“The unlikeliest couples are often the sweetest,” announces a full-page ad in the Sunday paper. The product being advertised is a piece of tableware called a cloche. This particular cloche — coupling in its unlikely way — is made of marble and glass. Both exquisite, exclusive materials; one humanly crafted, another a miracle of geology. One smooth and solid, full of heft and gravity; the other luminous, fragile, and airy. Opposites attract in tableware these days apparently.
As for humans, however, opposites are mandated in coupling. An unlikely coupling in humans is a story of sameness, not opposites; a story of men loving men and women loving women. Back in the ‘80s, reared on a steady diet of Star Trek and Asimov, some of us might have imagined the future to be full of androgynous heroes and heroines. But the future isn’t what it used to be. Nearly into the third decade of the third millennium, we are still worrying that men aren’t manly enough and women aren’t womanly enough. It is no surprise that with each step we take toward the acknowledgement of actual sexualities, the sexual norm begins to rear its head, and with it the binary of gender that underpins it.
It’s an old story. In ‘50s America, rising incomes and advertising restored what had become deranged during the two world wars — a time when women started wearing coveralls and driving trucks. Not to be left behind in the gender binary project, films of the time jumped an entire century back to create the ‘Western’; John Wayne and Steve McQueen gave a generation of baby boomer men imaginary guns at their nonimaginary hips. For their part, women’s magazines dished out practical advice to the new stay-at-home Marilyn Monroes (wear skirts when your husband is home; speak softly even if you are arguing; makeup can’t hurt).
Not only is the gender binary familiar in the manner all majority cultures are familiar; but it emits subliminal, ancient echoes of things known and ‘natural’, done and dusted, old and hoary, echoes that we are trained to hear from an early age, like bats and weird frequencies. After all, there’s a kind of material, physical survival at stake. Gender binaries gave us our parents, and by extension, us. This is true biologically of course, since we are born from our parents’ bodies. But in a psychological sense too, the threat is real since we never stop being our parents’ children, continuing to be born from them as we navigate the world.
If we are good boys and girls, our parents will continue symbolically to be our parents through life’s uncertainties and tragedies. But if we are different sexually, somehow, not only do we stop being good girls and boys, we stop being girls and boys, and by a cruel twist of fate for all of us, our parents stop being our parents, torn between themselves and their parents, and their parents’ parents (and uncles, aunts and neighbours). Soon, there will be no society at all; or so the fear runs.
There is no space at this frequency for maybes and perhapses, for the strange and magical, for the secret pleasures and daily transgressions without which a life is pure repetition, pure machine-like labour, pure obedience, in sum, pure reproduction.
But it is not the certainty of biological reproduction that the sexual minority threatens, since we are at least dimly aware that homosexuality never wiped out any species that practised it, neither animal nor human. It is the certainty of social reproduction that cannot be assured if people are allowed to explore their sexuality and make their own unfettered choices. Note the language of a respondent by the name of Trust God Ministries in the petition against Section 377, “if Section 377 is declared unconstitutional, then the family system which is the bulwark of social culture will be in shambles, the institution of marriage will be detrimentally affected and rampant homosexual activities for money would tempt and corrupt young Indians into this trade (sic).”
Never mind the fact that rampant heterosexual activities for money (read: sex work) don’t seem to have upset the good sirs of Trust God Ministries, nor led them to conclude that it is the very presence of heterosexuality that produces sex work. There is truth in the other fear expressed here — that the regular, heteronormative family will change, and by extension, ‘social culture’ will change. The rub is this: one, the unthinkable has already happened. And two, it is nowhere near the feverish imagination of the patriarchs and gatekeepers – mountains haven’t fallen; rivers haven’t dried up; and the eye of Sauron hasn’t opened, not to the best of our knowledge. To quote the title of a recent film, The Kids are Alright. Indeed, it is time for their parents to come out of the closet. Arundhati Katju, in an interview to Time magazine, soon after Section 377 was struck down by the Indian Supreme Court, said it was a victory not only for LGBTQ people in India, but for their parents who were able to feel the support of visibility for the first time.
Above: Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju were featured on Time's 100 Most Influential People list of 2019. Image via Facebook
Nearly a year from the judgment however, it is easy to fall into the story of progress. One year ago, we were outmoded, like plastic furniture and shoulder pads. Today, we are contemporary and chic, like a glass-and-marble cloche. Most importantly, we have the law to protect unlikely couples. But our freedoms are fragile, and there’s no better time to remember this than the first anniversary of a hard-won freedom and the 73rd anniversary of our collective freedom. The judgment which struck down the law outlawing who we could love in the sanctity of our personal lives had this to say on freedom: “Sexual autonomy and the right to choose a partner of one‘s choice is an inherent aspect of the right to life and right to autonomy.” In saying this, the judges stepped as it has been widely recognised, far beyond the rights of sexual minorities. This makes sense, since Section 377 itself went far beyond the question of sexuality, invoking the ancient bat-calls of social morality to define the ‘norm-al’ as the ‘natural’, to curtail both speech and acts, and to keep the balance of power decisively in the hands of the (sexual) majority.
