When you compare the last 300 years of modern human history, only recently have people started getting used to the fact that the term ‘homosexual’ does not imply anything derogatory. It’s only now that people have begun to hold back their tongue before calling someone ‘meetha’ or ‘chakka’. But just like the colonial hangover, it’s hard to snap out of homophobia when you don’t even realise what you’re saying is deeply homophobic.
Till 2013, I had been hearing whispers and murmurs of people claiming to know how homosexuality ‘originated’. Some said it was during World War II when American soldiers had to live together in the barracks so homosexuality ‘spread’ from one soldier to the next. Another claimed that it was ‘faulty parenting’ that turned one gay. I was called a lesbian by someone else who didn’t even know what the word meant. Back then, minds were as fogged up as Delhi’s toxic air.
But I was left a bit stunned when last year I finally told about my sexuality to a person who had been my senior at a previous job. People who are employed in the Information Technology industry are used to working in a conservative environment. It’s hard to hear conversations that go beyond family dramas and code debugs. But she was a well-read, informed person who could hold a conversation that didn’t wander off into everyday generalities. When she suggested I go to the US because I would be ‘much better off there’, I was forced to consider where her concerns had been coming from. Was it because she had a genuine concern for my well-being in this country? Or did her response to my coming out say more about our inability to shake away rigid perceptions and give way to acceptance?
But even after I moved from a relatively parochial industry to a field considered more liberal, the subtle stench of homophobia would not leave. I would be the go-to person for shoots that were LGBT-related just because I’m openly queer. When I had make-up on my face for a shoot that involved a man trying it out for the first time, I was told that make-up suits me. For another such experimental shoot, the idea of men wearing lipstick for an entire day was floated to gauge the reaction of people around them as they commuted. I was told that I would be the perfect guy to do the shoot, but when confronted, there was no answer as to why I should be considered ‘perfect’ for the job.
Instances like these may not be outright homophobic (at least we aren’t getting burned at the stake or stoned to death) but they leave an impression that people like me, who identify as queer, are not a part of the world you live in. The feeling of being the ‘other’ is everpresent. The kind of homophobia I faced may not amount to much as compared to what others face, nonetheless, such incidents still leave a scar as deep.