of the more prominent instances is that of the Native Americans. In their societies, the existence of feminine men, masculine women, and transgendered people was ubiquitous. They were called “two-spirit” people and were considered strikingly knowledgeable. There were no rules regarding expression of identity and cross-dressing was routine. With the advent of the Europeans, this flexibility was no longer tolerated. The Mahus of Hawaii and Tahiti, who never put restrictions on gender identity, met with a similar fate after colonization. Certain ethnic groups in Madagascar would raise their boys with long hair and multiple piercings if they tended to show feminine traits and this practice is still prevalent. These are only scattered examples from a myriad of customs from all over the world.

While in some historical contexts, queerness might have had a negative connotation, it’s refreshing to realize that more often than not it was nothing out of the ordinary. Its acceptance sure did gradually plummet after the Euro-Western dominance, but its existence could simply never be questioned.

We’wha, a famous two-spirit, Source: Human Rights Campaign Web

For a modern interpretation, legends and lore about the fluidity of gender can be viewed through a lens of acceptance and inclusivity. These stories serve as a powerful reminder that gender has always existed along a diverse spectrum, and they should encourage us to pursue social structures that protect the dignity of all individuals, irrespective of expression or identity.

There will always be diversity in the human experience, let’s honour it. Today, as the modern world wrestles with the idea of accepting anything that is beyond the binary, remind yourself of this perpetual truth- Gender fluidity is as old as time itself.

 

Read also: How Ancient Mythologies Defy the Gender Binary

                   Gender Fluidity Around the World   

Featured Image Source: Medium

 

Arshiya Pathania

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Amma, it has been sometime since I began questioning my sexuality. Despite being open to non-heterosexual relationships, I do not feel comfortable attaching a label to myself. What do I do about it?

Oh, my dear Idli! Your Amma understands the dilemma you are in. We are all brought up in such a heteronormative and monogamous society that most of us are conditioned to think about our sexuality in a certain way. When we get out of institutions such as schools (yes, darling, school was not too fond of your Amma’s thoughts and questions either), we tend to feel more free and liberated, and people tend to feel comfortable exploring their sexuality.

Labels may be empowering for some people, but of course they do not work for everybody. We are all humans, naa? We are all different. We cannot always fit into boxes and categories. I know that the labels available to define sexuality are very accommodating and fluid. But the very act of choosing a label for yourself and having to stick to it may be very disconcerting for many. Sexualities are not static. Your understanding of your sexuality can change over time, and claiming a label should not have to be a lifelong commitment.

Your sexual orientation is indeed a part of your identity. But your identity does not need to be defined. University spaces tend to be free, yet they are not entirely devoid of queerphobia. Labelling yourself is a brave act. Choosing not to label yourself is brave as well. None the less, labelling is a choice, my dear. There is no one way to be queer. I once had a child of about your age tell me, “Being queer is just choosing to go beyond the norm”. You may be conscious of it and want to find a label that best describes you in order to associate yourself with a community of people. Or you may want to not call yourself anything and still consciously associate yourself with a community.

Amma needs you to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself. Think about what you like and are comfortable with. I hope you prioritise yourself. I am happy that my dear idli came to me to express their concern. Asking for help is brave, darling. Amma is always one question away from you!

Sex Amma 

[email protected] 

As final-years gear up for farewell, here is an attempt by a first-year queer student to ask and articulate what their LGBTQ experience has looked like.


When I first took up this piece, I must admit the tinge of narcissism I brought to the table with me. As a first-year student, I wanted to look up to these seniors—these wonderful, proud, queer seniors, whose mere existence on campus had made me feel safe and like I belonged—for answers. It’s as if my long-suppressed desire of stopping every queer senior in their tracks and bombarding them with questions had finally found a less-creepy outlet. I wanted to ask them if they had felt the same way. Had they stepped into college with similar dreams and aspirations as me? Did those dreams come true? Did they feel just as lost and lonely? Was the feeling going to last forever, or was there someone to turn to? I reached out to the ever-so-loving hand of the guiding senior that DU had taught me to trust so much.

