Tag Archives: Queer Culture

The Guysexual’s Brutally Honest Review Of Bumble

 

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Contrary to what we will tell you, gay men are obsessed with the idea of finding a sense of normalcy. This implies that gay men are obsessed with the idea of finding companionship.

But what does that mean?

We are obsessed with dating apps. We live them. We breathe them. We devour them. We can’t have enough of them. If you’ve been an avid reader of this column, you’ve probably read all ten of the brutally honest dating app reviews I covered last year. But it’s 2019, and I’ve got more ground to cover.

Without further ado, make a beeline for a fresh new beginning to last year’s hit series, and come say hi to Bumble.

What it is: Bumble may have started in 2014 as a safe space for women to ‘date, meet and network better’ by sending the first message (and making the first move), but when have gay men ever let a good thing go to waste?

We came for your fashion. We came for your sleepovers. And now, we come for your dating apps. ‘Why do the gays need to infringe on our space?’ the vilest of bigots would ask, ‘Won’t they think about the children?’ they’ll yell.

As a self-aware, self-loving gay man, let me tell you something.

If our next big love isn’t hidden behind a mesh of profiles on the dating app of our choice, there’s a very big chance he’s not waiting for us at the bar with free drinks (and if he is, there’s a chance he might give us chlamydia). He’s not waiting at the bookstore. And contrary to most rom-coms, he’s not waiting for us at the airport. Conventional ways of finding love are nonexistent for the quintessential gay man of today, so we look for every opportunity that comes our way, hungry for love — including dating apps that aren’t meant for us, in the conventional sense.

Also, we’re really bored of talking to the same people on Grindr.

How it works: Like most dating apps in the market, Bumble is a clearance sale of Facebook/Instagram profile pictures. You can swipe right to ‘Like’, or turn left to ‘Oh-I-don’t-think-so’. You collect the ones you love, and ignore the ones you don’t.

Before you start swiping, you do need to fill out your profile – a few pictures, a well-worded bio, some personal questions (but not like the ones you get asked by your nagging aunt), and a quick verification later, you are ready to start looking.

However, in this case, the app comes with three different modes to look in – date eligible men with Bumble Date, meet new people with Bumble BFF, and network with aspiring entrepreneurs with Bumble Bizz. That’s three different apps for the price of one (or if like me, you chose to go for the free version, the price of none).

But there’s a catch (if there wasn’t, would this even be a dating app?). Once you’ve matched, you only have 24 hours to strike up a conversation before your prospective partner disappears into the dregs of deleted chats and long-forgotten matches. This is a problem, yes, because sometimes it takes me longer to decide what I want to have for dinner.

Which is funny, because all I am looking for on Bumble is some dessert.

What I like about it: Bumble is the wingman you secretly pine to have in your corner. It nudges you to meet the cute guy over at the bar (with Bumble Date), pulls you into its huddle of really cool friends while asking you to join their squad (Bumble BFF), and also gets you to hustle for that perfect job you’ve been dreaming about ever since you left college (Bumble Bizz). It’s the best friend you need, but honestly, judging by your track record, don’t deserve.

When has a relationship app gone beyond the portals of romance?

Before Bumble, never.

What I don’t like about it: Bumble was first founded to challenge the antiquated rules of dating – by letting women make the first move, it literally puts them in the driver’s seat when it comes to navigating the datingscape. So what happens when the gays take over?

A lot of confusion. Who makes the first move? Is there a first move? Do we stop and ask each other ‘who’s the man and who’s the woman in the relationship’? Is the app sensitive to not stereotyping gay men? Is the app even for gay men? Before you get into a giant debate about #NotAllMen, let me stop you right there.

Bumble has bigger problems at hand. I spent all of a week sifting through a carousel of (very pretty) women, only to realise that I had to change my settings to get my preferences (and my sexual orientation) right. And once you’ve got that out of the way, it’s the interface that stings.

