The Reality of Being Gay in India

LGBT Activists Protest Against Supreme Court's Judgement

Being gay in India is no walk in the park. Rather, it’s like walking a tightrope across a canyon, from realization to social and personal acceptance. On one hand, you want to be true to yourself and be content in the person that you are, but you also have to be on constant guard against the fires of hatred and ridicule fuelled by ignorance and bigotry. It is debilitating, oppressive and crippling, because you are being targeted for something that you have no control over. In this risky and often harrowing strut through life, some manage to dazzle and move forward with panache, white others hide behind inscrutable shrouds and facades, yet others stumble and fall into disgrace.

Being gay in India is tough, especially if you’re from a small rural environment, like me. You know that people won’t accept you for who you are, granted that you yourself do first. All your actions have to be carefully calculated as not to reveal your sexuality and thus make you a viable target for ostracism and possible violence. So you either stifle your reality under socially accepted facades of a marriage and negate your whole identity into repression, or lead double lives, behind the charade of a family life while engaging in sexual escapades with others in secret. In the case of such repressed persons, forced as they are by society’s hate and neglect, it often results in cases of sexual indiscretions on strangers in crowded places or in back alleys. However, most gay men simply lead secret lives, away from the prying and judgmental eyes of the public, engaging in covert sexual relations with one or more partners. Matters of monogamy and safe-sex don’t even arise in some situations, because they think it all a waste in a society that views them as unwanted entities. Thankfully, a lot of the younger gay men have the freedom, opportunity and courage to come out to accepting persons in their lives and live without the kind of crippling self-doubt and fear that people before them had to go through. It’s also a good thing that many in my generation and younger, particularly the millennial, have shown a particular capacity to be more accepting and open to the realities of human sexuality and variety than their predecessors. It’s a step in the right direction, though the battle is far from over.

Having a support group around you is imperative for gay individuals. When all that you are is called wrong and unnatural, and your very existence is negated and neglected, you need to have those few points of light in the dark that can show your naysayers wrong. While most gay individuals in India stay hidden behind thick walls, those few who do come out (or have come out after the landmark decision against Section 377 back in 2009) and are open about their sexuality to whatever degree they are comfortable with, have very few venues to share their doubts and queries, and to have an open discussion on matters that only someone from their own sexual orientation can have any idea about. Feeling lost, rejected and dejected is common in homosexuals, because of being told from the beginning that they are unwanted freaks, undeserving and unlikely of having satisfying personal relations in their life. To be able to confide in and lean on at least a few individuals, whether they be parents, friends or members of their own sexuality, can be a life-saver, a beacon in the darkest of nights.

I read an article by a bestselling Indian writer in a popular daily, about his thoughts on Section 377, which was on the whole very much in support of the decriminalization of homosexuality in our country. Though a lot of his ideas, and his heart, were in the right place, certain misconceptions about the queer community was evident in it, evidenced from a request to refrain from flamboyant gay parades and shoving homosexuality down the public’s throat. The LGBTQ pride marches across the globe are not a vehicle to promote any ‘gay agenda’ or to engage in lavish displays of gay lifestyles. It’s just a way to tell the world that we exist, we live, we are together and we have a voice, as degraded and ridiculed as we are. It is meant to instill the titular ‘pride’ in a person’s heart instead of the shame and doubt that they have to bear. It is a way to show solidarity amongst the community and to spread the message to closeted and troubled individuals out there that we are there for you, and things are going to change for good, as they must. It’s an opportunity for heterosexual individuals to show their support for a just cause, and for them to mingle with their fellow beings with alternate sexual identities. It is also a way to show the general public that we are here, that we are part of the community, and we are just misunderstood and misrepresented.

The reality of being gay is that loneliness is your constant companion. I have felt alone and lost for so long, it doesn’t even bother me that much anymore. It’s just a fact of life that I have had to accept. As a gay man in India, I have accepted that I will most probably end up spending my life without the love, support and care of a compatible partner like we all wish for. It may be possible in a surreptitious and secret way, but that is a harrowing existence. When love is sin and you sinners, what is left, but to accept it and move on with your life, because there is still so much you can aspire to and achieve. Because, in the end, all we want is to be loved and to be accepted for who we are. It will take time for society to forsake stigmas and accept the LGBTQ community as part of itself rather than a cancerous tumor that ought to be removed, particularly when there are forces at work, social, political and religious, that try to undermine rationality and truth while spreading ignorance. It will, eventually, be possible for people to see that not all gay men are all about sex and the physical acts of pleasure, but are simply people wishing to exist and live as they are, unimpeded and unobjected. I am looking forward to a day, when a gay man in India won’t have to fear for his life and sanity, having the freedom to love whoever they want and to not have to face the troubles and injustices of this new apartheid.

Arjun Unnikrishnan
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