Over 14,000 people marched at this year's gay pride parade in Mumbai. I was there, beaming with joy at the overall turnout and the fact that so many allies came out to support us. And yet there were people outside of the parade who had absolutely no clue about what was happening. Every so often, I'd have to stop to help an inquisitive passerby understand what the parade was about—it wasn't for a deity and neither was it a political rally (flags can be confusing sometimes I won't deny). When I said it was a parade by gay people demanding equal rights, you could see them withdraw physically and mentally, before vanishing entirely among the civilians on the pavements. Over time I have come to realise that the word "gay" has so many negative connotations that anything that you say after that is like standing in front of a jury that has already convicted you without hearing your side of the story.
When we're growing up, we're kept as far from learning about LGBTQ individuals as possible. Religion condemns it, politicians disregard it and sex education calls it immoral.
The LGBTQ community in India is working towards making their voice heard, only to be conveniently ignored, threatened or hushed to silence; often times through violence. Who will listen to their stories? Who will understand their pain? How will the world know that your sexual orientation isn't just about sex but about love and human connection? Sadly, the reaction to these questions often ends up being, "It's not our problem."
I first came out of the closet at the age of 19, after years of lying to myself and those around me had finally gotten to me. I was tired of living a dual identity and was bursting at the seams with conflict. I just had to come out to my closest friends and be honest about it. I didn't know what being gay was all about when I first came out and, I am still learning. However, by being vocal about my orientation, I managed to rattle my friends a little. It more or less became a pattern, wherein I would come out to them and then they would almost always mull over it and come back with a thousand different questions:
"How do you know you're gay?"
"Did someone tell you this or did you know by yourself?"
"Do two penises collide like swords during gay sex or does one swallow the other?"
Now these may be naive questions, but they are curious ones nonetheless. What we, as Indians, don't realise is that when we're growing up, we're kept as far from learning about LGBTQ individuals as possible. Religion condemns it, politicians disregard it and sex education calls it immoral. As such, a kid with an alternate sexual orientation will only be scared and confused.
As queer folk bravely step forward to open up about some of the most intimate details of their lives, all we can hope for is that you are listening.
Soon I realised that it's not really that big a deal. I can live my life on my own terms and no one can hurt me. Today, I'm a moderately successful comedian who uses stand-up comedy as a medium to make jokes about my insecurities as a young gay man, often mocking the reactions my friends had when I first told them. I get to tell my story the way I like. Yet, there are so many stories out there we hardly get to hear. The LGBTQ community in India harbours people who are equally talented and enterprising and have had more than their share of struggles. With my podcast "Keeping it Queer," I get to speak to queer individuals from across the spectrum to learn what drives them to keep fighting in a world that just doesn't bother listening to us otherwise. Now we have a new platform which captures the angst, the pain and the joy behind these voices. Urmi Jadhav, a transgender person, taught me the deplorable conditions in which the hijra community survives, activist Vivek Patil helped me understand how the mammoth gay pride is brought together every year, and filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan taught me the shady ways in which men would hook up "back in the day." This is just the tip of the iceberg—there is so much more to the queer community in India that the world is yet to discover.
Come what may, I have learned a very important lesson while talking to my guests on "Keeping it Queer"—yes, there are struggles and yes, it's not easy living life outside the closet but the stigma is slowly fading away as we try to create a bridge of understanding. As queer folk bravely step forward to open up about some of the most intimate details of their lives, all we can hope for is that you are listening.