Yes, Bumble is the complete package when it comes to finding you your future soulmate/bff/job/Netflix original, but since it lists all your matches together, there’s a high chance you’ll be left looking like a bumbling idiot. Sure, the matches are colour coordinated so that you don’t mix them up, but what if you accidentally hit your business connection up with a ‘what’s up dawg’? What if you mistakenly ask your (rather platonic and woefully straight) future best friend out for a hookup? Or worse, what if you ask your date to write you a LinkedIn recommendation?

Rating someone according to their dating game? That’s one testimonial no one wants to see.

Bonus feature: Remember how scores of gay men complain about the constant fear of being catfished on a dating app? Imagine spending hours talking to someone whose profile pictures look like they are straight out of the GQ magazine, only to realise they’ve probably been copy-pasted from GQ.

With their video chat and voice-calling feature, Bumble lets you sort out the cool cats from the catfishes. Now if it only had a feature to sort people out according to their sexual identity…

Who is it for: For men* who don’t really have the time (or the space on their phone) to shift between LinkedIn, Facebook and the dating app of their choice.

Disclaimer: When its sole target audience of women is not using the app, of course.

Guysexual’s Grade-o-meter:

Hookability: 4/10
Compatibility: 9/10
Usability: 6/10
Downloadability: 7/1

What Does Your Favourite Dating App Say About You?

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Like a man’s scent and his shoes, his preferred dating app can speak volumes about his personality (and his data usage). Does he like to swipe right or send a spark? Does he send texts or thirst traps? Are his location settings enabled? What about his notifications? Or even better, his guards?

While you don’t have an option of playing favourites with children, pets or cast members from Brooklyn Nine Nine, you do get to be biased when it comes to online dating apps. The truth is every gay man has a go-to dating app, one that he likes cuddling up to (or find men on which he can cuddle with) after a day that’s wrapped in loneliness and long-forgotten email threads. It’s the app that he gets a drink with. The app that he gushes to his friends about. The one that he takes back home, safely in the confines of his smartphone.

You may have swiped through my very detailed reviews for each of these apps mentioned below, but how well do you know them? Have you ever wondered what the dating app you’re on says about you, or the people you meet on them? Swipe right through this list:

Tinder

Who is it for: Men who can’t afford a Fairy Godmother to find the One™.

What does it say about you: “If I have to kiss a few frogs to find my Prince Charming, so be it. I really wish I could send dick pics though…”

Grindr

Who is it for: Men looking for something beyond companionship and compatibility, unless it’s the sort of compatibility you seek in bed.

What does it say about you: ‘What? Of course, I don’t take this seriously. Do you stay alone, btw?’

Scruff

Who is it for: Men looking for men with some hair on their chest and dirt on their nails.

What does it say about you: “Not that I have a problem with the spectrum, but why can’t all gay men be more straight-acting?’

Planet Romeo

Who is it for: Men looking for pure, uninhibited, unadulterated sex. Carry a condom.

What does it say about you: ‘I like to believe I am sex positive.’

Hinge

Who is it for: Disney princes looking for friends of friends who are Disney princes.

What does it say about you: “I have so many friends, why can’t they set me up with someone they know?’

Happn

Who is it for: Men who believe in second chances. Just make sure you have a friend on SOS, and the neighborhood’s criminal offender’s list on standby.

What does it say about you: “Maybe I should go out more…”

Hornet

Who is it for: Men who like it easy, but don’t want to seem easy.

What does it say about you: “I want to have sex, but I want my friends to have sex too.”

Jack’d

Who is it for: Same as Hornet, but they also prefer being called sapiosexuals.

What does it say about you: “Don’t even get me started on what I think about the current government’s administration…”

Bro

Who is it for: Men who don’t want to commit – to labels, relationships, or even sexual orientations.

What does it say about you: “So buddy, I am really not gay… but you want to get a beer or two and give me a blowjob later?”

Delta

Who is it for: Men who’ve tried every dating app there is, and are tired of the same.

What does it say about you: “…but what about #MakeInIndia?”

We’re Queer, We’re Here: Beyond Serving As Clickbait And Buzzwords, Our Voices Must Be Heard

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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:

Gay Two.

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.

Grindr Turns 10, But Has it Grown Up?

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How did gay men meet before they met their smartphones?

