Section 377 Read Down. But What About Women? Don’t Women Have Sex?
Image of iconic singer Tracy Chapman, who was gay, used for representational purposes.
Image of iconic singer Tracy Chapman, who was gay, used for representational purposes.(Photo: Altered by Arnica Kala / The Quint)

Section 377 Read Down. But What About Women? Don’t Women Have Sex?

Zed* and I clinked our beer mugs in celebration. It was a brilliant day. The Supreme Court verdict striking down section 377 meant she was no longer a criminal for being gay.

“Damn it, now I will have to step up my game and re-order the balance so that one of us is still criminal or deviant at least,” I said, laughing into the beer-froth. It was pouring down a mad, raucous rain and Cyber-Hub in Gurugram, young people in the IT suburb of Delhi were out and about, soaking up some evening suds in pubs all across.

In the one we were at, we asked the crooner to please play the Tracy Chapman song – Fast Car to go with what had just happened. She happily obliged. “Any place is better…starting from zero we got nothing to lose…” she sang in a rich voice that matched Tracy’s. Gay, black Tracy.

No More Skulking About

Zed told me about starting from zero. What it’s like to be a woman and gay. “You have no community, I really miss that,” she said. It’s not the same thing talking to straight people like me. Not having a community to share the anxiety of each other, of not being ‘out’ and having partners who are not ‘out’ and the fear that comes with it. Not being able to do the simplest things like holding hands in a store. Or being comfortable in your own skin, not having to cover-up, side-step everyone else’s discomfort and fear. Just being.

I remembered the time the Delhi High court had de-criminalised homosexuality and gay pubs opened up for the first time. Inhabited mostly by men.

And then when the order was reversed, the pubs vanished. And my friends told me that it was back to skulking around in dark corridors or meeting quietly in each other’s homes. Always cautious. Always on guard.

In one of Zed’s online groups for gay women, a friend was going crazy trying to call her to just shout out loud about the momentousness of the day, of having 377 struck down. But Zed was in a meeting. To deal with the uncontainable need to shout out loud, her friend called every NGO and activist group she could find online to say thank you. She was bursting with excitement with nowhere to take it.

Also Read : 9 Years On, How Section 377 Verdict Vindicated Justice AP Shah

Sex is... Sex

I went back to a conversation I had over dinner nine months ago, where a group of the country’s most distinguished lawyers and judges were present. They were hosting an Australian judge with a legendary track record on human rights work, who was also gay. The conversation veered around 377. “If it’s all about unnatural sex and penile penetration from the ass, then isn’t it all focused only on men,” I asked everyone at the table. “Is no one concerned with what women do? Is that legal or illegal or does it not even count?” Everyone at the table was unanimous in saying that, regrettably, it didn’t even count.

I brought up the conversation of what women do with two gay male friends.

I said that Zed had told me a woman pleasuring a woman is different from a man on a man. Both men said I was stereotyping men and women, gay and straight sex. Why couldn’t it all be seen as the same and no big deal? Sex after all, by any other name, is still just sex.

Also Read : Beyond Section 377: What About Inequalities Within LGBTQ+ Groups? 

Pleasure Principle(s)

Zed had told me a riveting story about the absolute lush pleasure of having a woman work on a woman. Zed has been bisexual. She knew the difference between having sex with a man and a woman. “With a woman the focus is never the clit or the body,” she explained. “It’s the mind. It’s so much fore-play that you could orgasm many times before you reach your climax.” You could be with a sharp and attentive man who knows all your pleasure spots, but men are still finally leading up to pleasuring organs – yours and then theirs. Women are not. They work on your ankles or ears to work on them. Not to lead up to a final focus elsewhere. They instinctively know timing, Zed explained. Of course, you could be with a man and it may be as much of an adventure.

Does it matter who gets pleasure how? When women are left out of the conversation, then yes it does. It requires conversation that is general and specific.

Are dildos as essential prerequisite or are hands and mouths enough? My mind went back to a conversation I had whilst I was on a short reporting stint in Afghanistan. A friend was researching the condition of women in Afghan prisons – and found there was a woman-oppressor, gunda-of-the-jail who was shoving dildos into her inmates. Where did she get it from or did she make her own – we had asked ourselves. But the obsession with machines isn’t about gay or straight at all. It’s about normalising conversations we need to have.

A Joy of One’s Own

I wrote a piece about dildos once. Straight people were buying them.

I spoke to a supplier in Bhilwara, Rajasthan. Another in Bangalore who supplied them to men and women in Kerala, Kashmir and small towns like Latur in Maharashtra. To distort the laws of physics, I would say, the less we talk about what we do and how much fun it is, the bigger it gets – till a ginormous Supreme Court-sized verdict hits us in the face, showing us the decades of silence and self-loathing we have created.

Zed and I thanked the crooner for singing Tracy Chapman. I shouted out to her and said – “Down with 377! Can you say that as well, please?” The crooner smiled and refused. “No, I am sorry, I can’t do that here.”

Zed and I looked at each other. We were happy and sloshed and no one, not even the crooner was going to take that away.

The courts had forced straight people out of their criminal prejudice and bigotry. They would have to let go of criminally-oppressive behaviour from now on. Zed’s phone rang. It was a friend from another country, calling to congratulate her. “Yes, it’s great. We can still be stoned and lynched, but at least we can’t be arrested anymore,” she said.

*Name changed

(Revati Laul is a Delhi-based journalist and film-maker, and the author ofThe Anatomy of Hate’, forthcoming from Context /Westland in November 2018. She tweets at @RevatiLaul. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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