I was sitting at the back of a hole-in-the-wall eatery in Pushkar, India, having mediocre dal, naan and chapati. As I ate, I chatted with my new friend Heather, who was sitting back there too. I’d decided to just say hello, which I never really do. Turned out she was from New Zealand and had been traveling for a few weeks with her partner but was now on her own.
We spoke in code about our sexuality for some time before realizing that we were both queer. Personally, my apprehension to disclose was due to some strange experiences I’d had during my first few days in India. Funny that the first person I’d met in this small and somewhat out of the way town would be a lesbian traveller, since I hadn’t met a single openly gay guy yet in India.
I’d started my trip through India two weeks earlier in Jaipur, getting myself reacquainted with the chaotic beauty that I’ve always loved about this country. I headed to Pushkar next, which was less chaotic and more enchanting. On my first day there I walked along the holy lake, passing devout Hindus bathing in one of the ghats and throwing flowers in the water. Up above, on the street around the lake, the hippies roamed the bazaars on foot and scooters, dressed like it was 1969, like we were in some mystic time warp.
I chose India specifically to see these sites. It was much more of a cultural trip for me, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also hoping to hookup, particularly after my dry spell in Thailand. Maybe I could meet a local who could also show me around — or something else?
That didn’t happen. Not in Jaipur anyway.
The reason for my failings during the first leg of my trip really boiled down to, in my opinion, India’s regressive laws surrounding homosexuality. In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized consensual homosexuality, was unconstitutional. But four years later, the Supreme Court overruled the High Court, ruling that only Parliament can change the law. As a result, the Supreme Court declared that the 2009 ruling was legally unsustainable and homosexuality was criminalized again.
I asked Heather about her experience in India as a lesbian. She admitted that she’d been playing it “straight” for the sake of safety and even told one guy, who’d been harassing her, that she had a husband. I found myself playing somewhat of the same charade, which was strange for me. I’ve been out to my family and friends since my late teens, so going back into the closet seemed as regressive as the laws in India.
By playing straight, I knew that it was also inhibiting my chances of meeting other gay men too, but I was in a foreign country. I didn’t understand the customs so I needed to be careful.
Despite that, I did attempt to be as honest as I could be so that I wasn’t a complete phony. When asked by locals if I was married, I said ‘No,’ and when they asked why I’d just say that I had no interest. Same went for having children — it just wasn’t my thing.
I never mentioned Ernan though. Or the fact that I was gay.
Before I’d arrived, I learned that there were no gay clubs or bars in either city, which wasn’t a huge surprise, though I had also read about a park and a garden in Jaipur where guys go cruising. When I tried to log back onto Squirt.org (which is owned by Xtra’s publisher Pink Triangle Press) at my hotel to get all the details, I found the site was blocked because it was categorized as “porn.”
I gave up on that idea, but didn’t completely attribute it to being a gay site. It said “porn” not “gay.” And maybe it was just the hotel that blocked it, not the government of India.
When I went on Scruff, I got a disturbing warning:
“The country you have recently entered has laws that criminalize sexual acts between consenting adult males. Persons convicted of such acts may be subject to one or more of the following: Life imprisonment.”
The warning went on to explain that one should exercise caution when sharing details with members as well as when meeting people from here.
This was at the start of my trip. This is why I spoke in code with Heather at first. The last thing I wanted to do was spend life in an Indian prison . . .