In all the years I have been working in India nothing seems to be shrouded in a pall to secrecy as sex. Worse still is the issue of morality associated with it.
I began working with the gay community here in Delhi way back in 1985. Getting into AIDS activism was really more an offshoot of it. Though I can't deny that Naz Foundation today is as much into AIDS care as much as it is into gay rights.
Our attitudes towards sex is still so strange. People are so much into sex yet there is so much denial! We behave as if sex is not a part of us. It has always been a difficult area to work in, the predominant argument being one of moral disapprobation. We don't believe in speaking to the youth about it.
To make matters worse we don't even know how to talk about it. At whatever level, whether it is teachers, community workers, politicians or peers, there is an overriding fear that communities will never accept it. Somehow, I have always been very open to speaking about it. And in the twenty years that I have worked in this field, I have never been treated disrespectfully. It probably has to do with a certain comfort level that I am able to establish with the people I speak to.
One incident that been etched in my memory took place in Mumbai. I was at the red district of the city, Kamathipura. I had decided to talk to the hotel hands in the area. Most boys working here are around 13 to 17 years old and are believed to be sexually very active. As usual, I spoke at length about the various facets of sex. Strangely, there was an eerie silence. Generally, I expect giggles, suppressed laughs, flushed expressions and such like behaviour from my audience. This was so unlike my earlier experiences.