My first exposure to the word “gay” was through the movie Dostana. So by the power of association; the word became something funny, something that people can just fake, use to create humour too.
However, as I grew up and my exposure to the social media platforms grew thereon, I found my eyes opening to the depth of the term “acceptance”. With a rather traditional, conservative and sheltered upbringing as my background, my foreground was suddenly lit up with these concepts, which appeared normal yet novel. No longer was someone’s sexuality laughable to me. My mother’s sensitivity to people from the transgender community in the Mumbai locals, all these years, suddenly started making sense. I was progressing mentally, and I made sure I wouldn’t leave my parents behind. My mother, a teacher, developed a welcoming attitude towards students who might identify with norms contrary to the ones levied by the society. One of her gay students even made his oral exam speech about the biology behind homosexuality. I was not only proud, I was glad that my parents were turning more human and fewer bigots.
In light of this evolution, my parents were as ecstatic as I was, when my college’s annual Rose Day was centered on the theme of inclusivity.
With the accolades that we were receiving for our choice of theme, pouring in from people across various age groups, professions and sexual orientations, a rather rude shock came to me, in the form of my father’s friends’ opinion vis-à-vis the same.
“It is a rich man’s problem.”
My first response was a gaping mouth.
After I grasped the ignorance (and flippancy) with which he made that statement, I decided I had to deconstruct it for him. I decided and rather realized, that if I was taking such extreme efforts to make my event sensitive and respectful, I also had to shut down people with opinions like these and make them see the radical perspective.
I started by telling him about the book Cobalt Blue, a translated version of a Marathi book, where the brother and sister fall in love with the same male tenant. I went on about how the book made me painfully aware about how difficult it must be, to belong to a middle class heteronormative society and how tough it must be, to come out, in such a situation. His counter to that was that for people who do not get a square meal a day, this would be their last concern. I reasoned that when you cannot express who you are without being subjugated to bullying or being ostracized for your identity, starvation only makes the situation worse. His opinion stemmed from a childhood of a hand to mouth existence, where food and clothing gained priority over everything else. What I tried to make him realize, was that self-expression is as important to an existence as satisfying hunger is. A person is not a homosexual because they have nothing else to do; it is as involuntary as feeling hungry or excreting (if anything.)
When I was done explaining, he turned his attention to “Why are you so interested in supporting them? You should be fighting for the rights of the migrant community!” (I am the child of a family of Kashmiri migrants, FYI.)
My only reply was, do people fighting against child labor, necessarily have children working in mines and factories? It is a question of sensitivity, of realizing your straight privilege to love whom you want and making sure it discontinues to be a privilege and becomes the fundamental right, which it is supposed to be.