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Tinder, Grindr And More: Queer Indians Talk Dating In Times Of Section 377

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By Rohini Banerjee for Cake:

“Queer dating is nothing like a Bollywood romance,” laughs Ishaan*, a gay theatre student, as he talks about his experiences on Grindr, a dating app aimed exclusively at gay men. As an avid lover of cinema, he grew up (like many 90s kids) with romanticized notions of love, but the real world experiences of finding a same-sex partner turned out drastically different.

In a country where Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is a reality, Ishaan’s dating experiences mirror that of many queer Indians. He’s had his fair share of highs and lows—he’s met partners who have been warm and passionate, but also, partners who have been withdrawn, harsh, interested in quick gratification and then later cold and distant. “It’s not all romantic or sexy,” he says, “And after 377, even less so.”

Love, Sex And Grindr

While Grindr (since it is queer-specific) might give you the assurance that the person on the other end is also queer, it’s not always a place where you can find a lasting relationship, or romantic love. “I seriously don’t think I’ll ever get interested for a relationship with people I meet on Tinder or Grindr,” says Allen*, a queer writer who has used both those dating apps, “It just doesn’t happen. Nothing stirs.”

But, what does happen, is a lot of sex. Whether it be one-night stands, or proper friends-with-benefits situations—Grindr (and even Tinder) is a great space for it. In fact, things on Grindr escalate really quickly. “I first check their preferences,” continues Allen, “If they haven’t put that up, I just ask them. Immediately afterwards, either the other person asks for a ‘clear picture’ or I ask them for a photo if they haven’t uploaded one. In two minutes, you have exchanged pictures and know whether you are interested in further conversation.”

Once conversation has been initiated, and both parties are interested, things go pretty quickly from there. You immediately meet and hookup. Sometimes, for safety reasons, people use their usernames instead of real names.
What Grindr also facilitates is a lot of networking between the queer community. It’s a great way to discover the queer people in your neighbourhood (in your city, even), and it’s also a good bonding exercise. During one of his Grindr adventures, Allen found a popular activist and poet on his radar.

All in all, dating on Grindr comes with both its positives and pitfalls.“It’s like being presented with a buffet with multiple selections,” says Dhruv*, law student and another frequent (queer) user of the app, “There is so much to choose from and everything’s great—but only once you have it in small doses.”

Women Seeking Women

So the apps are coming through for men. But what about women? “It’s definitely difficult to date as a queer woman in India,” says Madhuri*, a bisexual media student who’s often taken to online apps to find dates and hook-ups alike. “While men have it easier with apps like Grindr. However, I did have some luck on Tinder”

Tinder—possibly the most widely-used dating app worldwide—has a huge user-base in India. So much so, that it has started tailoring its advertising to appeal to Indian sensibilities. Unlike apps like Grindr, however, it does not target a specific gender, and is primarily a hub for heterosexual dating. In an online sphere like this—which is not exclusively aimed at queer dating—things get a little complicated.

When you’re a queer person using Tinder, you do have the option of filtering your search to include only the people of the gender you are attracted to, but, due to a glitch in the app’s algorithm, there is no guarantee that the people who show up on your search are also queer. Tinder is definitely not foolproof when it comes to finding queer love—but not entirely faulty either. Madhuri, despite encountering a bunch of women on her search who were straight, still ended up finding queer partners through the app.

However, it’s not like queer women don’t have apps for them at all—even though they aren’t as widely used or popular as Grindr and Tinder—but in India, these apps haven’t had much success. Brenda is such an app, which has often been called the ‘lesbian equivalent’ of Grindr.

“I tried Brenda for precisely one day,” says Garima, who hasn’t had the best experience dating online. “The interface was definitely not as good as Tinder but since it was exclusively for women, I decided to try it. In my experience, almost 80% of the profiles were fake—either they were men or they were empty profiles.”

The woman Garima met and spoke to on the app also had a similar experience, and had to face the brunt of these fake profiles. “I was flooded with messages from guys who were upfront in stating they were male,” she continues. “When I said I wasn’t interested they insisted on still sharing their pictures in case I decided to change my mind.”

The way the heterosexual male gaze fetishizes lesbian sexuality is disturbing indeed, and the fact that it has spilled over to these apps and essentially corrupted what was supposed to be a safe space for queer women is cause for concern. OkCupid—another dating site frequented by queer women—as well as queer Facebook groups, also have straight men hiding behind fake profiles, trying to get off on queer female sexuality.

Dealing With Prejudice

“I remember taking a walk with this really cute guy once,” says Jai*, an aspiring filmmaker and Grindr frequenter, who identifies as gay. “Everything was going well. He told me that he really liked me. He was already in my good books because we discovered a shared interest in films, and suddenly, I tried to brush my arm against his. It was subtle. No one would have known. There weren’t a lot of people around, too. But he was so creeped out by this that he decided to take a cab home. I didn’t know what I was more ashamed of, liking him on the first date, or doing something that queer people are just ‘not allowed’ to do in public.”

Even after you cross the hurdles of meeting someone online (and hitting it off with them) successfully—there is still a lot at stake. Jai grew up in a small town, where the stigma against sexuality is so poignant that even (unmarried) heterosexual couples have to watch their backs before openly showing affection. Being gay in such an environment, and trying to date, becomes a struggle, because nearly everyone is in the closet, and too scared to express their sexuality.

“I’ve dated my girlfriend in secret for about two years now,” says Riya*, another queer Indian who hails from a small town, “We met on Tinder, and we actually bonded over how we were both in the closet and from conservative families. We live together, and yet, can only be ‘roommates’ and ‘friends’ to the rest of the world. Our parents might have guessed by now, because we’re a bit too intimate with each other to be ‘just friends’, but it’s like they don’t want to see it or admit it to themselves.”

While this is a more passive approach—of refusing to acknowledge the existence of queerness—same-sex couples in India have also faced more physical and palpable threats of violence and ostracism. Rishi*—though from a more urban and ‘progressive’ neighbourhood—has had to face this. “My uncle saw my boyfriend and I holding hands one day, and things went completely sour,” he says. “He outed me to the rest of my family, after which they interrogated me about him, called me homophobic slurs, told me that I had ‘soiled’ the family name, beat me, and locked me up in my room. They even took me to conversion therapy.” Though Rishi resisted a lot, and talked his way out of conversion therapy, he has still not been accepted by his family and has been forced to remain closeted.

Does Online Dating Really Help?

The verdict on this is still divided. The online medium can be both and liberating and constricting, but whatever it’s pitfalls, it’s still a space which helps queer people network and find community—and that’s always great.
The central issue, however—to which nearly everyone mentioned above agrees—is that being ‘out and proud’ in India, is a major challenge.

“Since people haven’t yet come out in the open they also shy away from any online platforms for fear someone would see them,” says Garima.

There are of course success stories of queer love passing the test of time, but sadly, these are far outnumbered by stories where same-sex relationships aren’t accepted. “While I still believe there’s someone out there for me,” says Jai in his parting comments, “I also know that it would take a whole generation to understand that queer love is actual (and ‘normal’) love. That we are a lot more than our sexual orientation. And that we are desperately waiting for a time when we can hold each other’s hands in public without a care in the world.”

* Names changed.

Banner image source: dgrosso23/Flickr

This article was first published here on Cake

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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