Some would tell you they met in Yahoo chat rooms. A few others would giggle over finding their mates in the classifieds section of Bombay Dost. The friskier ones would Joke about their nights spent cruising (and musing) around public restrooms. A couple would lie about bumping into each other at coffee shops.

Up until 2009, finding a (bed)mate for gay men was as difficult as finding a vegan-friendly birthday cake.

And then along came Grindr, which changed everything. Men moved their dalliances from seedy Internet cafes to the safe confines of their smartphones. It was a revolution. Gay men had finally found their match, no right swipes necessary.

Ten years since that glorious day, ten years since queer men could skip the old-fashioned way, and get to the part that they really cared about:

No-strings attached sex.

Over the years, the app attempted to broaden what it was known for. With ‘Grindr for Equality’, which was launched in 2012, and its inclusive-digital magazine ‘INTO’ making waves in 2017, things looked great for the ‘hook-up heavy’ app. But the magazine shut soon after, and Grindr continued having a reputation for being a cesspool of racist, body-shaming bigots. Gorgeous men, but bigots.

So how has the app fared in the #10YearChallenge?

It’s still a grid of grid-shaped torsos, only now they come attached with their HIV status and preferred pronouns. It’s been a decade-long transformation, but if the past is a precedent, now is the time to think what the future will ultimately look like.

With Tinder introducing 23 new gender selections and Scruff starting a community space for queer travellers, dating apps around the world are pulling up their (multicoloured) socks. What does Grindr have, on the other hand?

Gay stickers, and a new tap feature. These initiatives might change the way we look at Grindr, but there’s been little change to the app overall. Sure, it allows you to tap at your fellow playmates (or playthings, depending on what you prefer calling them) and send them gay-themed emojis instead of a corny pickup line, but Grindr has remained the same, functionally speaking: Look for whoever’s close by, exchange a few messages, and meet or just block and repeat the whole cycle. For an app that bans public nudity and sexual explicitness in profiles, that’s saying something. In fact, if Grindr has really accomplished anything, it’s made gay men more honest about what they don’t want:

An association with Grindr.

We’ve seen this in how people (mostly gay men) talk about the app. It remains dismissed and trivialised; to be forever shunned in the dark space between video editing and meditation apps. Think about it – if two men have a meet-cute, would they turn the page to their romcom-style romance by sharing their Grindr profiles instead of trading their Instagram handles? I don’t think so (plus, Grindr doesn’t come with a search tab, so most meet-cutes might meet a premature death). In so many ways, Grindr has become the online equivalent of a cruising spot: everyone does it, but no one really wants to talk about it. With so many DMs that need sliding into, will the idea of needing a separate hookup-exclusive app seem quaint someday?

Kushal, a screenwriter from the suburbs of Mumbai, would agree. He’s done the on-again-off-again relationship with the app for half a decade – that’s 50 percent of Grindr’s shelf life, leading to 100 percent of Kushal’s problems.

Kushal likes to believe that it’s a fling, and a toxic one indeed. They connect every once in a while, text-dancing for months till the former gets exhausted of his desperate needs (or worse, data plan). Does he enjoy it?

Not really. But what can he do? They’ve grown up together. Marking his evolution from Otter to Bear, Grindr has been there all along. It humoured his twink phase, egged him on to pursue multiple silver daddies in his late 20s, and for a brief spell in 2017, even played along with his leather fetish. As Kushal would say, they’ve had ‘some pretty good times’.

But it also bought along major bouts of heartbreak, and that one herpes scare in 2013. Last year, Kushal decided to finally cut the cord with Grindr. He’d had enough. He was born again (but not a born-again virgin). Kushal had seen the light, and there was no going back (Side note: he did four months later, with a stranger in a dimly lit elevator, but that’s another story.).

That story might not have had a conclusion, but at a ten-year mark, Grindr can’t afford any. If it wants to see a few more years in its life, it needs to up its game right away.

Until then, it can share its birthday cake with all of us.

I just hope it’s vegan-friendly.

Dear Straight People, What Does Your Favourite Queer Eye Guy Say About You?

 

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Three seasons in, I love Queer Eye.

