A few years ago, I attended a group discussion on health and the queer community, and was fortunate enough to hear some of the older community members talk about how they used to meet each other and how they supported each other through crises. I remember how quaint I found it – in the late eighties and early nineties, meetings and group events were published discreetly through newspapers and specific magazines. Some people held together a fragile phone tree. People knew each other in person and rarely knew how to contact each other otherwise.
I came out in 2010 in a fairly large city, Bengaluru. It took some doing but I did find Swabhava (an LGBT support group) online, and a number for Swabhava and their Good as You group meetings. I made the call, and I’ve never looked back. Various queer support groups from different cities joined Facebook, established FB pages and communities. Pride Marches for various cities became more and more common. I once met someone who spent a year attending every Pride March that was held in the country that year. I sometimes forget that queer presences and visibility is not uniform across the country.
This essay is a little biased – I live in a large city and prefer it, and broadly suggest that it is better to be queer in a large city than a small one. In larger cities, there are – by definition – more people. Moreover, there is a larger influx of people from other parts of the country: often these migrants are middle-class, aspirational, and young. The city itself becomes, in some part, more flexible, to accommodate these new residents.
And they have larger queer communities. In fact, the advantage of a larger city to a smaller city for queer communities is that there might be more than one group – so you can find the best fit for you, rather than having to make do with whoever is in the group because you have no other options.
The downsides can be that larger cities are, well, larger, and less easy to live in. They cost more, and in a strange way the ultra-urban lifestyle can get in the way of forming deep bonds (especially out of college, and once you’re stuck in a workspace). And if you prefer a peaceful environment, or less air pollution, then the larger cities might give you better options for community and friends, but the surroundings will cause you a lot of pain in India at the moment, where our larger cities are not exactly paradises of earthly peace and harmony.
Depending on where you live, you might not have a local queer support and meet up group at all. Those groups might be small, insular, and perhaps not as inclusive as you need (the queer community is not automatically free from transphobia, femmephobia or other prejudices or bigotries). And in some of the more remote parts of the country, you might not even have proper internet access, so that you can meet the people of your heart virtually at least.
India is a developing country – by hook or by crook. I suspect that these truths will not be the same in a decade, or even in five years. But since you are reading this on the AYA blog right now, I hope it is a sign that you *do* have some access, and hopefully are meeting (romantically and otherwise) the people who can be your friends and chosen family. For the rest of the country, we must support the continuing movements to protect our legal and social rights, and hope the day comes sooner rather than later when it doesn’t matter where we live.