The LGBT community has been, for years, struggling for its rightful place when it comes to attaining their rights and their recognition within mainstream society. And, in September 2018, the community had one reason to celebrate after the abolishment of the controversial Section 377 by the Supreme Court of India.
Hoshang Merchant and Akshaya K. Rath, have through their book paid homage to 22 inspirational individuals of the LGBTQ community that have pushed through the fight for the community to attain equal opportunity and the right to be who they are. Through the book, the authors bring to light that even though Section 377 was altered to allow consensual sex irrespective of gender in a private space, homosexuality was once again criminalised in a 2013 judgement.
Merchant views the ruling of the court in 2013 as a vindictive decision but still acknowledges that there’s still hope because the same court that criminalised homosexuality still ruled in the favour of the transgender community. He goes on to state that he thinks it’s because of the mentality that transgender people were born that way but gay people have made the decision to be self-perverted. In addition, he states, it is because Hijras have always been vocal and highly visible, but on the other hand, homosexuals have always been in hiding.
The book takes us through 185 years of LGBTQ oppression and is neatly made up of three parts: ‘The Forerunners, the Contemporaries, and The Future. Gay Icons of India begins with Ram Gopal also known as the Dancing Queen; one of the most celebrated and iconic gay individual in India. He took some time to find his place but developed his own unique sense of style with his jewellery and turban that have put him in place in the world of dance as a distinctive figure.
Another iconic individual in the book mentioned in the Forerunners section is Hoshang Merchant, the author who keeps reliving his past and present life and the vital lessons he has learnt since. The author insists that the word “closet” refers to the society that induces shame and feels like the only path to coming out is to break the closet apart, dispose of the shame, and shame those who shame others.
The Contemporaries mentions hard workers and revolutionaries that have waded their way through tough allegations of AIDs, discrimination and oppression even as they tried their hardest to move on. Vikram Seth is one of those in this section. He is a writer who has struggles through a lot as well as coming out as a gay man in India. Merchant acknowledges that heterosexual romances lack the physical passion such as in An Equal Music, a script about an affair with an English lover that lasted a decade.
In the script, Seth intentionally leaves out gender in the stanzas of his poems. As a result, the readers are at liberty to identify whether their own lovers are female or male. The book is a must-read if you’re interested in learning about the iconic figures in the LGBTQ community in India that have paved the fight for the community’s acceptance and attainment of equality.