Love in the time of section 377

Neither the shadow of Section 377 nor a long-distance romance can dull the sparkle of his relationship

Dhaval Shah | Posted on 25 Jul 2016
Love In The Time Of Section 377 | Bonobology

It has been two years, seven months and seven days since we met on Grindr. We are in love and in a relationship but it remains unseen, unacknowledged, underground as far as his family and friends are concerned.

I am out to all who know me, but he is not out to most (except to a handful of close friends), including his family. Ours is a long-distance relationship – some 1000 kilometers apart and we both live in a country that criminalises gay sex through Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). And we have a substantial age difference. Yes, ours is a complex, complicated relationship, yet full of love, adventure and romance.

We are privileged enough to have access to privacy due to our socio-economic status  upper caste, upper middle class and educated. My being out to my family helps, as we are treated as a couple when at my home.

Ironically, we, homosexuals, can hide in plain sight across India because
male bonding is widely accepted and even encouraged. We could easily
pass as two friends travelling together. But that's about as far as it goes
while in public – two friends, not boyfriends.

People say love is love, and whether its same-sex love or heterosexual love, there isn’t much of a difference. I tend to disagree – we have no role models, no set rules, traditions, or support system – legal, societal, familial - to fall back to when the going gets tough. We are supposed to find solutions as we try to overcome our own particular challenges. In a city like Ahmedabad, or even Delhi for that matter, there are hardly a few of us who are building a life out of the closet.

Most are under tremendous pressure from society to conform, get married to an opposite sex partner, and live a life inside the closet. Even fewer are politically active and attempting to educate the rest. Whom do we turn to for advice on how to resolve our questions, challenges or differences, about sexual health, romance or just simple things like building a home together? Therapists, doctors and counsellors who are non-judgemental and non-discriminatory are almost nonexistent when it comes to providing basic services to gay couples.

And then there is the generation gap. I moved to the US after completing undergraduation in India and was part of the gay rights struggle there since 1999. The queer community in the US had won legal acceptance, and I decided to return to India. The struggle to acknowledge the existence of a spectrum of gender and sexual identities is in its infancy here. I am basically starting all over again – to fight for my right to exist, right to express my love, right to live a life the way I want to.

My boyfriend has far fewer expectations than me since he has lived his whole life in India, and hence he is not that hungry, whereas I am impatient. I have tasted the freedom of living freely, openly, without any fear.

We are at two distinct junctures in our lives – professionally, personally  one is just starting to yearn for freedom, and the other has had full freedom, and is now frustrated to fight the battle all over again. Though the US does allow same-sex couples to immigrate, family and social obligations make it almost impossible for us to even explore the option.

But all is not that gloomy in our closeted relationship. That we found each other while living 1000 kilometers apart, that we survived the challenges for two years, seven months and seven days, that we still are in love with each other – all of it needs to be celebrated – especially in the time of Section 377.

We don't know what the future holds for us, or where we are headed. All we would like to enjoy and care for is the journey itself.

 

Dhaval Shah

Dhaval is the founder of Abir (www.abirdesign.co), a business design consultancy, where he deploys human-centered design principles to help clients empathise with customers and deliver a meaningful customer experience. He is passionately involved in the LGBT rights movement in the country, in a selfish attempt to live a life of happiness and love with full dignity.

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