The predominantly Catholic Argentina became the first Latin American country to allow gay marriages last week. Within hours of the the Congress adopting the law after a 15-hour debate, Mexico City offered a free honeymoon in to the first couple who married under the new law.
One reason was the Mexico City is the only jurisdiction in the region that allows homosexual marriages. The other more significant reason is that the country wants to market Mexico City and the beach resort of Cancun as gay-friendly destinations and tap into the US$ 660 billion spending power of homosexuals around the world. Pink spending is projected to touch $2 trillion by 2012.
Being gay-friendly makes economic sense. Homosexuals are big spenders, spending an estimated US$ 64 billion a year on overseas travel alone. According to one US estimate, every dollar spent in gay tourism brings in US$ 153 in return from direct spending in shops, restaurants and hotels etc.
The developed world is already scrambling to find pace in the boyzone. The Vienna Tourist office offers “Vienna Gay Guide” maps with local attractions such as gay clubs, bars, saunas, baths, cinemas escort services, fetish and cruising spots not just marked but colour-coded for greater convenience. The map is not only more packed with information but has far more advertisements than the sanitised city map with the museum listings.
Homosexuals in Vienna are clearly spoilt for choice even though it's not among the top travel destinations in the rainbow map. Topping the list are Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil; Madrid, Ibiza, Barcelona and Gran Canaria in Spain; Mykonos and Lesbos in Greece, Tel Aviv in Israel; Toronto in Canada, New York and San Francisco in the US, Amsterdam in Holland and Berlin in Germany.
Much like everything else in India, the homosexual identity is far more complex. Desperate to belong, many homosexuals continue to take refuge in definitions that have over time become as rigid as the caste system.
“I’m a double-decker,” a young man who does not remotely look like a very large bus informs me. He’s a little annoyed at my utter lack of comprehension. “I can be a man and a woman,” he elaborates.
“Oh, you mean you are a cross-dresser?” I suggest, implying that my superior command over the language could help him find the right term. He looks at me pityingly and leaves me alone with my ignorance.
I’m at an LGBT (lesbian, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) session at the International AIDS Conference in Austria, where a woman with XXXL breasts decides I need help and takes charge of my education.
“Darling, a double-decker both gives and takes, unlike us women who are at the receiving end,” s(he) says. “Look at the way I'm receiving stares, all the men can’t tear their eyes away from my magnificent breasts. And why not, unlike women, I paid for every inch of them.”
I try to slink away before the conversation turns more graphic, but with no luck. “Kothis are feminine men, who take on the female gender identity in their relationships with men. Double-deckers are also called Double, DupliKothi (West Bengal) and DoParatha (Maharashtra). Panthis are the men in the relationship also called Gadiyo in Gujarat), Parikh in West Bengal and Giriya in Delhi,” (s)he says.
My teacher with the newly-bought breasts is a hijra (transgender), classified as a distinct socio-religious and cultural group traditionally referred to as “she”.
She’s been dressing up as a woman since her teens and now belongs to one of the seven main clans (gharanas) that are as obsessive about loyalty to the family as the Sicilians. A government of India publication informs me they could be emasculate (castrated, nirvan) men, non-emasculated men (not castrated, akva/akka) or intersexed persons (hermaphrodites).
My mentor offers more insight into the socio-cultural dynamics of the sisterhood but I decide to end the lesson right there. Anything that cannot be printed in a Sunday newspaper qualifies as too much information.