Five fabulous (but not so fabulous that they intimidate you) gay men coming together to school bigots groom clueless straight men into better versions™ of themselves, without adhering to the tropes of being catty, conniving or cocky (as the media perceives us to be)?

What’s there not to love?

Sure, the show can be a TRP orgasm, but I find it only slightly grating to see the community peddling its talents in exchange for acceptance. It’s offensive for us to have to fight for our rights by showing how important we are (as masters in our fields, possessed of an almost supernatural sensitivity to fine living) in the heterosexual grooming ritual. But maybe, there’s no way around it. I’ll just sit here in a corner, feeling upset about hetero people taking advantage of queer creativity since forever.

Until then, here’s what your favourite queer guy from the ‘Fab Five’ says about you, readers:

Jonathan Van Ness

Racked with guilt for having said something mildly homophobic a few years ago, you overcompensate now by wrapping yourself up with queer culture references and iconic gay catchphrases – which is why it becomes so important for you to win the ‘Ally of the Year’ award. You want everyone to know that you care. You want your Instagram followers to know you care. You want your crush to know that you care. You care with a vengeance.  You care so much that it hurts.  In fact, if your care could be qualified, it would be produced as a Broadway musical.

It would obviously star you.

You’d want to believe that you could walk into a room and steal the spotlight immediately, because you are fierce and/or fabulous. And why won’t you?

You have the sum total of one gay friend. But that doesn’t stop you from stringing him (it’s always a him) along to all your shopping excursions at the mall/bar hopping scenes across town. You are constantly trying to set him up with other gay people you know (which are few and far between, like that one guy you met while waiting in line at your favourite pub’s restroom) because you desperately want him to get married and find, true eternal happiness.

But don’t pat yourself on your back so hard; you are only doing it because you want to steal the spotlight as maid of honour. You’ll want to kill it at this hypothetical Hallmark-worthy wedding with your speech (which you already have prepared), but you’ll probably end up saying something like ‘dating would have been so much more fun if I was just gay…’

Side note: If you wrongly use ‘Yaas Kween!’ one more time, your fingers might fall off as they snap.

Tan France

You kissed someone of the same sex back in school, and you are probably convinced it could happen again. Thus, watching Queer Eye is your way of showing your solidarity for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Clearly, you don’t want to be too obvious about it, so siding with Tan seems like the perfect choice — you don’t want people to think you are a poser now, do you? Because we all know how you think about posers — something you are very vocal about online.

You like having debates like you love telling people how comfortable you are with the queer spectrum, but your personal favourite is the one time you spent six hours dissecting Diet Sabya’s identity at a house party. You describe yourself as an intellectual. You hate it when other people call you that.

Side note: You don’t really know what a French Tuck™ is, but you make sure you use it in every conversation you can. Also, you roll your eyes at fashion bloggers on Instagram, but secretly like all their posts (because their stories are on mute).

Antoni Porowski

Everybody loves Antoni. He feels so…safe and easy. You like that he is gay, but ‘not really gay’. Antoni — with his GQ hair and loopy lopsided grin that strums at your heartstrings like a Pablo Neruda poem — doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mould of the gay stereotype everyone (including all the gays you follow on the internet) despises. He’s different, you tell yourself. He could be you. ‘Why are more men not queer?’ you ponder, ‘why are more men not like him?’

But then again, you probably think it’s a compliment when you tell your queer acquaintances (because you don’t have real queer friends) that they can pass off as ‘straight’. You mean it in a nice way, because you are a nice person.

Now, let it slowly sink in that you are terribly shallow, but it might not register because you are trying to decide which of his #ThirstTraps to leave a thirsty comment on. Because, let’s face it – you probably only like him for his movie star good looks and his guacamole-making skills (although you’ve ignored all the click bait about his questionable cooking skills.).

Plus, you might just have a fetish for washboard abs.

Karamo Brown

Like the kids say, you are woke, but not so woke that people can make fun of you.  It’s your favourite quality about yourself. Your friends would describe you as an ‘all-around lovely person’ even though you aren’t the most hilarious one in the bunch.

You still love your friends.