As you can imagine, my plan of mapping out a queer journey and, vicariously, a personal trajectory too, is not exactly how things panned out. Assuming the existence of a single, unified, queer DU student experience was a fallacy in the first place. Each day at DU is a lesson in the incredible diversity of this university, and its queer students are no exception. Queer people are far from a monolith, and their journeys as students at Delhi University are shaped by their wide range of backgrounds, privilege, and family values. Equally important is the college in which they land.

It is certainly true that for many, DU, or college in general, represents a highly liberating and exhilarating experience—to be away from the shackles of one’s often queerphobic and non-accepting family and to experiment, question, and live on your own terms perhaps for the first time is no small deal, after all. The question I wanted to pose, however, is how often those hopes are realised. 

I did have very high hopes about Delhi and queerness but it didn’t meet my expectations. Queer people in Delhi have this very secluded, exclusive circle. The community itself has not been too welcoming. If you see a bunch of queer kids hanging out and you think that you can just go and blend in with them, you probably can’t.

Titas, a final-year student from Miranda House

This feeling of alienation, resulting from a homogenised, elitist, and exclusive queer culture, is one that I sadly found echoed by most final-year students that I talked to. Another person lamented,

Being queer is always supposed to look a certain way in DU. I, as an individual without coloured hair, multiple piercings, non-ability to party, drink alcohol, etc always feel like I don’t really belong in these circles.

An anonymous final-year queer student

Rejected from these social circles, one may turn to queer collectives and gender cells for community—or at least so I thought in my naivety. The very existence of these bodies in most DU colleges remains an exception to the rule, especially when it comes to whether or not the college administration recognizes them officially. Much to my disappointment, I was additionally disillusioned about the integrity and effectiveness of these bodies in colleges where they do exist.

Most administrations are happy to use places like the Queer Collective tokenistically to appear progressive when required, but otherwise want everyone to be hush hush about the same on most accounts. You’d expect at least DU professors to be progressive and all that? Most aren’t.

—an anonymous final-year queer student 

Problems of elitism are quick to seep into queer collectives too. Their effectiveness, in that case, seems to stem from how empathetic and accepting an environment they are able to cultivate and the true sense of community they may foster.

We were able to start a queer collective in our college. It’s not a formalized society, but it does exist as a safe space for people to come and talk about things. I personally saw a lot of people journeying from what they thought was their cishet identity to their queerer identity, and that was really nice to be able to see them be open with their friends and have that safe space. So, I think in terms of the University, if we just have more places like that where people, one, have the ability to learn, and two, have this community where they can talk to people, it would be great in terms of making the University more queer-friendly.

— Sagarika, a final-year student from St. Stephen’s College

As with all things DU, politics also factors in a big way when it comes to being queer on campus. While for some, their identity becomes a political statement in itself, others prefer to distance themselves from such a stance.

The “safe” space of DU definitely comes with multiple terms and conditions. At a time when there is a humungous right-wing upsurge in the university, there is constant control of the queer folx around.

The queer community itself is largely covertly divided because not everyone has the access to the same kind of social resources and that creates the image of what queerness is acceptable and what is not. Nonetheless we have come a long way from multiple colleges to having just gender cells to now having queer collectives. It is definitely a step forward but there still stands a long way to go.

But amidst all the brouhaha I hope that people never lose sight of the fact that pride was and must always remain a protest first and a celebration later. To alienate one from the latter is a disservice to the history of this deeply political movement.

– Anwesh Banerjee, final-year student from Ramjas College

One of the loveliest anecdotes that I came across while working on this piece was one shared by a final-year student from one of DU’s women’s colleges. I must spare the details for the sake of anonymity, but they described finding, within the pages of decades-old library books, queer love letters and Urdu shayari written for and by the women students of the institution. There is solace to be found in this history of queerness at DU, but it also signals the continuing presence of queer students as part of the diversity of this campus. LGBTQ+ voices have mattered and will always continue to matter as queerness continues to shape this dynamic university space.

Read also: The Need for Queer Collectives in Colleges

Featured Image Credits: Scroll.in

Sanika Singh
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The possibility of a Gay Judge being appointed to the Delhi High Court is definitely a step forward but what does this mean in the larger context of legalization of civil union of same-sex marriages?

