So let’s ask the question differently. How do we talk about heterosexual love between a man and a woman?
Movies and advertisements enshrine certain ideals—the best sort of ‘woman in love’ is caring towards the man; the best sort of ‘man in love’ buys the woman many nice things. There are expectations to live up to—or break—set by family and society, like marriage, childbirth, and domestic work. If you’re in love, you want all of this and more. Then there is the spiritual ideal where you renounce ego and break down the Self to achieve ultimate union with your beloved. A ‘true marriage of souls’ is what it’s usually called, and the choice of words is telling. Love is also bolstered by matched horoscopes, and sanctified in the eyes of God by religious representatives who conduct ceremonies of union. There are many different laws that in India speak to a man-woman relationship in which (only penile-vaginal of course!) intercourse is legal. So, when same-sex love is said to be the same as heterosexual love, this is the paradigm it is inserted into.
And this is not nearly enough to understand either, straight or gay relationships.
A new film made by New Delhi-based documentary film-makers Aakriti Kohli and Sandeep Singh, and produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) and Doordarshan attempts to expand the argument about queer love. Called In the Mood for Love, the 28-minute documentary is made in the format of testimonial storytelling. The film presents the stories of three same-sex couples and two queer individuals, including the transgender filmmaker Pradipta Ray, whose film The Night is Young (Raat Baaki), won the Riyad Wadia Award for Best Emerging Filmmaker at the Kashish International Queer Film Festival in 2012.
What’s interesting in the testimonials is a mix of ideas about same-sex love that one gets to hear. Gourab Ghosh, a research scholar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, who helped organize the Rainbow Walk in the campus to protest against the Supreme Court judgment of December 2013 that brought Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code back into force, says that it isn’t enough to only talk of love, without bringing in nuance. “We have to use another word with it.” “Love brings solidarity with it,” he says. Nobody talks of solidarity in the context of heterosexual love.
Shabnam Shaikh and her girlfriend, Asha Tiwari, are also featured in the documentary. Shaikh who works with the National Alliance of People’s Movement and lives with her girlfriend in New Delhi, says that all issues like “gender-based discrimination, domestic violence, patriarchy,” are connected and therefore, one cannot talk of queer love and relationships as untouched by these larger concerns. Shaikh’s point is a valid one. Where we love, how we love and who we love is embedded in the word. One of the first things Shaikh was attracted to was her partner’s openness about their relationship, she says in the film. This normalcy is based on something as seemingly simple as disclosure to family—but the peculiar anxiety and threat of violence that such disclosure carries with it is a nuance of same-sex love.
Bijay Thapa, who is also interviewed in this film with his partner, Rishi Raj, a celebrity stylist says, “My mom is cool with it, my sister says she is cool with it,” referring to their relationship. “But when it comes to social functions things become tricky… they are not at a point where acknowledgement is duly available. We hardly do social functions.”. “This stresses out our relationship. Sometimes there are certain events that I am not invited to and it hurts me deeply,” adds Raj and offers a close comparison. “If a wife is not being accepted by the ‘saas-sasur’ (in-laws), you’d feel horrible and hate your husband for it.”
The comparison is a close one, but it’s not the same. The reason for discriminating against a same-sex partner is homophobia, which is similar to, but not the same as caste or religion-based discrimination. This is not to say that the great Indian family cannot be simultaneously bigoted on several grounds, but it’s important to drive home the many forms of hate, if only to acknowledge the many sorts of people who fall through the cracks.
For more information on the film and its future screenings, head to https://www.facebook.com/pages/In-the-Mood-for-Love-Documentary/150197485313289
The Sex Talk is a fortnightly blog on gender, sexuality and blindspots