The world of LGBTQ+ in India has seen a remarkable change after section 377 was abolished. It helped create a conversation about the diversity of gender and the differences in sexual orientation. Thus building a bond among the people. Companies and brands have begun to take an interest in ensuring inclusivity within the company. And educating masses will probably become easier from this point on.
But we still face challenges each day and we understand that steps towards progress have just begun. We interviewed Durga Gawde about the different tangents of the LGBTQ+ community and how each field of life has to now become more accommodating.
Durga Gawde is an educator, an activist, a model, a fashion icon with a voice and the guts to challenge the world. They is a sculptor, a performing artist who has worked with Vogue, Lufthansa, and is also a TedX speaker.
How has your life changed after section 377 was discarded?
“After section 377, a lot of brands and companies suddenly started to call me to ask me to model and pose for them or post something on social media. I agreed and told them the monetary value of my time. But as soon as there was a number attached to my time, they would say that they are doing this for the community and to increase visibility. This is the difference between queer people and everybody else.”, says Durga pointing out the irony in the situation.
Why do companies believe that the members of the LGBTQ+ only need exposure? If companies begin to treat every individual according to their skills and what they can offer to the company, it not be easier to practice inclusivity. It is common for most companies to barter a deal with popular personalities where companies claim to provide exposure.
But, using the situation of the LGBTQ+ as an excuse to not treat the LGBTQ+ like the rest, is a sham.
They explain that “As soon as you are out and proud, everything changes. Along with taking away the monetary payment, they believe they are doing us a favour by putting us in the forefront. And when I see that it is all done for profit, I make sure to point out the difference. The biggest form of oppression in the present situation is to be financially unstable. It is already difficult to be emotionally stable in a world where you are suppressed and not accepted. The emotional instability affects your capacity to be financially stable. And this only gets worse when companies and brands refuse to pay you. I need queer people to be aware of this. This is the fight now; this is where the fight begins. How much of the profit does actually go to the queer people? They have to understand that their faces are being used and they have to claim their rights.”
The strides we have been making are small, there is still so much the companies who use pride as an excuse to make a profit have to understand. People within the community cannot be taken for a ride. It is important to ask for what you deserve. The differentiation among the LGBTQ+ itself could be considered as isolating further away, explains Durga. They prefer to use the term ‘queer’ instead of LGBTQ+ because queer just means ‘off the norm’. They believes that the term queer has been reclaimed over the years. Queer and Non-queer, the idea does seem simpler.
They recently visited the USA during the celebration of the Stonewall Uprising Anniversary and saw rainbows covering the entire city. But this gave them a new perspective to how the queer community was being treated and used.
Capitalism and Rights
“Capitalism is cleverly hidden under the blanket of pride, with rainbows and celebration of the queer people. When the faces of the queer influencers are used for profit but are paid little money, one can see that pride is being misused by the companies and the brands. It is important for people to know the state of affairs. We cannot be satisfied with the government for the abolishment of section 377, they owe us so much more. They also said that the abolishment is a small step but there is a lot of fight left.”
Evidently, there is a long march towards attaining complete equality and equal rights. Not just the brands, and companies that are ‘willing’ to work with the LGBTQ+, but the government and the education sectors also have to learn that the LGBTQ+ people deserve equity and not just equality. How do we push these ideas, when being queer is believed to be a foreign concept?
“The society has been conditioned to think in a certain manner as they have been boxed for many years. The information has to be recontextualised to fit the scenario. People are scared to rebel and want to live by the rules because rebelling lands you in trouble. But they must remember that it is important to speak your truth. Queer people are driven by fear; they are scared to ask for what they deserve.”
If people start speaking their truths, we could gradually push the world into understanding what it means to be LGBTQ+. This will especially in smaller cities and rural spaces since they suffer the most and cannot seek help easily.
But how do we help the people from B1 and B2 cities understand ideas of LGBTQ+ rights, protection or acceptance? How can we break down the ideas and recontextualise them?
Durga says, “Ideas don’t have to be translated. During my TedX talk, I did not dress entirely feminine or masculine. When I got up on the stage, I told the principal, I am gender-fluid, I don’t have to follow the dress-code of a boy or a girl”.
Even though their outfit caused confusion among the students, the performance of their gender, and their ability to wear what they thought represented them was enough to help the students involved in the conversation about gender dynamics.
Converting complex ideas into simpler ones, illustrating and educating without becoming defensive is what they suggest the LGBTQ+ community to do. “It is easy to push their buttons and make them think instead of forcing information on them. When you begin to point fingers and tell them they don’t understand, they become defensive. They want to protect their thought-process, and it becomes an ego thing.” This has to be tackled, gently and with a lot of patience, explains Durga.
Patience is key
“The queer people and the non-queer people have to be patient with each other to undo this. It will take time to unlearn what the colonisers have taught us. Even in the main cities of India, we are unable to overcome this. Accessing certain sections of society even in these cities is still difficult.”
There is no running away from the responsibilities one has as a member of the queer community. Let’s face it, if you know, you have to educate those who don’t. People will not learn about what does not directly affect them. But since the issue is essentially humanitarian and a fight for equality, there is a need for society as a whole to be a part of the conversation. But society struggles to accept and change, Durga explains why,
“Society has been conditioned by Victorian ideologies, which make us believe that homosexuality or gender diversity is a western idea. The truth is homophobia and forced heteronomy are concepts of colonisers. In India, we have heard stories about Ardhanarishwara (a composite androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati, the Hindu deities) and it is time people across the country understand this. But the conditioning runs very deep; it is challenging to change the ideas that colonisers have left us with.”
It is difficult to cut the ropes of bondage, we are still enslaved by the ideas of the colonisers. There is no point in revisiting history if we cannot envision a present and future without the queer community.
A New Vision
Durga shares their personal take on this “As a Gender-fluid person, it is tricky to figure out what are the rights I should be asking for. I know I want leaders who are confident in their skin to teach more people how to be the same way, I want to leave behind a legacy of leaders who are confident. I want a place in India that is ungendered, where people can put aside their differences of geography, race, or caste. Treating each other with respect should be the baseline.”
Durga mentions how the queer community is driven by fear and are scared to ask for rights. The lack of confidence among the people, the lack of voice is something we need to get rid of. People have to be reminded that they are entitled to rights and protection from violence and abuse. But only when people believe in themselves and have the bravery to speak their minds, can they ask for what they deserve.
‘You are the winning sperm baby’
“I have this phrase written on my lock screen to remind myself that I am a winner. Everyone should believe that they are born winners. There is a lot of strength in this. Whenever I see this, I know that I should be doing my best and be my best version. If I try to be like anyone else, then I’m not fulfilling my purpose. Stop living by the rules imposed on you, speak your truth and rebel against the wrong. People have to understand that at the end of the day, the important thing is that we preserve humanity” says Durga.
There are different ways to live life and to find your purpose, and none of them are ever easy. Every day we try to make our life better for ourselves, so we asked Durga how they do it.
‘I am only trying to be the person I needed when I was younger’. This line by Ruby Rose inspired me to be someone her 5-year-old self could depend on. I think that a good heart that can empathise and a good brain is all one needs to be a good human being, and that is the way forward for humanity.