Identity

I Finally Decided to Stop Pretending My Queer Partner Was My ‘Roommate’

After years of telling our neighbours we were “bachelors”, we decided to drop the act.
February 12, 2021, 9:30am
queer couple moving in
The author (left) with his partner, Abhi, and cat, Yvie, against the pride flag they've put up outside their home. Photo courtesy of Navin Noronha

This article was originally published on VICE India and retains complete editorial autonomy. It is now presented in partnership with Closeup. VICE and Closeup celebrate love and champion closeness of all forms. For more content, check out www.LoveForAll.info.

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House hunting is a pain in the ass anywhere in the world. But that’s especially true for exorbitant, big cities like Mumbai, where underwhelming apartments come with overwhelming rents and deposits. And if you’re queer, non-Brahmin (upper caste), and/or unmarried, that’s an added bonus for an immediate rejection of your “profile”. Furthermore, if you do qualify to stay in a residential society, you have to look at who your neighbours are and if they seem progressive and peaceful enough, or whether they’re waiting for you with pitchforks when you as much as visit the house for a quick look.

My partner and I have been living together for two years now. Before we moved into our current apartment, we lived in a cramped studio space with the worst sort of neighbours one could be cursed with, since that’s all we could afford. We had to face sounds of ridiculously noisy children banging on our door and fights breaking out in neighbouring houses at random hours. As such, living our authentic selves was out of question altogether. We literally had four locks on our door at any given point to help us feel safe. But one day, the pesky kids on my floor had the audacity to lock my door from the outside, causing anxiety I had never known before. The word around the building was there were two boys living together and no one was sure what they were up to. If a delivery person came to my doorstep, the woman who lived in the apartment opposite ours would casually open her door and try to peek into our place without a hint of embarrassment or shame, even if it was for a mere five seconds. Such microaggressions are common when families want to know why you don’t have a family of your own, and why you don’t have your own stinking kids running around making everyone else miserable. 

After spending the entire lockdown with these monsters, we finally knew we had to move. We went through 23 damn apartments before finding the one that met our needs, and was clearly devoid of obnoxious kids. The landlord also seemed really chill and steered away from the usual caste and biodata-based questions, only asking what we did for a living. He also made it clear that his house was now our space and we should feel comfortable living there. That is such a rarity in these times, especially when you hear of landlords kicking tenants out in the middle of the pandemic. 

Raj and Avijit are a gay couple and parents to ten cats. They reside with Avijit’s parents in Mumbai’s suburb of Mira Road, who’re in the know of their relationship. “But we still practically live as cousins,” says Raj, who like many queer individuals who rent spaces in major cities, has to live a lie to continue having a roof over his and his partner’s head. “Of course we’d love to own our own house and not feel the guilt of living this way. But even if our landlord is seemingly progressive, it’s still too soon to say if he is accepting or not.” He is aware that his landlord has seen his Instagram page and it doesn’t take much to put two and two together. “We had to block him.”

Raj Avijit wedding couch picture

Raj and Avijit had to block their landlord on Instagram because they couldn't be sure if he was accepting of their relationship.

Back at our new building, we had our share of nosy aunties to deal with. And we had a couple of them right next door. Even as we were getting the house prepared before moving in, they would stop by and ask how many people would live here. We replied that we were two bachelors to avoid future conflict but they still managed to wince at the word. So from that point on, we decided we had had enough. We had paid the deposit and got our keys; it was about time we stopped worrying about blending in at all times. The next day our furniture and belongings were moved in, and out came the rainbow flag we had been hiding away all these years. We unabashedly hung it outside our main door, thinking that if people got the hint, it was great, and if they didn’t, well, the rainbow was pretty enough to look at. 

We were mentally prepared to return to the house one day to find the flag in tatters. But no one really bothered. On the contrary, something really wholesome happened. One evening, we heard a kid outside and immediately face-palmed in unison. But when we opened the door, we found a child no older than three, riding his baby bicycle, accompanied by his dad. It turned out that the father would teach his kid the colours through the Pride flag we had hung outside. Each day, he would take him through one of the colours. So at about 8 p.m. everyday, we hear the kid chant, “Red, orange, yellow, green...” I am not someone who gets emotional easily but this absolutely wrecked my gay heart and left me teary-eyed. Often, growing up queer means constantly having a guard on, and we just assume that the world is out to get us or belittle our struggles. But sometimes a simple rainbow flag is enough to get neighbours talking.

Although the child is still to be enlightened on the deeper meaning behind the symbolism on our doorstep, others in the building have caught on. The younger lot is obviously chuffed to have us around because they can now boast to others that they’ve finally seen gay pepole like they’ve sighted the Loch Ness monster itself. The women, however, are not as pleased. Every once in a while, I’ll hear them bitch about me in Marathi or Konkani, languages that I can easily speak and understand. They’ll say things like, “I heard two boys moved in on the 15th floor, and they sleep on the same mattress. Saw it with my own eyes.” And then the other lady would chime in with, “One of them seems normal, the other seems too girly.” It has been difficult trying to stifle my laughter during these joyful lift rides.

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It’s not to say it’s all hunky dory living that openly. Our building has two entrances and we find ourselves mostly taking the back exit because the front has a gathering of middle-aged men that looks like a lynch mob ready to roll out on a moment’s notice. I might be still overthinking it but it’s been a month and no one’s said anything nasty. A major reason could be that the area we reside in is not overrun by upper caste individuals (most of them belong to the Dalit community), and hence, they are generally more accepting of people from across walks of life. 

Last week, the mother of the kid next door asked me if I could let the kiddo pet my cats. I obliged, and as she walked with me to my front door, she asked who lives with me. Without batting an eyelid, I replied, “My partner.” And it felt so, so good. All those years of being bullied and living in duality seemed insignificant in that moment. All I got for an answer was a confused yet casual, “Achha (okay)”. Even as our country rages with its identity, maybe we can still hope for a future where many others like me can live freely with their loved ones. Maybe one day all of us can finally stop pretending to be “roommates”.

Follow Navin on Twitter.

This article was originally published on VICE India and retains complete editorial autonomy. It is now presented in partnership with Closeup. VICE and Closeup celebrate love and champion closeness of all forms. For more content, check out www.LoveForAll.info.