Real Life Story
Inside the Indian Museum of Queer First Dates
India’s leading platform for LGBTQ voices and Tinder came up with a digital project that celebrates the nuances of queer relationships. We catch up with Sakshi Juneja, co-founder of Gaysi, to talk about how this project is helping same-sex couples gain acceptance.
A love story is a love story, regardless of the sexuality of its protagonists.
In India, a digital museum serves as a repository of relationship stories of queer people, whose experiences very rarely figure in mainstream narratives, portrayals, and conversations, if at all.
“Queer folks have rarely had a chance to engage in the popular idea of dating, friendship, and romance and have not been able to speak about what it means to them,” said Sakshi Juneja, co-founder of Gaysi, one of India’s safest queer spaces.
In a collaboration with Tinder, Gaysi started Queer Swipe Stories (QSS), which collects the many moods, experiences, and complexities of queer dates, tales of romance, heartbreaks, and everything in between.
“Archiving these experiences that queer folks in desi communities have had is an important task – one that may lead to a better understanding of the nature of human connection and love, and how universal the experience of meeting someone new for the first time is,” Sakshi said.
Ever since India decriminalized gay sex in 2018, the country’s queer movement has resurged, its trajectory enabling and empowering such a project as QSS.
“Tinder and us have been working together on creating content around queer narratives since 2018. Together, we learned a lot along the way. In fact, in Gaysi’s 13 years of existence, the queer movement in the country has been quite aggressive and effective, particularly post the 2013 criminalisation and then 2018 decriminalisation of Indian Penal Code Section 377,” Sakshi said.
But there’s room for a lot more progress. Even though the situation has improved for the queer community, Sakshi believes the treatment of queer stories by the mainstream media remains jaded.
That is precisely what the group hopes QSS will address. In all its projects, Gaysi aims to push the envelope of inclusivity as much as possible. It ensures stories don’t give more weight to a particular sexuality, and that new ideas about love are welcomed and appreciated.
“The fact is queer folx and their intimate relationships are valid and authentic, too, and should be positively celebrated instead of [others] just bringing us down,” Sakshi said. “One of the stories that changed our idea of love was this man who said he was quite literally in a relationship with himself. Now, that’s not only refreshing, but it also helps us understand just how complex love can be.”
Pushing that “inclusivity envelope without leaning into any sexuality,” Sakshi said, must then also mean telling stories of sexualities ignored even in mainstream queer pop culture.
“I feel very happy whenever I read queer women’s stories because they have been somewhat left out in the spectrum,” she added.
One remarkable story QSS found is by 20-year-old Roopsita, who describes herself as a “lesbian, figuring.” It shows how, sometimes, letting go may not be easy when someone you thought you had a genuine connection with stops talking to you. But Roopsita has a timely message for all: Ultimately, it’s making peace with “what’s not there and what is” that makes all the difference.
Another notable QSS story is that of 18-year-old bisexual and non-binary Dee, who shared how she warmed up to the idea of commitment after having countless video calls with Yashvi, who she first thought was straight. Drinking and crying together on most of those calls has made Yashvi “feel like home” to Dee – even if they haven't met in person yet.
“Queer folks also mostly end up falling into the cishet narrative,” Sakshi concluded. “To find someone who just breaks the mould is very refreshing. It makes us rethink what intimacy is.”
Source: Arman Khan, VICE Author
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