A few months ago, I went to the ‘Zine Bazaar’ fest organised by Gaysi, an online space where the desi-gay community comes together to heighten queer voices and talk about their dreams, desires, triumphs and failures. The event, based around the theme of ‘identity’, was an electrifying space where raw talent and freedom of expression came together to display their distinctiveness in a way that was accessible and enjoyable to all.
In a country that, until very recently, lived under the dark clouds of criminalising gay sex through Section 377, this rainbow of voices, opinions and anecdotes was a pioneering force that kept the LGBTQIA conversation free-flowing. What started off as a blog 10 years ago, where members of India’s queer community could gather and share stories has today bloomed into a vibrant community that hosts offline events like queer film screenings, book readings and open mic performances called ‘Dirty Talks’ to celebrate all kinds of sexualities, genders and identities.
Throughout this journey from struggle to success, Gaysi has remained an emotional care facility for its members. So, as they complete a decade of existence this month, we asked some of their members to share advice on how to cope with your sexual identity and come out to loved ones, as also the personal challenges they faced while doing so themselves.
Durga Gawde, artist
“Growing up, I noticed that my parents were averse to homosexuals, but only because they didn’t understand them or have context. There was a series of connecting dots in my life—from being exposed to a sexually open culture in the US to my serious relationships—that not only made me realise I was gender fluid, but also a polyamorous person. Your family has spent their entire lives caring for you and nurturing you, so you cannot hide from them or yourself. You just have to do it from a place of love. When I first told my mom that I was attracted to human beings and their spirit over their sexuality, she said it might have been easier if I had just been a lesbian, but was supportive and asked me to help her understand. When I explained it to my dad, I used spiritual examples like that of Ardanareeshwara to explain what I was by helping him connect to something. Coming out is not a one-time thing. I was bombarded with questions which overwhelmed me for at least a year, but I wanted people to ask more such important questions so I had to always remind myself not to get frustrated. It gets a lot worse before it gets better. People try to paint a picture, saying how you can come out and be a rainbow unicorn, but it’s not like that. It makes you confront things about your family that you wouldn’t want to, like their backwardness, misunderstandings, and how they see you. While I was confident that my family was progressive enough and would love me no matter what I am, I’ve also known people whose families have them through “conversions”, locked them up or tried to get them married off. So, it’s important to gauge for yourself. Gaysi really helped me because my first ever interview on what it means to be a gender fluid person was with them in June last year, which helped a lot of people understand me better and got a positive response. It’s a wonderful, safe, free and femininely special space they have created in India. I feel like I have been holding on to something for 24 years of my life, and now I can finally sigh with relief.”
Sonal Giani, filmmaker
“I was bullied in college and office for being bisexual and things got a bit out of hand so I decided to come out. As a bisexual, you’re often accused of posing, experimenting or being in a phase. There’s bi-phobia, even within the community, that can sometimes feel like pressure to identify as a lesbian, even if you’re not. But, with the help of Gaysi and NGOs like Humsafar, I have been able to hold on to my identity. I would always recommend reaching out to support groups in difficult situations. I found Gaysi when I moved from Goa to Mumbai about 10 years ago. Having this platform helped me and others grasp the concept of pride. I’ve even pulled out quotes on bisexuality from their blog articles to combat bi-phobia. While books like Face In The Mirror helped me before I did something physical with someone, I liked that Gaysi content was so desi that it helped me connect to it better. Their events celebrated the LGBTQ community in a mainstream space and were held at bars instead of boring halls, which added a cool quotient. Their ‘Dirty Talk’ event often featured popular comedians, musicians and performers, which showed that even these celebrities support your cause. They pulled in people from all classes and even allowed crossdressers, which was unheard of back then. Yeh sab Tinder-winder nahi tha (we didn’t have Tinder), and it mobilised women in a great way.”
Bee*, NGO communications associate
“Last year, I was living in the US and had a big crush on a girlfriend. All these ‘whys’ for the way I was feeling kept popping up, but I always pushed them aside as I had grown up primarily straight and thought me finding women beautiful was just a fleeting thing. When I came back to India in June and started talking about it with my friends and volunteering for Gaysi around September, I had one of those ‘aha’ moments and realised I was bi-curious. Because of this, I often have people saying that ‘you just want to have fun’. A date once even asked me when I would decide what I preferred, but it’s not like I have it marked on a calendar. There’s a reason why it’s called curious and that means you can take your time to explore it in a safe, consensual manner. At Gaysi events, an introvert like me has met many gender non-binaries, lesbians, bisexuals and opened up to a whole community on different parts of the spectrum. My exploration began with trying to understand what demisexuality was. I think it’s important to learn and look up terms like these and have conversations with new, like-minded people because that’s how I realised that if I could be so open about it to strangers, I should do the same with my family.”
Bhargesh Ved, IT business analyst
“I came out to my parents when I was 18, a time when everybody in my college was crushing on somebody and became suspicious that I wasn’t, even though I knew I was gender non-binary since I was like 8. I didn’t have the language or terminology and I told them I didn’t entirely feel like a man, but they knew something had been bothering me and were okay with it when I opened up. Sometimes, even while heteronormative people react negatively to LGBTQ persons, they tend not to do that when it’s someone close to them. When I came out to a close friend, he couldn’t understand me fully and thought he could help change me by making suggestions like watching heteronormative porn. He never hated me, he just didn’t know how to process this. People would often draw an invisible line and that became a wall I would build to keep myself away from their comments. When I got involved with Gaysi six years ago, I was very closeted. I had a small circle and was hesitant to come out, but the more events, quizzes, and readings I attended, the more aware I grew that I wasn’t the only one. We all live in closets; it’s just a matter of how large it becomes. But eventually we get the courage to break out of it.”
Priya Gangwani, co-founder of Gaysi
"Gaysi has been like an emotional tumult. It started with a need to connect and soon afterwards, became a journey of faith. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly toward a creative goal of an inclusive tomorrow, sometimes visible to us but often invisible to those around us. Keeping Gaysi alive has been an act of faith—a deep yearning for creativity and inclusivity. The 10 years of Gaysi have been filled with defiance, anger, love, intense elation, excitement, resistance and hope. Peaks and valleys of giving it one’s all followed by the need to abandon it and return to life as we know it. But then it’s not easy to abandon life, abandon faith. It has taught me what it means to re-commit, and surrender. And now, as I look back at those 10 years, I recognise this new me marked by increased autonomy, resilience, expectancy, and excitement—as well as by the capacity to make and execute concrete creative plans."
* Name changed on request
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