Uncomfortable Conversations Around Pride

For me, pride is about the aspiration that someday I will go back to my family, my school and college and talk from the bottom of my heart about who I am and why I never stood up to people when I had the choice.

Last year, I went to the 10th Delhi Pride Parade. It was the first time I had ever participated in a Pride Parade. For the first time, there was a space for me to be quite comfortable with my sexuality in public.

But there’s a catch.

I was hesitant and ashamed of wearing a saree to the parade. I had never managed to do that in open uncontrolled environments before. Not even a ‘safe space’ called a Pride Parade could compel me to wear a saree. I managed to come up with reasons and excuses to delude myself. I told myself that I might get photographed and will be forced to come out, as a consequence. This shame and guilt on my part is from years of conditioning, which is hammered into all our minds and we choose to uncritically accept it. I was hesitant and ashamed because a cross-dressing man becomes a butt of jokes, even on television.

Many times we forget that the origins of Pride are in protest. A simple Google search, to those of us who have access to it, will reveal that. So is pride a protest for us, then? If yes, what kind of a protest? Or is it a celebration? If yes, what are we celebrating?

Pride, in my view, is a slap on the face of a society made of shame, guilt and pollution that is also built in our discourse on sexuality and identities. Yes, we should celebrate. No doubt about it. But I believe celebrations are moments of reflection too. I think we need to reflect on the nature of pride that is happening nowadays. We need to reflect on the fact that how there are several people who disappear each year because of violence, both physical and psychological.

They don’t figure much in Prides.

Or is it too much for me to talk about it?

We need to reflect on the extent to which Delhi pride is open to regional languages. People from all over the country, of all identities, come to inhabit Delhi. However, the language of Pride is primarily articulated in Hindi and English. We talk about diversity to sound “woke”, but language is an aspect of diversity I think we often tend to forget.

I think it's time we understand that Pride parades have mostly come to be dominated by upper-class/caste cis-gendered gay men. No doubt they have a right to this space too. I myself am a cis-gendered upper-caste queer person. However, prides around India should start talking about being cognisant of identities around categories of ability, caste, religion, gender and places of origin too. Not in a tokenistic way, but in a genuine way. By a ‘genuine way’, I mean reflection that runs deeper at multiple levels.

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Pride is also about reclaiming spaces of and for human dignity. We need to ask questions such as - how many toilets created in Delhi are actually gender-neutral? How sensitised is the staff around such toilets? Leaving these issues to non-profit organisations and not raising them in the events around the parade is actually washing our hands off of responsibility. It’s amusing that flawed campaigns and movies around toilets and sanitation are being made, but gender neutral toilets don’t seem to be the rallying point, or even a point of concern, for Pride parades.

We need to start looking beyond Section 377. One of the principal things about Pride, I feel, should be about knowing our rights and anti-LGBTQIA+ laws that exist in our country. The entire discourse around Pride is centred on Section 377. It does choke us, but it certainly isn’t the only source of oppression.

In my opinion, all current conversations around Section 377 assume that the higher judiciary is sensitive towards us. What if it’s not? To assume judiciary doesn’t have homophobia, is a dangerous assumption to base an argument on.

It seems like we are over-relying on only one issue to mobilise queer people and not talking about other issues as much. How many government hospitals, for instance, offer a comprehensive process for sex change? How many hospitals have inclusive wards for transgender persons? Isn’t a transgender person’s life important to pride parades? The placards and slogans in Delhi pride, as far as I saw, didn’t seem to reflect that.

Lastly, I logged onto a social dating app (remember the dating apps at present aren’t inclusive either) and found many profiles highlighting their preferences as - no femmes, no fats, no transgenders. When I did find some miniscule profiles out there which did not have these markers, they seemed to be fetishising the same identities.

The atmosphere around Pride, at present, seems to be a celebration of a certain kind of ‘perfection’ of body, a certain gender and that which is still ‘acceptable’. Pride is believed to mean ‘be proud of who you are’. But are we really?

 

Rajagopalan R is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Administration from Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi. He is training to be a Bharatanatyam dancer. He aspires to be a storyteller, as well as work on public policy issues concerning queer individuals. He identifies himself as a queer person.