Parul Bhandari is currently pursuing a MA in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics. Her areas of interest and focus are Sociology of Kinship, Sociology of Family, Urban Sociology, Gender and Social Stratification. This column was extracted from a research project done by her under the guidance of her Professor of Sociology at Delhi School of Economics, Delhi.

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Cities and Sexualities both shape and are shaped by the dynamics of human social life. They reflect the ways in which the social life is organized, the ways in which it is represented, perceived and understood and the ways in which various groups cope with and react to these conditions. (Knopp, 1995, 149).

This article tries to investigate what Knopp means by his phrase ‘dynamics of human social life’ with regard to homosexuality and gay identity in the city. There are two streams of thought running parallel in this article. Firstly, I try to put forth that homosexual subjects in India are carving out a space of their own largely due to their own interaction with each other, facilitated primarily by new technology – cyber space and other physical spaces like gay bars. They have initiated a discourse on their own, resisting against the societal structure. Secondly, as the homosexual community is expanding, this generation of heterosexuals are accepting the once tabooed subject of homosexuality, in the former’s quest to be ‘cool’, to be deeply iconoclastic, to be rebellious of the traditional order (which shunned homosexuality), and of course to be progressive. The final analysis and conclusion will be based on certain coming out experiences— who are the people they come out to first, have their relation with these people altered in any way after their ‘confession’ to them? The essay finally analyzes the progressive gay discourse in the city and what it really means.

With the recent events in India, that is the petition to end section 377 of the IPC which considers consensual sexual act between adults of same sex as a punishable criminal offence and the recent first gay festival in Delhi, my task seems futile— the aforementioned events present a welcome change in the attitudes of people in the normative vision of heterosexuality. But it would be worthwhile to probe and see whether this ‘openness’ and receptive attitude is a genuine one. Or is it all a façade and just occurring because we are supposed to be the ‘cool,’ the ‘revolutionaries’, and are attitudes still prevalently homophobic behind this garb?

It is always a difficult task to bring out the latent aspect of any phenomena. To unravel this, I conducted in-depth interviews with some homosexuals and a few heterosexuals. I focused primarily on homosexual coming out experiences. In my interviews, I gathered that the openness and readiness to come out depends firstly on how open the audience is. Tanmay, one of the gay subjects, said that since his best friend (a girl) who he had first come out to was extremely supportive and rather ‘normal’ about his identity, it gave him the courage to come out to other close friends too. He, in fact, is very open about who he is. Quite opposite to this is the story of Sagar. When he came out to his friend (also a girl) she was quite hesitant, a bit apprehensive. In a nutshell she didn’t really give him much confidence. And my third subject, Ashwin, became extremely comfortable about his identity after he got in touch with a lot of gays from all over India, through the internet. He has come out to his entire college friend circle and to his parents! (who as expected are in denial).

Coming back to the discussion on the peer’s reaction (manifest and latent) -- a trend that I noticed among people was that the friends were OK about gays coming out to them and with their identity, but in a very subtle manner tried to confirm if they really were gay and asked them that if given a chance would they change back to heterosexuality. One of Tanmay’s other girl- friends who was the second person he came out to, was extremely supportive and appreciative of his honesty. However, shockingly, she coaxed Tanmay to visit a hypnotherapist, so that he would know what really “led him to be gay”.

Interestingly enough, one of the heterosexual male subjects I interviewed said that he was “ok with homosexuality”; however, he also mentioned that Indian society will never accept gay identity and if 'they' want to live a happy, 'normal' life they will have to be heterosexuals.” Apparently, this heterosexual person is a well educated young person, raised in a metro, who maintains a very ‘progressive’ front externally. Another of the heterosexual subjects was also “ok with gays” but also stressed that he would never support a petition that asks for legalization of gay unions in India. In all of the interviews, I also noticed that the male friends who the gay subjects came out to slowly drifted apart. In Sagar’s case, his best friend Rahul, who he came out to at first was extremely ‘normal’ about it. But somehow they slowly lost touch. Whenever Sagar tried to get in touch with him, he would come up with excuses. Ashwin’s best friend also has drifted apart and turned rather malicious.

It may seem somewhat hopeful that recently four movies have been made in the Bollywood industry focusing on gay subjects and their lives-- My brother Nikhil, Page 3, Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd and Life in a Metro. A petition signed by the most eminent personalities of India was printed in the newspapers and sent to the government, for the removal of section 377 of the IPC. There are also numerous gay bars and pubs in the cities now- especially in Delhi and there are ‘gay nights’ at the ‘regular’ discs and pubs of the city. To many this may seem a perfect trend of progression for gender discourse in the city. For them this indicates an increasing discourse on gay issues and thus a turn towards their assimilation. However, it would do no harm to read against the grain. If there really is a progressive discourse on the gay issue then why is the sex-education in Indian schools limited to man-woman relationships only? Why isn’t homosexuality included in the sex-education syllabus? Again, if we look at the media, there has been artistic suppression of the issues on homosexuality. There isn’t a single movie made that provides an insight at gay people as real-life human beings dealing with, talking about their ups and downs in life, their dilemmas. Page 3, Life in a Metro and Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. briefly touched upon the gay issue, but all in a rather negative light for the gay identity. Moreover, My Brother Nikhil was in effect a movie on AIDS, suffered by a homosexual; even though the projection of homosexuality was poignant and more sensitive, it still corroborated the AIDS and homosexuality angle in a broad stroke. It would not be wrong to conclude then that there has been no real ‘progression’ in the true sense of the word for homosexuality in India. The gay issues still are at the periphery; they take a miniscule part in people’s lives. This generation, under the ‘pressure’ of being ‘cool’, ’modern’, ‘receptive to changes’ is thus putting up a façade of supporting homosexuality but unfortunately, the fact is that most of them still have inhibitions with this form of sexual identity. And so, whatever progression had been made in the issues regarding the homosexuals has largely been due to their own effort and resistance. The heterosexuals of this generation just portray the support, they don’t truly believe in what they support. Sadly, they are practicing a more dangerous denial which performs a lip-service of progressive discourse and still churns out the most constricted and discriminating notions about homosexuality.


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