This was my first pride, if I were to discount the previous two where I participated as an observer. Sitting at the steps of Town Hall, Bangalore where the pride culminates, I was always there as an outsider, taking notes, vying for quotes from the ‘who’s who’ from with the community.
This pride was different. I actually walked the pride. And I felt part of the community. I am proud to be part of the community. I’m the A (if you really need to know) in the LGBTIQA, yes the last or latest edition to the acronym. And that A can mean different things to different people – it stands for Asexual, Ally or Advocate. And it is anyone’s guess which of the three I belong to. On Sunday, I was part of the march.
Walked along complete strangers and exchanged hellos that didn’t seem forced, chatted with them, complimented some for their dress or their shoes or their banners. Mostly, walking the pride for me meant claiming the city space as mine. Interestingly, it is the safest place to be. You could be as skimpily dressed and yet feel safe. My kid sister, who walked along side, made that observation. “It’s the safest I have felt in years” and to think that this comes from an 18-year-old.
In fact, the only reason I feel the need to jot down my feelings is the tragic news of the 21-year-old who committed suicide that very night after walking the pride.
The pride may be about loudness, garish over-the-top dressing or the dancing with a ‘devil-may-care-attitude’. But, that’s just one aspect of the pride. There are other reasons why prides are walked every year. Here are reasons to walk:
1. Increase visibility:
It is a community we cannot ignore anymore. We are there, we exist, we are your friends, your family or distant relative, your co-worker, your neighbour. And you need to know that we cannot hide our gender anymore. We are there to let you know that we are part of the normal you keep throwing around. We are part of that social fabric, that society you claim we fear. We are an integral part. And that’s why it is important for us to claim our space in the society, just so you know that we are not a phantom.
Prides are about being unbiased, about non-discrimination at every level. We want a society that does not discriminate on the basis of anything – therefore, we welcome all to walk with us. The premise being simple – we want a social order that does not discriminate on – gender, class, religion, sex, caste, creed and/or profession. So, we will walk alongside the sex-workers who have an equal right to existence as any of us. (The latter is in response to an ignorant gay man, who felt that it was wrong for a pride march to begin from a red-light area – case in point – the Pune Pride March (also on Nov 24) that started and ended in Budhwar Peth, an old part of town and with a high population of sex-workers.) We DO NOT discriminate and hope, that the society will be that accepting and accommodating of its people. Yet, the first step is to internalise that change. Stop the discrimination that you may carry forward. And believe me, those that claim to be the most educated often err. It is tragic. I’d like to not make such sweeping generalisations, but such people exist and that is the tragedy of our society.
3. Claim the city:
From an urban planner perspective, look at your city, any city. It is becoming more and more demarcated and off-limits. You can’t sit in parks or take a nap or meet your loved one, you cannot just sit and be. Public spaces are disappearing faster than we realise and the irony is we aren’t even questioning the disappearance. We prefer to hang out at coffee shops or eating joints or pubs, never realising that “hanging out” shouldn’t always mean spending money. Therefore, an event like the pride march is of that much greater significance. You and I can claim the city as ours even if it only means for a couple of hours. The meandering serpentine line of people that trace the route (pre-approved by police!) signifies that you can walk the roads (there is definitely safety in numbers – lesser hit-and-run cases, police protection, et al). Imagine then, walking even when the skies open up. Forgetting for that moment what will become of those fancy chappals you picked up at the branded store, or the expensive designer dress. It all soaks just as your soul. Enjoying the moment in the rain – carefree, unabashed, dancing, and shouting and simply indulging, in a beautiful weather.
This pride, I witnessed, and participated in all this. We claimed the city as our own. The more we get out on the streets, the more connected we will be to it. We will begin to notice and question the system’s bad planning, we may even take notice of our dangerous it could be for an individual to cross the street. Then we will wake up to question the powers that be, to fix it, to make this city a place that can be walked easily.
That is the hope I have that we will claim our cities in a manner where walking is not a once-a-year activity but something we opt for, because it is beautiful to walk. Each street has a story, we just need to hear it, and we can’t do that sitting in our closed AC vehicles.
4. Talk to strangers:
I spoke to a handful and if the shy me can, anyone can. No I am not your average extrovert, I take time to even chat with colleagues in a new office, so really, when I say I could do it, you need to realise that the pride wasn’t about who-knew-who, it was this larger than life caravan that welcomed anyone who’d care to walk the distance, however shorter the distance be. When was the last time you started a conversation with a complete stranger? A conversation that didn’t need to go anywhere, it was just a simple exchange of hellos with really heartfelt smiles, a quick question about where that pretty pink dress was bought! Yes, a simple chat. Prides open that space for short chats, long chats and conversations that start friendships and more.
Imagine in an age where we have over 100 virtual friends and/or followers on social network sites and spend our days without chatting – a face-to-face interactions beats everything. And the pride march presents that opportunity to connect with individuals where a glance, binds you not technology.
And I could keep going, but four is a good number to stop at. I felt the need to write this because this being my first actual pride that I walked, it was also my third time being there amidst a completely different set of people, many I still don’t know, but it was a safe space, I was accepted no-questions asked. Someday our society will be such a place. Someday a youngster wouldn’t be driven to take his own life, just because he didn’t fit the ‘normal’ mould. Someday that change will happen. Until then, we shall walk – with pride.