As the 10th Delhi Queer Pride concluded this year, I began looking back at my own decade-long journey as a queer person, who has spent most part of their life living in the capital city
I remember a time when I was severely depressed but had no way to address or even acknowledge it. Thankfully, however, I had built enough emotional awareness and sense of courage and self-care to be able to understand that I needed to do something for my “gay self”. It was circa 2009. I wanted to see gay people. Delhi (and a few other cities, I believe) had already organised its first pride parade in 2008. I had read about it in the newspaper, while desperately searching for an acronym called “LGBT”. A year later, I realised that I must attend a Pride parade. I joined Facebook, found a couple of “LGBT India” groups and went around asking if anyone was attending Pride.
It may seem a bit weird but that’s how queer people find community. Doing so was hard, and it still is for many people. I have had privileges that made things so much easier – living in an urban set-up, coming from English speaking middle-class and upper caste background. Perhaps we should not compare our troubles but perhaps also, we must count our blessings and use every inch of our privilege to further the voices that find no space. I spent the next few years finding and building my own queer circle – “gay friends”, as I called them. One of the gaps that I noticed back then was the lack of any spaces for younger, college-going queer people. There were some events that happened in the city once in a while, but they remained out of reach for me because of monetary constraints and because they happened too late in the evening. I simply wanted a space where I could talk about myself with others who were going through similar issues – something as simple as discussing my crush or how to come out to straight friends at my engineering college. So, with this bunch of gay friends I made, we took first steps towards starting a space for younger people and called it Queer Campus. A lot of my personal growth as a queer person happened because of the effort we put towards nurturing this space and the support it received from the larger queer community.
Taking first steps into finding and building queer community in Delhi was great but I didn’t think I could live in Delhi long-term as I wasn’t out to my family. After much effort and churning, I had opportunities to relocate and there are two significant lessons that I learned from my journey away from the city I always called home – one is on gender and the other on finding sustainable support as queer people falling outside all forms of conventional societal structures.
I’ll start with gender. Over the years, as I got more comfortable with my non-heteronormative sexuality, and as the emotional barriers to feeling romantic came down, the questions around my gender and my own comfort around my body started revealing themselves. I have called myself gay/lesbian, soft butch, stone butch; so, as one can observe, I transitioned from simply asserting my sexuality (gay/lesbian) to finding a way for asserting my gender expression (butch), while also expressing discomfort around my body (stone butch is a label for people/lesbian women who present masculine and don’t like to be sexually touched by their partners). What did bother me was the fact that all the labels I used ended up being associated with the “woman” gender and this was when I felt like I was not only questioning my gender expression but also my gender identity. I found some comfort in describing myself as masculine-of-center, and genderqueer; however, I still didn’t know if I could use any pronouns apart from he/she.
Medically transitioning was like a possible but unimaginable dream in my head – how could I transition if I were not a transgender man?! This was the status quo for many years until a friend told me on a lunch date that I could transition even if I did not identify as a trans man. I went home and googled “transgender, transmasculine and non-binary”. And, I found home.
Being transgender and non-binary is still not a voice that finds much echo within the queer community in India. So, I’ll say this – gender is not binary, it is more than a spectrum and if you really want to understand it, think of it as a 3D space-time continuum. Queering my gender meant I have no sexuality labels that I can relate with. Or as a popular meme says, “When you are non-binary, every attraction you feel is gay“. Perhaps I can live with that.
On the second point regarding finding support outside of societal structures – somewhere between moving cities and running away from my family, I started feeling like I had no friends. I had just moved to Bangalore and hardly knew anyone. My dating history had never been great and none of my romantic relationships had ever lasted for more than six months. After almost a year of feeling isolated and painstakingly trying to connect with people, I finally found some sense of friendship and camaraderie. And this is what I learnt – I feel like as queer people, we must get used to a more nebulous sense of community than the usual anchored “family” like community that we are used to. For me, the characteristics of family come from a defined sense of responsibility and the fact that these people in your life are “always” there. I am not sure if friendship-oriented, ‘chosen’ families work like that. Relationships evolve, people leave and one has to make efforts to reconnect. And it happens over and over. This is a helpful perspective to keep as we individually and collectively build and sustain our communities as queer people.
Circa 2017 – I am with a bunch of people, all preparing to go for pride. Some of them are fussing over make-up and saaris, while my rainbow tie holds me in good stead. I feel like I have come far from wanting to go to pride because I wanted to see gay people. Am I even gay anymore? Well, jokes apart, it has been journey that has shaped not only my identity and politics, but also my sense of community and belonging.
Here’s to 10 years of being queer and being here.