Definitions determine the texture, colour and shape of our freedoms, not only for the minority but also for those who find themselves defined into the majority, because without a defined majority there cannot be a defined minority. Without a rule there cannot be an exception, without a norm, no ab-norm-ality. One year since the judgment, the ghosts of Majority and Minority have only grown more ominous. In power are a set of people that thrive on the seemingly unassailable moral right of the majority to define the terms of engagement for all; and if ever the word democracy meant anything other than brute force, that meaning has been lost for the foreseeable future.
But because definitions are human things, majorities and minorities are humanly frail, humanly impermanent. Their meanings are impermanent, their alliances are impermanent; and their influence is impermanent. Moreover, there are unlikely couplings here too. The rich and powerful are by definition, a minority; but they need majorities to rule, not only in the sense that empires are built by slaves and workers who form the majority. Democracy needs race or caste or religion or language to render sheer numerical majority stable. By themselves thus, neither minorities nor majorities are guaranteed power; and minorities can lose power if they find themselves suddenly the ‘wrong’ minority, as it happened with the Romans in Christendom.
If the ruling minorities didn’t draw on these ancient frequencies, and if the majority for any reason stopped responding to the piper’s call, they would reveal themselves to be just rulers one day. It is a question of time and perhaps of space. It is possibly a question that cannot be posed or answered in the linear form we usually conduct political analysis in. It is quite clearly not a question of salvation in the form of a single saviour of freedom, a messiah. In the meanwhile, we have freedoms to celebrate in our precious individual lives, in our unruly, wayward minds, and in our own unlikely couplings of words, acts, and lyrics.
Prasad Dandekar and Shripad Ranade
We'll be celebrating our 15th anniversary on 18 August this year, and it's been an interesting journey. We are thankful to all our family and friends for being so supportive and making us feel like a "normal" couple. A year ago, when homosexuality was decriminalised, we felt as if we had emerged from 14 years of 'vanvas'. Although we are no longer 'criminals', our relationship has no legal standing. We still cannot marry, open bank accounts together, take loans; we don't have any inheritance and many more privileges that heterosexual couples have. I am hopeful that in the coming years, we will get our legal rights.
Societal acceptance of the LGBTQ community is increasing, especially in urban areas, but there is still a lot that needs to change. We are thankful to all the organisations and individuals who are working towards improving acceptance for the LGBTQ community.
Apurva Asrani and Siddhant Pillai
We met almost 13 years ago on Orkut. Over only a few dates, we discovered that we shared a passion for food, travel and movies. Within a year, we had set up a home together. It was initially tough for Siddhant's parents to see him move out (I had come out to my folks in 1998), but when Sid told his folks, they accepted it maturely, without any drama. In fact, they took us shopping for provisions for our home.
Our families hang out with each other, and once, we even took a vacation together. When our 12-year-old labrador Doobie passed away in April, our families really helped us get over the grief.
No relationship is perfect and we have our share of troubles, but luckily we can talk to our families about it.
Adi and Sayanti
It's been almost two years of togetherness now. Together, we saw the extreme lows of life, as well as the wondrous highs. Love in its most lucid form never let us drift away from each other. Despite several fights, we never gave up on each other.
We're both happy together, and are looking forward to settling down soon.
Amit Shah and Aditya Madiraju
Photo courtesy Thierry Jean (@iamtj_ports)
When Amit and I met in 2016, little did we know that three years down the line, we would get married! What brought us close and kept us together, through the good and bad times, was our strong love for culture and family values. It took us a year to come out to our parents and to make sure we answered each and every question they had. Today, our mothers are best friends and our friends get along really well too.
To be accepted, we had to go out of our way to help everyone understand and reach the conclusion that we are no different from any other heterosexual couple. It was a tough process, but we need to realise that our society and education system have, until now, not talked freely about the LGBTQIA community. For most people, it’s an alien topic, or even worse, just a mere joke. We hope the attention our wedding has gathered helps to start a dialogue of acceptance in every home, and doesn’t end up being merely a social media trend.
Sridhar Rangayan and Saagar Gupta
Photo courtesy QGraphy
Filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan and writer-lyricist Saagar Gupta are a power couple who have produced iconic LGBTQ films like Evening Shadows and The Pink Mirror. They are also the organisers of the landmark KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival.
