Sunday, November 30, 2008

Legally Gay : Through The Gay-zing Glass

The year is 2008. Dr. Ramadoss is all for legalizing homosexuality. In England and other places in the world homosexuality is already legal. Welcome to a brave new world. Bollywood has just had its first movie explicitly depicting a gay act on the big screen. Its name? Dostana!

However! It’s fairly entertaining to see things go down. Of course, it might help you to keep in mind that this is not a movie about two gay men. It’s about two straight Indian men who are clearly freaked out by their little charade and have no idea how to make it work other than by drawing on stereotypes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the cringe-inducing scene where the main cast prances around the living room with Boman Irani and the most inappropriately effete immigration officer ever. Kunal and Sam ruminate on what it means to be homosexual and decide to “think like women, act like men” before running out with their pinkies raised and dancing to Beedi jalaile.

I recently ran into a couple of Columbians in the city. Both of them are in their early to mid 20's and have been best friends for a long time. And they were taking in the sights and sounds and smells and taste of India. As we were sitting at a coffee bar and making conversation, one of them suddenly asked me, why most Indian men
were gay? At first I thought he meant to ask something else and I misunderstood what he said but after I clarified it turns out that's exactly what he meant. So I asked him what made him think most of us were gay. And he said, “you guys hold other guys hands and walk. You share drinks/food from the same container etc.” This got me thinking of the various cultural differences between us and how he perceived what I would consider very normal, heterosexual behaviour to be gay. I have grown up considering myself heterosexual. But when I hold onto another guys hand I don't really consider it gay. I am also OK with passing around my lunch or Pepsi bottle around. Some people might not, but that's more for hygienic reasons, I think, than the thought that its gay. Honestly it had never even struck me in that light till these two guys pointed it out.

I think India is quite arguably a very androgynous – if not an outright feminine – culture; Indian men are very well-adjusted to displays of sensitivity, emotional depth, and homosocial intimacy.

It is not rare to see men walking around the city hand-in-hand or arms over their shoulders,displaying signs of very intimate affection towards each other. Once I saw a group of young men caressing each other’s hair, one of them combing the other’s lengthy locks, while the other men in the group carried on a lively and animated
conversation amongst themselves.

Well, all of this means, it gets awfully hard to figure out who’s in who’s “camp.” It’s incredibly risky to assume someone’s gay or that someone has the “hots” for you just by their non-verbal behavior and overt displays of intimacy.

I suppose this type of a cultural acceptance of homosocial behavior leads to a psychological burial or repression of homosexual expression. This is because of the ambiguous sexual nature of the behavior among the men around him. Since one can never be sure of the sexual intentions or persuasions of another man, it becomes incredibly risky to just assume the other’s sexual orientation and make an unsolicited or unwanted move–particularly given the paradoxical fact that while Indian men are notoriously homosocial, they are equally homophobic.

I don’t think this apparent closeness between males is uniquely Indian either. In the Arab Gulf men touch their noses and make a smacking sound with their lips when they greet each other (call it a virtual kiss). In many other Asian cultures men can be found walking hand in hand. Who is to say that holding hands or lips approaching
lips is not masculine, but feminine? Women in the Gulf do not “kiss” like this, so to kiss in this way is very much a masculine expression, while the feminine expression involves cheek to cheek. I see the camaraderie among Indian men expressed in the ways mentioned as a very masculine thing. Similar to in the west how the hearty handshake between men and a rough pat here or there is considered masculine. I feel the element of sexuality that might or might not accompany such actions is an important consideration, but I don’t feel it is a construct of masculinity or femininity. Parents can be very physically intimate with a child but this does not normally constitute any expression of sexuality.

I think the clues as to whether an individual is attracted to another of the same sex can still be recognized even if not based on distinct forms of physical intimacy. In fact, it is more the emotional than physical clues which one can look for. An unrelenting fixation on another, an emerging obsession, flirtatious and furtive looks, etc. Would not these be clear enough indications of another’s desires? I also believe that there is not only gay, bi and straight among the human family, but every degree in between. This is where the labels may not serve us well, whether we are referring to a Western context (in which the terms were coined) or that of any other culture. I guess my point is that there are numerous clues to pick up on to determine another’s interest in us or in others. A discussion of “masculine” and “feminine” behavior does not have much relevance. They express intimacy among themselves in
the culturally appropriate way for Indian man. In that sense holding hands is an expression of masculinity.

Also the western civilization is obsessed with the gay phenomenon to such an extent that even simple gestures between guys is considered taboo. So I say “Relax guys! You need to be confident of your sexuality that you don’t have to do anything in a certain way to “prove” your masculinity!!”

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