LGBTQ Rights Activist Harish Iyer Dares Bollywood To Sing ‘Gay’ Songs
- IWB Post
- May 17, 2018
Being the only Indian listed in the world pride power list as one of the 100 most influential LGBT people in the world, Harish Iyer is not just an activist for LGBTQ and women’s rights, but is also a life coach whose motto is to live life on your own terms.
As I have a chat with him, he gives me a closer look into his world which is filled with his pet children and how he uses his past experiences as a way of reaching out to others and restoring their faith and hope in humanity. Excerpts:
Your mom was always your support. What was it like when you came out to her?
I first told my mother, I think I’m gay. She wasn’t supportive in the beginning and to give her a better understanding of what it means to be gay, I fixed up an appointment for her with a psychologist. But then next day, I told her I know I’m gay. I said, ‘I’m ready to marry a girl of your choice if you’d want me to, but before that just answer one question. If you had a daughter, would you be okay with her getting married to a gay guy?’
She understood what I meant and got up from the couch, with tears in her eyes, she hugged me tightly. She did ask me to keep a secret but, naturally, it just couldn’t remain a secret.
The matrimonial ad you posted created a stir for quite a few reasons. Was that intentional?
Yes, of course, it created a stir for right reasons in the sense you don’t see an ad like this every day. But sadly, it also created a tide in the wrong direction. I personally don’t discriminate people on castes or religion. The only thing I would want, if I’m choosing a partner would be that he either needs to be vegan or at least vegetarian. That’s the only criteria. I’m not at all Brahmin-obsessed.
The filmmakers are very close friends of mine. They’re my soulmates. ‘I Am’ is inspired by Ganesh Nallari’s life, as well. I was supposed to play the character in ‘Amen,’ but it’s really traumatic to live the past experiences of your childhood again and so I backed out. But yes, it is my dream to play myself in a film one day.
The lives of the gay women are less discussed and addressed in LGBTQ dialogue. Do you think this makes their journey to reveal their true identities more difficult?
Every man in this country speaks from the seat of privilege. The privilege of gender, of being a man, the understanding that you belong to a certain social, societal class and that you belong to a religion of the majority.
But if you are a Dalit Muslim woman, who is disabled and also a lesbian, imagine the layers of discrimination she needs to go through in a country like India where women are still struggling to attain their rights.
That’s why initiatives like ‘Gaysifamily’ and ‘Umang’ are important when it comes to providing safe spaces for women to voice their feelings and opinions. The moment men become aware that equality is not a favor for women but rather a right they deserve, everything will change.
Let’s discuss the vulnerability of the gay community to sexual abuse.
If children are different, they understand that at a young age itself. They might not be able to give it a name, but they are in a confused state of mind trying to discover themselves. At such a time, they’re vulnerable making it easy for the perpetrator to take advantage of them.
Many believe that because they were sexually abused in childhood, they are gay or lesbians. But that’s not even one bit true. In reality, 1 in 2 children are sexually abused, and 1 in 2 children also happen to be a boy, so if being sexually abused was related with being gay, then every second person would be gay, but as you can clearly see around you, that’s not true. Maybe certain behavioral patterns or phobias might be influenced by the abuse, but sexual orientation is always innate.
Talk about bullying that exists within the LGBTQ community.
We are all aware of bullying outside the LGBT community like people being harassed at their work places and colleges due to the existence of homophobia and transphobia. But even within the community, people who don’t look a certain way are ridiculed and are fat-shamed. At such places, it hurts even more because this is your place of comfort where you’re expecting to be accepted not humiliated. And misogyny doesn’t just exist in the realm of heterosexuals but is seen even within the homosexual community.
Who was your support system through tough times in your life?
My dog was my support system. He used to always listen to me and lick my tears. That actually gave me hope that I could find people who also would listen to my story and not be judgmental. From the age of 7, till I was 18, I had been raped. It was my dog whom I spoke about the abuse for the first time. Animals are my lifeline.
Yes, I’ve seen your Instagram. It’s filled with pictures of animals. Are they all your pets?
Yes, yes! I have a dog named Sonia along with two cats called Krishna and Shiva. They had different names before, Tux and Milo, but my grand mom doesn’t like cats, so I gave them divine names. Hopefully, she will see them differently now. (laughs). If there is a God, he lives in all beings. Right?
Absolutely! So how does your day go around your pet family?
When I wake up in the morning, I first take my dog for a walk. Then once I come back, I attend to calls and messages throughout the day. These are usually crisis calls from survivors of child sexual abuse. Sometimes, I also get calls from friends of LGBT people who want to help them out and also from people who are still in the closet. This time, my pets are all around me. They sense the pain and share support.
I love writing, so whenever I get time, I write a few articles too. Then I go for my recording at the radio show. When I come back, I’m busy attending calls till 3 in the morning. I would love to spend more time for animal welfare, but instead, I spend most of my time around humans.
One thing that helps you de-stress.
Oh, I love grooming my cat. Sometimes my dog causes me stress. (laughs) Sonia sleeps only when I play meditational music. She hops onto my lap and falls asleep.
Work de-stresses me. It’s an irony that what stresses me the most de-stresses me. But after I listen to what people have to say, they feel so much better and thank me which reinforces my faith and hope in humanity.
You’re also a radio presenter for ‘The Gaydio Show.’ One song that you love playing on repeat.
(sings) ‘Pehla Nasha, Pehla Khumar.’
Is the Bollywood Industry daring enough to sing about LGBTQ rights?
I’m sure Farhan, Kalki, and Aamir would be game for it.
If you had to write a book, what would its title be?
‘Live Life Queen Size,’ I just made it up. (laughs)
This article was first published on October 21, 2017.