Queer and LGBTQ+ parades in any Indian city is a landmark event. Many cities in India have seen the LGBTQI+ community come on to the streets, many people have taken part in the parades, and many have fought to reinstate the message pride parades stand for year after year. That is what pride is about- to fight for love, to fight for the fact that they have the right to be treated respectfully and with dignity regardless of their identity without hate and prejudice, like any other human being. Streets (and public space in general) can be quite a frightening place but at Pride, it is like they reclaim their right to celebrate life. Through this, there has been progress. Many cities and many communities in India are listening to this message and changing historically and structurally held beliefs. People are listening to what the community is saying are slowly becoming more accepting and willing to have uncomfortable conversations.
In the background of the recent 377 judgement that decriminalised gay sex, Mysore, a city four hours away from Bangalore is a place that seems extremely broad-minded and open. It is safe to say that there is a minority of people there that are open to alternative ideas from what is culturally and historically followed, but the city has been pretty closed off and rigid in their point of view when it comes to the queer community. Most people in Mysore are of the opinion that “all this is unnatural” and in Mysore, the only thing a Hindu and a Muslim uncle can agree to is their homophobic, transphobic and sexist views.
Even though I’ve grown up in Mysore, I have been relatively lucky to have had extremely left-leaning and liberal parents who never once discouraged me from talking about the community. They have never said anything that has been homophobic or transphobic. I remember writing a short poem on the LGBTQ+ community and reading it out to them and an uncle who had come from America. After the poem was over, the whispers started, “She’s gay?” “Do her parents know?”. I was blissfully unaware of any of this, and I went on with my life, being ignorant, hiding my opinions and hanging out with my homophobic and transphobic friends and burying that feeling in my heart that kept bugging me that what they were saying was wrong.
When I shifted to Bombay to go to college, I had dinner with an uncle extremely close to me and my parents. He was a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, and during dinner, he told me “So I spoke to your parents and the uncle (who I had previously read the poem out to) and they told me you were gay?”. I looked at him and I was a little shocked, but responded, “Sadly, no. I am not gay”. He thought I was lying to him and said, “It is perfectly alright to be who you want to be and love who you want to love”. I smiled and it touched my heart but I wasn’t gay, and I told him “Uncle, I seriously am not gay”. He looked at me for a minute and nodded. He then told me that after the poem I had read out to my parents, they had started thinking that I was gay. I looked at him and even though I knew in my heart and mind that it was alright, that my parents didn’t care what my sexual orientation was, even though I knew that they’d love me regardless, I was still scared to openly talk to them about it because no one ever spoke about these things. These were things that were whispered and gossiped about, in a rigid community like Mysore. This was taboo and unnatural, and even if you disagreed, you could never say it openly to people, and that is why I was scared.
When I came back from college, we were in the dining room and I hesitantly brought up the conversation. The response I got made me want to cry out of happiness and this feeling that whatever the outside world may be like, whatever my “friends” may be like, I could always be myself around my parents. My mother, sat next to me and said, “So what if you are gay? We just want you to be happy and to be in love, be it with a girl or boy or whoever you are attracted to. The door is always open for you and whoever you love in this house”. That answer warmed me. It brought me to tears and at that moment I wished for parents everywhere to be like them, and even if they weren’t, I hoped that they would change someday to be as accepting as mine.
This brought up new conversations to the table. We were celebrating the fact that the supreme court had decriminalized gay sex and of course it was a happy moment. In my happy state, I tried to talk to my grandparents about the community, and tried to explain to them that there is nothing “unnatural” or “in defiance of God” in this movement; that everyone deserves to live their life happily without discrimmination and prejudice. The discussion I tried to have wasn’t very well recieved. They ended the discussion by saying “there are natural things that are made by God, and this is not natural. Don’t argue with us we know all of this you’re young now. This is unnatural.”
In that moment, I realised that this was mostly everyone’s stance on the LGBTQ+ community in Mysore. No one was willing to talk about it, and those who thought differently about it were too scared to speak up because Mysore is a very close-knit community and family name matters a lot over here. The issue is that many people still see it as a disease. When people talk about the LGBTQ+ community, it’s with this disgust and bitterness. That’s what needs to change.
When I broke off ties with a few people, one of the reasons was that they held extremely homophobic, transphobic views, and used extremely derogatory terms. When I tried discussing their views with them, I was completely gaslit and the argument went nowhere. There seems to be no place for discussion or debate. There is no room for pride months and parades. There is no room to sit down amicably and have a discussion about these things.
That’s the curious thing about India and it’s a stance on queer rights. There is no clear opponent, other than severe social taboo, maybe an older generation, some younger people on social media too, sitting around shuffling through half baked arguments and religious texts to wage a war against homosexuality. Here, everything is whispered and hushed. They hate it when you call them out for it, they hate it when they’re corrected. Not just the uncles, but also teenagers who think it is cool to be homophobic and transphobic, and talk over a persons struggle.
I sometimes think about what I want to say to everyone who thinks being in love is “unnatural and unreligious”. If I could just tell them one thing it would be this love has no labels, any person regardless of their sexual orientation or gender doesn’t deserve to be treated in a dehumanising and a criminal manner, and being in love is not a criminal act, so before labelling someone, before putting them down, read, think, debate discuss and be a decent person. It takes no extra effort to be kind.