Interview with Kishor Kumar, an openly gay man from Kozhikode. This interview was done by Anil Kumar K.S. and Rashmi G. and appeared in December 2015 issue of DC Book’s Pachakuthira monthly magazine.
(ഡിസി ബുക്സ് ഡിസംബര് 2015 പച്ചകുതിര മാസികയില് പ്രസിദ്ധീകരിച്ച അഭിമുഖം – മലയാളം പി.ഡി.എഫ്. -3MB ഡൌണ്ലോഡ് ചെയ്യുക)
Q1. You have written a lot about gay love and have taken a liberating stance on the issue. Can you give a brief account of your life background?
I am from Kozhikode. I am gay. I did my BTech and MTech in computer science from NIT Calicut and IIT Kanpur respectively. I worked for a long time in corporate IT world. In this, 10 years were in USA. Now I am back in Kozhikode and live here. I do write on topics like gay love, cinema, music etc. I recently worked as an assistant director in Jayan Cherian’s movie ‘KaBody Scapes’. I also volunteer in the functioning of Queerala, an organization for sexual minorities of Kerala.
Q2. In our society, SwavargaRathi (Homo-sex) is an oft-repeated old term. People like you try to replace it with SwavargaAnuragam (Homo-love). What is the reason behind this?
The issue is that people see only Rathi (Sex) in same-gender relationships. In some specific contexts, we may have to talk about Sex. But on other occasions, there is no need to talk about Sex. For example, when parents are arranging a marriage proposal for their daughter, will they say “My daughter is interested in having sex with your son”? No! Naturally the talk will be only about marriage. When we talk about love and relationships, talk about Pranayam (Love). Only on occasions where we need to talk about Sex, do so. Even in western countries, the world ‘Gay’ has replaced ‘Homosexual’ to emphasize the point that this is not a phenomenon stressing only on Sex.
Q3. When we talk to a gay man, he says he is not SwavargaRathikkaaran but is SwavargaAnuragi.
Definitely that’s how he should be addressed. There can be sex without love/Pranayam. But without sex, be it in reality or fantasy, there is no love/Pranayam. For example, when someone visits a sex-worker, it is purely for sex. No love exists there. Also, without at least some fantasy thoughts about sex, there can be no love between two people. Without any sexual under-currents, isn’t it better called as friendship? Love can develop between two gays who are mutually attracted. Most humans want and need a companion in their life. Gay relationships are just like man-woman relationships. Even they wish for a life partner.
Q4. Most psychologists in Kerala consider gay love as a mental disease. Some people have an opinion that it can be cured. As a gay man, how do you resist these kinds of views?
The stance of some doctors that homosexuality can be cured is totally un-scientific. Trying to change innately occurring sexuality itself can result in severe mental problems. Some of the gays may need the assistance of a psychologist. But it is not to cure their homosexuality but to reduce their depression, anxiety and fear. Gays face tremendous stress from family and society. Some families consult a doctor to cure their son’s homosexuality and get him married. The patient can never disclose publicly that his homosexuality did not get cured — because in our society, homosexuality is such a topic. These doctors are relying on the silence of their patients. It is only because of this that these doctors are able to make false-claims about curing homosexuality and cheat money out of their clients.
Q5. What are the main physical and mental challenges faced by gay men?
The biggest challenge that gays of India & Kerala face is the legal stance of the state. In 2009, Delhi high court decriminalized consenting-adult homo-sex. Some religious fundamentalists appealed against this verdict and in December 2013, Supreme Court cancelled the landmark judgment of high court and referred the decision on this to be made by parliament. Hence, every homosexual in India is living in constant fear. If you reveal your identity, you can face tremendous stress and anxiety from society.
Q6. When did Kishor Kumar as a person reveal his identity? How was the reaction of family & society?
Before a gay man reveals his identity publicly, he should first reveal it to his parents. Otherwise, it will be very problematic for them. In our society, it is natural for parents to arrange a wedding for their kids when they are of marriage-age. To a homosexual, a (heterosexual)-marriage is a very stressful thing to face in life.
After completing my studies, I worked in India for 5 years. At home, there were talks about my marriage and I was very much stressed. Since I work in IT field, I was able to escape from marriage by getting a job in USA and relocated there in 2000. I worked there for 10 years. I gathered and learned more information about gay identity during these years. It was in 2002 that I revealed my gay identity to family. I was very sure that they are capable of understanding me. First, I revealed it to one of my sisters. Then I came out one-by-one separately to dad, mom and rest of siblings. Dad via my sister enquired if I have any physical issues. Mom asked who will look after me in my old ages. That was the only concern mom had about my life. No one in family said or did anything against accepting me as gay.
