1. How would you define queerness, what does it mean to you?
The lovely thing about queerness is that it cannot be defined quite easily. It thrives in the reality that change is a constant and therefore is not obsessed with status quo or the norm, or finiteness, even as it recognises nothing is absolute, not even freedom.
I see queerness from the prism of nature. For instance, it is to know water is water, and that water is the sea, the rain, snow, ice, puddles, lakes, rivers, dew, waterfalls, and every other avatar it has. Queerness acknowledges biodiversity in trees, forests and woods; there isn’t one like the other, not one flower like the other. It is conscious of the fact that if left free, trees are more rooted and stronger.
A queer mind sees itself in this variety that nature offers, and hence, knows that if the blinkers we wear to view life with are removed, we’d all know that there isn’t one kind of being. There isn’t one way to live. There isn’t one kind of food. There isn’t a single form of clothing, education and wisdom. Nor is there one version of history and culture or one kind of war. There isn’t a singular structure to a family, a union or one way to love. Queerness, therefore, instinctively knows there isn’t one sexuality. There is LGBTQIA+. In a way, queerness is so much and as little as I am.
2. You came out in 1999? How did that change your life?
Coming out to oneself is the first step to recognise one’s sexuality and in that sense, it was a starting point of self-acceptance. It was liberating in so many ways that I could at least share my sexuality with my closest friends, my mother and brothers, and have a safe space amongst them, my home in particular.
However, I must clarify, coming out is not a one-time affair. It is a journey of realising that I as a gay man wasn’t safe in every space that people in general engaged with and existed in. It was an awakening to the realities of homophobia, a fear that gets internalised. It was to know that I had to censor myself (my queerness) in the workplace, amongst relatives and family friends, my neighbours and the residential colony I lived in. It was about being on guard, the fear of my sexuality being known to random people who’d most likely spew hate through words and actions, destroy my existence and sense of self.
To come out, as a consequence, is a journey of these truths and biases of society and how the self finds ways to overcome them. It is about anxiety, joy, trepidations, depression, the desire not to live, to find love, lose it and to love oneself. I was 50 when I felt safer and more fearless in my skin, that I no longer had ‘that secret’ to keep.
3. In your book, Queersapien, you write in fair detail about your relationships. Could you tell us a little about them, since they also reflect the social pressures that many gays face in India?
My search for a boyfriend started days after I came out in August 1999. The first one lived in Delhi’s Paharganj area. He ‘succumbed’ to marriage, not only since it would lead to turmoil within his family had he chosen ‘us’, but also since he didn’t wish for his mother to go through the trauma of knowing her son is gay. He didn’t want her or himself to face social oppression either.
The next was a tribal boy, a postgraduate student from a North-eastern state whose family had adopted Christianity. He feared coming out, living in paranoia that tied him down, impacting the relationship we shared. The Church, he had said, would not accept him, he’d be thrown out of his home and worse would happen—his parents would be humiliated and mortified!
I was later with a Bengali who flew away to Europe in pursuit of sexual freedom, love and safety. He feared being outed at work and home, a household that included his sister and widowed mother. ‘If I stay back, I’d be finished, and my mother would be devastated,’ he had evinced his anxieties.
In all three cases the issue wasn’t the lack of love. It wasn’t about compatibility or, as was said, our inability to tango. It was, as one of my queer friends said much later, the dance floor wasn’t ours. Meaning, there wasn’t an ecosystem within society that allowed us to just be ourselves. So we could never bring our fullness to relationships or anything else in life, constantly censoring ourselves in so many places in society that heterosexuals took for granted as they weren’t compelled to carry any fear of being who they were.
4. Would you say that life is better for the LGBTQ community today after the five-bench Supreme Court judgement in 2018 which partially struck down Section 377 of IPC and decriminalised same-sex relations between consenting adults?
We’ve seen a large number of people come out after the 2018 verdict. We’ve seen a rise in conversations in different forums, as well as in the press. Even industry, here and there, have talked about and acted on workplace inclusion. We’ve also found queerness finding its way into cinema and OTTs too, in good and bad ways, and more published material in the world of literature. There has also been a significant increase in queer events and Pride marches across the nation.
Still, while there aren’t any numbers on record, there is certainly an increasing number of suicides cases since the order, a handful of which have been reported. I learn from organisations such as Humsafar Trust, Nazariya – QFRG and Naz Foundation that there are more and more queries for mental health support and calls from folks who wish to end their life.
The fact is that neither has the media or governments cared much about the task of sensitisation that some of the judges stated as a need for integration of the communities within larger society. As a result, there is a constant push back to the community every time they stake a claim over a space or a civil right or basic dignity, as social bias combined with a bunch of discriminatory laws are placed as hurdles in the way of self-actualisation.
Yet, even as this is saddening and bothersome, the verdict has paved the way for individual action through the legal system. We have witnessed queer couples being protected through Court orders. The Chennai High Court ordered the banning of conversion therapy. And most recently, even Justice Chandrachud, now CJI, felt free enough to equate our relationships as ‘familial’.
5. What are your views on India legalising gay marriage?
I believe it is a matter of time before the Supreme Court rules in favour of same-sex marriages. However, as much as I may avail of the civil rights housed under the marriage acts given the relationship my partner, Roshan Wosti and I share, my concern is the fortification of lives of millions of queer folks, and that doesn’t come from marriage or the marriage acts. It comes from anti-discrimination laws that are applicable within families and homes, schools, healthcare centres, the financial sector, workplaces and so on, safe-guarding queer lives. Once a person feels safe and secure, the chance to find and give love, to foster relationships in whichever way they wish to define them, to exercise choice, is a greater possibility.
Of course, this is not to say that same-sex marriage is unimportant and shouldn’t be a choice available to us. It is to say that we have other priorities that need focus.