A tale of loss and love from Delhi’s gay parade

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : Against a gathering storm, milling clouds and stray leaves strewn around by the wind, a lonesome figure – a frail young man of 32 with pierced ears and eyebrows and expressive kohl-lined eyes – cut a poignant figure.

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He had returned to show solidarity with the community of LGBT – Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transvestites – three years after leaving it – by taking part in the capital’s first gay parade christened “Queer Pride” Sunday.

The refrain of the march by nearly 500 members of sexual minority groups was what a little pink placard proclaimed, “Queer and loving it.”

The man seemed far removed from the bustle of the coming-out-of-the-closet street party of the LGBT groups. “I am coming to terms with a metamorphosis,” he said.

His community name is Khanam, though he is often referred to as “aunty or didi” by his LGBT mates. Khanam’s life, as he prefers to describe it, is a miracle. And to a heterosexual, it is stranger than fiction.

Khanam, a homosexual for the last 10 years, says he has been changing as a person ever since he fell in love with a girl three years ago after a traumatic break-up with his boyfriend to whom he was married for two years.

“My life has been a series of tragic encounters,” disclosed Khanam, employed in a multinational firm in New Delhi. “I was raped at the age of 13 by my male cousin to whom I was very attached as a child,” said the young man, a Nepali Brahmin, who returned to his community after three years Sunday to express solidarity.

“Since then, it has been one long innings of casual sexual encounters with men till I met the man of my life. Ahmediariwala, a native of Gujarat, was younger to me. We were desperately in love and married in a temple. The sindoor or maang bharo (vermillion) ceremony was held at home and all my friends in the LGBT community were witness to it.

“I gave up everything for my husband – even my parents, who could not accept it. I have not met my mother for the last 10 years,” he said.

It was a happy marriage. Khanam was the wife at home. He wore light makeup, bangles and necklaces and cooked egg curries and chicken for his husband, who loved Khanam’s home-made meals. “My ‘husband’ only made the morning tea,” he remembered with a wistful smile.

But Khanam’s “husband” refused to come out of the closet. “He was very discreet. He refused to go out with me, forbade me from holding hands in public and clamped so many restrictions on me that I started feeling stifled,” he said. “He probably felt ashamed.”

The marriage ended, leaving Khanam shattered. “I stopped wearing makeup, jewellery, took to drinking and went back to having casual sex with men till I met my girlfriend, a Class 12 student. She is much younger than me, but we plan to marry next year,” he said.

The affair, Khanam says, took a strange toll on his psyche. “I stopped drinking and going to gay pubs in the capital and men’s chatrooms on the internet to pick up partners.

“Somehow, I cannot gel with men any longer. I feel more responsible. I go home straight from work and have been working overtime to make more money and save. I want to start a family – and yearn for a daughter. My girlfriend is very possessive about me,” Khanam said.

“Look at the pretty boys around – they do not excite me any more,” he said pointing to his friends. According to Khanam, the change probably has something to do with the sense of loss and the angst of breaking up with his husband two years ago. “I don’t cook any more. My wife will cook for me when we marry,” he laughed.

But the pull of homosexuality sometimes proves too strong to resist. “It was after a long time that I had sex with a man two weeks ago in a bout of drunkenness, but that has not affected me in any way,” Khanam admitted.

Is re-orienting sexual inclinations easy? According to Khanam, the lesbian and gay communities have three kinds of members – those who like to stay as wives at home (passive mates), the dominant partner or the husband and one who can play both the roles of husband and wife.

“I am versatile. With stronger men, I am the wife, with the weaker, the husband. So playing the husband to a woman in real life will not be difficult for me. I can adjust,” Khanam said.

“After all, it’s for love. I will never let her down the way I was by my husband,” he said.

Betrayal is common in the community primarily because gay men are still reluctant to come out with their inclinations.

Says Gurgaon voice and accent trainer Vineet Trikha who was part of the gay parade: “I have been in off-and-on relationships because I was heartbroken after my steady relationship with a bisexual married man ended a few years ago. He could not respect me for what I am. It was all so hush-hush.”

Sunday’s event commemorated the Stonewall Riots. On June 28, 1969, the New York Police department raided the Stonewall Inn, a pub frequented by homosexual and lesbian groups, and rounded up several men and women. It sparked a riot.

The Delhi parade was a revelation, said Delhi-based rights activist Prabeen Singh, as she stood watching the cheering surge. “The issue is not whether they are normal or not. It is about sexuality, which is integral to all of us.

“The Indian government sticks to some archaic laws which make homosexuality an offence. The abnormality lies not in the LGBT groups, but in the way the government and the people (we) look at their lives,” she said.

A graffiti on a placard in the hands of petite young woman at the parade served as a reminder: “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai, hetero-homo bhai, bhai”.