From apps to leading two lives: Being gay under Section 377
My response to Priya Vedi's suicide reflected my disgust at how the continued lack of a social, legal enabling environment helps double-crossing homosexuals.
- Total Shares
“I gave up Grindr because I still fantasise about meeting my soulmate in a place like this.” The confessions app Whisper lets you post quotes like this against a suitable pictorial background, in this case a coffee shop. Another confession reads: “I haven’t answered a Grindr question in months but I still log on because I like the attention.”
Since the advent of meetup apps, the world of online dating has changed dramatically for gay men. Cruising spots have given way to virtual spaces, with the added advantage that you can actually choose not to have sex through Grindr. Yet, as the case of the Ian Garrod showed, Grindr is no protection from old-style homophobic bashing.
In Cucumber, a gay series that ran in the UK earlier this year, and which has just hopped across the pond, a gay middle-aged man begins flirting with a straight co-worker who seems to bask in the attention. They end up in the former’s home on one drunken night and things quickly move to sexual intimacy. When they are done, the straight man begins screaming and hyperventilating before finding a golf club with which he splits the gay guy’s head open.
It is a shocker of a scene because it is completely unexpected. Lance, the gay guy, has just gotten out of a long-term relationship with Henry, the show’s protagonist, and his interactions with Daniel, his co-worker, have the pleasing thrum of something significant developing. Yet, when push comes to shove, Daniel defends his straightness in the most violent manner possible.
While risk to life and limb has always been a lived truth for gay men, the violence built into anonymous meetups is a somewhat new phenomenon. The context of Garrod’s real and Lance’s fictional deaths may be different (a gay homophobe reacting to that abominable thing called “gay panic”), but I am interested here in discussing the broader ramifications of the wide prevalence of meetup apps.
I am not suggesting that gay meetup apps add any particular level of menace to being homosexual, but they do epitomise an issue that receives no attention when, say, talk turns to Section 377. By making sex easily available, these apps allow all manner of blowhards to live double lives filled with gay sex on the side even as these men’s primary lives continue to be straight. My own experience with both Grindr and PlanetRomeo, the website that lets you find gay men in your vicinity, has indicated as much. Many men on these sites are open about their marital status, and yet they are more than willing to meet up for a quickie.
This seems to be the truth of the marriage of the AIIMS doctor who killed herself this week on discovering her husband’s homosexuality. Some of the commentary on my piece about her suicide has either played into homophobia (“hang the husband”) or represented me as a “gay Bill Cosby gone rogue”. While the first reaction is obviously not worth responding to, I would like to clarify to the second subset that I am hardly the insensitive, blessed-to-be-out gay man I am being portrayed as.
I am fully aware of the trials and tribulations of being gay, issues that I have chronicled here, here, here and here. My visceral response to the suicide was a reflection of my disgust at how the continued lack of a social and legal enabling environment engenders tropes that, if anything, privilege the double-crossing homosexual. On the one hand, innocent gay men expose themselves to the kind of risks discussed above when they try to explore their sexuality. On the other hand, more seasoned players such as the husband of the AIIMS doctor play the system under the rubric of “normalcy”. Of course, this particular case got my goat also because the narrative around the suicide indicated that there had been a history of mental abuse by the husband.
At a time the government is travelling the world to get investors to make in India, we continue to inhabit the dark ages on a basic human rights issue. We continue to overlook the fact that the absence of legal recognition does not make people repress their true selves. When no legal or social protections are built into gay relationships, anonymous meetups do not merely become the only option, they begin to look like an attractive, hush-hush Plan B.
Not only does this tragically fracture the straight alliance of the closeted homosexual, as we saw in the AIIMS case, but it also disincentivises gay men looking to build a culture of openness and dignity around their lives.