Ashley Tellis reports from Hyderabad on the Indian Coming Out Day celebrated in several cities across India on 2 July.
Today was the ninth anniversary of the Indian Coming Out Day, celebrated in five cities across India – Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, Bombay, and Madras. This event was started originally in 2009 in response to the Naz Judgement of the Delhi High Court, which read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and made private sex between consenting adults of the same sex legal.
As Aran, the young lesbian organiser of this year’s day in Hyderabad, put it: “For a lot of people residing in India, the Indian Coming Out Day is considered to be 2nd July, to mark the anniversary of the landmark judgement by the Delhi High Court, when they read down Section 377 of the IPC that criminalised consensual sexual acts between adults that involve anything other than peno-vaginal sex. I remember reading as a young-adult-in-denial about the hordes of people who came out because they felt safe, finally. Mist, an LGBTQ collective started by Shyam Konnur in 2010 in Bangalore, first celebrated this day on 2nd July, 2011 at Cubbon Park, Bangalore with a bunch of LGBTQ people gathering together and releasing balloons as a symbol of Freedom, Love and Equality. The idea behind this was not to use the National Coming Out Day (October 11) followed by the US as our history and context are vastly different.”
Mist, which organised the event and celebrates its ninth anniversary and the eighth anniversary of the event, hosts many LGBT events of different kinds. While it started in Bangalore, it spread to Pune and Hyderabad. Their major event Queer and Allies Arts Festival is organised primarily in these three cities and they have worked and hope to collaborate with others to bring it to their cities.
Since 2012 after the Koushal judgement in the Supreme Court of India that undid the Naz decision, Indian Coming Out day has been celebrated with renewed vigour. One of the many weak arguments offered by the quite nuts but useful and usable-against-itself Koushal judgement was that LGBH/T (lesbian, gay, bisexual, hijra and trans) folk were a “miniscule minority” and therefore we need not consider their rights at all.
Apart from restoring the principle that a democracy has to protect all its minorities, the point of the day is to indicate that the community exists and is out and proud. The day might also be read as a way to encourage people to come out and to build a sense of community among LGBH/T folk in India. As Aran puts it: ‘Thanks to everyone being assumed heterosexual and cisgender, “coming out” is a never-ending quest. I can talk about how gorgeous I find women and yet it’s assumed that I’m simply appreciating their beauty and have no romantic or sexual interest in them. At least in India, it doesn’t fit into a lot of people’s world view that first of all I have any sexual desires, let alone those being for women. I don’t dress in traditionally feminine clothes. When I sport short hair, I’m sometimes mistaken for a man. I’ve heard people comment as I pass them that I’m “masculine gender” or “Is that a girl or a boy?” Because we still think in binaries. I must be one or another and nothing in between. I must like men because I’m a woman. Coming out for me is significant because look, I may dress like this and walk like that but I was born a female and identify as a woman and no one else gets to decide what I do with my body and how I present it. I can’t help but find women attractive and I don’t care what your “normal” or “natural” looks like. I exist, therefore I am natural. I don’t care about being “normal”. Making people in India aware that we exist and these are the terms we use for ourselves, even though adopted from the West, is the first step. Because a lot of us are still living in complete isolation and don’t know an entire bunch of people a lot like them exist. We’re here, we’re queer and you’re not shoving us back in the closet with a colonial law.”
That these are still an uphill task was evident from the fact that only three of us landed up at the venue on this lovely Hyderabad morning at Minerva Coffee House. Our hundred beautiful, colourful balloons arrived but there was no community cheering on as they rose into the sky.
This indicates a serious problem with the LGBH/T community in India. Coming out, strictly speaking, makes no sense in India if there is no one to come out to. Coming out to one’s parents is a moment of epistemic confounding as often parents are unable to comprehend what coming out or even gayness means. Also, should they be parents who do know, the result may well be throwing the youngster out of the house and where does the youngster go? To which community?
We really need to think about what we are doing when we talk about sexual minorities, rights, have annual Pride marches and announce that the whole world is ‘queer,’ every cinematic and literary text is ‘queer’ and every moment ripe with ‘queer’ possibility and only three people turn up to an event celebrating our existence as a community.
Ashley Tellis is an LGBH, anti-communal, feminist, child, Dalit, adivasi, and minority rights activist. He lives and works in Hyderabad.
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