This article originally appeared on VICE India.
For much of the world, June traditionally means Pride Month, which traditionally means parades and parties. But as this year's parades and parties have been cancelled, we're taking Pride online. Over the next week, VICE is releasing a series of articles to celebrate the LGBTQ community, talk about the various challenges they're facing, and champion the individuals and collectives who push for greater visibility and equality.
For the past three weeks, my manager and I have been constantly chasing an international company that once showed interest in featuring me as a queer artist for a Pride Month webinar. As a comedian, I have not set foot on a stage since March, thanks to our dear friend Miss Rona. So it’s obvious that most of our shows, like most of our office weekly report meetings, have been unfolding over Zoom or Google Meets. In desperation to get more paid gigs grew over the months of April and May, I realised we are all done for. Because the month of June, the rainbowest of all months, has been rendered high and dry post lockdown.
It’s an interesting time for queer artists around the world. While the corporatisation of Pride marches in America and Europe is well heard of, we in India only recently got a taste of that. For years, companies and brands had nothing to say and no committee to form when it came to queer inclusiveness. But when Section 377 that once criminalised gay sex, was amended in India in September 2018, almost every brand jumped on to the bandwagon overnight.
Now while I’m skeptical about this fake tokenism, I am always glad that somehow they end up hiring me and others like me to perform at their events. For queer artists, there are fewer platforms, events spaces and opportunities to showcase their art anyway. And perhaps that’s why as a queer artist, I can’t help but look forward to June to come around beccause that has inadvertently come to mean more gigs and hence, more monies.
But this time around, the “ally” brands have been silent. And while we’re all shook by the economy taking a turn for the absolute worst, it became fairly obvious early on that no one’s including us in their CSR plans this quarter. In fact, all the feelings I have for most corporations and brands reacting to Pride getting cancelled around the world can be summed up by this one tweet:
Let’s also take a moment to acknowledge how much it sucks right now for the drag queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12. Usually when their seasons come out, the queens cash in on their TV fame by doing a tour. But the finale of the show happened over what looked like multiple Skype calls, so yeah, even the best drag queens in the world can’t seem to catch a break right now.
On a sincere note though, most days I feel I’m blessed. Some companies are keeping up with their inclusiveness motto and still coming through. I can personally put up a solo gig, team up with other comics, charge a nominal entry fee, and make something out of it (and that’s after wallowing for two months in depression over all that money lost in March). Other artists haven’t been so lucky.
When asked what has been the number of Pride-related gigs she has gotten for June 2020, Krishna Marathe answers in one word: zilch. As a musician, singer and music producer, Marathe makes a living doing live gigs. “But this June is the polar opposite of the ones before,” she says. “I am normally busy through June with performances. I love that Pride months usually bring the focus back on LGBTQ visibility in an otherwise cluttered narrative. But this is possibly the only time ever that I’ve been without any work whatsoever.”
Marathe is not alone in feeling this way. Drag and makeup artist Richard Joseph is facing a predicament that’s opened his eyes. He says, “The fact that the inflow of money for queer performers has come to an absolute sandstill gives us a chance to reevaluate and rethink our future.”
Marathe adds, “Before I could go into full-blown panic, I co-founded my own music company called iMusician Pro. So I've been totally busy with building it from scratch, that too in the middle of this pandemic. Without this, though, I think I would’ve been depressed.” So while artists are clearly struggling, there is an obvious unrelenting spirit also at play. Something had to be done.
Vaishakh Sudhakaran, a visual artist, had to change his business module to cope with the uncertainty of the lockdown. “Since the rate of commissioned work has been nil for the 2020 Pride Month, I had to find a way to engage with my audience,” he says. “This led me to start online art workshops. Usage of materials easily available at home to learn a new skill was the USP of the workshop.”
We are screwed; there’s no denying that. Just when brands had begun to latch on to the new queer narrative, everything got shaken up. In this scenario, the performers and artists managing to get by have been the ones who’ve reinvented themselves. “I see a lot of artists and musicians doing the same thing, and employing the same methods as before,” says Marathe. “But because a lot has changed in a very short span, we all need to adapt.” Sudhakaran adds, “There is hope for us to build on a new normal for artists. Making the most of virtual platforms and constantly working on yourself during these unprecedented times are the only ways we can move ahead through a stagnant timeline.”
My interaction with my fellow queer performers has made me understand that we just have to make do with what we have now. And still hope against hope that companies don’t just put us on a KRA excel sheet as a task, but actually keep the spirit of this gay season going. But now, with more than half of June gone, it doesn’t look like anyone is willing to reach into their coffers anytime soon.
Happy Pride to us all?
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