I remember vividly the evening before the decriminalization verdict of the Delhi High Court in 2009. I was then working with Nirantar, Delhi, and we were part of Voices Against 377, a coalition that was a co-petitioner in the Section 377 case. The entire group was busy writing press releases – one for a positive judgment and one for a negative one; coordinating with the lawyers; and trying to see who could get inside the High Court (because we needed passes).

Jaya, a colleague and now my family, asked me if I wanted to come inside, and I said I was fine outside the High Court. One of my queer woman friends and I were outside the court. The moment we received news from inside that we had won, we immediately crumpled up the negative press release and started distributing the positive release to the media persons. The journalists gathered around both of us since the rest of the group was inside the courtroom. It was at that time that I came out to the media as a lesbian without realizing that I was not yet out to my parents. The euphoria of building a new world and queering the world was in my veins and blood. I was already out to many friends and all my colleagues, so I knew I had a chosen family. All I felt at that time was that “The queers are here!” Indeed, we were.

This illustration is a graphic created to mark the 10th anniversary of ‘Varta’ webzine on August 1, 2023. It shows a stylized horizontal scroll, unfurled, with “10 Years, Varta Webzine” written on it in large letters in the centre. In the figure 10, the digit one is represented by the graphic of an open fountain pen with the nib visible. To the left of the writing two feathers are sketched as symbols of writing instruments, and to the right is the Varta Trust logo with the tagline “Gender, Sexuality, Intimacy, Publishing”. The logo is presented in a manner that it looks like a postage stamp pasted on an envelope on the top right corner. The entire graphic, made with shades of creamy white, deep brown and yellow, is placed inside a black horizontal rectangle with a thick creamy white outline. Graphic credit: Arkadeepra Purkayastha

Graphic credit: Arkadeepra Purkayastha

Over the years, Section 377 was reinstated in 2013 and then read down again in 2018; the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 was passed, and now the marriage equality petitions are in court – but where are we headed? Were we ever a movement, or were we just some organizers or comrades trying to build a queer world in our own bubbles? The questions are many.

Intersectionality was something that occupied a lot of our thoughts. In some gender-sexuality training sessions that we conducted in Nirantar, I would talk about gender and sexuality and just not talk about the definitions around LGBTQIA+ issues. Sometimes, I would forget to talk about Section 377. The participants were also able to link issues of gender and sexuality with their lives because training on sexuality would not necessarily mean LGBTQIA+ identities – that used to be one of the last sessions in most workshops. We were hell bent on making sure that the discourse on sexuality impacted all of us in different ways. Without talking about the State, caste, class, ethnicity, ability, religion, region, and other marginalizations, we could not talk about sexuality holistically.

Today, ‘LGBTQIA+’ is increasingly considered a monolithic identity. Many times, the intersectionality that we hoped would continue, gets missed. The idea that LGBTQIA+ issues exist in isolation from those of other marginalizations such as Dalit, Muslim, disabled, and regional identities seems to have taken a stronghold amongst various queer circles. Many LGBTQIA+ people refuse to understand the way other marginalized issues have important linkages with their own. ‘Delhi Queer Pride’ planning meetings are now becoming more and more difficult to navigate because many queer folx are not comfortable linking queer and trans issues with either State oppression, caste, or communal issues.

The LGBTQIA+ issues themselves have lately been confined to fitting within the heteronormative boundaries that anyway press upon us like the heavy hand of death. Marriage equality debates are a prime example. The larger number of marriage equality petitioners have focused on a very heteronormative idea of marriage between two women and two men. The idea that was shared in court was that they wanted to live a ‘respectful life’ with the blessings of their parents. The petition that I am part of, along with the National Network of LBI Women and Trans Persons, demands the right to have a chosen family beyond the confines of romantic and sexual relationships. This comes from recognizing that parents do not always bless their queer and trans children, and respect them depending on wealth, class, caste, religion, and in most Delhi circles, how well they can speak in English.

This photograph is a daytime mid-range shot that shows the author Rituparna Borah participating in a human rights rally in Delhi. She seems to be moving slowly through bystanders on the side of a road, holding up a placard at chest level with a slogan in Hindi. The translated text says: “I have a right to live. I have rights as a citizen of this city.” As she calls out the slogan, the bystanders, more than half a dozen men and women, look at her or at the rally passing by. The background shows a wall and building behind the bystanders, and a tree and car parked behind the wall. Photo courtesy Voices Against 377

The author at a human rights rally in Delhi. Photo courtesy Voices Against 377

The right to nominate anyone as a family member outside of the heteronormative idea of a ‘relationship’ challenges the restrictions of birth that the world places upon us. We say anyone can be family; anyone can be an heir.

In the era that now seems long gone, we talked and had meetings till late at night, drinking chai and eating samosas; we would disagree and argue, but still go out for a drink together and then continue disagreeing with each other. Today, those disagreements have devolved into calling out, which in many cases, such as abusive situations, is fair as it holds accountable the powerful, but when did cancelling because of slight political differences become the norm? When did calling in people and holding them accountable or even questioning them cease being an option?

We had our differences. We argued and fought, but we talked about our issues with each other. Our aim and ideal was to question and push boundaries till both heteronormativity and patriarchy themselves became the margins. We dreamt and spoke up for a better world for everyone – not just a chosen few. I miss these conversations now. I miss the camaraderie. I definitely miss witnessing and experiencing the queer world that we once dared to build, a world where the chosen family is placed at the top of the hierarchy.

I am not claiming here that there will be no fights or power dynamics, yet I hope that we can solve our issues not by calling out but with chai, samosas, tears, hugs and then some drinks! I still believe that we can create a reality where intersecting marginalized identities are part and parcel of queer-trans feminism(s), and no one has to prove how marginalized they are to get the rights they deserve.

About the main photo: The author at the ‘Delhi Queer Pride 2009’. Photo courtesy Voices Against 377