How inclusive are city’s queer spaces?

Queer spaces are usually imagined as class-less and caste-less spaces where sexual identity predominantly rules. However, these sexual identities are mostly interwoven with class or other social landscapes that are often ignored within the framework of sexual politics

A pride parade organized by SFI highlights class issues - Photo: SFI Delhi

When Ahmad*, a 21-year-old bisexual man, decided to go to Delhi’s Pride Walk for the first time, he imagined a space where he no longer had to hide his sexual identity. Already nervous and anxious, he dressed the best he could. Despite his efforts, Ahmad felt he was being constantly judged, observed; it seemed to him that he should have dressed a little extravagantly just to blend in. Ahmad then made up his mind to never go to the walk again.

Echoing the same experiences, Shree*, who works as a graphic designer and a photographer, recalls her experiences. “The people in the community form groups to party and celebrate, and they do not really care about the issues of the most vulnerable in the community — such as homeless trans people. In fact, access to such places becomes very limiting for people who come from financially disadvantaged backgrounds due to high expenses at fancy restaurants,” Shree says. She feels that there has to be a certain kind of ‘aesthetics’ to belong to the city’s spaces, which people coming from lower classes cannot afford.

Shree, Graphic Designer & Photographer

Shree comes from a “powerful background of a Brahmin family.” Due to her sexual identity and ideological differences, she is often cut off from all kinds of financial support from her family and fails to pay her rent on time. She came out as lesbian when she first came to Delhi. Sharing her experiences as a struggling artist, she says, “I find it very difficult to find people with whom I can relate in the community. Even on a date, I feel like their world is totally different from mine. There is a certain kind of status that I have to maintain.”

When asked about the discrimination prevalent in the community, she adds, “If you see the larger movement, people are talking about gay marriage. People who are straight cannot have inter-caste or inter-faith marriage. Tell me, shouldn’t we also speak about caste-based discrimination in the community?”

“Everybody thinks it is a win-win situation: a girl loves a girl and a boy loves a boy and everybody is happy,” says Nayan*, a corporate professional who now works at American Express while sharing his past experiences as lower middle-class gay man, “But there are so many other factors that come into play — whether one guy is from one community and the other guy is from another. Even in mainstream queer cinema and queer-positive shows, such dimensions are not explored and the sexual majority fails to include such dynamics into their conversations — which eventually decides how they look at such spaces.”

Nayan shares that he was constantly ‘intimidated’ in city’s queer spaces before he understood the complexities of his class background. He recounts an incident when he was profiled on a date for not recognizing the expensive paintings of some artists he had never heard of. “Initially it is all nice because you are new to it and you feel you can also find people who are like you. But later on, you find out that there are actually very acute differences in terms of their experiences and upbringing,” he adds.

Sharing his disillusionment with active politics in Delhi’s queer spaces, Nayan says, “Even in those spaces, people who are doing activism, they are just doing it for the sake of fame. I feel like that is also bogus because such activism is again dominated by upper-class and upper-caste people. So there is not much representation there.” Nayan majorly follows the news around marginalized groups such as transgender and Bahujan queer communities because he feels such information affirms his own experiences. He comes under the OBC category.

Shivangi, another person Patriot interviewed, tells that her experiences in Delhi’s queer spaces have not been largely positive. Commenting on ‘the aesthetics of looking queer,’ she says, “Most queer spaces, at least in Delhi, comprise of people who come from extremely well-off backgrounds. And queerness in those spaces usually becomes about the displays of queerness.” She feels like one needs to have a new wardrobe to come out as queer in such spaces.

Sharing her experiences as a part of one of Delhi’s queer collectives, she tells Patriot that it became extremely hard for her to participate in such collectives due to her financial difficulties. “There are also certain aspects which involve spending a lot of money in such collectives,” she says, “And whoever ends up financing most of these activities ends up being on top of the collective.” Shivangi believes that queer spaces in Delhi tend to be the most exclusive at times because of the constant dread the marginalized people feel of ‘looking poor or not queer enough.’ She remarks, “Personally, I am comfortable about being queer but I am not very comfortable hanging around other queer people.”

Although Shivangi now lives in a “much better area” with two other flatmates, she shares her dating experiences where she had constantly been judged for the place she used to live in — sometimes even facing comments like “You can get killed walking here” or “This place looks like as if it was made for hate-crime.” While she understands the discomfort of people in such places, she says that “Not all gay people can afford to live in South Delhi,” meaning expensive localities.

Coming out at the age of 19, Shivangi also feels that there is some sort of ‘academic rigor’ that has become an essential part in the community. “Everyone needs to have a very nuanced and articulate explanation of their identity for themselves,” she says, “It is exclusionary in a sense because most people do not recognize it. It requires a person to be very familiar with academic jargon and practices which most people in this country haven’t historically had access to.” Talking about the emphasis of correct language within the community, she says “It is also problematic in the sense that most queer people’s concerns have not had the best access to correct language. It is for a very affluent person and not a working class thing.”

Shivangi believes that questions around privilege need to be addressed because queer people coming from less privileged background are not plugged into the political discourse that is prevalent in the elite sections of the community.

*Names changed to protect identity

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Shehwaaz covers community, sexuality, gender, and other social issues for Patriot.