Published in The Nepali Man on 28 February 2015
The Origin of Love
A visitor recently passed through Kathmandu. This Nepali man had emigrated to America a long time ago and was properly settled in the North East with his parents. We had briefly crossed paths in childhood but had not stayed in touch since. It was intriguing, to say the least, when we serendipitously came across each other on Grindr. I had held a vague suspicion that he might be gay; chatting with him confirmed that suspicion.
In town for an event, he was mostly occupied during his short stint in Kathmandu. But we managed to meet for lunch and spent an afternoon sightseeing in Patan. After his departure, when I drafted a piece for these pages and sent to him for approval, he expressed his discomfort, afraid that his extended family members may find out. In fact, he started stressing out, even though he is out to his parents, even though he lives so far away and barely comes to Nepal.
I was disappointed by his fear. When he had inquired about Nepal’s gay scene, and I had referred him to these pages, he was impressed. “Wow. You don’t give a fuck,” he had said. I thought he would be okay with my story, but he wasn’t.
In any case, here I am, starting a new piece. There are a couple of issues on my mind. The first issue has to do with the visitor’s right to object to my story about him. I could have published it without consulting him but I knew that I had to be ethical, to be careful while writing about others. I am still bothered by a couple of pieces I published about other boys without consulting them properly.
You see, I don’t mean to cause any harm. In fact, the very point of this project is to reduce harm. I believe that sharing stories is the only way to carve a space for our alternative selves in this hostile world. If we are able to courageously speak the truth about our desires, our inclinations, only then will people realize that we exist. Only then might they start to shift their beliefs and attitudes in order to accommodate different ways of thinking and living.
When, in late teenage, I was compelled to think deeply about my desires, I wasn’t afraid. I was rather thrilled because I knew instinctively that there was nothing wrong with how I felt. How could something that felt so good be so bad? Being curious, I started exploring gay literature. Edmund White’s “A Boy’s Own Story” was one of the first novels I encountered. Then I came across “Funny Boy”, another coming of age novel. That book, written by Sri Lankan Shyam Selvadurai, was even more powerful since the setting was so much closer to home.
It is necessary to find out more, to know more. It’s the ‘not knowing’ that causes problems. Heterosexuals, unaware about other kinds of desires, let themselves get influenced by false theories and misconceptions. On the other hand, homosexuals may find themselves isolated, in the darkness, unconnected to folks like themselves. Inquiry, investigation, and a little bit of research is important in order to be less afraid and more compassionate. One can refer to history for validation. One can try to find out about the larger world, about how people lived in various time periods, of how things came to be the way they are.
Through readings, I was able to connect with writers who lived far away. After I moved abroad, met people and continued to read, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one trying to make sense of all this. Throughout the centuries, subsections of the human population have been ostracized by the mainstream, considered weaker, less human, enslavable. That’s where the fear comes from. No one wants to be misunderstood, to not belong, to not take part in life’s great gatherings and festivals.
When I learned about the Stonewall riots that shook New York City in the summer of 1969, I made a point to visit the place. I wanted to participate in history. I remember standing outside the famous Stonewall Inn one summer afternoon during college break and thinking about the night when police raided the famous bar. That night when members of the LGBT community staged violent and spontaneous protests, a demonstration so successful that it paved the way for gay liberation and equal rights in the United States. Soon after, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from its official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Our struggle is not very different from that of others who have fought and continue to fight for equality, for a modicum of respect and dignity. For example, Nepal’s constitution blatantly denied equal rights to Nepali women. The gist of their demands and those of other historically marginalized ethnic groups may not be so different from ours. We are all fighting against the system, the system controlled by a particular set of people who fit into a mainstream vision of the world defined by themselves. Don’t mind me when I say that these people who control the system happen to be heterosexual men. Not only in Nepal, but all over the world, at various times, horrendous crimes have been committed by elite men driven mad by power. To control wealth, to acquire weapons, to lead a comfortable, luxurious life, these men have found it imperative to suppress and often destroy anything that is different from them. Women, minorities, homosexuals.
But homosexuality has been present in every culture, in every epoch. You might have heard about the ancient Greeks, about how it was common practice for an adult man to have a young male lover. The relationship was thought to be an important bond that facilitated mentorship. Even the Muslims, the Mughals, the Persians, practiced same-sex love along with maintaining a conjugal relationship with someone from the opposite sex. Sometimes it was practiced openly; at other times it was subtly accepted. But homosexuality was rarely criminalized or repressed as horribly as it happened in the nineteenth century. The rise of religion started causing problems. Colonists interpreted the Church’s ‘sex as sin’ stance, took it a step forward and declared harsh punishments for any kind of sex considered to be ‘unnatural’. That legacy still haunts India, where homosexuality is deemed illegal under section 377. But if one examines temple imageries, sacred texts and religious scriptures, one can note instances of homosexual activities even in ancient India.
A lot of people, including many Nepalis, opted to wash their facebook profile pictures with the rainbow flag when the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last summer. It was a recognition that came a little too late. But I did not join the rainbow flag/facebook profile bandwagon because I am a bit hesitant. I think the issues are a bit more complex. Same-sex love inherently implies otherness, a desire to not follow the norm. It comes from an insistence that we are different, not just from a singular point of view; perhaps in more ways than one. So why this rush to join the institution of marriage? This urge to prove to the world that we are not that different? I think we are different. So we ought to define ourselves based on this difference.
Besides, the context for homosexuals in countries like Nepal is not the same as in the United States. One ought to be wary while using the word ‘gay’, not only because the term was coined in the West under entirely different circumstances, but also because the Eastern culture may already have other ways of accommodating alternative lifestyles. Labels often cause problems; they tend to define, put limits, simplify and reduce. Sexuality is complex. All this - relationships, identity politics, societal expectations - intermingle in complex ways. The point is to be less afraid of who you are and what you want. The point is to try to be more understanding and inclusive. To learn from others who may be different from you. To not stick to a rigid definition.
In some Native American societies, individuals who embody traits of both men and women are given a higher status. It is believed that these individuals have supernatural powers and can communicate with the cosmos. They are well-regarded because people believe that they have two spirits. My other favorite tale has its roots in ancient Greece. The story is summarized beautifully by Hedwig and the Angry Inch in a video titled “The Origin of Love”. According to the story, there used to be three different kinds of humans: Children of the Earth, Children of the Sun and Children of the Moon. Basically, these ‘children’ were two different people fused together so that each had four arms, four eyes, etc. One set was a male-male fusion, another female-female and the third male-female. They rolled all over the cosmos, became more powerful than the gods. So the gods, feeling threatened, slashed each child in two. Since then, each child - each one of us - has been going through life searching for our other half.