I came out publicly to Malayali society first in 2004 in my music web site RagaKairali and then in 2008 in a film study article that I wrote in Mathrubhumi weekly. I do not gossip about other people’s private life. Hence, I did not face any unnecessary questions from public. Some people asking “When are you getting married?” can’t be considered as a fault. Depending on the situation, I respond with “No”, “Not right now”, “Not interested”, “It will not work out” etc.
Q7. Aren’t homosexuals getting more oppressed in Kerala society?
The law as well as religious fundamentalists is trying to oppress gay love all over India. Even then, in progressive states like Kerala, Gays and Transgenders have succeeded in community organizing and presenting their issues to society in the past five years. I took a risk and convinced my parents about my situation. Homosexuality is neither temporary nor due to a flaw in upbringing of kids. It is an inborn nature. Everyone should try to speak up about their love without fearing about oppression by majority. Then only we can counter the oppressive situation.
Q8. “Gay liberation is inherently tied to gender-equality in a society” – this is something you wrote in your article “Pranayam oru manushyavakasa prasnamanu / Love is a human right issue”. What really is the reason behind this statement?
If you think mathematically, it’s a simple thing to understand. Usually, we see man-woman sexual union and marriage which gives social sanction for such relationships. Society has strict gender roles for men and women. Men are expected to earn money, show power and command things. And women are expected to be submissive and do things inside the house. Let us imagine “A” as man and “B” as woman. There exists lots of differences between A and B. Since there is an undercurrent of master-slave dynamics in the relationship between A and B, it fits well into the male-dominated society. But a same-gender relationship between A and A (or B and B) upsets the views of traditional male-dominated society and such unions will be viewed as weird. But once women get educated and start being active in the society by joining work-force, it paves the path for gender-equality. In such gender-equal societies, same-gender relationships will not be viewed as weird. Since there will be more freedom for expressing man-woman love, the manic need for moral policing of other’s private love-life, including same-gender romances, will reduce. In short, if A = B, society will be able to view A-A relationship and B-B relationship just like how they view a traditional A-B relationship.
Q9. In your article, you had taken the stance that community organizing of sexual minorities will lead to healthier personal life and finding life-partners. Is this true? Isn’t this against reality?
Why do you say it is against reality? I don’t understand. Without meeting in person and opening up about their minds, how can gays form long lasting relationships? I cannot insist that everyone should look for life-partners. I am someone who looks for life-partnership. Just because I met some gay guy does not mean that I can make him my partner. Many things like tastes, views, life situations etc. should align for a life-partnership to happen. Only then, I can make him my partner. Be it gays or straights, I will not insist that everyone should find a life partner and get married. We should not demand such things about others.
Q10. Do you think gays will be able to have a social life with freedom in Indian society?
I definitely think that over time, we will attain freedom to live our lives as we wish. After the 2009 Delhi High court verdict, things are really looking promising in India and especially Kerala. But the Supreme Court verdict in 2013 canceling the High court verdict and referring the decision to parliament was really disappointing. At that time, both Congress and Communist parties had raised their voice against the Supreme Court verdict. CPM even added amending IPC-377 into their manifesto. As long as the law against homo-sex continues, gays will face the stress of not being able to reveal their identity and mostly will end-up in arranged-marriages harming another innocent human being. In the petition that’s still pending in Supreme Court, I am hopeful that the final verdict will uphold the human rights of marginalized minorities.
Q11. Don’t the LGBT Pride Marches that happen in Kerala empower and help oppressed people to reveal their identity?
Definitely, it is helping. I returned back from USA in 2010. And had participated in the 2011 Pride March that took place at Thrissur. I published its photo in my Facebook profile. Jijo, who is now Queerala’s founder, contacted me after seeing those pictures. We started chatting and discussed about the issues I face as an unmarried gay man and how I resolve them etc. And we became very close friends. Internet-based media like Facebook give a platform to gays to express themselves. Similarly the article that I published in Mathrubhumi weekly received excellent responses.
Q12. Sexual minorities face more problems from religious organizations. To counter false-propaganda by such religious organizations, what kind of campaign are people like you doing?
The stance of some religious fundamentalists is problematic. But India is a secular country and hence we don’t need to give much importance to this. What is most important is to amend our archaic and outdated laws inherited from British rule. In our Kerala, even a man and women talking each other freely or being in a love etc. is difficult due to moral-policing interventions. We are yet to become a society where women have personal liberty. How can a society that makes man-woman love difficult, be open to the idea of gay love? Religious organizations have the freedom to express their opinions. Similarly, we also have freedom to express our opinions. So we don’t have to worry about them. Ultimately, truth and justice will prevail.
