PHOTO: ARIJIT SEN/GETTY IMAGES
While Pride Month has been celebrated in the US and other countries for around five decades, the concept of ‘Pride’ is hardly twenty-five years old in India. The first such parade, called the Rainbow Pride Walk, was held in Kolkata in 1999. While queerness in itself is quite a layered subject and a ‘touchy’ one, the intersection of disability and queerness is something that has hardly been dealt with — especially with the nuance that it deserves.
In an environment where people are apprehensive to even utter the word ‘disability’, the subject of disability remains taboo even today. So when you add queerness to that, it brings in complexities that become tough to comprehend. Pride Month is more than just a celebration for the disabled queer folks — they step forward to not only claim their own space but also address these complexities and break down the physical and psychological barriers to build allies.
Shivangi Agrawal (they/them), 30, who identifies as queer, views Pride Month as an opportunity to educate people on the subject. “Most queer disabled folks don’t end up interacting with anyone outside of their bubble. It's important for us to talk to a diverse set of people who come from varied backgrounds. This will allow us to reach more people to have candid conversations and tackle the stigma,” they stated.Divya (she/her), 22, who identifies as queer shares the same sentiment when it comes to educating people during Pride Month. “Pride is an opportunity for the whole community to come together. I love that there’s so much to celebrate with the marches, parties, and after-parties. However, one must not lose sight of the political significance of Pride, which is to advocate for the rights of queer people and make space for people with intersectional identities to thrive together!" she added.
A celebration of identity
For Ash (they/them), a 19-year-old queer trans person, Pride Month usually doesn't mean anything to them — it’s like any other month. “Yes, it gives us the opportunity to be ourselves and express ourselves freely, however, there's a lot of tokenism around it. Most allies who are vocal during Pride Month will be silent during hate crimes or when it's important to speak out. I usually just rest during this time because it's important to understand that most queer-trans people are burnt out from fighting every day and everyone,” Ash said. While Pride is all about celebrating one’s identity and creating space for all forms of love to exist, it’s also a time to talk and explore what happens during the rest of the year so that one can make space for the love one wants to experience. The way people date and eventually love has undergone a massive change in the last decade. Online dating seems to be the most convenient go-to option, but it can be a mixed bag of emotions for queer people with disabilities and can at times get messy for those with invisible disabilities.Raju Behara (they/them), 32 identifies as queer and pan-romantic and works as a manager in the pharma sector. They are also a queer rights mobiliser along with being neurodivergent. “I have camouflaged my neurodivergence for a long time and have relied on the passing privilege that I’ve had. But I’ve been called eccentric when my dates don’t have a term for my ADHD patterns,” shared Raju. Raju accepts his neurodivergence, but says that snarky and mean comments from their dates have been quite triggering. “Sometimes people would ask why are you doing this or why are you doing that. It took me time to realize that my neurodivergence, my queerness plus my non-binary identity might be causing it,” they added.
Ash has had similar experiences with ADHD. “I get overwhelmed more easily, it is hard for me to focus, or be present in the current moment. I tend to overlook or skip a lot of detail along with not being able to understand social cues,” they said. Ash shared that they are also a survivor which leads them to experience body dysmorphia. It plays a part in their relationship, where they feel like they’re the problem. However, they feel they are fortunate to have a loving and understanding partner. Raju has been pretty vocal about his identity, especially in the last year. “I wanted people to approach me only if they were acknowledging my identities and disability!” they asserted.
Divya, who acquired a disability at 11 says that for her, it was easier to navigate her queerness because of the other things that she had to ensure as an outcome of her disability. She met her partner offline, and posts about them on social media from time to time. It’s wholesome to see pictures of them (the couple) and her parents going on double dates. It is refreshing to know that some parents are not imposing their own choices and conditioning on their children.Shivangi has had experiences where they have been made aware of their caste privilege (through her family) since their partner comes from a different caste.“I have had to do some unlearning to deal with the nuances,” they commented. Shivangi has also only recently found out that their partner is on the autism spectrum. It’s taken them some time to navigate the changes that this brings to their relationship, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Going on dates is all about impressing your date and being comfortable and having a good time, which means having to navigate physical aspects along with other safety measures. Rakshit Malik (they/them), 25, is visually impaired and is navigating the dating scene as a single queer individual. “I would like to ensure that I am safe so that I can focus on my experience. And to me, safety also means something as simple as trusting the other person to split the bill correctly - if I am not able to read it!” said Rakshit.After an unpleasant experience, they now ask to keep a copy of the bill just to ensure nothing has gone wrong. Rakshit mentions that some people are not willing to give enough time to talk so that the other person feels safe. “As a queer person, I may have had to come out just once, but as a queer disabled person, I’ve had to come out to every person I’ve stumbled upon (regarding my disability) after feeling a certain amount of momentum,” they shared.For Shivangi, apart from a few creepy incidents with cis-gendered men, they didn’t have too many unpleasant experiences. “Because I was open about who I was and didn’t take any bullshit from people, they didn’t give me any difficulties. My disability was the first thing that I mentioned in my bio,” they shared.“Pride Month remains a remembrance of all the battles we have lost and won. I am not sure if we have always won, and if we have always lost — however it is mostly through the heteronormative understanding of what is understood to be a battle,” said Rakshit. According to them, we have come far from remembering the very immediate aspect of queer existence, which is being non-normative in terms of our gender or sexual experiences, and finding companionship within that space. Raju points out that it is important to take these conversations beyond Pride Month — so that the LQBTQ+ community can together dissolve barriers and make it easier for everyone to find love and solace in the form that they want. That way, Pride can become more accessible for people with disabilities to actually ‘come out’ and celebrate themselves!Follow Sweta Mantrii on Instagram.