Last year, I found myself witnessing the largest pride celebration on this planet, the 46th annual New York City Pride March. An electric, colorful, almost Mardi Gras-esque celebration of love and life, that was attended by a record setting 32,000 marchers. And thousands upon thousands of supporters that lined up all along 5th Avenue, from outside Empire State Building all the way to the historic Stonewall Inn.
As I stood there on the side (with strangers who became friends by the end of the day), I felt overwhelmed – the good kind – at the energy and happiness that surrounded us. At the same time, I couldn’t help feel a twinge of regret and sadness that we were nowhere near this in India. That in my country, we are still fighting to repeal Section 377 that criminalizes “unnatural sex”, uncaring of the fact that what happens between two consenting adults is their goddamn business. That LGBTQ+ persons are treated as lesser people, fodder for crass Bollywood comedy and TV shows, and are nowhere near the realm of equality afforded by the Indian constitution.
It is hard being LGBTQ+ in India. It hard being different.
The thing is, when you notice for the first time that you are.. different, you start seeing it everywhere. You notice it in the newspapers, the things that play on TV, the movies at the cinema, the many magazines and books, hidden between the idle chatter with friends. Everything is a reminder that you are different, that you defy the standard accepted definition of “normal”. You try to hide it, change it, pretend like it isn’t true and that you are just as normal as everyone else is. You try your damnest.. but all it does is leaving you feeling like you’ve used up all the air that was allocated to you. So you settle. You live in this permanent state of fugue. You really cannot explain how it works, and in the long run it probably doesn’t even matter. All you know is that of all the things the world told you were unnatural.. living this false life was the most unnatural you ever felt.
Everything eases up the second you finally find your people. The people who know and accept and understand everything, before a greeting is out of your lips. People who are cut of the same cloth, who in all probability lived lives just like yours. It feels like you suddenly have all the air in the world to breathe and that feeling.. it is fucking brilliant. There is no other way to put it. 🙂
On Saturday, I marched in the Queer Azadi Mumbai (QAM) Pride 2017. With my loved ones, my best friends and old colleagues, beautiful strangers with or without masks, proud of who they were and who they loved…. my people. It filled my heart with so much joy I thought it would implode. I mean seriously, would you look at all this happiness?!
My first time at Mumbai Pride was low-key, I was there just for the experience. I was out, but was not involved with the community in any way. Everything changed after that first Pride, because I made friends, got involved, and have never looked back since. I am far more comfortable of my sexuality and my identity than I was many years ago, and everything started with that awe-inspiring feeling of watching thousands of people march for their right to love in a Mumbai Pride March.
This time around, I marched for bisexuals everywhere, who face discrimination from the outside world AND from within the LGBTQ+ community. The Indian LGBTQ+ community has not been especially kind to me and my kind (ironic considering all the straight people I came out to supported me unconditionally!). Biphobia and bierasure are rampant within the community and outside it. This time, I had zero desire to hide ANYTHING about who I was. I got my local nukkad tailor guy to custom-make me a bipride flag (if I wasn’t going to find one online, I will damn well make myself one!) and I wore it proudly as my friends cheered for me. 🙂
No, we are not confused or going through a phase. We are not greedy and selfish, and no we are not “really gay and closeted” or “really straight and looking for attention”. We are certainly NOT up for threesomes. We are NOT gray areas. Accept that we are here to stay, we exist.
As we neared the end of the march, a woman caught up with us wearing her own bipride flag and exclaimed, “I saw you at the beginning of the march and I told my friend… FIND THAT GIRL! We need to get a picture!” This is how rare it is for someone at an Indian pride march to be wearing the bisexual label freely. That feeling of happiness and belonging I mentioned earlier? This was that times 1000000. 😀
This year I will be marching in the New York City Pride. With fellow south asian LGBTQ+ persons, I will walk the route and scream #DesiPride till my lungs hurt. I will keep doing it every year, in every city I find myself in, and I will think of Mumbai every time I do it. I will keep doing it until there is no more need for “equal rights” activists because they aren’t LGBTQ+ rights anymore, they are just rights. Remember, rebellions are built on hope. 🙂