377 anniversary is a chance to celebrate the happy gay stories

A few years ago at the Times Lit Fest in Mumbai, I was asked on stage, “When will we have the happy gay story?” I was there talking about my own novel, Don’t Let Him Know, where one of the characters is a gay man who hides his sexuality and gets married to a woman, not exactly a “happy gay story”.

I don’t remember what I mumbled in response but the question stayed with me. The 2018 Supreme Court verdict that decriminalised homosexuality had not yet happened. But I cannot pretend that the verdict, landmark as it was, ushered in some Rainbow Ram Rajya. Even today I hear of young men, regulars at gay parties, who get married and unfriend their gay friends on Facebook overnight. Two school friends from a suburban town not far from Kolkata, consumed pesticide and killed themselves. They were close friends, said the family. One wrote the other’s name all over his journal but no one said the g-word. In the middle of the lockdown, I heard of queer friends of friends who killed themselves or tried to do so. Even the luckiest among us bear the scars of not fitting in and they run deep. For many of us chosen families offered solace that biological families could not, and the pandemic has torn many apart from those support systems.

Yet it is worth remembering that we’ve come further than many of us ever imagined we would in our lifetimes. Apurva Asrani, the award-winning editor/writer of films like Aligarh, recently tweeted about the joy of buying a home together with his partner. Not so long ago they had to pretend to be cousins to rent in a city like Mumbai where landlords only wanted “family” types. Even their parents had to play along in this charade.

Asrani says he was amazed by all the support he got for that innocuous new home tweet, even from those whose political ideology was at odds with his. The fact is when people think of heterosexual lives they imagine family vacations, the first home, Diwali shopping. When they think of homosexual lives people think about sex, not two men’s names together on a nameplate. Gay families tend to be invisible. Not that sex isn’t important, but it’s not the sum total of any life.

The Section 377 verdict finally gave us the chance to celebrate queer lives beyond the stereotypes of the mincing comic, the angst-ridden victim, the wistful lover pining in silence. We’ve come a long way from the faux-gay jokes of Dostana to the family rom-com Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and the wedding-planner in Made in Heaven, a man who is unapologetically gay yet not defined by his sexuality. The verdict also freed companies who wanted to do right by their LGBTQ employees but felt circumscribed by Section 377 being the law of the land. Parmesh Shahani, the author of Queeristan: LGBTQ Inclusion in the Workplace, told me once that while traumatic LGBTQ experiences in the workplace are all too common, there were also stories of “hope and possibility” like the parents who come to an LGBTQ job fair to check out whether a company is queer-friendly enough or the company that does not just hire transgenders but also tries to find them housing because many landlords won’t rent to them.

On the second anniversary of the fall of Section 377, especially in a year as bleak as this, it feels all the more important to hold on to these stories of hope. India, in some ways, has been lucky. As the response to Asrani’s tweet showed, the 377 verdict came as a relief to many opinion-makers, left, right and centre, who saw criminalisation of homosexuality as an embarrassing throwback that undermined their own self-image of India as a modern state in a global liberal economy.

The danger is with increased and more assertive gay visibility also comes homophobia as Mark Gevisser shows in his new book The Pink Line. That has yielded political dividends in ultra nationalist projects as far afield as Russia and Uganda, with gay rights becoming a convenient excuse to target the European Union or the United States for imposing their own “liberal globalised commodity culture” and values on sovereign nations, pilloried as a new kind of cultural colonialism. Of course the irony is the anti-gay laws themselves were also the bequest of those same European states. All this to show that the path from decriminalisation to acceptance in a post-377 India will not necessarily be easy.

But on this day, the anniversary of a ruling where a Supreme Court judge said history owed LGBT Indians an apology for the ignominy and ostracism they suffered, it’s also okay to just pause, breathe and remember that gay stories too deserve happy endings.

Courtesy - TOI



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