A large portion of the last decade has been quite tumultuous for the LGBTQIA+ community in the country. From the decriminalisation of Section 377 in 2009 by the Delhi High Court to its recriminalisation in 2013 by the Supreme Court, from the state recognising the discrimination that people from the hijra community face to the more recent disaster that was the Transgender Persons Bill of 2016 – the community has gone through a lot.
With all of this going on, there is a relatively new trend in society that has also been taken up by many Indian cities. The trend is what we know as the ‘Pride Parade’, which is the coming together and the celebration of our community. It is an act of reclaiming the public sphere and asserting our identity.
Though the first Pride Parade in the subcontinent was organised way back in 1999 in Kolkata, it is only recently that many cities are following suite. Even smaller towns like Chandannagar, Dinajpur and even Bhopal have held their own Pride marches. I too belong to one such small town.
Growing up in a country like India which mostly works in a patriarchal set-up, where the heteronormative family structure accrues the utmost respect, my only source of information regarding my identity as a gay man was the internet. I saw photos and read stories about places where these ‘alternate’ sexualities were accepted, where our identities were celebrated. It was also the internet which showed me the ‘correct’ way of how Pride should look like. It must be filled with rainbow balloons, massive flags and placards that assert the ‘here-ness’ of my queerness.
In my opinion, the idea of the Pride Parade was arguably a big ‘fuck you’ to the society. It came off as a space where all were accepted, regardless of what they believed in. Looking at it from the yellow-tinted screen of my computer, it looked like a utopia at the fag end of a treacherous path.
What made it utopic to me was not just the idea of Pride, but also what was presented to me in these pictures – beautifully-sculpted men standing on gigantic floats commanding admiration and desire, as if they had recently descended from a renaissance painting. Men walking hand-in-hand with rainbow flags painted on their cheeks, unafraid to kiss one another, men dressed up in their finest outfits laughing aloud with no care in the world – these made me want to have a taste of this world, this inclusivity and this carefree attitude.
And I did get a taste of it in 2014.
I was in Delhi since I had got admission in one of the colleges there. Pride was an occasion that I had marked out on my calendar – and I was extremely excited to attend it. Sadly, the university had scheduled its exams around the same time and I could only attend it for half an hour. Yet, I made it a point to dress in the very best clothes I had.
I couldn’t attend the complete march for two years – but by the third year, I had decided that I would attend the whole march, along with all the events that had been planned around it. One of these events was the fundraising party. The funda for this fundraiser was simple. Everyone was allowed to come in, and they could donate as much money as they liked. My very first party filled with gay men! My excitement knew no bounds.
But what I saw creeped me out to bits.
There was a dark room, filled with people. Sweaty men were grinding against each other and everyone around them. Everyone wore skimpy clothes – and there was a cacophony that would turn skeptics into homophobes for sure! For months, I tried to get over the feeling of disgust I felt – of being constantly pulled to the dance floor by unknown men. I kept telling myself and the others around me that ‘this is not what the gay community is’, or ‘oh, that party was thoroughly disgusting’. It’s only after months of conversations that I realised how deeply problematic these statements were.
We have constantly been told that gay people ‘are’ a certain way. Sometimes, they are even depicted as loud paedophiles. The media also makes a caricature out of the community. Not only this, my mind had been fed with popular images about Pride as celebrated in the West.
In my innocence, I had completely forgotten that Pride had been happening in the West for a much longer time. According to me, ‘queerness’ was more acceptable there than here. The West didn’t have to deal with issues in the same way India had to.
My social circles had always comprised more of people from an upper caste and class background, and my parents had been more accepting than others. What I had forgotten was that it is only in these spaces that people get to be whatever they want to be, do whatever they want to do and also do whoever they want to do it with. The people I saw on that dance floor came from all walks of life, and this was the beauty of that space. People constantly look for a space to unmask – and just because of my preconceived notions of what looks good or sounds good, it didn’t mean that things had to be that way. After all, my preconceived notions came from privilege.
I believe that a lot of work still needs to be done to make Pride more inclusive for various kinds of people – people with disabilities, people from underprivileged castes and classes, people of various ethnicities, etc. But I do see baby steps being taken today. Additionally, I think that people like me need to step out of our privilege. Once we’re able to do all this, only then can the true potential of Pride be realised.
The author is a huge fan of Nikki Minaj. He likes to spend his time eating panki and laping, shopping for clothes, walking all over his city, and reading up on gender and sexuality.