Mumbai’s older gay men on their colourful second innings
Growing up in an India that saw no celebration of queer lives or amendments to the Indian Constitution that may have made them feel accepted, the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community were vastly different then as compared to today. However, focusing on the lighter side of life is what the Seenagers GupShup group — a support group for gay, bisexual, asexual, senior male ‘teenagers’— want to focus on today. Dr Prasad Raj Dandekar, a radiation oncologist and a part of the group since its inception, says, “You can look at life as being very difficult, or you can look at it with a positive outlook. Fortunately, we got seenagers who view life as the latter.”
To commemorate their lives, a 44-minute-long documentary titled Secrets of Seenagers by Abhigyan Mukherjee, 26, was showcased on the occasion of Republic Day in the city. Questions asked to members of the group during the film ranged from their views on high fun and dating in the ’70s, to other ‘teenage-related’ subjects. Stressing on the motive of the film, Prasad says, “The current lot of older gay men are almost invisible. Nobody wants to talk about them. We want to bring them into the limelight.”
Kuldeep Das, 37, the youngest volunteer of the group and curator of the film, says he had to run away from his own wedding. “11.12.13. The date is imprinted in my mind. Everyone was so caught up on having a grand affair that they weren’t listening to me and I had no other choice,” he says, adding that he had his own fears about growing old as a gay man, but has now overcome them. “Younger people today fear growing old. People in their 20s talk about dying in their 40s. But ageing is wonderful,” Prasad adds.
Age — a number
In the film, the seenagers spoke of what it was like to find a partner in the ’90s. For most, cruising the streets of Mumbai, looking for love, was the only option. Anand Vasudevan, 54, who has been a part of Seenagers for two years now, recalls his most memorable party in the early 90’s. “It was a party for gay people on New Year’s eve in a Mumbai college, and it was fascinating to see so many men present,” he says. But today, Anand adds that he has no preference between online dating or meeting people organically.
Having written a book that has been in print for 20 years now, Saleem Kidwai’s Same-Sex love in India: Readings from Literature and History, is documented proof on LGBTQ+ relations from over 2,000 years of Indian literature. But, when it came to online dating, this historian and gay rights activist faced homophobia that he had “never seen before”.
“I lived in Delhi before moving to Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh). There, I went on Grindr (an online dating app for LGBTQ+) when I was in my early ’60s. But, younger gay men can’t deal with ageism. They probably don’t see themselves as growing old. To see an older man on the app, who is saying ‘I am still a sexual being’, makes them uncomfortable,” says Saleem, 68, who was also present at the event. He adds that there are also those who prostitute themselves on the app. “When people see that you’re of a certain age, a lot of them think this is the only way that I can get sex. Very often, people message you saying, ‘I’m paid’, I reply with ‘I’m also paid’,” he chuckles.
This all-boy’s club had interesting perspectives to share during the documentary and are looking to arrange more shows to screen the film. However, ask them if it would’ve been different if women were a part of the narrative and Prasad says, “We are just starting to understand issues faced by older gay men and no understanding of older women. It would be arrogant to assume we know otherwise. But we are open to collaborations.” While Abhigyan says, “We could’ve gauged the questions to ask gay men but the questions would’ve been different when it comes to women.”