A popular women’s fashion magazine recently celebrated ‘voices’ — trendsetters and change makers — with a star-studded award ceremony earlier this month. Did they deliver?
You bet they did. When a fashion magazine recognises and respects diverse voices, including ones that propagate feminism and body-positivity, they need to be congratulated. In fact, said fashion magazine even commended voices in the tech space.
Now this is where it gets strange. When a magazine awards every kind of voice there is, how do they applaud the country’s queerscape?
With complete radio silence. And it’s the same everywhere. Over the weekend, the country’s leading men’s magazine lauded content creators in the fields of style and culture. And yet again, they forgot to send queer voices a memo.
Why is this even more disheartening than it should be? Because over the same weekend, many a thousand miles away, the GLAAD Media Awards honoured various branches of the media for their outstanding representations of the LGBT community.
This side of the Indian Ocean, the problem lies in the complete indifference with which the media deals with homosexuality in general. Like the (now disgraced) king of Pop once sang, they really don’t care about us.
How do I know?
After a three-month-long email exchange with the (then) lifestyle editor at the aforementioned men’s magazine, she wrote back saying that the magazine (digital or print) didn’t have space for queer content. ‘Activism isn’t the scope of the brand,’ she drawled. ‘We aren’t sure how our audiences would react to something as sensitive as queer pieces.’
This was in 2017. For a magazine that regularly objectifies adrenaline-pumping men on its cover, doles out fashion and beauty advice, has an audience that consumes queer culture, and a taskforce of gay men that’s larger than my list of starred favourites on Grindr, what really counts as hetero-sensitive? What counts as important? What counts as a voice that needs to be seen, but not heard?
Sadly, things haven’t changed much in the last decade.
Half a decade ago, I got a call asking me whether I wanted to be part of a ‘label-breaking’ advertisement. Conceptualised by an award-winning director known for his indie work and independent voice, it was a #TimeToBreakStereotypes video campaign for a high-end luxury brand.
They needed an openly gay man for a bit role, and here I was, fresh out of the closet. It was Pride Month, and I was bursting to do my bit for the community (and more importantly, my 15 seconds of fame).
On the day of my shoot, I rushed over to the set with a fresh haircut and fresher hopes. Between a hurried costume change and makeup session, I excitedly peeped over the AD’s shoulder to read my character’s description on the call sheet; there were only two words:
The fact that I wasn’t important enough to be ‘Gay One’ aside (in my defense, it was an androgynous supermodel), was this really what we had come down to?
Because if the urban intellectual can be so unsympathetic to an entire sexual minority’s problems, what can we really expect from the rest of the country?
See, because the Urban Intellectual™ is supposed to be smart and opinionated (but obviously not in a weary sort of way). The Urban Intellectual™ gives regular discourses on toxic patriarchy through their Instagram stories. The Urban Intellectual™ has lot of
gay friends accessories. The Urban Intellectual™ supports the #MeToo movement (until one of their own is called out). The Urban Intellectual™ posts memes about misogyny. (S)he is your online best friend. Your voice of reason. Your ally.
And they are everywhere.
At a meeting with one of India’s top internet media companies, I had the pleasure of being offered a freelance gig by the (then) editor. They needed new voices, she said to me — more inclusion leads to more introspection for the audience. I tittered. Was this finally our day of reckoning — when queer voices weren’t just typecast, but cast as frontrunners instead?
‘And you know, we could really use you at the office,’ she giggled, ‘Our office is so heteronormative, it gets really boring with all these straight boys,’ she laughed.
I blinked. I thought she was joking — solely because one of the main reasons I wanted in was ‘cause all the straight boys seemed so much fun.
She wasn’t. And that’s when I felt like the joke. Because it doesn’t just stop at intellectuals and (the occasional) Instagram influencers.
See, queer men and women have forever been paraded in campaigns and draped in click bait. I’ve personally been asked to ‘be gay’ (for the camera) and ‘write gay’ more times than I can count. Can you write something bitchy? Can you write something scandalous? Can you ruffle some feathers? Can you shock our audiences? Can you be the person we want you to be?
I’m not denying that being fabulous is fun; I am just saying there’s more to queer culture than our sartorial choices and sass.
The truth is that people really aren’t looking for queer voices; they are looking for queer click bait. Gay culture will always be trivialised and tokenised, treated as a SEO trend right around the time of Pride Month (and marches) or worse, Valentine’s week. Which means that as you read this sentence, thousands of companies have taken down their rainbow flags and pushed their glitter glue supplies back into their office back rooms. Queer campaigns have been dismissed (much like queer folk), or pushed to June when LGBTQIA+ rights suddenly gain traction with International Month of Pride.
Two years ago, a popular bar franchise turned my date and I down at the door, because ‘only couples were allowed, and no stag entries were accepted’. Well, that seemed like it. I meekly shrugged and told my out-of-town date that we’d have to find another bar that sold alcohol at fluctuating low prices. But he wouldn’t have it.
Drawing himself upright, he stared the testosterone-pumped bouncer (who was twice his size) down and told him that we were ‘two boys on a date’. The man sneered at us, saying ‘rules were rules, and unless we found a girl, they wouldn’t let us in’. I hastily muttered an apology, and pulled my friend to a friendlier bar; the drinks weren’t cheap, but neither was the staff.
This is ironic, because a year-and-a-half later, they celebrated the Section 377 verdict with a #LoveIsLove offer on the day of. Touché, right?
I’ll tell you a secret.
Queer voices don’t necessarily need appreciation, they need to be acknowledged. We don’t necessarily need a provision for an ‘inclusion rider’, we just need more inclusion (that goes beyond the norm of introducing one queer archetype in your videos for the sake of checking the diversity quota). See, we aren’t asking for a spotlight, we are just asking for a platform. There’s a whole world of queer content out there that goes beyond the story of how we came out (side note: I’ve come out so many times for the media, my coming out story has a coming out story). It’s going to be a long, arduous journey, I know it. But the least we can do is hope.
Until then, you can just hand us the microphone.
I promise we won’t drop it.