It was bright and sunny as I looked out of my window. The sky was daubed in bright, beautiful hues as though to announce, “This is a special day!” We had to go to the Supreme Court as this was the day of the judgement on Section 377. My husband, Cyril, and I were ready in record time, and reached The LaLiT New Delhi, my family-run enterprise.
I was supremely positive of the judgement going in favour of the LGBTQ community, and I had already planned a celebration at Kitty Su, my nightclub at the hotel. But even if that day’s judgement went against us, I knew I would continue to fight for our rights till we got full equality in the country we call home.
As the judgement was read out, I was stunned. It is one thing to have conviction in your dream, and quite another to experience the gratification of the same. I had known in my heart that it would be a favourable outcome, but what I hadn’t expected was the kind of judgement that came out. I could hear the sighs and gasps in the quiet courtroom. I was grasping each and every word as it kept getting better, from one judgement to another.
In my head I was doing somersaults. I was elated and relieved. I could have kissed everyone in court that day, I was so happy. The verdict was delivered with such beauty and purity that it made all the struggle worth it.
The judges started with a profound quote by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “I am what I am, so take me as I am. No one can escape from their individuality.”
It made my heart swell with joy. No one could make us ashamed any more. We didn’t have to fear the law. The country’s highest court was standing with us.
Privilege doesn’t offer protection
I came from a privileged background, but it wasn’t really all that different from the thousands of other children struggling with their sexuality. I went to an all-boys Catholic school in Delhi and was mocked for my mannerisms. I was called every name in the book. It isn’t easy for a child to fathom why he is being targeted. I realised there was a perception about me being gay – even though there was no such vocabulary back then – as all the female roles in the school plays were given to me. I enjoyed playing Mother Mary and Goddess Sita as a young boy – it was my first experience with drag, with my destiny, which eventually led me to give birth to my drag alter ego, Kitty Su.
For my graduation, I went to Warwick, and that was probably the most closeted time of my life. I was battling with myself over my identity and also hiding it from the world. Going back, I want to give that boy a tight hug. Who knew he would come this far. Or, maybe, he always did! I then attended King’s College for my master’s degree. Those were better days – I had shed a lot of weight and become confident; however, it is hard to escape the impact of body-shaming if one is subjected to it for years.
Eventually, I went to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, for my Master of Laws degree. I think at this point I was also buying time before I returned to India, to my family. Taking that course turned out to be the best decision of my life. I felt right at home at SOAS. The experiences there opened my mind. I was ready to take on the world. What I like about being queer is that we get to choose our family; as queer people, we eventually find our tribe. I met mine at SOAS. For those who do not have family acceptance, let this be a reminder that you are not alone. Go seek the queer tribe: We are everywhere!
In 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality and gave us our freedom, but in 2014 the Supreme Court Division Bench reversed that judgement and sent us back into the closet. The 2014 judgement of the Supreme Court haunted me. The words of one of the judges resonated with me for a long time and turned into my worst nightmare. He had asked who these minorities were, and called the LGBTQ community “too miniscule to matter”.
I considered 2014 my spiritual and political awakening. The Supreme Court order couldn’t be the norm. It had to be an aberration.
Having someone to look up to makes one’s journey easier. Through the course of my life, I have met several people who have motivated me. Their stories have given me the confidence to pursue my dreams and accept myself.
Cyril has been a big inspiration for me. In 2014, he and I had known each other for five years, and were beginning to understand each other, but didn’t know where our relationship was headed. Marriage was clearly not on the cards. As the years passed, our relationship grew from strength to strength, but we were still circling around the “M” word. I hadn’t filed the Writ Petition yet.
We were happy and “gay”, and I was constantly trying to drill it into Cyril’s head that we didn’t need a certificate; our love didn’t need a licence. And, more importantly, it was not legal in India. Cyril said to me, “It is illegal in your country, not mine!”
In August and September 2017, Cyril and I met lawyers and finally decided to file the writ. The other part of the story also had a happy ending. Cyril gave me an ultimatum that December: We either got married or broke up. So, of course, we flew to Paris in June 2018, had the most beautiful ceremony, and I got myself a husband I will love and cherish for life.
The road ahead
My mother’s acceptance wasn’t just of me, her son, but also of the cause, the movement. She pushed and supported my every endeavour and worked towards my inclusive ideology. She is my icon, and the centre of my calm. And then there is my band of sisters – Divya, Shradha and Deeksha. They have been a part of every major decision in my life, and I wouldn’t have had the strength to embrace and love myself if I didn’t have their unconditional love.
While I couldn’t be happier in my personal life, it does not escape me that everyone isn’t as lucky. In India, you cannot be with someone you love even though Section 377 has been struck down recently. Gay marriage is still a far-off dream as the Indian legal system does not yet recognise same-sex marriages.
Each step we take towards an equal society helps blur the boundaries between “us” and “them”. It’s taken time, the blood and sweat of thousands of people, uncountable hours in courtrooms, but the verdict made me and countless others free. I am no longer labelled a criminal for the purest of acts: LOVE.
Excerpted with permission from Sex and the Supreme Court, edited by Saurabh Kirpal, Hachette India.