Saurabh Kirpal is still slated to be the first openly gay judge of the Delhi High Court. In a more perfect world, only his qualifications to be a judge would matter and be of any consequence to the nomination board making the decision and the larger body of jurisprudence Kirpal would be serving upon his nomination. His identity as a cis-gendered gay man should be incidental, something to be neither extraneously celebrated nor held against him. Yet it’s hard to deny the suspicion that his nomination, pending 2017, fell victim to his sexuality. It was deferred every year. The government denied the red flags had anything to do with his sexual orientation, and argued that the nomination was denied purely on grounds of security concerns which rose out of the Swiss nationality of Kirpa’s partner Nicolas Germain Bachmann. The concern, which is deeply ironic, also points out two major fallacies in the stance taken by the government.

The concern of a foreign national spouse has never been a cause of concern in the case of Dr. S. Jaishankar whose wife Kyoto Jaishankar is of Japanese nationality. Furthermore the acknowledgement of a national threat being posed by Kirpal’s partner is an inadvertent admission of the existence of a same-sex couples in the higher political echelons of the Indian bureaucracy – something that the government has otherwise been blind to in general as far as the larger public is concerned. It points out the hypocrisy of the stance which acknowledgement same-sex partnership only on grounds of security concerns but denied the possibility of the same when citizens use its existence as a legitimate ground to demand recognition of civil unions between same-sex partners.

In the month of October the Union has told the Court its stance on same-sex marriages by saying that it went against the foundational objective of marital unions – reproduction, which could only be possible if there was a marriage between a biological man and a woman. In the end of November, the same-sex marriage hearings came up before the Delhi High Court yet again and was dimsissed by the court. The petition seeking to legalise the civil union of same-sex partners had sought the same under the Hindu Marriage act, Special Marriage Act and the Foreign Marriage Act. The court argued saying that the same could not be granted under the Hindu marriage Act since same-sex partnership went against the precincts of Hinduism and a secualr state intervention in the issue of religion in a Hindu-majority population state would only be detrimental.

Some observers say India is lucky that it already has a Special Marriages Act that can be used to bypass issues of religion and could be a way to allow same-sex civil marriage. But the government has already made clear that just because homosexual sex was decriminalised it did not mean homosexuality and its anciliiary institutions were being legitimised, thereby keeping recognition of same-sex marraige off the table as far as the Centre was concerned. This brings to light a larger debate concerning the existence of freedoms for citizens without the right to act upon it. Currently owing to the historic decriminalisation of Section 377, homosexuality can no longer be punished by law. However the carrying out of any form of love, if desirous to be resultant in marriage, will not be recognised by the State on grounds of it harming the social fabric of the community at large. Furthermore, the non-existence of acknowledgement of civil unions denies same-sex partners rights to tools of public assistance such as insurance and property rights as well.

But as the case of Kirpal proves, these lines are trickier to navigate than we ever imagine. It was inevitable that the ball would not stop rolling at decriminalisation just because the government drew a line in the sand. Gay people cannot come out of the shadows yet leave their relationships in the closet. One could debate about whether marriage should be the top priority for the movement and whether the whole idea of trying benefits to marriage is outdated but it’s only natural that LGBTQ popeople would want the same rights as everyone else. In fact various trans-rights have criticised the decision to legalise marriage in an atmosphere where the discriminatory Trans Bill still holds sway over the populace as emblematic of the mainstream ueer movements repeated erasure of gender minorities and trans bodies in favour of cis-gendered, upper-class queer folks. Their primary critique being directed at the lawyer duo Arundhati Katju and her partner who have in many ways become the face of the liberation movement at large. While their advocacy intentions are never questioned their prominence as the face of the movement is repeatedly brought to question as they embody the centralisation of cis-gender upper class domination of queer discourses.

Currently the debate around marriage in India is wrapped around symbols and rituals. Does Dabur get to give a lesbian twist to Karva Chauth in an advertisement for skin bleaching products which have been at the receiving end of criticism for more than a year now following moves by brands like Fair and Lovely in changing well established marketing strategies? Can fashion designer Sabyasachi pair a mangalsutra, an ornament that is situated in a historicity of patriarchy and misogyny, with low necklines and suggestive intimacy following being heavily criticised for selling Indian artisanship to western corporate setups? What truly are the politics of a brand like Tanishq showing a Muslim family organising a traditional Hindu baby shower for their Hindu daughter-in-law in a country where the marketing head of the same company, which stands as one of the most reputed in its field, gets death threats on grounds of promoting love-jihaad?

