In this week’s Namma Pride column, Madhumitha Venkataraman interviews the lead organiser of Namma Pride 2016 – Romal Laisram. Learn about his journey of acceptance, his vision behind this year’s Pride celebrations, and the myths and realities that surround the community.
Namma Pride – #4
Many of us have read and been moved by the quote ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’. I saw Romal emulating this in many different ways while I worked with him to organise Namma Pride 2016. He’s inclusive, open, honest, endearing, and an outstanding leader who brings people together, empowers them, and gives them space to truly be themselves. It was a delight to work with him and to share his story with you. Read on to be inspired.
Acknowledging My Roots
I was born in Saikot, a small provincial valley town in Churachāndpur, Manipur. The fourth of four boys. Being Manipuri (Meitei) on my paternal side and Tamil and Malayali on my maternal side, I was destined to be a polyglot.
My childhood passed by swiftly and the next thing I knew I was a young man. My body changed, though at a much lazier pace than most friends around me, and life seemed perfect. But fate still had a few tricks up his sleeve.
Half way through secondary school, I was pulled out of Kotagiri and flung back into Manipur. I loved and hated this move equally, but I am thankful to my father for doing so, because this is where my discovery of ‘I’ began.
Forced into isolation, removed from friends and in the midst of a population that largely spoke an unfamiliar language – my focus went from the outside to within. Chance readings of references to gay people in magazines and newspapers, and memories from Church-driven ‘terror texts’ against the gay community, gave me a heady mix of genuine interest in the subject. Lust for the forbidden and academic pursuit led me to discover that I was indeed what I feared all along: a raging homosexual ‘man-boy’.
Years later, many arguments won, many friends and relatives lost… I stand today as an open 30-year old media professional, who is proud about his sexuality and unapologetic for the lifestyle he has chosen. My family, friends, and community play a huge role in allowing me to be who I am, and I am eternally grateful. Most importantly, however, I am thankful to my saviour, who stood by me steadfast, and taught me to accept and love myself.
I am Rōmal. I am Gay. I am Proud.
Misconceptions That Surround The Community
There are plenty of myths perpetuated and spread through ignorance. Here are some of them that I have faced from the world outside the community:
- LGBQ+ people are people born with something deformed – their genitalia or minds.
- LGBQ+ people are sex offenders, rapists, and paedophiles who are obsessed with sex.
- LGBQ+ people are here to ruin the concept of marriage, love, monogamy and everything that society upholds as ‘right’.
- LGBQ+ people do not understand commitment.
- LGBQ+ choose their preferences just because sex with the same gender is easier with regard to secrecy and access.
- LGBQ+ become LGBQ+ because they are abused by other LGBQ+ people.
- Lesbians hate men, Gays hate women, which is why they are like this.
- They are amoral, have no belief in God and are, therefore, sinners
- LGBQ+ people are always around children because they want to abuse them and ‘convert’ them.
- LGBQ+ people are always very talented, nice and kind people – this is not always the case.
However, there are a lot of myths within the community as well. Here are a few I’ve come across:
- Lesbians hate Gay men and Gay men hate Lesbians.
- Top and Bottoms (among gay men) can never interchange positions.
- Bottoms (among gay men) are always available sexually.
- If you have a feminine streak, you must either be a bottom or on your way to being trans.
- Being a top (among gay men) means you should not sexually satisfy your partner, just get your job done and leave.
- By performing oral sex (among gay men) you become less of a man.
- Gay men should not be in committed relationships as men have been biologically programmed to spread their ‘seed’ far and wide.
- You should not be religious, and if you are, you are defeating the movement.
- You should not believe in monogamy or marriage as they are heteronormative.
- If you have long hair and don’t behave in a certain ‘masculine’ way, including ‘accepted’ attire, you are confusing everyone about your sexuality.
- It’s OK to sleep around and be extremely sexually active when you are young, it is the age for it.
- If you call out anyone for unethical behaviour, you are being homophobic/ queerphobic/ heteronormative/ fundamentalist.
The Importance Of Pride
The essence of the Pride March across the world has been to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ diaspora for who we are. It is to remove the shame associated with the identity, and make people realise that while we are unique in our sexuality identities, we share the same life experiences as anyone else.
In India, considering most of the LGBTQIA+ community is criminalised under several sections of Police Acts, be it IPC s.377 or the KPA s.36A, we’ve reinvented the Pride to be a protest of sorts, which reminds society, the government and the world that we are here to stay, criminalised or not.
Pride means so much to me. When I came out to myself in 2002, I didn’t realise that I’d need a community. I was already dating someone and even after that relationship ended, I started dating someone else after that. These men became the centre of my life and my sexual expression so I didn’t need anything else. When I broke up with my second boyfriend in February 2008, the feeling of loneliness suddenly hit me. It was then that I reached out to all the resources I had, and as fate would have it, the first Pride happened immediately after.
Finding A Purpose With Pride
I marched the first Pride in Bangalore as a media person and was overwhelmed by what I saw. I immediately involved myself in all community activities and began working with the Pride committee (CSMR: Coalition for Sex Workers’, Sexual and Sexuality Minorities’ Rights).
The Pride helped me find my community and find a purpose to my existence. Today, I am a human rights activist, and proudly and openly gay thanks to that first Pride experience.
I decided to take responsibility of the Pride this year because I knew I could ensure that the Pride in 2016 was united and inclusive, and so I decided to take charge. I only began the work, the Pride committee and well-structured teams took over after that and did an amazing job.
A Message For The Community And Allies
Since the Pride is over now and 2,300+ people showed up to march with us, plus 35+ house-full events that built up the excitement for Pride in October, 2016: all I really want to say is THANK YOU!
We managed to pull off India’s first disability-friendly Pride; India’s first Pride with a themed jingle and promotional videos; India’s first Pride with an app; India’s first Pride festival to last over a month; and India’s first Pride to moderate yet extend participation to Corporates, so I’d say we did a good job.
It was amazing that we could include every community we could think of – be it persons with disability, the polyamorous, the wide plethora of transidentities, the bisexual community, the BDSM community, the womyn, etc. Ensuring there were special events for each community led to a more inclusive Pride, and we hope to do even better next year.
Ally participation was at an all-time high this year because we were inclusive and more open to people who weren’t LGBTQIA+. Having an event and running an online campaign might have helped increase the numbers, but I think it was the inclusive events that really got everyone to openly support the cause.
My only message to the LGBQ+ community is to fight the transphobia within. Parallel to Namma Pride 2016 was a trans movement against continuous attacks against the community by police, the media, and other sections of society. The representation from the LGBQ+ communities was abysmal, and my only plea to the larger LGBQ+ community is to realise that inclusivity starts with us.
Never forget that this movement was led and began with the transcommunities. We would have been far behind had they not paved the way for us.
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