I’m thrilled by the gay pride parades held earlier this week in Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore. I know it doesn’t matter that Chennai didn’t have one (far as I know, anyway) – legislatively speaking, any successful activism will affect us nationwide. I know there’ll probably be one here next year, if not sooner, and that we’re the stick-in-the-mud city, but we’ll catch up. I know all this, really I do. Still, I’m kind of, just a little, selfishly sad.
You see, I am a faghag. Ever since school, my closest friends have always been gay men. I find these relationships infinitely less complicated than those with women, which are ruined by the deeply-conditioned rivalry that is the cross we bear, and straight men, who get the wrong idea when you call them “honey”. There’s no social situation I adore more than one in which I’m surrounded by boys, all whom are prettier than me, and none of whom will take me home for anything more Broadway karaoke.
So you can imagine how I felt when I moved here. To sum up a rather horrifying realisation: I couldn’t find the gay men. I was a faghag in straight-acting city.
I knew they had to be around. Homosexuality is universal, no matter what conservatives claim. Our ridiculous sex laws and current brand of moralism are, after all, British imports: indigenously, our mores and mythologies are deliciously decadent. Chennai could not possibly be the boring strictly-hetero capital of the world – Tamil Nadu’s recognition of transgender rights was proof enough. But relying exclusively on Gtalk marathons with friends elsewhere to get my fix, sometimes it really did feel like it was.
A couple of months into the relocation, I met a flamboyant producer who had the stereotypes down pat: loud shirt, bitchy repartee, the works. I nearly fainted when he mentioned his wife and three kids.
At one point, I got so desperately perplexed that I went to a gay dating site, just to remind myself that it’s not that they don’t exist, my future friends, they were just in hiding. It was lots of fun for about two minutes, and then the chest area-only profile shots got a little repetitive. All I learned was that you can take the heterosexuality out of the Indian man, but not the Oedipus complex.
Over time, the nature of my conversations and enquiries took more serious tones. It didn’t take a genius to see that my problem was not a lack of gay men – even men who identified as straight divulged to me that they had enjoyed encounters with other men. The sexual aspect in itself was common.
What was not common, however, was the lifestyle I had come to associate with gay men. This was a sobering understanding. How ever these circles and communities came together, there was no room for the faghag. Not only was I out of depth among them, I was also completely superficial.
I am always intrigued by situations that challenge my liberalism, and this lonely experience was enlightening. What I knew of gay culture was homogenous, centred around the arts and pop culture – a fabulous culture, to use the iconic word. But that is not gay reality in Chennai, which is characterized by concealment and subterfuge, not concealer and showtunes.
So rest assured that when the pride parade finally hits the city, I’ll be there in full regalia. Only this time, I’ll keep in mind that the fight for acceptance of diversity can, reasonably enough, include my exclusion. I can’t wait to see what a more open Chennai will look like. Even if it looks like nothing I’ve ever known.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.