Mumbai has the distinguished position of being the gay capital of India. It has never been crowned, it has never been awarded this title, but it is an unsaid thing that Mumbai has been the crucible of the queer rights movement. This is the place where Ashok Row Kavi initiated his organisation – The Humsafar Trust. This is the place where Gay Bombay had the distinction of being one the largest yahoo groups on the issue. This is the place where one could be out in gay abandon and not be questioned.
Even today this is the city where I was playing a friendly prank on a fellow gay man a couple of years back where I pushed him and called him ‘homo’ - only to be assaulted physically by an elderly Parsi woman, who pulled my ears and slapped me up for being homophobic. It took me a lot of convincing to get her to believe that I was gay myself and was pulling a fast one on my friend. This happened at the crowded Phoenix mall. And I did get a lot of audience. This is my city.
I am not building a romanticised version of the city. Of course, there are threats, extortion rackets, there are forced gay and lesbian marriages, gay rapes and also corrective rape that happens in this very city. But the DNA of the city is still that is very accepting of LGBTIQ people. Public places have never treated us so badly. No one has shoved homophobia on our faces.
This is why it really hurts. It really hurts when someone turns you down because you are gay in this city.
Last weekend I visited The Bar Stock Exchange at Kamala Mill, Lower Parel with a gay man. My friend and I were told by the bouncers at the door that we cannot enter as they allowed only couple entry and stags were not allowed. I held my gay friend’s hand and told the bouncers ‘we are a couple, please let us in’. This was met with laughter and jibes among the motley staff of The Bar Stock Exchange. They refused to budge.
I explained again and again and they kept laughing. They didn’t insult us or bully us verbally, but not allowing us was insulting enough. We did manage to get in after a while, because of my friends, who are a lesbian couple. The lesbian couple didn’t seem to face any challenge in getting inside.
Most spaces are welcoming of girls and I see it as misogyny of a different kind…. Let’s face it. They were not looking at this as women empowerment. More women = more beauties = more eye candy. Moreover, we still are in a world where girl-on-girl action is highly searched on porn sites by straight men. So let’s not fool ourselves of some hypothetical garb about safe spaces for women. Later, when the deputy editor of DNA, Yogesh Pawar called up the place, he was told that there are many other spaces where gay people can go - thereby confirming that they were in fact homophobes.
Another restaurant, Shiro’s in Worli, had slammed its door on another gay couple. It is coincidental that this also had to happen only last week. The couple had called Shiros for a booking and were told the same thing. Obviously, the gay couple was upset and angry.
After Yogesh published this article and my friend, Mr Gay India, Sushant Divgikar tagged Shiro’s, they offered this response:
This basically reiterated what I said about allowing lesbian couples in the garb of women’s safety. I wonder though in real life if straight men would pose as gay men just to get entry into a pub, so that they could get naughty and frisky with women in there. Real life, sadly, is not like Dostana.
In reality, no matter how open we are, there is still an underbelly of homophobia that makes people reluctant to say that they are gay. Because, if that was the truth, we can comfortably close all our pride parades and equality talks because all would be hunky dory then. This, but, is far from the truth. And you can’t bully gay couples, prohibit gay couples in the garb of women’s safety. Anyway, how many gay men have walked up to women who are strangers and have made passes at them? How many? If Shiro’s has commissioned some secret survey of sorts, may be they should share it for the greater good of the world.
I should also add, that Shiro at least bothered to respond. We should credit people for keeping the dialogue on.
But all’s well that ends well. My friend Sushant Divgikar visited Shiros yesterday night with a bouquet of roses. He was greeted with love. The management apologised and said that they welcome gay couples in the new year bash. Kudos to Shiro’s for standing up for LGBTIQ people, however you may have erred in the beginning. We need to acknowledge that you have now stood up for the cause and against discrimination.
This doesn’t mean all of Mumbai is homophobic. Here are some of the Queer Positive spaces in the city, compiled by Gaysi Family, a feminist queer think-talk in Mumbai.
I don’t want to budge. We are one strong community. And till there is equal treatment for all of us, there is no good treatment for some of us. I clearly think homophobia is a disease. I wish that the Bar Stock Exchange gets cured of it. I don’t wish people to boycott these spaces. They need our attention. They need our love. They need our constant communication.
You can’t discriminate us when we enter as a couple and say that you are cool with us at all other times. Partial equality is tokenism. Equality is equality only if it is in full measure.
I have set up an event on Facebook to urge Mumbaikars to offer our roses to The Bar Stock Exchange. Also show them your love on Zomato.
Have requested people to post their pictures while gifting the roses and cards on Social Media with the hashtag #GayWellSoon. I wish that people who read my column here on The Quint to do the same. If nothing, just use the HashTag #GayWellSoon and tag them.
Let’s spread some love. Let’s cure the world of hatred. Let’s spread the rainbow. Let’s change hearts. One heart at a time. Let’s reclaim our dignity. One space at a time.