Gay mags hint at quiet revolution

2011-01-19 09:13

New Delhi – When the first editions of gay magazine Fun arrived at his stand in New Delhi, Ram Naresh displayed it discreetly to avoid giving offence – but customers have ensured every month is a sell out.

The glossy publication, launched in July, combines pictures of young models posing in underwear with articles on what to wear on a swingers’ date, explicit sexual problems, and the latest cars and gadgets.

“We consistently run out of copies,” said Naresh. “I will have to order more as there’s enough of an audience for magazines like these.”

Such overt homosexual culture remains shocking to most Indians, who often treat the topic as totally taboo.

No high-profile Indians are openly gay or lesbian whether in the fields of sport, politics or entertainment.

But gay sex was legalised in 2009 and the profile of homosexuals in India looks set to rise as the country rapidly embraces many aspects of Western lifestyles and attitudes.

The success of Fun contrasts with that of Bombay Dost (Bombay Friend), India’s first gay magazine, which survived for 12 years from 1990 but then closed until a recent re-launch.

Other small signs of the gay community’s increasing prominence include same-sex Valentine’s Day cards and the Bollywood blockbuster Dostana, in which a mother happily welcomes her son’s supposed boyfriend into her home.

There are now at least eight print and online magazines aimed at lesbians and gays in India – including Jiah (Heart), an Internet publication started last year by Apphia Kumar (26).

“I wanted a medium of communication, not so I could push ads and sell lipstick,” she said. “People write in asking me to email them the magazine.

“The anonymity of the Internet helps hugely in making people feel safe and part of a community.”

Jiah, which is staffed by volunteers, steers clear of nude photograph spreads and bedroom fantasies in favour of poetry and gay-friendly travel guides.

“I don’t want to include any visibly sexual content since we have some quite young readers and I want parents to be able to read this as well,” Kumar said.

Gay pride marches have become good-humoured yearly events in several cities but Kumar said many of her readers come from conservative towns where people regard homosexuality as an illness.

In one shocking case last April, Srinivas Ramchander Siras, a university professor in the small town of Aligarh, killed himself after he was secretly filmed having sex with a man.

Simran and Sabina, the owners of India’s first gay pride store Azaad Bazaar based in the upmarket Mumbai suburb of Bandra, echo Kumar’s sentiments on respecting people’s privacy.

“We were clear that we wanted to be a family space, people don’t want the sexual angle staring them in the face when they walk in here,” Simran said, declining to use her last name.

“This is not a sex shop, it’s a gay pride store.”

The fashion-conscious pages of “Fun” are hardly militant campaign literature but Manvendra Singh Gohil, the magazine’s editor, believes its cheeky, confident tone is also quietly pushing the cause for gay equality.

“Indian magazines have always flaunted the female body, now it’s time to flaunt the male body,” Gohil, a gay descendant of a former royal family in western India, said.

“Things are gradually changing. When I came out in 2006, my family publicly disinherited me. Now I see parents taking part in gay pride marches.”

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