When the first editions of gay magazine Fun arrived at his stand in New Delhi, Ram Naresh displayed it discreetly to avoid giving offence — but customers have ensured that every month is a sell-out.
The glossy publication, launched in July, combines pictures of young models posing in underwear with articles on what to wear on a swingers’ date, explicit sexual problems, and the latest cars and gadgets. “We consistently run out of copies,” says Naresh. “I will have to order more as there is a huge audience for such magazines.”
Such overt homosexual culture remains shocking to most Indians, who treat the topic as taboo till date. Very few high-profile Indians are openly gay or lesbian. But gay sex was legalised in 2009 and the profile of homosexuals in India looks set to rise as the country rapidly embraces many aspects of Western lifestyle. The success of Fun contrasts with that of Bombay Dost (Bombay Friend), India’s first gay magazine, which survived for 12 years (from 1990 to 2002), but then closed down until a recent re-launch.
Other small signs of the gay community’s increasing prominence include same-sex Valentine’s Day cards and the Bollywood blockbuster Dostana, released some time back. “We get special requests for such magazines. There are many customers who ask for them. But we have to pack it in a newspaper bag as these people don’t like to be seen with the magazines. Most customers for such magazines are men,” says Vinod Kumar, a bookseller in Preet Vihar.
There are now at least eight print and online magazines aimed at lesbians and gays in India - including Jiah (Heart), an internet publication, started last year by Apphia Kumar, 26.
“I wanted a medium of communication, not so I could push ads and sell lipstick,” she says. “People write in, asking me to email them the magazine.” The anonymity of the Web helps hugely too. Jiah, which is staffed by volunteers, steers clear of nude photograph spreads and bedroom fantasies in favour of poetry and gay-friendly travel guides. “I don’t want to include any visibly sexual content since we have some young readers and I want parents to be able to read this as well,” says Apphia Kumar.
Gay pride marches have become annual events in several cities but Kumar says many of her readers come from conservative towns where people regard homosexuality as an illness. The fashion-conscious pages of Fun are hardly militant campaign literature but Manvendra Singh Gohil, the magazine’s editor, believes its cheeky, confident tone is also quietly pushing the cause for gay equality.