I still remember the day I crossed over from a vague, lingering but intense desire to the realisation that the feeling couldn’t be denied or dismissed any longer – that I was different.
It was a lonely moment – a gawky boy in small town India, brought up by a single mother struggling to fight gendered and casteist prejudices.
I didn’t know any other queer-identified person, except for anonymous names on my ‘fake’ Facebook profile, and was embarrassingly ignorant of any queer-themed literature or material – except porn.
The few interactions I had intimidated me – sex shorn of conversation – and for about a decade later, I kept away from websites like Planetromeo – this was before Grindr made things easier for some of us.
Fear was a constant companion. Even at 14 with occasional internet access, I knew what I did was dirty and wrong and criminal. I knew of Section 377 through rumours, stares and stigma, and even though I had never read the provision for myself, knew that being queer (I identified as gay at the time) meant not just potentially disappointing one’s family, alienating friends and inviting harassment, but also getting jailed for who I was.
More than a decade has passed since, filled with hilarious stories of hormones and escapades, with all-consuming love and heartbreaks, and almost daily negotiations with caste, gender and sexual harassment.
My clothes are more colourful, and the grasp of the law has grown weaker – Section 377 doesn’t seem as intimidating as it felt to the hapless 14-year-old struggling to choose between respectability and desire.
But most queer people don’t have the same class, education and other privileges to repel the stigma of your country criminalizing your life. Section 377 casts a tall shadow in their lives, policing their desires, controlling their sexual expressions and making things easier for bullies and harassers.
It also translates in wanton violence against trans persons, sex workers, poorer queer folk on the streets, in the erasure of crime against queer people, and in stymieing health interventions in rural areas.
Starting today, thousands of LGBT people will start coming together across the country to hold vigils to remind the Supreme Court that the curative petition before it isn’t a mere document, it contains the hopes and aspirations of countless people who are fighting for their right to live with dignity and respect.
But this isn’t our ‘last hope’. It cannot be, considering how far we have come in just a few decades, despite legislative inaction and judicial dalliance.
Despite Section 377, so many of us are living and performing queer love in our schools, colleges, universities, in our homes and workplaces, in the streets and inside our heads. We are pushing for better access to education and healthcare, stronger laws and sensitization programmes to stem anti-queer violence, and reaching out to younger people to be a part of the struggle.
Some of the most powerful forms of resistance are coming from smaller towns, villages and countryside, where queer communities are showing the way in fighting back social and state oppression. Some of the most underprivileged people – trans sex workers, gender-non-confirming people in villages who don’t identify with our western labels – are talking about freedoms and rights in a way that’s both inspiring and challenging.
In cities, campuses are buzzing with queer activities, young people are more open and less judgmental that those even a generation ago, popular culture is witnessing a gradual but significant shift from its traditionally negative, stereotypical portrayal of queer lives.
This road is long and arduous but whatever the court may decide on February 2, we are not going back into the closet. Section 377 is unjust and wrong, and it will have to go, today or five years from now.
In the meanwhile, we shall continue to celebrate our diversity, trying to strengthen voices from the margin, fighting against violence and for health, education and anti-discrimination laws. We shall hold and reach out to those worst affected by the law and initiate conversations within the community on our prejudices, privileges and problems. From where I’m standing now, the future looks bright with a rainbow in the background. My 14-year-old self would be happy.
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