The debate around such questions and scenarios can only be contemplated if one realises that the construction of marriage as a social document is not reductive to mere symbols – objective and metaphorical. Marriage is not only about bindis, mangalsutras and Karva Chauth but more about social acceptance and respectability and accessibility to public resources. Although gay weddings are the rage of the hour as clearly proven by the Telengana marriage reception, basic rights are still denied to same-sex partners. An event of heartbreaking magnitude can be traced back to the pandemic when an NRI married to an American same-sex partner was denied entry into India, although the same rule was relaxed for heterosexual couples of the same order.

As Sandip Ray puts succinctly in a Times Of India editorial with regard to the same,

In the end progress is about these boring things. The first openly gay judge on the Delhi High Court makes for a good news story and will be a point of inspiration for many. It is something to be welcomed but what LGBTQ Indians ultimately need are those joint bank accounts, the health insurance plans, joint custody of children and hospital visitation rights. Just like every other couple.”

 

Read Also
Section 377 – Has anything changed?
A Post-377 World: Is this really Freedom?

 

Anwesh Banerjee

[email protected]

What if your options did not have to be between queer ally or queerphobia? What if your options could rather be between flawed and flawed?


TW: Queerphobia

“It is only a pollution instigated by the West!” or “This goes against Indian sabhyata!” are just some of the things you might have heard when the discussion approaches queerness— in any shape and form; statements, that more often than not, have come to become the defensive pedestal of the right-wing, hetero-patriarchal ideology of modern India. But to what extent can it be considered the gospel truth (minus, of course, all the homophobic sub-text)? 

From vows of celibacy going hand-in-hand with intimate same-sex friendships, to rebirth in different gender forms, or sex change and the existence of gender fluidity— accounts from ancient India might have been somewhat successful in pulling a thin curtain over the Indian queer reality but that doesn’t make India devoid of queer representation. Mahabharata with its story of Shikhandini or Shikandi, King Bhagiratha with his two mothers, the story of Babur and Baburi, or the existence of an Indianized version of Achilles and Patroclus found in the walls of the Jamali Kamali tomb, all points far away from the fact that India’s “sabhyata” might have only existed in gender binaries.

But that doesn’t mean that living in ancient India as a queer person was a bed of roses; It also had its own share of thorns. With extremes like depictions of same-sex intimate interactions being largely confined to Rakshasas (a literal demonisation of queer identities) to Manu smriti listing a range of quixotic punishments for homosexual men and women, the relation between queerness and Indian history isn’t much less of a Pandora’s box— it might seem all bright and rainbow-coloured from outside but the real horrors only come through when the box finally lies open in your hands. 

So, does that mean that all those statements made under the veil of nationalism and rightist ideologies are true? Does it mean that phrases stringed together in hatred and queerphobia are what we need to fall back to?

When the landmark Article 377 verdict was given by the Supreme Court, Rajya Sabha MP Subramaniam Swamy took to telling news channels how “homosexuality is a genetic flaw”. This was the same person who had earlier told the media that “being gay is against Hindutva” and it needs a cure (Source: moneycontrol.com). But couldn’t that easily be just one person’s point of view out of a few hundred? Or is that something only said because the queer community happens to be a huge vote bank nobody wants to lose out on?

It is true that the British came to India and brought something in this regard with them; just that the something wasn’t the reality of queerness but, in contrast, the institutionalisation of queerphobia with the Vatican’s puritanical ideology finding its echo in the anti-sodomy law, something that did not leave India even when the Britishers did.

These two sides of a coin that exist when talks of queer identity travel through the air of India—in whispers or in free cries, in solidarity or in phobia — are as flawed as they are pure. Two rotting but shiny sides,  existing as an anomaly in oxymorons, leave you with only one outcome, however impossible: the coin landing on its edge, the coin landing on neither. 

 

Feature Image: economictimes.indiatimes.com

 

Manasvi Kadian

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The trope of the gay bestfriend is a painful reminder of the constant alienation of the queer community, especially on days like Valentine’s Day when queer baiting temporarily peaks. Read on for a personal piece on the same.

