Vikram Bhatt currently has a series called Maaya on YouTube that explores the world of BDSM (Bondage-Domination-Sadism-Masochism). Despite its tackiness, one must hand it to the filmmaker for charting territory hitherto untouched in India. For most of us, the source of this kind of information has either been E L James’ famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the fence you’re on) 50 Shades trilogy or an occasional X-rated film.
Talking about or depicting regular hetero normative sex is tough enough in this country. What of sexual minorities who are denied a voice and representation not just in art but also in life?
The LGBTQ community is beginning to be seen and heard, but there are still others under it who stay hidden deep in the shadows.
These are the people with unconventional sexual or romantic preferences, and because of the moral implications of their choices, often deemed perverts.
In psychological parlance, terms such as partialism and paraphilia describe people with some forms of sexual deviancy. BDSM, fetishism, toucherism, frotteurism and paedophilia are all considered sexually deviant behaviours. Often, frotteurism and paedophilia fall into the criminal category because they do not involve consent.
But consenting adults engaging in fetishism or BDSM can hardly be called criminal. So what’s life like for such people with sexual deviancies ‘within limits’?
Raj is a medical practitioner, married with a child, and lives in uptown Pune. All his parameters of success and ‘normalcy’ are neatly in place. But scratch the surface and you find a fetishist and a submissive. How does he balance his not-so-conventional sexual preferences and his conventional marriage?
Interviewer: What is a submissive? Are there variations?
Raj: It is defined by an intense need to submit at least a part of your will or to be used by a Dominant, whereby pleasing the dominant or offering services is paramount to the submissive’s satisfaction. Often the projection of such relationships as abusive in books and films is inaccurate. Many people think all submissives expect sexual favours in the relationship. This is not true. Whatever the case, consent and a respect of hard limits are essential.
I: When and how did you discover that you have submissive tendencies and a shoe fetish? Are the two connected?
R: I discovered both things around the time I was 9-10 years old. Certain films depicting men submitting to women caught my fancy. In a fantasy world I would be enacting those scenarios. And as for my shoe fetish, it started out with heels, but went on to encompass all manner of women’s footwear. While the two are connected for me, they are not necessarily so for other people. Being at someone's feet or maybe cleaning their shoes is a sign of submission, hence the two work out well together for me.
I: What’s life like for a sexual deviant?
R: It is a lonely world. The fear of ridicule and being judged is always there; it was so before, it is still so. In the early days I would talk to innumerable strangers in Web chat rooms and would be vastly disappointed how little anyone knew. Only a few indulged me. Today, there are a number of websites one can turn to, such as Fetbot (sort of Facebook for fetish folks) and Collarme (a listing website). Although nascent in India, there is a growing industry for deviant folks!
I: Does your wife know about your sexual preferences? Is it played out in your marriage too? If yes, how? If no, does it affect your marital equation?
R: She does know about my preferences and did engage them for a while before it got too confusing for me. Incorporating servility into our married life messed with my head because it affects our balance. Plus, my wife was not naturally dominant and had to put on an act. It made it fake, because it was not limited to role-play for me. A certain degree of indifference from a ‘regular’ dominant helps, but I could not accept indifference from someone I think the world of and love totally. So it took a back seat and we resumed with our normal roles and lives.
I: Speaking of love, how (much more) complicated is it?
R: It is not at all complicated for me. I am happy with my situation. My family means the world to me.
There always is a deep longing maybe, and a part of me may be unsatisfied, but it does not affect my love for my partner or my family. If things come to a head I will always put love first.
Urmi Chanda-Vaz had an equally powerful piece a while ago, which raised questions about what defines gender. Meanwhile, Shine Syamaladevi relates how his perception of 'different' sexuality was altered in one train journey.