Liking Karamo makes you feel like you are being inclusive (as everyone should be in this world, you tell friends at parties). However, whenever you are talking about your gay friend, you make sure you use the word ‘choice’ when you are talking about his ‘lifestyle’. It doesn’t stop you from getting bottomless mimosas for brunch with him every other weekend. You take a picture then, and hashtag it your #HappyPlace.

Your Instagram bio describes you as a life coach and a go-getter, but your friends aren’t sure whether you mean it in a sardonic way. You have a lot to say, but no one takes you seriously because your feed is full of stock photos of Internet quotes.

You probably stole some of them from meme accounts.

Bobby Berk

Let’s face it. You are only here because your girlfriend wanted you to watch the show so that you could ‘be more attuned with your feelings, and find your inner sensitive self’.

But then you got hooked. Sure, Antoni knows his avocados and Tan can really help you with your sartorial choices (or lack thereof), but it’s Bobby who does all the hard work, but hardly gets any credit.

Just like you. In fact, why does Bobby not have his own show, you ask angrily. He’s so good at design, and construction, and…stuff, you yell at no one in particular. Everyone else just nervously giggles.

You’ve always thought of yourself as the underdog, someone who’s on the outside. You are quiet, but you can also be quite the handful when you are talking about your passion projects. You don’t just like Bobby, you want to beBobby. He’s a painful reminder of all the times you were assigned group projects in school, but ended up doing all the work by yourself.

Now, your favourite past time includes talking about (but not working on) DIY kits, critiquing design at the dinner table, and hoarding old editions of Architectural Digest. It’s all tasteful, but unremarkable.

Made In (Gay) Heaven: A Queer Man’s Guide To The Amazon Prime Original

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Amazon Prime’s Made in Heaven dropped its full season on Friday, and I won’t be lying when I say that I was a tad bit apprehensive about watching the show.

Excited, yes. But also very apprehensive.

On paper, it seemed too good to be true. Created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti who helmed the iconic (and my eternal favourite) Gully Boy? Check. Starring a cast of good-looking actors with even better acting chops? Check. Exploring (but not mocking) the inner recesses of Delhi’s upper-class elite? Check. Lots of sex, drugs and rock & roll? Check. Just about every commendable indie actor gracing the guest cast? Double check.

Like I said, the show could be every Bollywood junkie’s wet dream (come true) – because it looked like it had everything. In fact, if this were a boy, I would have wooed him with flowers, and taken him out on a La La Land-inspired date.

But that’s the thing. Like most boys I’ve dated, this had the potential to blow up in my face (no pun intended). Why?

Over drinks many months ago, an anonymous insider told me about a WIP wedding-themed show with a meaty gay character (who had a meatier storyline). Said anonymous insider had thought it would make me happy.

I had only sighed.

In the past, Bollywood’s treatment of homosexuality has been both over-the-top and under-the-belt – queer men have been packed in bright florals and skintight trousers, only to become cookie-cutter caricatures of themselves. I honestly don’t mind the flamboyant stereotype, but contrary to (most of) Karan Johar’s films, there are more queer sub-cultures that are waiting to be voiced.

True, the 2019 cycle of representation has been iconic – from Shelly Chopra Dhar’s ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ exploring a lesbian love story, to Sridhar Rangayan’s ‘Evening Shadows’, a touching tale about a city-bred man coming out to his small-town mother – but they came with their fair share of triggers. Take the former, for instance – where the central voice of the reason in a queer narrative is still a CIS heterosexual man. A nice understanding man, but a CIS man still the same.

So you can imagine my apprehension when I jumped right into Made In Heaven (armed with a bottle of wine and Chinese takeout) with an open mind and a heavy heart. Did it make the cut?

It didn’t just make it; it nailed it.

Without giving away too many spoilers, Akhtar and Kagti’s Made In Heaven is the most honest representation of Delhi I’ve ever seen, coming a close second to Anuja Chauhan’s fascinatingly funny ‘Those Pricey Thakur Girls’. The number of things I liked about the show would make this sound like a love letter, so I’ll stop (because I never know how to deal with unrequited feelings).

And that’s one of the best compliments it can get.

