Sunday, December 9, 2012

Why I walk the Queer Pride each year

This piece first appeared in The Alternative on November 23rd, in the event of the Banglore Queer Pride, 2012.

Pic by Amar Mitra
When I think of a pride walk I’m reminded of throngs of people oozing with excitement; myriad bright colours flashing in celebration; decibels of affirmation chanting a tune; the warm smell of hard work and above all the electricity racing through almost every person radiating the sheen of a collectively individual pride.  The very thought of walking through a street, along with a group of individuals with banners affirming Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual, Queer, Hijra, Kothi identity sends a trail of goose bumps coursing through my limbs. 

Whenever we discuss about pride celebrations, I’m often asked why queer people have to wear their sexuality on their sleeves, very literally on their clothes or bodies. There are some, most of whom are queer themselves, who dismiss pride celebrations as something unnecessary or an attention grabbing stunt. The pride is an acknowledgement that our lives are lived differently; there isn’t a single magic marriage or love formula that fits all. For most people, a religious identity, class or caste identity is something that we’ve been clothed with at about the same moment the first piece of cloth covers the nakedness of our bodies. Yet that’s not the case with our sexual identities. Our sexuality evolves as we grow as individuals. Our sexuality is our capacity of warmth, desire, pleasure, vulnerability and erotic possibilities. Its relational nature of ourselves with others leaves it open to understanding and interpretation. 

For those of us who affirm and assert a different gender and sexuality, contrary to the ones our families or society has ascribed for us, it takes a lot of grit to takes one’s stand. There are a number who suffocate in the silence of their own tight-lipped closets for years, if not their entire life. Hiding the truth about oneself and pretending to be what one is not is akin to a flower that has bloomed, when in fact it should have remained a bud forever. 

The fiercest opposition comes from our own families. Often the voices of sexual affirmation are subdued and, at times, silenced under the gaze of decency or religious decorum. And, sadly, the price that we collectively pay as a society is rather costly. Some end up marrying spouses who continue to have same sex relations after marriage, some divorce, some commit suicide, some join the religious order, some languish in silence and some sacrifice their entire happiness by marrying a partner of their parent’s choice. Little do we realize that each time we dismiss a sexually different voice in our society, we inadvertently tighten the noose around a loved one’s neck, coaxing one to either kill oneself or languish in misery. 
Pic by Amar Mitra

The pride means different things to different people. For some it’s a manifestation of rage, as much as pride. For some it’s a plea to their loved ones for acceptance, for others a defiance. For some it’s a coming to terms with themselves, for others it’s a hope that soon they’ll be able to walk without a mask. For some it’s a fellowship of bonding among people they are comfortable with, for others it’s about reaching out to others in support. And, yet for some it’s a political act of asking the government to consider their rights as citizens and end discrimination against them. Each person who walks the pride challenges another to live more authentically and freely. 

If I consider my own life and family, I find myself in a rather peculiar family.  A couple of years ago, I discovered that my dad’s elder brother was homosexual, months after his death, through his vast collection of novels that were gifted to him by an Indian Catholic priest, who would stay at my uncle’s place for a couple of  days each time he visited Bombay. When I first chanced upon this discovery, I was shocked, thrilled and angry. I was shocked by the coincidence of having a queer uncle in the family and the possibility of having inherited the ‘gay gene.’ I was angry because he took his secret to his grave and his siblings who discovered his secret only after his death, continued to keep it, by scribbling off his name on all the contentious novels. Above all, I was thrilled that through a serendipitous flow of events, I managed to possess some of those novels. What I admired about my uncle was that he chose to be a bachelor all his life. Next was my own youngest sibling, who breathed her soul into the water, depressed by the fact that she couldn’t change herself and torn by the anguish of religious guilt. It was only after her death, that I realized I had to summon the courage to affirm my own difference, the fact that I am gay. Each time I walk the pride, I walk for the dead, for those who languished with their darkest secret, for those who ended their own life, for those who were bullied, tortured, dehumanized or killed for their difference.  And, as much as I walk for them, I also walk for the living, believing that the truth is what shall set us free and hoping that all shall be well.