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Alternate Sexuality April 25, 2007

Posted by qmediawatch in India Times, Sexuality & Gender.
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Alternate Sexuality – Radhika Das and Pallavi Tyagi

Alternate sexuality: Out of the closet?
Radhika Das and Pallavi Tyagi
Queen Victoria of Britain refused to acknowledge that ‘it’ actually existed. And around 150 years later, Hindu fundamentalist groups tagged that ‘it’ as non-Indian – a wicked import of the ‘immoral West’. 

Since the days of the British Empire, when 19th century colonial educationist Lord Macaulay formulated a law – Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code – forbidding homosexuality, alternate sexuality is treated as a crime in India. More recently, Lisa Ray’s portrayal of a lesbian in director Shamim Sharif’s debut film, I Can’t Think Straight , has once again put the spotlight firmly on a subject that continues to rattle the human mind. Despite all the socio-cultural advancements that we may proclaim to make, despite all the inhibitions that Gen-X is presumed to have shed, the question is: is alternate sexuality really out of the closet?

If the movies were to be believed, it may seem that yes, homosexuality is acceptable and is here to stay. With the recent release of I Can’t Think Straight yet another out-of-the-closet film strives to bring forth the message that while homosexuality may not yet be a universally accepted behaviour, it is a reality.

It is this reality that Indian cinema tried to portray in films such as Deepa Mehta’s Fire , Rahul Rawail’s Mast Kalandar , Buddhadev Dasgupta’s Mondo Meyer Upakhyan , and K R Reddy’s Veeru Dada , to name a few. More recently, films such as My Brother Nikhil , Mango Souffle , Pyar ka Superhit Formula , and Kal Ho Na Ho (remember the camaraderie between Saif Ali Khan and Sharukh Khan that has explicit undertones of homosexuality – all in jest though) have also taken shots at homosexuality.

According to Sanjoy Roy, editor, Trikone – one of the oldest magazines on South Asian Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender issues, “If you see many Hindi films now, gay characters are popping up as part of the larger plot which I think is overall very positive since more such characters you see in popular media, good, bad or ugly, it helps dispel stereotypes.”

Despite all the criticism, harsh reviews, and all the public outrage that these films have evoked the fact remains that Indian cinema has been instrumental in bringing a level of awareness amongst its audience. Agrees Roy, “Art definitely plays a role. I think My Brother Nikhil is a case in point. The warm reception that film received made many people think of gay men as literally their “brother” as opposed to some kind of a shameful freak. Art doesn’t make change, as in repeal Sec 377, but is instrumental in changing the atmosphere in which something is discussed.”

Moving from reel life to real life, more and more people are coming forward to admit their preference for a same sex partner. “When we started our helpline (around 4 years back) we did not get any call for around 10 months, now we get 15 calls per day,” says Neha (name changed on request), who works for a Delhi based NGO that has been working on issues of sexuality since 1997. According to Neha, “Ninety per cent of the callers are female, and 70 per cent of them are happy with the dual life they live.”

“Certainly more homosexuals are coming out of the closet in India than ever before. Even twenty years ago the only references to alternate sexuality in Indian media would be either to hijras or Western ones like Rock Hudson. Now you have lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender groups in India, anthologies like Because I Have A Voice and Facing the Mirror , virtual groups turned real like GayBombay. You have rainbow pride walks in Calcutta and film festivals in Mumbai, and many intellectuals, hetero or not, signing onto a petition to abolish Sec 377. But most importantly you have a lot more people who are willing to be visible as lesbian, gay, bi, trans people out in the media as opposed to the time when everyone’s faces had to be in shadows and blacked out,” shares Roy.

According to Dr. Sanjay Chugh, psychiatrist, “The trend has changed over the years. People are opening up gradually and subtly. One can see communities, blogs on the internet which exclusively talk about alternate sexuality very candidly. There are various forums where such issues are taken up and discussed explicitly.”

“Role models make a huge difference. I think when a writer of the stature of Vikram Seth discusses his bisexuality; it sends an important normalizing influence. The danger is to reduce someone of Seth’s talent to his sexuality; as if that is all he is about,” adds Roy.

The winds of change are blowing hard. Homosexuals are expressing their sexuality more vociferously than before. The question is: is society ready to listen?

We will explore the answers to this question in the second and concluding part of this article. Meanwhile, write in your opinion on whether India is ready to accept alternate sexuality.

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