Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gay Bombay

Namaste! I write to you after what have been an eventful few days, culminating in a three in the morning visit from a rodent friend. We were hoping that it was a mouse, but alas, there was a rat in the bedroom. I managed to get it to run out the window relatively quickly, but you can be sure that we will never open the windows again, and the shower/bucket drain will be sealed. I understand that dealing with creatures is part of the experience, but I sleep on the floor. And the rat was on the floor. I don't need to be the lead in some cheap horror movie. Coming back to this a few days later (sometimes I'm too busy to write these things, you know), the rat came back. Even though I stuffed the hole, I haven't been able to sleep, even in the living room (hall, Indian English), because I just think it's there. Another fellow in Bhuj, a really conservative city, has mice that people won't exterminate because the god Ganesha is attended by a mouse, so that would be heretical.

Now that I've sufficiently grossed you out, let's talk about happier things, like rainbows. Two weeks ago was the Queer Azad Mela, or Pride Week. It was a week long festival with events like open mics, folk music night, poster-making parties, and plays. It ended with a march on Saturday.

We gave some street kids paper and markers. They drew the Playboy bunny, because nobody gets it here.

Our beautiful artwork.

Sadly, I never made it to the pride march at home, but it was really exciting to be celebrating everything here. I feel like it was probably similar, except people wore clothes, and the bystanders didn't wait for hours to watch. Caught relatively off guard, most looked amused and maybe a bit bemused, but only one was sort of hostile. Even the police were being supportive, which surprised me because in my line of work, police are the enemy. After abusive husbands and mothers-in-law.

And now, I will give you a brief synopsis of homosexuality in India. So back, back in the day, like way before the British arrived, people were getting it on with members of the same sex. Because people have done that basically forever, let's be real. Then the British came, with their recently developed concept of homosexuality, which had become a bad thing, along with other sexual "perversions." So the British codified the Indian Penal Code and added Section 377 in 1860, which stated, "Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.

I think Lord Macaulay probably didn't think it would be used to persecute gay people, but that's basically what happened. The British left, the law stayed, and technically, sex between men was illegal. It didn't really apply to women, because, well penetration isn't as easily identifiable. Although there was this one case in South India where they tried to determine if a woman had been penetrated by fingers by her lover in order to charge her under 377, but that's another story. A lot of people here think that homosexuality is a western influence, which is totally untrue. However, if tolerance of gay people if a western influence, I would be proud to accept that. There are a lot of gay people in India (population of 1.2 billion, it's inevitable, no?), but a lot of them don't really know what that means. Those who are of the lower classes might not have heard the words "gay" or "lesbian," and in fact there are people in India called MSM, or men who have sex with men, who don't identify as gays in the same way men do in the states because compulsory heterosexuality is the norm here. In other words, they have sex with men, but they're married to women, because that's the way things are. Lesbians face a lot of hardship because women here have to get married, again, because that's what people do, so after a certain point (her 25th birthday?), her parents might either suspect something, or just marry her off. Also, women don't really have financial resources here, because their jobs are rarely lucrative, so a woman can only come out to her family if she can support herself. Anyways, gays in the big cities started protesting, advocating, the whole shebang, so last summer, Section 377 was written down to basically only apply to child abuse. So now gay sex isn't illegal. Gay marriage isn't really an issue, because a lot of people here only have religious ceremonies and don't get civil marriage licenses. They don't get tax breaks here.

Whew. I'm tired. But still going... I cannot finish this without discussing hijras. And kothis! So hijras, in a reductive sense, are transgenders, or men who dress/behave/are women. Some of them are castrated/have sex changes, but it's not entirely necessary, depending on which hijra family she belongs to. They have their own social structures, and even their own god. They've been a big part of India for hundreds of years and played important parts in religious ceremonies. It's thought that they can bring bad luck if they show up to a ritual and you don't give them money. Now, however, they don't occupy that same cultural/religious role, and a lot of them are relegated to sex work. They also have a very distinctive clap.

Kothis are another subgroup of people who might be considered gay. I'm calling them queer. It applies to all cultures. Actually, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) in India can kind of go LGBTQHKP... there are lots of kinds of queers. So kothis are men who dress like women and have sex with men, but they're not hijras. They're the feminine halves of kothi/panthi, in which panthis are the more masculine "tops," or the "passive" of the ancient Greek active/passive relationships, if you will. Just an fyi, panthis aren't necessarily considered gay, because they're "masculine."

So that's basically everything I know about queering India. A note for my family who probably wasn't aware that I was so into this topic, I got it from Columbia.

Now the other part of the post... well I'm tired, so this is just going to be pictures of things I've done.

Rachel and I went to Elephanta Island, where there are cool cave carving temple things.

I know this is just a cow, but it's on an island. Just trying to figure out how it snuck onto a little passenger ferry.

Porters. Chilling on their moneymaking apparati.

Heyyy there.

So Rachel and I have this joke (no offense to my lovely friends who live here) that Indians don't really have a concept of lame. This illustrative picture is modeled after a man/boy (ages are really hard to guess here. Could have been 18. Could have been 26) did this approximately 45 seconds before I did. He did, however, laugh when he caught me copying him, so we're cool.

Grey horse for Grandma!

Could be Monmouth Park, no?

In our derby best (I didn't really bring nice clothes to India)

Off on an adventure to see MORE caves for the weekend. And adventure it will be. I'm taking a sleeper BUS. I'm going to feel like Harry Potter on the Knight Bus.


  1. Samosa,
    Brillo in the hole not a bandana! You gave the rat an amuse bouche or a lovely fashion accessory.
    Thanks for the lesson in Indian gender issues. As if that unfortunate abuse weren't enough you get to deal with infanticide and domestic violence amongst 1.2 billion people. Thats a lot of issues, you could be there a very long time!

    Love D
    (4 wks)

  2. Samala,

    Now you know how I felt when you let mice/guinea pigs/lizards free in our kitchen...there are just some places where such visitors are not welcome! You have such amazing pictures, you really will have chronicled a year of tremendous experiences with beautiful images. As always, I learn so much from you. Stay cool, stay rat free...T-4!!!! No puedo esperar!! Mucho amor y abrazos, Eriquita (I'm practicing :) )

  3. (I thought I posted this days ago when I read it, but my internet wasn't good enough)

    I feel the need to respond to Erica's post. Those "visitors" happened to be beloved members of our family, so for you to suggest otherwise is simply insulting. But, I do apologize for that time that I let the hamster I was babysitting escape into the house. That was bad.

    Awesome post samooolaaa

  4. Sam,

    Quite the post this time. I enjoyed and learned a lot. Perhaps when Jared is much older I'll let him read it. I hope the rat got the hint because I know it can't be the same friendly rat as in Charlotte's Web.

    Wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day!

    Love you and miss you!

  5. this is a test. if it works I will send you another comment.

  6. mushi mushi Sami,
    thank you for the gender identification dissertation. Grandma also thanks you for remembering her love of gray horses and for sending the picture with the gray in the lead .
    did he/she win the race ? I'll bet you were a real hit with your knowledge of horse racing. Did you notice that they were running in the opposite direction?? Stop down this summer and we will enhance your education.
    Thanks for the phone call after the derby.
    Love You