Chennai: There are thousands of things about Chennai that its residents swear by, and that have contributed to make this city an inclusive melting pot of cultures, sensibilities and lifestyles. It’s a city that a broad spectrum of people from across India and abroad call home. It’s where kutcheris exist alongside K-pop, Kollywood and what have you. But despite all these examples of amalgamation and assimilation, there remains an area of the human experience that will forever split societies and individuals right down the middle, and that happens to be sexuality.
Last week, it was reported that a popular nightclub in the heart of the city, close to the central business district, turned away two patrons on account of their relationship. The two men, who were supposedly a gay couple were restricted entry inside the pub by the bouncer, who at first denied permission stating that no stags allowed. When the duo confirmed that they were a couple, the bouncer informed the two men that while two women could be permitted entry — no questions asked — two men unaccompanied by women were not allowed.
As expected, the incident prompted outcry on social media with both activists and members of the LGBTQIA+ community condemning the incident as an example of the blatant sexism that is followed by even well-meaning members of society, when it comes to dealing with queer couples. In this case, one cannot say that ignorance lay at the heart of the bouncer’s comments. He was just doing his job, as instructed by his paymasters, and it’s probably them, to whom such uncomfortable, but important questions should be asked.
Interestingly, one of the revelations that both members of the news team as well as citizens had when they read up on this story was the amount of homework that members of the queer community had to embark upon before an ordinary night out on the city. For couples in heteronormative relationships, these are questions that don’t even cross one’s mind, when someone plans a party. People just get prepped up and they’re good to go. On the other hand, gay people in the city actually search if a restobar or a nightclub is queer-friendly.
Since we’re on the topic, let’s make it clearer. When someone in this city runs a search on a nearby queer-friendly club, they aren’t looking for a place where they can steal a private moment, unbeknownst to the other patrons. They are just looking for a place, where they can unwind, while staying true to themselves and their real identities, maybe hang out with like-minded members of their own and other communities, and all this while not being judged for their appearance, for their get-up, their mannerisms or their sense of self expression.
It might do us some good to think about the last time that we made a mental note of the aforementioned checklist before stepping out. Hard to remember, isn’t it? That’s exactly the kind of unspoken admonition that members of the sexual minorities endure, not just at nightclubs in some of India’s most progressive metros, but even in workplaces, both public and private, as well as in public institutions. The recent incident is a development involving relatively affluent adults with the means to live a private, isolated and dare we say iconoclastic life, who technically are not answerable to anyone, unless of course, their luck runs out. It’s hard to imagine how impressionable young adolescents and teenagers, who might be at the cusp of maturity, deal with such intimate questions concerning their own sexualities. It’s harder to imagine the double lives they lead, fearing ostracisation by family, friends and peers.