Valentine’s Day sucks. Not because I am single and perpetually heartbroken. But because I am gay. But then as per normative standards of viewing gayness I am not visibly queer enough for most folks. I don’t colour my hair or sport multiple piercings and there are no rainbow motifs around my social media handles (although not going to deny the presence of veiled hints for those wishing to look really hard). My wrist isn’t limp (you have childhood trauma to thank for that) and my clothes are more indie than unicorn dazzle. And hence the presence of women around me becomes a point of deep intrigue for those viewing me from afar.

Valentine’s Day sucks because being the gay best friend is tiring. We live in a world where the comfort of intimacy is only supposed to be sought in engaging in intercourse with a stranger you met on an app you downloaded two hours ago because you were drunk on your fifth shot at a friend’s housewarming party. Any sort of intimacy, specially of a physical nature, must be relegated to the realm of sexual because people in today’s world have simply forgotten the peace that is to be had in the romance of friendship.

Valentine’s Day sucks because a girl hanging out with a girl in a park is a sight for people to turn around and stare and engage in conjecture. See how they are leaning in pretending to talk? Whispers that follow you to the corner of cafes where over cups of hazelnut latte one can hear admonishing comments on grazing fingers and hands that seek to touch and put the arms as an expression of joy and happiness. There is no respite to be found in the conclusion that friendships are a romance of their own kind. To love someone so deeply and completely so as to forsake the expectations of any physical or carnal fulfilment of that love is to truly be in the presence of a love that is supreme and essentially fulfilling.

Valentine’s Day sucks because cafes across the city offer discounts on love that can be capitalised. It isn’t enough anymore for Yash Raj to earn millions when Rahul promises to love Nisha for the rest of his life while a thousand people cry in the darkness of the cinema theatre. Love must be sold tangible – through discounts and offers inscribed on menu cards and shopping banners. But these aren’t all that comes our way. Extra offers are deliciously reserved if you are queer and can bring with yourself a same-sex lover because your love is just a means to fuel the system that encashes the most fundamental and necessary of all human emotions.

Valentine’s Day sucks because it is painfully lonely to be the one man in your nearby vicinity who is proud enough to be out there – only to become a transit point for the rite of passage sexual awakening of all the queer closeted men around you. Men who use you precisely like a transit point, to never turn back and look upon once the transition is undisturbed and over with.

Valentine’s Day sucks because to be the gay best friend is to beg people to realise that you are more than just a Gucci handbag for people to sling onto their arms and strut around – claiming your space for their wish-fulfiment fantasies. You are more than an accessory to adorn the sorry lives of people, you are more than just the reductive heternormative gaze that breaks and splits you down to your tiniest atoms and you are more than your community which makes you guilty of always just not being enough.

Valentine’s Day sucks because people around you fail to realise that beneath all your pointed laughter and printed linens, very few people understand – looking at the million dazzling Valentine Day adverts – that the difference between alone and lonely shall perhaps always remain lost in translation.

 Anwesh Banerjee

[email protected]

To the heels I bought with my limited savings from last month, as the perpetually broke college student that I am, I wish I knew that visiblising queerness comes at a social price.

 Manifesting queerness had always been on my list of things I had to do in college. When things, without any notice, went online, it bothered me because in my head college was going to be only a little more than me strutting in with the trendiest indie fashion pieces, a feminist poetry collection in hand, and a Matisse or New Yorker tote in the other. But fashion statements come at a cost and this time there was the added interest of a pandemic too.

Upon hearing the news of the much-awaited re-opening, I rushed with two friends to Hudson Lane and walked into three different shops – before buying a comfortable heel that not only matched the image in my head but also fit.. Even as I tried out the shoes, I could feel the eyes of the shopkeeper on me. It is for a friend who is flying in, I remember saying to just avoid being value judged by an abject stranger.

But if the shopkeeper was a stranger I was willing to lie to, people in my college were too large in numbers to even respond. And, being a dream that I had nurtured for the longest while, this was a question I was more than willing to engage with. The online college had limited my interactions with a select few people scattered across the college, people who I thought would point towards my heels and say, Oh my god! You did it? or with an air of abject sympathy say, Aren’t those hurting? Do you have band-aids?

