MY FIRST adolescent experiences of gay men and women were few and individual. From these I generalised that gay men talked more than the ‘straight’ men, and gay women were broody and intense. My own broodiness and intensity at the time — I fervently read Kant, Robert M Pirsig and Simone de Beauvoir in Pune local trains — predictably did not occur to me.
Then I grew up and moved to Bengaluru, where homogeneity does not prevail. Suddenly, I discovered that gay people exist in groups, and became part of one (as much as I was capable of such a thing, with my aforementioned brooding solipsism).
Now I must explain here that I am so short-sighted I can only see as far as the optic nerve behind my retina. This, sadly, does not qualify me to describe the experience of my first Gay Pride in a way that any reader would particularly desire, but I shall still attempt do so.
In the months leading up to Gay Pride, I learned that there is far more to personal appearance than meets the eye. I generally like to go around town in threadbare, faded, years-old outfits, but I suddenly began to feel, once in two months, the urge to dress up and show myself to my friends. Once I had started seeing the piercings in my earlobes not as macho scars of a childhood initiation but as holes from which earrings could be dangled, I quite got used to the idea. I learned that the concave properties of a bike’s rearview mirror not only allow you to see a wider range of far-away objects which are smaller than they appear, they also let you touch up your kajal. I was told that if I showed myself in certain public areas with my shirt buttoned all the way up to the top, it would awaken a “lesbian renaissance”. I learned the meaning of the word “campy”. And I learned that there was a whole queer party universe that I was unaware of and terrified of, as I was of the straight party universe.
When I thought about queer politics, I compared it to the only remotely similar thing I knew, feminist politics. And so, when I heard about Gay Pride, I thought, ‘Wow, that must be like women’s pride — I’m proud to be a woman, right?’ When the answer didn’t emerge automatically from the recesses of my brain, I deferred the question and set about thinking, as everyone was a month in advance, of what I would wear for Pride.
On the big day, the starting point of the march was milling with gay men and lesbians, transsexuals, bisexuals, straight men and women. They were dressed up in black suits, masks, face paint, colourful outfits, dour kurtas, pink wigs, glamorous saris, sporting shaved heads, carrying signs with slogans on them. As we began marching, they shouted slogans of all kinds, from the funny to the absolutely bizarre. Here, finally, was camp for all to see.
In June of every year, the yatra to Pandharpur passes through Pune. Thousands of pilgrims pass through the city in two to three days, and the streets are transformed. Traffic is diverted off the usual routes, and it takes six times the usual time to get anywhere. I had the same feeling of unreality at Pride last year. For a few hours, the people who walked the streets unharmed were the people on whom those who hold the highest stakes and interests have always severely clamped down upon. And yet, here was no V for Vendetta march on Parliament or suffragettes chaining themselves to Buckingham Palace; here was a celebration, something quite new to me in both personal life and politics, which changed the meaning of pride for me.
This year, I knew six months in advance what I was going to wear for Pride.