I’ve had the privilege of being the straight voice of Gaysi for a year and a half now. I’ve listened to coming-out conversations. I’ve met openly gay people. I’ve attended the launch of a book about gays in India. I’ve faced my own conflicted confusion and resolved it. I’ve even been hit upon by a gay person. This is all me and how homosexuality fits into my head.
With Section 377 and Indian Gay Prides, my world mirrors the world around. People are talking now, yes. Some agree, some don’t but at least it is being acknowledged. Ordinarily, I should have been an indifferent observer since I’m not gay myself. But I’ve been drawn into the world of these questions, first by friends closetted-suspected-gay, then the blog and finally all the other people and associations that happened as a result. It’s changing my life.
Being a straight and gay-friendly person is not as easy as it looks. Having sorted out (mostly, I hope!) where I myself stand on the issue, I find there’s a whole new can of surprises (and now, let’s not call them all worms) opening up. Some I resolve, some I rationalise and on some, I’m still ambivalent. The list has the four most important areas of my life, which is a good indication of just how big the question has become even for a supposedly uninvolved bystander.
When I first started writing for Gaysi, I worried about what my parents would think. They could be tempted to associate my still single status, my fiery (often anti-male) behaviour with possible queerdom. It took a lot of self-examination before I could stand by my belief without righteous indignation and only a rational stating of facts. I’m happy to say it went through quite smoothly. It’s possible that they may be thankful that I’m only writing about homosexuality and not practicing it but I’m willing to live with that.
The average Indian male seems to be homophobic, this is true. At some point of time, the question of homosexuality comes up (it has been in the news after all). I’m in a dilemma when I come up against homophobia. I have friends who are gay and to be involved with someone who may not treat them right, doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, I also wonder if this topic is like politics and religion, where differing viewpoints can be respected and need not interfere in the relationship.
That doesn’t sound fair to me.
Before introducing a straight friend to a gay friend, I make sure to mention the gay orientation. It’s not part of the general description to make a person interesting (“She’s a film-maker. He speaks 5 foreign languages”). It’s a veiled safety-clause that says, I’m telling you this beforehand so if you have a problem with it, say so now or forever hold your peace. I hate having to state that since in an ideal world it shouldn’t matter. I know it smacks of underhanded discrimination but I’m rationalizing it as a practical solution.
But even this is complicated by the fact that a lot of straight people are not homophobic as much as homo-apathetic. That’s until they’re faced with a situation and then their reactions could go anyway.
Recently, I introduced a gay friend to my companion at a party. It turned out they stayed close to each other and my gay friend offered my companion a lift. Later that night, he called me in a huff. It transpired that in conversation during the ride, my straight friend had asked,
“Are you hitting on me?”
Now it could be that my companion was just joking. Or he may have been serious whereupon it might have been a deep-seated phobia or just an innocent misreading of signals. My gay friend on the other hand, prides himself on being able to discern the gay strain in others, even through confusion or outright denial. He might have been on track there or he might have been mistaken.
It’s an awkward situation for me in the end, even though I wasn’t even a part of the conversation. They’re both friends and I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to think about who is closer and who I may have to, eventually, let go.
This hasn’t actually posed a problem but I’ll add a ‘yet’ to that. I had a coming-out experience of my own kind recently when I dropped my five-year long anonymity and revealed my identity to my readers. The worlds of social media, writing and work are merging and I’m finding it more practical to consolidate than to compartmentalize. My blogging activities are now ennumerated in my resume. No organisation will openly admit to being gay-unfriendly. But I’ve been a woman in the corporate world and I know all about biases and prejudices that are never acknowledged but hinder you anyway. I wonder whether I’m setting myself up for yet another one of those and I’ve been tempted (several times) to take Gaysi off my list. It’s the easy option but each time I hit delete, I also get that bad feeling in my head that feels like cowardice.
In each of these situations, I’m faced with the question of how important this issue is to me. I’m not gay, I’m not a close relation of anyone who is (that’s to say, I’m not living with or supporting anyone who is). Why then should I bother? Because it’s the right thing to do, this is true.
But there’s just this much I can do. And while I will never endorse discrimination, I often wonder if I can just pipe down instead of crusading for a quest I’m not even a part of. In this world of so many sins, I must pick my battles. Homosexuality is on the list but I can’t honestly say I’ll always have the courage to keep it there.
Some time ago I was at the receiving end of the unsolicited and unreciprocated attentions of someone I barely knew. At 30, I’ve learnt to deal with such situations, practically on auto-pilot. What made this situation different was that this time, there was a woman at the other end.
The details of the situation are not important. Indeed the matter has been wrapped up and laid to rest. But what struck me was the thoughts and concerns it raised. I agonized and brooded over it far longer than I usually would have. I was apprehensive about my reaction and also more strongly impacted by the other person’s behaviour, than usual.
And at the very base of it, I unearthed something I wasn’t expecting to find and certainly wasn’t pleased to see. I treated that situation differently only because it was a gay person propositioning me and not a straight person. The realisation surprised me because I always thought of myself as liberal and completely open-minded about this.
It’s taken me a good while to hit upon something else though. My response is indicative, not of discrimination or stereotyping. It was an acknowledgment of a situation that was different from what I was used to. I do not understand the norms and the beliefs and the signals of the gay community as instinctively as I understand those of straight people. My extra consideration was coming from the assumption that things could be interpreted differently. If I discovered that at the end of it, they weren’t that different, that’s just, well, learning from experience.
An interesting thought that came my way from a friend was,
A stupid person is a stupid person. It has nothing to do with being gay or straight.
I realized that I had been extraordinarily fortunate in having encountered only insightful, mature gay people prior to this. My attitude so much stems from my experience and it has all been only good thus far.
On the other hand, what if things had been different for me? What if my first ever encounter with a gay person had been someone who was desperate, clingy or immature? Given how little education we get about homosexuality, would it not have been a natural response for me to decide that all gay people were like that?
I’ve taken to asking my straight friends who display homophobia (and they’re mostly men) about why they feel the way they do. A number of them don’t have a clear answer to that and it turns out that they are just going along with what they’ve been conditioned to think, by early influences or popular media. Such people will generally listen to reason and have been even willing to acknowledge that they could be wrong. A sample of the things I’ve heard,
I don’t have a problem with gay people per se. I guess I’m just afraid one of them might hit on me and I wouldn’t know what to do.
There is also another set of responses I’ve received. These are from people who’ve been assaulted, felt up, hit upon (in one case during a job interview) by the first gay person they met. Also considering that this is the average Indian man to whom being the recipient of attention as opposed to the giver is an earth-shatteringly alien experience, you can imagine why this has a diabolical effect on their thinking.
There are no conclusions to draw from this line of thought. Except that my own experience and what I learnt from it, made me understand homophobia a little better. And then again, to tackle something, it’s necessary to understand its origins, isn’t it?