The “gaysian” – or gay asian – is a rare creature. Often seen parading through bazaars in eccentric and over-accessorised garments, you will frequently hear him use words such as “fierce” and “fabulous” to express his delight when coming across the season’s latest sherwani. It is widely accepted that their uncontrollable attraction to members of the same sex prevents gaysians from maintaining platonic relationships and it is likely that any gaysian you encounter will find his male peers irresistible. Beware, however, as a plethora of undisputed scientific evidence has shown that homosexuality is indeed contagious; you must therefore avoid too much close contact, lest you too wish to fall into an incurable pit of flamboyancy and emotional instability.
The above is what many sub-continental asians would consider to be an accurate definition of homosexuality. It is of course absolute rubbish, fabricated by narrow-minded individuals with congenital homophobia. Yet a lack of exposure to openly gay and lesbian asians has prevented this perception from evolving into a truer image. Why is it therefore that so few people have come out? The answer is quite obvious but difficult to admit; it ultimately comes down to two factors:
- Sexuality is taboo – until recently, a kiss-on-the-lips would be verging on pornographic in Bollywood cinema. Parents rarely broach the topic of sexuality with their children but from their perspective, as these things are only relevant after marriage, is there any need? It seems as though asian elders are endemically prude, leaving little open to discussion for the younger generations.
- Male + female = baby – procreation is classically the main goal of life and marriage. As this can only occur in a heterosexual relationships, homosexuality is naturally out of the question. A man wants his wife to pop out sons (another issue entirely) to continue the family name and inherit his wealth. If those sons don’t want wives, the family line stops there and alas, they have failed to fulfil the asian paradigm.
These are old views often addressed in British-asian media (Bend It Like Beckham, East is East, Eastenders) and thankfully, the majority of our generation holds different opinions. Even our parents’ generation is demonstrating flexibility that we wouldn’t have necessarily believed unless we had been the subjects. Amusing stories of parents’ attempts at “the talk” have frequented conversations amongst my friends but given that their own parents presumably quarantined the subject, they deserve endless praise for even trying and simultaneously pioneering a much-needed cultural shift.
Despite moves in the right direction, homophobia is still rife. The reason I chose to adresss this topic now is because last week, I read a news article that made me furious. Jasvir Ginday, a 29 year-old IT specialist from Birmingham, strangled Varkha Rani, his 24 year-old newlywed wife, with a metal pipe and then cremated her remains in a garden incinerator because she threatened to “expose” him as gay. Of course, only a monster could be capable of such atrocities but the stinging reality is that his fear of being outed eclipsed any reason or moral sense.
Although attitudes are changing, they clearly haven’t changed enough. Last year the Indian Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which was introduced during British rule) thereby re-criminalising homosexual acts. Not only did this adversely affect homosexuals living in India but it had wider repercussions on non-resident Indians, who feel an obligation to uphold their heritage and culture whilst living abroad. Now that Indian society dictates that homosexuality is a criminal act, it leaves NRIs in an uncomfortable position where their decision to accept their child’s homosexuality in England may be met with backlash “back home”.
Thankfully the Indian Supreme Court has marginally redeemed itself. Across India in homes where celebrations are occurring, Khusreh (or hijras) – transgender individuals – are typically invited to attend the “after parties” and provide entertainment by singing and dancing, though many are also forced to earn income as beggars and sex workers. Earlier this week however they were recognised as a third gender, thereby granting them legal sanctity; a significant step to demarginalise them and improve their quality of life. This sort of progress is precisely what will give LGBT individuals the confidence to come out and have any hope of being accepted by their asian communities.
As you may have noticed, I have intentionally avoided a religious debate. While The Bible and Qu’ran expressly forbid homosexuality, Sikh and Hindu scriptures do not address the topic and thus they are left to be interpreted as you wish. I can therefore understand that as the Guru Granth Sahib does not provide a clear direction on homosexuality, it is difficult for practising Sikhs to know whether it’s okay to be gay. Something a Sikh (or indeed any decent human being) cannot justify however is blatant homophobia. I have literally been repulsed by the opinions and sly remarks of some Punjabis and while they are happy to declare themselves as Sikh, they forget that the intrinsic principles of equality and inclusion make our religion beautiful and that shameless prejudice taints it.
For those of you still in doubt, let me leave you with this thought. “Gaysians” exist. Homosexuality cannot be “cured” or “corrected”. If we don’t choose to accept it, gay or lesbian individuals may be forced into heterosexual marriages by societal pressures. Not only will they suffer as they closet a defining part of their identity but their partners will suffer and question their abilities to maintain a relationship. Everyone deserves a partner in whom they find comfort, love and happiness and if that partner happens to be of the same gender, who is anyone to judge.