Manvendra Singh Gohil is known for many things. One of the labels that always precedes his interviews is that of being the first-ever member of a royal family in India to come out as being gay. But he’s also an activist, a celebrity, a son, a friend and if you have known him as a journalist – he’s an incredibly warm person.
He’s treading a difficult road, but one that has been deeply fulfilling. Manvendra was attending the LA gay pride, as the guest and Indian ambassador of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) when the Orlando shooting happened. He spoke about the fire and what it means to be part of the LGBT community.
Has your access to activists, celebrities and the common man out there give you a greater insight into how LGBT relationships are perceived and pursued across the world?
In a way, yes. There is something straightforward about relationships – LGBT or otherwise. And that is, love is love, and everyone wants companionship. What I have realised is that while obviously, it has made a massive difference to the LGBT community in the US now that same-sex marriages have been legalised, it is still difficult for people to understand and accept this simple truth.
The US has a lot of conservative states – where the church is very dominant, and it is in those states that people are so much more homophobic. In India, we are still fighting for our legal rights; however, whatever happens on the legal front, how can you stop people from falling in love or pursuing relationships?
The Orlando was shooting…
…shows that we still need to reinforce the fact that this is a fight for humanity. We are a part of the human race; we have needs just like everyone else and the right to love and be loved. That is why the show must go on – in fact, and we had decided that the pride events will be carried on as planned and we will not be afraid.
So what are the relationship challenges for a person who’s gay, lesbian or transgender in India?
This may sound strange, but the piece of paper that heterosexual people have – a document that legalises their marriage is also something that often keeps a marriage going. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that people cheat or get divorced even if they are married, but a legal sanction of their union and the fact that it is so difficult to get a divorce also gives longevity to the relationship!
So to begin with, one of the challenges is that you enter a relationship knowing fully well that you have no legal sanction. There is nothing to prevent a person from walking away, except for love.
There is fear; there is insecurity. You don’t know if your partner will be able to withstand the pressure, ostracisation and emotional blackmail that he will have to face once he takes you home or you take him back. There is also a lot of jealousy – because very few couples can live out their lives together and openly, those who do often face a lot of scrutinies. Not just from the world at large but from within their community. All this stress affects your relationship.
In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting…
India, with all its complexities and beauty, is a safe place for the LGBT community despite section 377 (IPC) and we must treasure that while fighting for our rights. And also, our laws about owning and possession of guns are stricter (thank god for that). In the end, the fight continues – remember we are fighting for the same things that the rest of the world takes for granted.
What would be your advice to a young man or woman who is seeking love and commitment in the LGBT world?
I would say, first and foremost, understand that love is not just about physical appearance or sex. It is something that is much more fulfilling and lasting. It goes beyond the physical and is found in the ordinary but deeply satisfying ways in which you live out your everyday lives.
I would say that companionship and the need to understand each other are underrated. But of course, when you are young, you go headlong into love and learn your lessons in the years to come.
I would also say that, once you feel you are in love or ready for a relationship, please get financially independent. If you are going to come out to your parents and society, you will most likely than not, face discrimination, the threat of disinheritance and be thrown out of your homes. If you don’t have a job, how will you sustain yourself and the one you love?
What you say about love transcending the physical and sexual aspects, applies to everyone, irrespective of their orientation…
Absolutely. One has to find someone to grow old with. Your love for each other has to sustain the changes both of you will go through. Real love can only come with great understanding – of yourself and each other. And a lot of acceptance.
Aren’t parents getting more accepting of their children’s sexual orientation? We do read about same-sex unions blessed by parents.
Well, yes and no. You do get some parents being supportive, but that’s still not a majority. A lot of us are faced with choosing between parents and our true loves. Which means, someone may have his mother saying “I will jump in the well if you start living with your boyfriend.”
So how does one seek love and companionship in an atmosphere like that?
It’s difficult. It’s heartbreaking. I would also say that there are very few options that are open to us. Because except for dating sites and a few private, infrequent parties, there are no real avenues where you can meet people in the LGBT community. Well, there’s a beginning. Since Indians love arranged marriages, we have a venture called www.arrangedgaymarriage.com. It’s a joint venture by Joshua Samson and Benhur Samson. I agreed to be a part of it because I think it will give our community one more platform.
Will you get married? Have a wedding?
Who knows what the future holds? Whom you meet, what happens.
What are your hopes and dreams, and how do you foresee the future for gay and lesbian relationships in India?
I hope that the advocacy work that I and many others like me do can go towards creating a better future for the LGBT community. I think that even as we fight for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, I know that several couples are finding their sense of self and creating a home for themselves. That will continue to happen. Love is love, and it will flourish no matter what. I hope for a future that is rid of all fear and discrimination; where LGBT couples can marry, have a family just like everybody else.