By Kshitij Bisen Sep. 06, 2019
A lot has changed since the Sec 377 verdict. But zoom in a little and you’ll realise that despite the reading down of Section 377, the world around us is still struggling to transition into creating a more empathetic and accepting space for the community.
Iremember September 6, 2018, better than I remember yesterday. It had barely been a few months since I’d moved to Goa. I was still getting accustomed to a life devoid of big city pressures, finding my way around. With merely a couple of friends here, I had just begun making acquaintances. Goa, beneath its lively, bohemian veneer, remains conservative at its core, I had been cautioned.
I was at home in Assagao, my fractured arm in a sling, trying to keep it calm, awaiting the verdict on Sec 377. And then it happened, sometime before noon, that the Supreme Court struck down the colonial law that criminalised homosexuality, effectively freeing me and my queer family from a suffocating legacy of being rendered invisible. September 6 was historic, it was like being reborn.
It was not a day to be cautious. I realised this when my phone started buzzing and the few friends, including a straight couple, I had in this little cosmopolitan village, reached out and said we had to celebrate… scream from the rooftops. How could I resist?
In no time, the party began with us indiscriminately buying alcohol, desserts and whatever hippie, gender-bending pieces of clothing we could find in the markets of Anjuna and Mapusa. I remember dancing the evening away, my broken arm failing to bridle my excitement. Unfamiliar Goa was starting to feel like home.
In more ways than one, that day felt like it marked a personal beginning of sorts. As if my life was cleanly divided into two parts: one that existed before the verdict arrived and one that I have been living this past year.
Even though my father seems to have come to terms with it, not even once has he brought up the verdict and its significance in my life.
But is a year too short a period to assess the changes since then? Maybe. But just as parents mark their child’s growth in inches and feet, on a wall every year without fail, perhaps it is a good way to start and examine how our society has fared while trying to accommodate this new reality. Ask any LGBTQIA+ person in India and they’ll be prompt in their assessment that this legal legitimacy ensures that we are not othered anymore; that the very many ways in which we choose to live, love, and express ourselves, has finally been recognised and seen.
But that’s also just one side of the picture. Zoom in a little and you’ll realise that despite the reading down of Section 377, the world around us is still struggling to transition into creating a more empathetic and accepting space for queerness.
Take my family for instance. It’s been more than a decade since I came out, but they skirt the topic whenever they can. We live in separate corners of the world and rarely ever discuss this part of me. Initially, they were disappointed, mostly angry, not willing to let go of their pernicious myths about alternative sexualities and I think that’s how they coped, by sweeping my sexuality under the carpet. Even though my father seems to have come to terms with it, not even once has he brought up the verdict and its significance in my life. It’s as if nothing has changed. If I were to initiate such a conversation, I can only imagine the bristly reactions it will elicit: At best, it would be a non-committal “Good for you”, or worse, an impatient “All that is fine, but beta…” or worse still, just a nod and silent dismissal. A year on, my sexuality remains the pea hidden under a gazillion mattresses; a source of discomfort for my family.
This casual ignorance of my personhood isn’t an act that is limited to my living room. Sometimes, seemingly innocuous conversations spring nasty little surprises. One afternoon, while I was discussing Netflix shows with a straight acquaintance, he mentioned an episode from the latest season of Black Mirror. He described the plot, saying that it revolved around “two homos” whose gaming avatars end up making hot love instead of fighting each other. At the mention of that phrase, my left eyebrow went all the way back up to my receding hairline. He was quick to notice my visible objection, and corrected himself. I let it pass, although that brief chat was telling in how in so many ways not much as changed. It’s still us vs them.
On a seemingly harmless bus ride, a group of brattish tourists used my appearance – probably my pink highlights – as leverage to ask, “Muh mein lega kya?” (Will you suck my dick?) as I was about to get off. I ignored them, but this brazenness is representative of the overall attitude that our society continues to harbour, deeming us a diminutive target for verbal, physical abuse, and societal humiliation.
But then again, aren’t metrics of change equally valuable when they’re external as when they’re internal, when they manage to shift something within?
It made me wonder, if I couldn’t gauge the evolution of a post-Section 377 world through the mindset of the society, has there really been any tangible change? But then again, aren’t metrics of change equally valuable when they’re external as when they’re internal, when they manage to shift something within?
In the last year, what has truly changed is my own sense of self and confidence. I’ve noticed that anytime my inner voice, which remains worried about how I’d be perceived by the world, has threatened to rear its ugly head, I’ve consciously kicked it back. That also means that I no longer permit people to use the topic of my sexuality for their convenience. Unless someone is earnestly interested, I don’t feel the need to explain who I am or perform my sexuality for them. In the last year, I have walked not just with pride, but also with a freedom that, most of all, I had been denying myself.
There’s a newfound revelry in my queerness. I no longer have to check myself in public, whether it is toning down my body language or the way I talk. Now I’m not incessantly worried about giving myself away in social situations, a survival tactic I picked up in school and carried it well into my early professional life. It’s as if most of the shame I felt through the years stemmed from me, because I had allowed it to take root in my subconscious. But now, I’m learning to let go. With this liberation of the self in a post-377 India that legally acknowledges me as an “equal”, I am no longer hostage to living up to the values of others. I may have started the process of letting go of these baggages years ago, but it’s the past year that has validated it in a way that gives me the strength to put it to rest for good.
One year ago, September 6 did more than just decriminalise me. It lifted a weight off my shoulders, and helped me reclaim the part of me I had lost growing up in a repressive, subjugative world. More than anything, the past year has made me recognise myself.
It is a fresh start, a rejuvenation after the raging storm within has run its course. I’m certain the world will come around sooner or later.