Long ago, when I visited the Kanheri Caves at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, I came across a cave that had a Buddha statue with 11 heads. I was told by the historian accompanying us that it was Aryavalokiteshwara, the Buddha of Compassion, who is worshiped by many Asian cultures, in both a female and a male avatar. That was my first introduction to gender fluidity.
Growing up, I had always experienced both feminine and masculine characteristics in my behaviour, which I always found odd, but eventually came to accept. Years after coming out as queer, I began to identify as a non-binary person—a person who identifies with no gender. It was the identity that described me best, for I had always felt that gender is just a social construct. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated being limited to such boundaries forced upon us by societies, limits that never stop aping regressive dogmas. In a society that’s obsessed with labels, all I wondered was why everyone wanted to boil down universal beings to such tiny tags. I believe (as do so many others) that nothing is absolute, which includes sexuality and gender identity. But people are still trying to come to terms with this.
I have noticed a lot of bigotry within both heterosexual and homosexual communities alike. Shame is perceived within both these groups in similar but different ways. For example, a heterosexual cisgender male may be shamed for his romantic-affectionate side towards other cisgender males. The same shame is foisted onto a homosexual cisgender male for his romantic-affectionate side towards cisgender women. We all confine ourselves to these small structured concepts. Are any of us ready to consider the possibility that they’re not completely hetero or homo, or not completely male or female? That the gender spectrum is blurred in reality?
When I accepted the fact that I was a non-binary individual, I began to wonder: if I identify neither as male nor female, how could I be gay? Was my experience really ‘same-gender’ attraction, then? I was always ashamed of the fact that I was romantically attracted to women, although extremely rarely. Within my years of being a cisgender homosexual male, I had a close friend for whom I developed a romantic inclination. But I never approached her since I felt ashamed that I was experiencing attraction towards a woman, as an openly gay ‘man’. She was one of the only three women I have ever yet been attracted to. But this was only the tip of the iceberg.
When I came out as a non-binary individual at home, my parents threatened to disown me. What was even more surprising was when people from LGBTQ+ NGO(s) lectured me and told me that I was “asking for too much liberty”. Yes, this is the bigotry I experienced within my own community. Not only was I appalled but it was jaw-dropping too. But I set it aside for a moment, and decided to tackle the situation at home when my dad said he’d disown me. In a moment of anger, I replied to him that I really don’t care since, I had adopted Ambedkar as my father, a man who stood up for LGBTQ+ rights way back in the 1930s. Obviously, my father really felt offended, and kept quiet. But a tense while later, to pacify him, I told him that no one should want to die with so much unnecessary hatred towards a community in their heart, when they have an option to die with love; love which comes only through acceptance. He did agree with me, but he also requested a little time to digest the fact. And as difficult as the incident was, it really did warm my heart towards the end.
The very fact that there isn’t any gender related bigotry within the non-human animal community shows that hatred within us against LGBTQ+ individuals is a learned trait. But of course, it can be unlearned too! However, one will always find bigots everywhere. And sometimes, they might show up online, in your inbox, and even as prospective partners on dating apps.
To make online dating culture more queer-friendly, I believe queer-themed media campaigns are required to educate the masses (if not an educational syllabus). After all, it is the quality of users that makes a dating app likeable. And when you find a user with whom something just clicks…
The first guy I met on Tinder was an aspiring drag artist. After we matched, we exchanged numbers. He was from Pune and expressed his wish to visit a Pride Parade for his first time. Since the Mumbai Pride Parade was just weeks away, at the time, I suggested that he should come over to my house first, so we could go together. He was overjoyed to meet his date for the first time and that too at Pride.
He came over and decided to wear his Batman cape (which his mom stitched for him as a child) in front, like a one piece dress. And I wore a Roman toga. I’m a person who usually prefers to not wear any makeup, but he had come prepared! I found it funny that a person who claimed to know so much about makeup was watching makeup tutorials while simultaneously applying makeup. We went to Pride together and both of us had to separate for a while as we had two different groups of friends to keep up with. But, later, somehow, he managed to track me down at a bar, and (a little tipsy) we decided to go for the after party – his first one. We changed our clothes in that small bar, and he wore his batman cape again but this time, the ordinary way, on his back. I offered him my Egyptian-style necklace to wear on his head like a tiara. On our way towards the after party, as luck would have it, my friends and I stopped at the footpath and ended up having an hour-long argument with a stranger about LGBTQ+ rights. Since most of my friends are passionate free thinkers they never give up an opportunity to debate, which really annoyed my date since he was really eager to enter the party! Once we reached, the next thing I know is that towards the end I lifted his batman cape up, covered both our, and under it, we kissed passionately, dancing in time to the music. Many photographers started clicking pictures of us, and those flashlights seemed magical, like twinkling stars in the black background of his space-like batman cape.