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 months ago, I received an email from one of my readers. She was a lesbian lady who had come across one of my posts on Gaysi and wanted to tell me that she appreciated my support for the gay community. I wrote back thanking her and telling her how some of my close friends were gay and that it had given me a chance to see the difficulties they faced because of discrimination.
At the end of that conversation, she asked to meet me, adding ‘if you don’t mind having coffee sometime with a dyke’. Of course I didn’t I told her, wouldn’t that be silly after all I had said? Later, she invited me to a party, telling me that there would be mostly gay people at the party. I didn’t manage to make it to that party after all.
We’ve had a few conversations since then, about general topics, the kind that I write about – life, love, friendship, people etc. In the recent past, she had popped up a number of times on my radar, in the form of her thoughts on my posts or just a chat window saying hello. She has also been inviting me to a number of different events and outings in addition to asking me when I’d like to meet for coffee.
I have to say that I haven’t managed to make it to any of the aforementioned events and neither have I made time for the promised coffee. I do have a rather busy social life and when it comes to prioritizing, I almost always place an old friend, a date or solo time over a casual conversation with a stranger.
There has however been one thing nagging at the back of my head for some time now. If it had been a straight girl, I think she would most likely have lost interest in trying to make contact with me by now. If it had been a guy at the other end of this interaction, his persistence would have made me think that he had a crush on me. This actually is the first time I’m making an online connection with a lesbian girl.
I thought back to my friend MJ. I didn’t know she was a lesbian when we first met and neither of us actively pursued the friendship. We just ended up meeting a lot of times, hanging out a lot with friends and by ourselves and had become close when I realised she was gay. By that time though, her major association in my mind was friend and being gay was just one of the many things I knew about her, like her hair colour or her last name.
In this case though, the only real definition I have of this lady is that she is lesbian. And she has been quite keen to meet me. I know that this may be more indicative of her friendliness than a romantic interest in me. And yet, the possibility exists, however remote. I also know that gay people are able to discern other gays and would logically not expect a person to change their sexuality. Then again, one of my lesbian friends did indeed date someone who had hitherto portrayed a ‘straight’ face (pun entirely unintended!), even having had a boyfriend before she met my friend. And also, I myself know that when you like someone a lot, it is quite possible to misread or even read a little too much into their actions.
The dilemma I face is a moral one, not a practical one. Should I meet her and risk sending her a wrong signal that I reciprocate? Or should I refrain and succumb to that archaic belief that gay people are just waiting to pounce on one? Furthermore, considering that we don’t have common friends or interests, am I not willing to meet her only to prove that I’m open-minded about homosexuality? There’s definitely an over-correction in favour of gay people then. After all by my own premise, equal rights means equality and vice versa.
I struggled with all of these for a number of days. Finally, I decided to just come clean and tell her what I thought. I told her that this was what I would think if a guy reader had contacted me and that I could be reading this wrong but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t sending out a wrong message.
“Oh god, don’t tell me you got the wrong message!”
and then logged off. Maybe she was offended and I am sorry about that. It was never my intention to insult anyone. But at the end of it, I think I’d rather live with that than run the risk of leading her on.
Note: I mentioned this to MJ who laughed and said, “It’s so amusing to see the hetro community more touchy about gay issues then gays themselves!”