The Indian gay subject announces himself as having conquered the homophobia that prevents men in India from taking on the label ‘gay,’ makes them shun the gay man as a figure of sickness, doomed to a lonely and painful death (hence the preponderance of gay men in India marrying women), disallows a comfort in their skins in bed with another man. However, why is this out and proud subject having unsafe sex? What does this really say about him?
The Euro-US has spun theories around this in the face of repeated studies that show that
despite the fact HIV/AIDS there, unlike in the Third World, has been a gay disease and wiped out generations of gay men, gay men continue to have unsafe sex. These theories argue that gayness has abjection at its heart, that gay men internalise the debasement of their lives, the loss of so many lives to HIV/AIDS and this makes them not care, which is why they have unsafe sex. Terms like ‘bug chasers’ (HIV negative men who seek sex with HIV positive men to get infected) and ‘gift givers’ (HIV positive men who seek to infect HIV negative men) exist in the US where bad epidemiology meets homophobic media representations and the pathologisation of the gay subject returns. However, all this presumes well-established ideas of a gay identity and community. It works within the logics of either an abject identity embracing its abjection or of a refusal by that identity of the control of it and its sexual practices.
In India, there is no identity or community as such, or if there is, it is articulated only as a pious non-sexual identity working on HIV/AIDS prevention. The focus is on NGO-fangled identities like ‘MSM’ and ‘kothi’ or at best hijras. This is because of the politics of funding (no NGO would be funded if they claimed their base was upperclass, uppercaste men who identify as gay. They have to produce malformed, unevolved categories like ‘MSM’ and ‘kothi’ for Third World street cred) as much as hypocrisy of the upperclass, uppercaste gay Indian man.
Because, in the toilets of clubs and farmhouse parties and bedrooms in India, gay Indian men are having unsafe sex with each other and
nobody is talking about it. Practically all my gay friends have had unsafe anal sex, and repeatedly, and when asked why, do not have clear reasons. Why is there no study of the practices of upperclass, uppercaste gay men by NGOs? Why are other groups created, stigmatised, used, marshalled but the gaze never turns on oneself?
To complicate matters, the Indian gay man is also having sex with men who do not identify as gay. How many times does it happen that the Indian man (for whom sex is just a hole to shove his pole into, whether it is a woman, man or hole in the wall) just spits on it and is ready to shove it in, in the heat of the moment, as it were and for whom condoms is a waste of time and a reduction of pleasure?
How many times does the gay Indian man stop this? Why are ‘MSM’ and ‘kothis’ pathologised and not Indian gay men? Well, partly because it is these men who run or work for the NGOs and can not pathologise themselves, but also because it would be uncool to recognise that these men hate themselves enough to have unsafe sex or love the thrill of it enough to have it.
The question is: why do these people have
unsafe sex? A hijra or a street-based sex worker does not have control over the identity of her/his clients or their adherence to safe sex practices. But what about the upperclass, uppercaste gay man? He does have that control. If we
really think that homosexuality is a serious cause of HIV/AIDS in this country, why don’t we focus on our own sexual practices instead of a behalfism through which we justify our
own existences? Why don’t gay Indian men talk about their own sexual sense of self and their own sexual practices?
What I fear we will discover, if that is done, is that we have gift givers and bug chasers among us who do not even have the guts to own up to it. At the heart of it, are conceptions of self and sex that are in dire need of change. Gay men in India should concentrate on themselves before going off to cure ‘Other’ groups, mythical and otherwise, of HIV infection. Nobody hates us more than we hate ourselves. We do not revel in our abjection; we merely inhabit it. We talk about safe sex for other people, not for ourselves. Instead, we write and celebrate court judgements in which we seek state survelliance and ask for the right to privacy at the same time. Surveillance for the others, privacy for ourselves. Hurrah for the hypocritical Indian gay man.
Ashley Tellis is an academic. Feedback to this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org