While their interests and attitudes are as poles apart as their Zodiac signs (Rangayan is the fire sign Aries, while Gupta is the water sign Pisces), they have survived life’s ups and downs because of their love for each other. They will be celebrating 25 years of togetherness this December.
Haima Simoes and Shruti Venkatesh
Photo courtesy Yash Yeri
We’re the best of friends who happen to be madly in love with each other, and our beautiful little cat. Every day is basically us getting through life as a team, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We almost always know what the other person is thinking about and often creepily say it out loud. For the past two-and-a-half years, we have spent pretty much all our time and days together. Yet, there hasn’t been a single moment where we ran out of words.
Madhuri Sarode and Jay Rajnath Sharma
I met my husband on Facebook in 2014, and later we became really close friends. We soon decided to live together, and eventually on 28 December 2016, we married in a local temple. We later found out that we were the first couple to have an open marriage in India. Later, over the years, many other couples got married and it's a wonderful thing.
I believe that to marry someone, we need not look at age, caste, religion or even gender. If you love someone, you shouldn’t have to face difficulties because you want to live with them. Now, with the decriminalisation of Section 377, it is even better.
My husband always tells everyone: "I have loved Madhuri, not her gender; it doesn't matter to me." Right from early childhood, one almost never finds love — from one’s family, friends or society — in the transgender community. So receiving that love is really important. If there was love for the transgender community, I am sure one wouldn't find them on the road, asking for money to make ends meet.
With love comes a lot of positivity and the zeal to overcome life's hurdles. I have received love from my husband, his family and everyone else. I remember when we got married, people looked at us with a lot of ambiguity and suspicion. But today, not just my in-laws (the Sharma family) but their entire extended family and village have accepted me as their bahu (daughter-in-law).
There's still a lot to do though, many battles to fight — for a marriage certificate, adoption rights etc. But I take all this in my stride; without struggles, there is no joy in finding success."
Garvit Nagpal and Mohammad Ayub Ali
Photo courtesy Raqeeb Raza (@daintystrangerphotos)
I met my partner about eight months ago; I was reading a book while travelling in a bus and I uploaded a story of it on Instagram. He is a reader and replied to that story – that’s when our conversation started... Gradually our conversations blossomed and we became closer. He had just come out of a relationship that lasted four months and was really clueless about starting something new. We called ourselves Tan 90° — a term in mathematics that means "not defined". We don't label ourselves as each other’s boyfriends or other cliches, we go with “partners”.
He stays in Thane and I stay in Gurgaon. We never thought about getting together; we were just friends. I had heard that long-distance relationships are very sketchy and not long-lasting. We never had a problem with anything though.
I'm an aviation blogger, so whenever he sees a plane, especially at night (he loves to see the blinking lights), he is reminded of me (cheesy teenage things, I know)... I paint, so one day I painted something and left an imprint of my hand behind the canvas on the wood. That was the first time I sent him something I had made.
Reyansh Naarang and Jagjit Singh
Photo courtesy: Raqeeb Raza (@daintystrangerphotos)
I am 19-years-old and I like to be identified as non-binary and gay. I am a law student and programme consultant at Nazariya LGBT. My partner Jagjit (cis gay), aged 24, is a dentistry student. It took us a while, but we both developed a liking for each other.
We think our relationship could be best described as considerate and affectionate. I love how I can be myself with him — proud of my identity and my activism. I think Juggs is the first guy I have ever met who reacts to my calling out of toxic behaviour patterns in a very constructive and healthy way, unlike most cis gay men I have known. We both push each other to be better people, and I love that about us. We are very different people, literally poles apart, although we do have our moments of affection.
Neeta Basnet and Maitrayanee Mahanta
Being queer in India is fraught with danger. And our story is no different. When we met each other for the first time, it was nothing like love at first sight. It was gradual and refined. There was a lot of doubt mixed with the idea of love. In a society like ours, love has been divided into the natural and unnatural kind.
There are still millions hidden behind walls, trying to be free.
Anjali Chakra and Sundas Malik
Photo courtesy Sarowar Ahmed
When we first started dating I used to let go of Sufi’s hand a few blocks before my office when she walked me to work because I was scared people would find out I was queer. Fast forward a year and we spent our anniversary [they married in July 2018] at my cousin’s wedding, where she met 50 members of my extended family who loved her!
Sunalini Kumar is associate professor, School of Global Affairs, Ambedkar University
Editorial support and interviews by Suryasarathi Bhattacharya. Additional inputs by Anvisha Manral.
Photos by special arrangement except where indicated otherwise