Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Living - Gay Couple in Delhi

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Page 3 Delhi

An American expat talks about same-sex relationships.

[By James Baer; he lives with his American partner in a Defense Colony apartment. Picture of the author by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Wedding bells began ringing in California on June, 2008, and their sound is reverberating across the USA. California is not the first state to legalise gay marriage — Massachussetts got there in 2004, but as goes California, so goes the rest of the country sooner or later, and that’s why the state’s step forward is a momentous and historic one.

My partner and I, both Californians, haven’t yet decided whether we’d tie the knot if we moved back there. In a sense, the knot was tied soon after we got together 12 years ago.

Our families, friends and colleagues already know us as a couple. But a California marriage licence would officially recognise our relationship as equal to anyone else’s, and it would secure us — at least within the state — important benefits and legal protections that all straight married couples already enjoy.

From the perspective of New Delhi, where my partner and I have lived for the past two years, California seems a long way off. Of course we knew we were entering a conservative culture when we arrived here, and while we weren’t interested in hiding the fact that we’re a couple, we didn’t set out to make people uncomfortable either.

That’s the balancing act engaged in by many members of minority groups: if you can, you challenge ignorance or bigotry when overtly confronted by it, and the rest of the time you just hope that the way you live your life is explanation enough, if any were needed.

Among our non-Indian friends here, our being a couple hasn’t raised any eyebrows. By and large, our Indian friends know we’re gay, too, either because it has come up in conversation or because they’ve figured it out for themselves.

We laugh when we hear of Indians saying that there aren’t gay people in India — they clearly haven’t met any of our gay Indian friends — or that homosexuality is a Western decadence imported by India’s colonial overlords. But it’s rueful laughter: on the one hand, the British-era law criminalising sex between men must have been a response to something that was present in the culture; and on the other, oh-so-independent India seems strangely uninterested in freeing itself from this particular colonial shackle.

But what makes us as a couple sadder is that many of our gay Indian friends feel constrained to remain in the closet to family, and often to friends and co-workers, too, precisely because this society, which thinks itself modern in many ways, remains deeply traditional and closed-minded when it comes to love, sexuality and family.

Some of our gay Indian friends marvel at the fact that my partner and I have been together for 12 years. To them, the goal of a long-term relationship, let alone marriage to a person of the same sex, is deeply desirable — but it seems completely unattainable.

Since my partner and I have ourselves only just attained the right to marry in our home state, we know that change for our Indian friends will be a long time coming, too. But we wish it for them, and we look forward to the day when the Indian equivalent of wedding bells sounds for our gay and lesbian friends.


Sakshi Bahal Sahni said...

I can't afford to appreciate or even imagine this type of approach. We as an Indian have the richest culture in the world. So we should not defame our dignity by doing this. Why we are being attracted by this culture??? In my opinion we must stop playing the tail.

Anonymous said...

"We as an Indian have the richest culture in the world."
Despite the British Raj, and all the world's English-language outsourcing, Indian culture still has not managed to present a grammatically correct sentence in English.
Other than that, the richness of this culture is quite easy to observe. The Punjab now has 3 girls to every 10 boys. Honour killings, gay bashing, 'eve-teasing', bribery, baksheesh and corruption - from national politics to vacuuming the sofa, everything about this country and its culture comes with a big stain of paan on it.
All straight Indian people should remember that next time they get down to doing it up the back alley. That's illegal too.

Anonymous said...

Sakshi, hey bro, would have you been smokin' up? welcome to year 2008! It is people like you who cease growth of society for opportuning such bigotted statements. by the way, it is not a "culture" that you mention, it is a way of a right to a dignified living. what makes your heteorosexuality so pleasing? After getting married, don't people have illicit affairs? doesn't that taint the so-called culture you speak of? Or how about married men, finding a hidden alley and engaging in a sensual homosexual act? Oh, c'mon, wake up and welcome the liberty we all crave for.

And, hear your tone: "Indians have the richest culture in the world"... Maybe, taking a history class may refresh or excuse your egoism....You could say, "one of the richest culture". I believe there are other cultures equally at par of excellence.

Bet you shall enjoy a gay encounter, open your mind and heart to just being "human", no?

VK said...

culture...was this post really about that...i don't know where did that pop up from...

@Sakshi - it would only be hypocritical to claim such things as "defame our dignity by doing this" - what is being said may be taken as sexist in a lot of they say to each his own.

@Anonymous1 - did that get too personal, grammar check...funny your comment about the back alley...lolz...metaphors still work

@Anonymous2 - toooooo personal fr my taste, "Bet you shall enjoy a gay encounter", what was that. at one end talking of liberty and at other getting into slandering...he he he...but i do agree with ur overall perspective, just the way u put it seems harsh.

finally for the post - so r u planning flying back to CA?

applepiecrust said...