Q13. In current society, re-reading of history happens a lot. Some religious texts have things against homosexuals. Shouldn’t they also be subjected to re-reading?
I am culturally-Hindu. I have heard about both Quran and Bible having some verses against homosexuality. But in Hinduism, there is no concept of sexuality as a sin. Kamasuthra mentions about homo-sex. Only religious fundamentalists will be able to strictly follow each and every line written in religious texts. Like how Hinduism got reformed by banning Sati etc, all other religions also should undergo reformation as times change. In 2015 Kerala Pride March that took place in Thiruvanathapuram, a Christian priest had marched as an ally and that’s a testimony to the fact that reformations are taking place here also.
Q14. The petition that central government submitted to Supreme Court to re-examine its verdict on criminalizing homosexuality was rejected. Parliament can take appropriate action on this now. Do you expect a favorable decision on this from Narendra Modi government?
There is no need to be tensed about parliament’s decision right now. Supreme Court dismissed the review petition. Now there is a curative petition and that’s still pending in the court. The Parliament will decide on this only after curative petition is rejected. I am optimistic. Eventually we for sure will win. Gays experience so much stress facing various issues. In the middle of that, there is no need to be tensed about court’s decision. Be optimistic about life and move forward.
Q15. Society does not have accurate information about same-gender love. Gays need to be socially accepted. Wouldn’t public perception change if we introduce sex-education in schools?
When central government had opined that schools should have sex-education, many states including Kerala had opposed it. We need sex-education in schools. Even if we decide to do that, it should mainly concentrate on heterosexuality. Things like menses, man-woman sex, pregnancy etc. should be the central topics. Along with that, there need to be mention about existence of homosexual and transgender people.
Q16. In our society, there are many gays who completely hide their identity and live. Isn’t this a dangerous situation? Won’t this create more troubles?
Having to completely hide one’s gay identity is definitely a dangerous situation. It can sometimes lead to suicides. In the (Malayalam) movie ‘Mumbai Police’, the hero had to hide his gay identity even when he was a top police official. A friend who accidentally came to know about it blackmailed him and what followed was a murder. In our Kerala society, many people live completely hiding their homosexuality. People who are not able to reveal their identity to their family eventually end-up in arranged-marriages and create big troubles to another innocent person.
Q17. There is a social perception that gays are carriers of sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS. How do you respond to such stances?
For ordinary citizens, society provides a sexual-partner for them through marriage. But for gays, such a system is denied. When people are forced to live in hiding about their homosexual identity, they cannot get a permanent partner. Having sex with multiple partners predisposes a person to sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS. Once gays have the freedom to live openly, they also will have permanent life-partners. And thus they also can escape from sexually transmitted diseases.
Q18. Isn’t there a social perception in Kerala that gay means transgender?
You are right. This social perception has to change. Both are different phenomenon. Being transgender is not connected to sexual-love alone. Many male homosexuals fear that being open about their gay identity will be misunderstood by others as a wish to become a woman. Transgender identity is generally more socially visible. But gays remain socially invisible and can’t be recognized by appearance.
Q19. In the LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) group, don’t transgenders face many more issues?
Yes. Transgenders in general face more issues. And they are different from the ones faced by gays. In 2014, Supreme Court ruled constitutional protection for transgenders as third gender and Parliament in 2015 passed a bill for transgender welfare. All these are really going to help that community. I think since transgeder identity is more socially visible, they face assault and harassment even in public places like schools. Problems faced by gay men are different. First of all, you have to hide your orientation in front of the whole society and live. This is also some sort of repression. It is in such a situation that family forces one for an arranged-marriage. This creates a big conflict in one’s life. If the identity is nevertheless revealed, it creates big issues within family as well as workplace. Parents may not be able to immediately accept this condition. One can even get fired from their job in the name of social respectability.
Q20. Can you name the groups and organizations working for gays?
My friend Dr. Jijo Kuriakose founded an organization by name Queerala. I volunteer as a board member for Queerala and give guidance for its functioning. Queerala’s main aim is the welfare, counseling and organizing of middle-class Malayali gays. Internet is very helpful for the functioning of the organization. Because Malayali gays are scattered around the globe and internet is a very efficient medium to communicate in such scenarios.
Q21. You had dedicated a blog to gays?
Ragakairali was a music website that I started in 1997 doing ragam-wise listing of Malayalam film songs. When I started this website, I also had an indirect mission of installing a gay artist in the middle of Malayali society. In 2004, I publicly came out as gay in Ragakairali page. It was the positive energy I received through this act that propelled me forward to writing more on gay issues subsequently in blog as well as mainstream media.