How many unpleasant trips to the toilet would you be willing to suffer in order to eat amazing food?
This is one of the questions that I asked myself when we ate our way through India, and I had to start using baby wipes as toilet paper. Despite the stomach issues, I just couldn’t stop myself from eating the rich delicious food of India (just thinking about that eggplant tomato curry right now is making my mouth water). I found this to be true regarding various aspects of the country – the traffic, heat, crowds, and smells can drive you insane, but you still can’t help yourself from diving right into it all.
We learned quickly that the key to first-time travel in India is to take it slow and do about half of what you originally set out to see. From the colorful photos we took, you’ll see that we found several places that we loved and recommend. We spent two weeks in an ashram studying yoga and meditation to have our own Eat, Pray, Love experience.
After feeling spiritually grounded, we met the father of India’s gay movement, Supergay Ashok Row Kavi, who was the first public figure in India to come out as a gay man. As a former Hindu monk, Ashok told us how the Hindu religion is ambiguous about homosexuality and how his monastery actually encouraged him to go back into the world and “fight it out.” Ashok founded Humsafar Trust, India’s pioneer HIV organization for gay men, as well as India’s first LGBT Magazine, Bombay Dost. He explained to us that in contrast to the West’s individual guilt-based culture, India’s culture is a shame-based one, where many LGBT people stay in the closet for fear of bringing shame upon their families.
VIDEO: Wonder how we survived two weeks of silent meditation and yoga at an ashram? What’s life like for the first openly gay prince in the history of India? How does Lisa survive being constantly kicked out of women’s bathrooms?
Ashok introduced us to Supergays Betu and Maya who run an emergency shelter for queer women and transmen that are kicked out of their homes by their families when they come out. Betu told us how gay women have far less freedom than gay men due to gender inequalities in India.
One of the first things that any foreigner will notice when traveling India is the disproportionately low number of women out and about in the streets. Gender roles are very rigid, and a woman’s place is in the home. Needless to say, gender-bending rarely happens (in fact, its rare to even find an Indian woman with short hair), so as an androgynous woman, I kept having to deal with getting kicked out of bathrooms and other women-only spaces.
Without a doubt however, there are numerous reasons to remain hopeful about the gay movement in India. We met with Supergay Aditya Bondyopadhyay, one of the leading attorneys of the 2009 landmark Delhi case that decriminalized homosexuality. Aditya believes that the increased visibility of gay life in India’s shame-based culture can quickly lead to further rights.
Nobody provides more visibility as a gay man in India than Supergay Prince Manvendra Singh. Now having appeared on Oprah twice as well as the BBC reality television show Undercover Princes, Prince Manvendra has let out all of the secrets of royal life. In our interview with him, he spoke candidly about his family disowning him, his current dating woos, and his future hopes to adopt a son. Prince Manvendra invited us to someday return to India and stay in his palace, an offer that Oprah recently accepted. She’ll be inaugurating his retirement home for LGBT individuals this year.
We celebrated the New Years in Mumbai enjoying the best of Indian hospitality with Jenni’s former colleague. Indian people love to sing, dance, and party as much as gay men. We rang in 2012 dancing until 3am on a rooftop overlooking the Indian ocean learning Bollywood dance moves.
We’ve truly lived our ideal lives in 2011, and we’ve recently received some great press coverage for our Supergay search in the Huffington Post and a radio interview with BBC. We’re also now going to be writing weekly for the Huffington Post’s LGBT section. It’s certainly challenging to make new years resolutions when you’ve just had the best year of your life, but we have big hopes to make 2012 even more amazing!
For more on Jenni & Lisa and their amazing adventures, check out their website: outandaround.com.