Is it just my perception, or does Delhi have a very visible gay expat population? It's something I have only noticed this summer but it's something I have noticed so much that there has to be an explanation (other than me being delusional, but then, I am delusional and see what I want to see). Maybe it is just that my "gaydar" is attuned to American norms on sexual orientation and identity, maybe it is because a far greater percentage of the non-Indians are actually comfortable in their own skins as compared to the Indians... but there has to be some explanation.

Ok, I'm rambling.

But I wonder what it would be like to be a queer American in Delhi. I know what the reverse feels like, and it is WONDERFUL (well, at least on the East coast, and when compared to Delhi!) but I can't even imagine what it'd be like to come from, say, California, as in this case, into a society where I feel compelled to be a "closet" queer activist -- out to all my friends, both in India and in the US, but incapable of even considering coming out to the family. Argh!
All I can think of is how people from college are told to have to remain under the radar when they study abroad in places like Morocco, or Senegal, or India, or wherever that is not North America or Western Europe or handful of other places around the globe. What would it be like to have to subvert a part of your identity when you have been used to being free your entire life?

And thank you, Mr Baer, for hoping that the Indian equivalent of wedding bells ring (would that be "conch shells sound"?) for us Indians as well. Before we can even think of that tough, we have Section 377 of our IPL to tackle. Oh well, South Africa's case gives me hope.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but you see, none of the judges in India will get round to ever reading this, or for that matter, any of the petitions submitted to them about this. Nor anyone else who can actually get it changed. And even if it's legal, it'll just be, sort of, um, ok, so the cops can't catch you for it, but they don't even now. But then, the cops harass straight lovers as well, and that they're gonna do anyway.
As for social attitudes, is being a Muslim illegal? Is being a single parent illegal?
We cry so much about 377, but removing that won't be deliverance either!
(Does anyone know there's already a law that bans smoking in public places in Delhi? That's how much we care for laws anyway, so what's the fuss about 377 actually about??)

Sanaullah Majeed said...

This is great. Now finally I'm reading things that are familiar to me. I'm Muslim and finally came out to my family and friends. What a liberating experience. Now days it's easier.

Soofi, keep up the news.

Anonymous said...

I bet they are in an open relationship - no western gay couple that's been together even more than 1 year is in a monogamous relationship... they all look very nice from the outside - i've lived in SFO & NYC and Florida.. and seen them all.. they are nothing but human garbage - especially Gay Americans. And how dare they talk about India's closed minded culture - most of America is still deeply suffering from racism, homophobia and so many other issues - the majority of Americans - gay or str8 are commitment phobic - these 2 are definitely fucking around outside their relationship openly - thats why they stuck together and pretend to be so happy. OH an the relegious backwardness of America is far worse than even India - its just that they live in a much more stricter society where rules and regulations are enforced - so they learn to behave.. let these Americans loose and they would kill the whole world.... and gay white americans are the biggest racist scumbags to walk this earth... god knows what these 2 are doing in India - probably here for money.. but behind the backs of their so called indian "friends" I bet they are hating them every minute and calling them nigger, dothead and every other racist thing imaginable. Yes - I hate Americans... with a passion.... sue me.

A Gay Indian!!!!

Yusuf said...

"Yes - I hate Americans... with a passion.... sue me."

I can imagine why you feel the way you do, even if I don't agree with much of it. It's complicated enough being queer in America, so I can only vaguely imagine the personal contortions it takes to live with dignity in the enormous social pressure cooker of Indian culture.

A Gay American, visiting Delhi, who has been with his husband (yes, we're legally married) for 11 years ... and who tries to avoid judging others until he's walked a mile in their shoes.

Vishal said...

@ Sakshi Bahal Sahni

Which Indian culture are you talking about? When you say 'Indian Culture' did you mean indigenous populations of variosu countries as in Red Indians of Amzon, etc?

Author here is refering to 'Republic of India' located in Asia where 1500 years ago Kamasutra documented gay sex techniques, gay sex images were were immortalised in Khajuraho..... Please do not make uninformed comments, go educate yourself first.

For the record, I am neither gay nor a social activist but I have come across gays at work place. Not sure about India but sample following facts about gays in western world comparedd to straight population:

1. Higher educational qualification, majority with at least a bachelors degree.

2. Much higher per capita income

From personal experience I found them to be friendly, non-violent, intelligent and professional (came across most of them at work in Australia).

On a selfish note, I have been benefited by gays in a way. Here is somewhat light hearted account of my experience. In Sydney, In the middle of the touristy area (think Paharganj) there is this strip called Oxford Road that has tring of gay bar patronised by gay and lesbian crowd. I remember few times on Fridays I would head there with another colleague (we both are straight) and go into one of the gay bar (usualy the first one on the street) becuase unsuspecting backpacking tourist girls will wlak in for a dirnk or two, since we were only straight guys they will end up being with us, our chances of picking up girls for the night were always much higher in gay clubs due to non-existent competition..... lol .... thank you to all gay people for contributing to my fun :)

Anonymous said...

Question for you: My partner of 15 years and our 5 year old son are thinking of taking an international assignment in India. Do you think it's safe for us? Thanks for your advice