Appraisal and sympathy are west winds that comfort the length and breadth of your skin upon touch. But what I was unprepared for was walking into my canteen quarters and being faced with groups of bulked up men from the northern quarters of our country, taking stalk of my heels coupled with my ajrak shirts and small rainbow pendants – just to turn back and initiate a pungent and viral smirk that would birth a sense of hateful sense of directed towards my end.

There would of course be the whispers – annoying to an extent that you know you are being spoken of but you hardly have the courage in your system to walk up to them and ask, in absolute De Niro style, are you talking to me? The first few days of offline college makes you realise that truly the online space is a created bubble wrap of people who are tailored to be decent to you, as opposed to the offline front which throws open the possibilities of being sucked into a whirlwind of heterogeneous socio-cultural capital holders where being the other comes at the cost of scrutiny on the altar of toxic masculinity.

The North campus too, with all its red bell towers and granite pillars, is a divided world in itself. The world of Ramjas is characterised by muted warm colours and gazes that make you hit home the realisation that you’re abjectly out of place – that you don’t belong and you never will. Cross the road and on the other side, outside JP Stall you’ll find a queer visual haven where wearing H&M and carrying Starbucks with neon painted into your hair – makes you no longer an object to be stared at but rather something desirous and aspirational.

Anwesh Banerjee

[email protected]

Owing to the Constitutional Amendment where Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was decriminalised  Bollywood is trying to be inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community. However, have they really been able to?

The LGBTQIA+ community has been ridiculed in Bollywood for decades. Bollywood has been minting money by its dehumanizing depiction of the community. In a broader sense, the entire queer community in Bollywood is misinterpreted because of an actor or director’s notion of the community.

Bollywood movies based on LGBTQIA+ theme were released as early as the 1970s. The film, Badnam Basti, portrays a love triangle between a woman and two men. However, the film disappeared into oblivion shortly after it was released in the theatres. In 1996, Fire was condemned because of the movie’s ‘alien’ depiction of lesbianism that led to protests in many parts of the country.

The LGBTQIA+  representation in Bollywood has peculiar similarities in all its characters. All gay characters have been added to movies for comic relief. For instance, Suresh Menon’s gay character in Partner cracked double meaning jokes, was feminised to match every other gay character in Bollywood films. The Indian society has stigmatized the queer community, and by portraying LGBTQIA+ characters without substance, the chances of the community being ridiculed increase exponentially along with heightened homophobia in the society.

All gay characters are either dance instructors or fashion designers. Many professions have been gendered and this internalized gendering is clearly depicted in Bollywood films. Boman Irani’s character in Dostana is a fashion editor. These stereotypes are affirmed by society which leads to people forming wrong notions about several professions and the community as well.

Apart from a handful of movies, a gay couple in films consists of one partner being extremely feminine and the other partner plays a tough, macho character. The ‘feminine’ partner is seen dressed in ‘colours for women’ such as pink, purple or floral shirts.

Tejasvi, a student of Lady Shri Ram College opined, “Many people in the society refuse to accept the fact that same-sex relationships can be real and due to internalised homophobia, the movies that portray LGBTQIA+  characters having healthy relationships are often condemned. Bollywood has come a long way in terms of representation of the queer community, but it completely depends on the viewers and whether they are ready to accept the relevance of same-sex relationships.”

The coming-of-age web series and movies have taken into account the faulty depiction and stereotypical nature LGBTQ characters and have made an effort to correct these practices. These peculiarities have significantly reduced since the decriminalization of Section 377. Television shows such as Made in Heaven and Four More Shots Please have carefully addressed how the queer community in a country like India faces multiple issues. These shows did not portray its characters in the usual ways that the LGBTQIA+ community is portrayed. They made efforts to apprise the viewers about how bisexuality and homosexuality are absolutely normal and not unnatural unlike how they were portrayed in films earlier.

Ayushmann Khurana’s Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan is being considered a milestone as it is Bollywood’s first gay romantic-comedy film. For many years, homosexuality has been denounced as a disease by many people in the country. The director Hitesh Kewalya made use of comedy to send out an extremely powerful message of societal acceptance of the community. The LGBTQIA+  community has been discriminated against for many years and with the Supreme Court’s ruling on decriminalization of Section 377, the director ensured that the viewers understand that same-sex relationships are as relevant as heterosexual relationships.

Feature Image Credits: Pinkvilla

Suhani Malhotra

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