Sex + Body Positivity

Gay (Cis) Men Parties In India: A Tussle Between Sexuality, Space, And Class

On one hand, queer parties in India offer safe spaces to unwind as your true self, meet the members of the community in a setting with no judgment, find people to hookup with, or just revel in the talent of queer performers. On the other hand, class, financial status, and appearance are still markers that decide if you belong to that space as they are limited to mostly the upper echelons of the society.

In the 1990s, one of the first clubs to host a gay party in India was Voodoo in Mumbai’s Colaba. Today, some of the prominent cities that host parties exclusive to the queer community,  or ‘gay parties’, a few times a week are Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Pune among others. Most people who attend these parties are in their 20s and 30s. A majority of the attendees are also cisgender gay men, though the spaces see a more diverse set of queer and trans people in attendance, especially on specific events like pre and post Pride parties. Since having access to these spaces depends on class and caste capital, most of the attendees are usually Brahmins. Based on 25 people that I was able to chat with and obtain opinions from through an anonymous survey, more than half the attendees earn usually more than 6 lakhs per annum.

A Safe Space to Unwind In Queer Culture but Exclusions Persists

The parties are a space for people from the community to unwind, meet more people from the community, and also for hookups. It is also a place where queer culture thrives through drag shows or strip shows. More than that, it’s a good space to explore with friends or perhaps with a date. In the words of Lady Gaga such spaces are akin to “the dance floor I fought for” for the gays. As per Kareem Khubchandani, “Queer dance at nightclubs  and parties then is not merely an escape from politics, but a chance to  revel inside them, letting power, meaning, bodies, aesthetics, and affects collide and find each other in new ways, inventing alternative realms to inhabit through sweat, sways, gestures, jatkas, and matkas, driven by the timely pursuit of beauty, sex, friendship, and intimacy.”

There’s a sense of exclusivity as one respondent said, “[these spaces] feel intimidating because they seem expensive and everyone’s dressed fashionably which I can’t afford.” There’s also a prevalence of mixed feelings in terms of acceptance of the crowd. While some people mingle easily, others take their time and it also depends on the kind of groups as some people are very welcoming while others can be exclusive and gatekeep-y. At the same time, it’s crucial to ensure you’re not being taken advantage of. Insecurity or nervousness is also common if someone is going to such a space for the first time. Unfortunately, there have been instances where people have been molested or groped and they push for a safe room or someone designated who can be approached in terms of any untoward incident, other than a bouncer.

In a queer sense, there’s the freedom to style the way you want to in your own unique way. At the same time, there’s some pressure to dress in a party appropriate manner as well. Adding to this, such party appropriate clothes can be expensive and make someone question if they look gay enough? The posters for the party present the ideal body type and most people don’t pay attention to the same. Hence, they do not feel the need to be represented on the poster.

I attended a gay party in Bangalore where cishet couples were allowed to enter as a couple and pay a reduced fee. However, the same was not offered for queer couples, which is really ironic since the space specifically catered to the queer community. Otherwise, queer couples and polycules usually enjoy such spaces as they can also be engaging in PDA without any worry about nonsensical laws on obscenity.

Partying as Entitlement is a Dangerous Precedent for Conventional Idea of Queerness

One of the other prominent issues with these parties is that there comes a sense of pride and entitlement with these spaces, especially among gay men, when ‘partying’ comes to represent a singular space led by cis gay men for the entire community. For instance, back in November 2022, when Bangalore based group All Sorts of Queers (a safe space for women, womyn, non-binaries and trans-people) organized a party exclusively for queer people and allies except cis men, there was a lot of uproar from the community, specially cis gay men.

While arguments around how you decide someone is not cis other than through their words is debatable, it was as simple as having a space for queer people who are not cis men. When cis gay men have multiple parties every week, they do not have any right to argue for their forced inclusion in a party that is organised once a year that caters to queer people outside of cis men. They can afford the courtesy to the community to have their own space for once. This is a sense of entitlement to partying and equating it to queerness that sets a dangerous precedent by defining what conventional ways of being queer is, marginalising all those who transgress these very norms in their everyday lives.

Pinkwashing But Make It Gay

Even though gay parties are queer spaces, they also play along to the drums of pink capitalism. I remember seeing one event where an alcohol brand was endorsing the event. More than that, their focus was more on allyship. While this is good for support or maybe the fact that most queers are alcoholics is what some companies think, we’re still living in times where we do not have many fundamental rights, and that begs the question: where is the true material support from these companies and brands?

The community members do find the space to be a safe one but also one that caters to ‘high fashion crowd,’ which is different from camp – a signature queer aesthetic. While ‘high fashion’ is different from channeling inner diva through Sridevi or Madhuri Dixit, there is also a pressure to adhere to ideals of queer glam or the dating scene as per one respondent. At times, it is not a welcome space for queer people who are not the ideal body types with six pack abs. The massive difference in reaction of the public on Harry Styles and Sam Smith (the latter of whom are comfortable in their body) only proves that queer community does suffer with hatred and being judged.

This brings forth an important point to discuss – even though queerness is rooted in breaking the normative structure; there are still conventional ways of being queer that are deemed more respectable, moral and are rooted in the shackles of neo-liberal capitalism.

What Can Be Improved? Affordability, Accessibility, and Gender Neutral Spaces

Some of the most common suggestions are to have more open space (especially when most pre and post pride parties are like a raging furnace due to the very high number of people in very little space). Another is to have a gender neutral washroom, which unfortunately is not within the structure of clubs that host these parties a few times a month.

The question of affordability is a crucial one as many people still are unable to afford the entry charges, which becomes even more difficult in cities like Bangalore where travel charges are also high. Most of the time people end up spending around Rs. 500 on travel alone by cabs, add 500 entry charge and if they drink or eat anything in the club, it also costs a fortune. It’s also notable that usually people spend somewhere between Rs. 1500-3000  on drinking (pre-gaming, though, costs a bit lower) and this makes the act of partying, as a celebration of queerness, exclusive.

Another pertinent issue is the hypersexualisation of these spaces to an extent where there’s no sensical boundary or understanding when someone is flirting with someone, which only gets worse when people consume alcohol irresponsibly. In response to a tweet that claimed “Pride is a protest” after the Delhi Queer Pride Parade in 2023, one twitter user quipped, “A protest that ends at Kitty Su”. This statement unfortunately reflects the sad state of affairs today in spaces hosting gay parties.

On one hand, queer parties in India offer safe spaces to unwind as your true self, meet the members of the community in a setting with no judgment, find people to hookup with, or just revel in the talent of queer performers. On the other hand, class, financial status, and appearance are still markers that decide if you belong to that space as they are limited to mostly the upper echelons of the society. ‘Partying’ often takes offers a false representation of the community through hegemonic masculinities and the exclusion of non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming people. In the words of one of the respondents, “Gay parties feel safe, yet [it’s] sad that access to [them] is behind paywall.”

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Rajeev completed their under graduation in Political Science Hons. from Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi in 2020. They graduated with Masters in Women’s Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai in 2022 and were a participant at the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute, University of Iowa for the 2021-22 session. They have been the recipient of Mavelinadu Collective’s grant for non-fiction for the first issue of Debrahminising Gender. Their work can be found in EPW, Women’s Link Journal, Shuddhashar, Gaysi Family, Feminism in India and Hindu College Gazette among others. Their research interests include queer experiences, feminist ethics of care, and masculinities.

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