Made in Heaven is a binge worthy show about rich society wife Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and her gay business partner/friend Karan Mehra (played effortlessly by (a rather straight) Arjun Mathur (I know because I checked), who solve cases plan weddings, while dealing with the trials and tribulations of their own personal lives – philandering husbands, snoopy landlords and bone-breaking loan sharks, to name a few.

And this is where Arjun Mathur steps up and completely changes the game as an actor playing a strong, sensible gay man. For a character to shine in such a giant crowd is commendable, especially since there hasn’t been such an all-encompassing cast since the Game Of Thrones series. So how does his queer representation appeal to the mehendi-wearing, Marlboro-smoking queer man in me?

Because he could be anybody. He could be your brother. Your friend. That popular kid from school. The class bully. The owner of your favourite jazz bar. For all we know, he could even be your wedding planner. And Karan Mehra is all of them. He’s your everyday gay man™.

The everyday gay man™ plays video games with the same enthusiasm he shows in attending queer soirees. He flits in and out of V-neck tees, but wears bespoke designer kurtas to engagement parties. He loves his wine, but he drinks beer too. He struggles with coming out to his parents, but he’s also struggling with debt. He has sex (full fledged #NSFW sex, but not too #NSFW because I know my mildly conservative mother binged the show without batting an eyelid) with lots of lean, toned attractive men, but feels lonely without his ex.

But hold on, the show isn’t just about aesthetically pleasing queer men having (aesthetically-pleasing) sex with each other. It’s about so much more.

Because MIH doesn’t just toy with the idea of a queer storyline; it polishes it and puts it up on the mantelpiece proudly, for the whole world to see (and give coveted looks at). And there’s no token gay man here, there’s an entire spectrum of gay men – gay men who are about to be married, gay men who are already married, gay men who are in same-sex marriages, and gay men who never want to get married. For a show that’s heavily built on the premise of wedded bliss, this seems like an inside joke that we are all privy too.

And then the show does something else.

It dwells deep into a world that’s still not rid of Section 377, and brings queer culture (and rights) front and centre; in a way very few movies (or Indian television shows) have done in the past. And before you know it, you feel the scary repercussions of the age-old draconian law as it pushes the main character into a plot that we all need, but don’t deserve.

Suddenly, he’s the central hero (or anti-hero, based on how you look at the string of broken hearts and broken men he leaves behind) – coming out to his parents, owning up to his life and taking a stand for queer rights, all in a span of three episodes. The beauty of Made In Heaven’s queer narrative lies in the fact that Karan’s character is never a bumbling sidekick or the token comic relief; he’s the main lead.

Akhtar, Kagti and Alankrita Shrivastava’s writing constantly challenges the norms of love, relationships and marriage, but they seal the deal with their conversations on sexuality. The coming-out sequences are as gut wrenching as they are heartwarming, and while his small talk with his various paramours makes for great television, it’s Karan’s final conversation with his closeted landlord (played by Vinay Pathak) that steals the (wedding) cake.

Made In Heaven makes gay people what the media has never managed to do – it makes them real. And if this is the path they have chalked out for a second (and hopefully, future) season, I’ll gladly walk the aisle with them.

Conclusively, if I have a question for the makers of the show, it is this – how (and more importantly, why) do all the queer men in the show look like they ‘ve stepped out of the cover of GQ magazine?

And secondly, if and when I plan to get married, how do I get the fictional ‘Made in Heaven’ company to come plan my wedding with one of these aforementioned men?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To All The Girls I’ve Loved: Sorry For All The Times I’ve Been A Casual Misogynist

 

Women's_Day

I’d like to believe I am a lot of things.

I believe I am empathetic. I believe I am supportive. I believe I am a feminist. I believe I am pro-equality. And thus, I believe I am ‘woke’ – but not woke like all the other woke men out there, I giggle (which automatically makes me like all the other woke men out there).

I’ve called out misogynists. Nipped sexist jokes in the bud. Broken gender norms (and a few plates) in the kitchen. Walked my kid sister to school. Schooled boys who catcall and letch. Literally pushed past drunken men to create safe spaces for my girl friends at bars. Stared men down who stare at women. Given lectures. Taken notes. I’ve supported my women friends. Revered them. Put them on a pedestal. My relationship with all the women in my life can thus be summarised as one giant love letter. I support, and as kids today would say, I ‘stan’ women. I could be the poster boy for feminism.

