| HETEROSEXUALS IN DENIAL: PARUL BHANDARI
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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