So you can imagine my surprise when this happened a few months ago at a friend’s birthday party:

‘Jeez, it’s just a compliment,’ I rolled my eyes at the birthday girl, when she dismissed my (obviously uncalled for) remarks about her dress. I had called it ‘skanky, but strong and opinionated skanky’. It was supposed to be a joke, and I was perturbed that she didn’t find it funny. How do I know?

Because she called me a word that most gay men hate to be associated with: a misogynist. Me, a misogynist? I don’t think so, lady. How could I, a self-aware, self-conscious, raging homosexual be even mildly misogynistic? I don’t look like one, do I?

‘…And gay men love women. I love women,’ I thought to myself, citing the fact that around 98 percent of my friends were female. You remember the bit about the love letter, don’t you?

I later caught myself calling a female driver a ‘little bitch’ under my breath (side note: I now stick to gender-neutral abuses, such as ‘irresponsible maniac’) to realise I might have a little problem.

That’s the thing about casual misogyny. It’s a disease without symptoms. There are no flu-like signs. No aching in the bones. No wheezing and whooping. No constricted breathing. It doesn’t come with a dedicated WebMD page (and even if it did, you would confuse it with testicular cancer), or even a prescription.

It’s everywhere, and you, my friend, like me, are most certainly suffering from it too. Gay male privilege is a thing (especially since the cis-gay man is the ‘straight white male’ equivalent of the queer pyramid), and often it feels like our minority status grants us the get-out-of-jail-free card for casual misogyny (for example, Grindr ‘preferences’). It’s our community’s best-kept secret.

I used to think it was my responsibility as a self-loving gay man to make disparaging remarks about the dressing sense (and often, appearance) of my female friends. Being salty is being endearing, I thought. If I am not honest with a woman who I so obviously love, how will she find herself? How will she become fierce? How will she become strong? Independent? A diva?

Because from Madonna to Ariana, from Beyoncé to Britney, from Sridevi to Kareena, we love ourselves a diva – as long as they are perfect.

And just then, when you begin to scratch the surface, you find that there are many shades of sexism unique to gay men. It’s a problem that’s always swept under the proverbial carpet, because that’s the thing about gay men and how difficult it is to identify our misogyny: We can infiltrate the thinnest of cracks, because we are supposed to be ‘brothers in arms’.

But do we really embrace the sisterhood in all its entirety?

An important example is in the wave of profiles on Grindr (and other gay dating apps) that describe themselves as ‘Masc4Masc’, comically butching up their image to get into bed with others like them. Similarly, Scruff’s ‘Most Woofed’ section is pure gold – a grid of hairy, bare-chested men in various states of undress, dousing you with their masculinity. It’s the same everywhere. Femininity, whatever that may be, thus becomes a dirty word – a slur that means ‘lesser’. Weak. Alien. Different.

As a gay man in his 30s, it makes me wonder to what extent I’ve stunted my own femininity – even if I might have done it unsuccessfully – just so I could fit in. Do I walk a certain way that I shouldn’t? Do I talk a certain way I shouldn’t? Do I behave a certain way I shouldn’t? What about my fluid arms and my fluid gait? Most importantly, what about my fluidity?

It’s sad that so many of my peers feel the same way. Gay men of a certain age and nature are being increasingly daunted and disgusted by the feminine – unless it’s safe, or a joke, or a reality show like RuPaul’s Drag Race. Is it right?

Not in the slightest.

Internet quotes will tell you to ‘Spend time with women, strong women. Women who cheer you up and cheer you on, women who teach you, women who support you. Spend time with women who will make you laugh, women who have opinions, and women who will call you on your bullshit. Visit ugly places, pretty places, dangerous places and strange places with them. Eat, laugh, make merry and be silent with them.’

What do they not tell you?

To put yourself in their shoes. To be them. To embrace them. To treat women as equals, not assets. To respect (and revere). To laud (and love). To support (and take a stand for). And what if I don’t?

Just tell me to go make a sandwich.