The Gaysi Family’s ethos originates from a love for storytelling, not unlike our own. The simple act of creating a space for stories about being ‘gay and desi’ – a blog created for the sharing of queer, Indian content - has changed the game for the queer community in India, and while we unforgivably missed out on their work while profiling up and coming LGBTQ magazines in the country late last year, we decided the only way to make up for it would be a full-fledged attempt at getting to know them better.
The core team of the Gaysi family initially included the founding members, known by their screen names as MJ, Broom and Chicklet, but as the blog caught on, more and more like-minded people became an integral part of the team. Today, the team also includes Fishy, The Rioterrr, Queer Coolie and Sherlock Homo.
You’ve probably watched their ‘Happy in Gaysi Land’ video, which went viral recently, riding the wave of Pharrell William’s ear-worm track. Delightful and full of some serious moves, the video was Gaysi Family’s morale-boosting answer to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 377 in December last year, opening deadpan with ‘No queers were harmed in the making of this video.’ While all other media progressed from the physical to online, these guys announced their allegiance to the uncommon by working in the opposite direction – publishing the Gaysi Zine in 2011 and selling over 400 copies, their goal is now to make it a bi-annual publication aimed at archiving stories of queer and non-queer voices. Gaysi Family’s foray into events began in 2012, when the opportunity of hosting an event as a part of Mumbai Pride fell into their laps. Taking this up as an opportunity to test out something they had dreamed of doing for a while, they aimed at a crowd of 70 for the very first event, which ended up with a turnout of 150 people and was more successful than they had ever dreamed of. That was where the inception of Dirty Talk came about.
The Gaysi Family’s events are a fantastic showcase of what they’re all about--an amalgamation of the city’s more creative side as well as that of the community’s, Dirty Talk 7.0, the latest edition of the event looks particularly promising.
Intrigued by the creative powerhouse, Homegrown had a chat with Gaysi Family about what fuels their fires and more. Scroll on for the full script.
I. Today, Gaysi has established an international presence with its roster of authors. Tell us a little bit about the very beginning, the blog that was started up to share stories of being gay and desi.
In closeted 2008, as MJ (in Mumbai) and Broom (in England) were coming to terms with their sexuality, they realized that it was very difficult to find other queer Indian women, someone who they could identify with based on their sexuality as well as culture. Even the internet had a dearth of this representation. So Gaysi Family was initially founded as a space for any women identifying with the queer Indian identity to meet other such people and share their stories and experiences. Why a blog? For a closeted person, the biggest fear is being found out. The internet provides a safe place for people to explore, read and share stories from the privacy of their laptops, computers, phones etc.
It was fascinating to see how, in a short time, people from all over the world started reading articles and commenting on them. Soon enough we had people writing in wanting to contribute.
II. Can you shed some light on the most powerful stories of people you initially published, that gave you guys a push to reach out to more people?
At the very beginning stories came in slowly. It took a few months before some of our initial favourite pieces came in. These are a few of the pieces that inspired us to continue our search for more stories:
III. What are the changes you’ve noticed, over the course of your journey, about the acceptance of the Gaysi community in India?
The biggest and most important change since 2008 has been the visibility of the Gaysi community in India, more specifically in Mumbai. In 2008, there used to be closed-door house parties that one only heard of through word-of-mouth, or if you had friends who were a part of this secret community. Homosexuality was more hidden away than it is now. In the last 6 years, there has been a sudden change, there are 2-3 parties each week hosted at the nicest of venues. More importantly, a lot more people are not afraid to be more forthcoming about their sexuality. While there are still cases of teasing and harassment faced by many gay people, they are more willing to fight back now.
IV. Stories seem to have remained the central focus of your endeavour. Tell us a little bit about ‘Gaysi Zine’. You’ve mentioned that you received entries from all over the world, are most of the contributors still Indians? How do you go about shortlisting the stories, publication and circulation?
Yes, all of them are Indian. The idea behind The Gaysi Zine is to bring forth Indian voices on queer subjects. Queer can be found in the most unexpected of places. The writings of love, desire, sex and self-exploration can be found in many voices but the idea is to dig deep into Indian stories, reflecting contemporary queer sensibilities.
We choose a piece based on its voice. That voice - if it is working well – has authority and we hope the writer knows what he or she is doing, and can be honest about it. We did not choose any writer whose voice wobbles or becomes false. Every story tells us something and if the voice is true, you get drawn into the story. We believe that readers enjoy a piece which they can experience.
V. There are some really great videos on your YouTube channel. Who conceptualises and shoots these?
Our YouTube channel is handled by Anuja and MJ, mainly. We took a decision at the beginning of the year to do more visual stuff be it art, photography, videos or anything. Anuja, specifically, has been especially keen on creating videos and so she has focused more on that. We tend to argue about who conceptualizes these videos, because we both want the glory, but the truth is each video stems from an idea which we hash out, and sometimes even do a few test shoots before deciding on the final feel. We will be creating more videos and hopefully the future videos will be as good and successful as its predecessors.
VI. Tell us about your experience shooting your own ‘Happy’ video?
It was strange. Very, very strange. People stared at us constantly. Sometimes we took it like the Bollywood divas that we are, other times it was a bit jarring. Although it was a really fun video to shoot and the timing was just perfect. Given the Supreme Court’s verdict, a big part of the community was starting to retaliate. People had finally reached a place where they refused to let an antiquated law rule how they lived their lives. This video was a simple message to everyone that no matter what, oppressed by the law or not, we will just find a way to be happy.
VII. It will soon be a year since the SC’s ruling on Section 377, and the LGBT community’s spirit is going steady as ever. Your poster for Dirty Talk 7.0 even made a good-natured joke about being ‘criminal’. How do you keep each other motivated?
We knew in December, itself, that the fight against 377 was now going to be a much longer one. It’s no secret that our current government isn’t going to do anything about the law, I personally even wonder if it’s on their radar at all. Having said that, Section 377 isn’t the only fight out there, it’s only the base of the pyramid. Equal rights is the larger war which constitutes marriage rights, non-discrimination laws, hate-crime laws, adoption laws, and the biggest fight of them all - homophobia and transphobia.
There is a lot to be changed and thus it makes it easy to stay motivated.
VIII. Dirty Talk 7.0 is fast approaching, which we’re very excited about. Tell us a little bit about what you have in store for us this time.
This time, we are exploring the theme of women in contemporary India. We are very excited to host this particular event at Tilt All Day, it’s aesthetically the best venue we’ve had till date. We have a few people performing some exciting prose, poetry and monologues on their interpretations of the theme, directly and indirectly. Of course, alongside the serious performances, we will also have the lovely boys from East India Comedy perform some stand up, Siddharth Basrur play some music and upcoming musicians like Krishna Marathe and Christabel Menezes.
[The Gaysi family’s interview with 2014 Mr. Gay World contestant, Sushant Digvikar below.]
IX. What made you’ll decide to support Stop Acid Attacks?
So far we have supported community-based organisations in the past, but we’ve been keen to find other organisations as well. Given the theme, it was only right that we supported an organization that also worked towards women’s empowerment in some way, and acid attacks has been something MJ has felt strongly about for some time. This coupled with the fact that Sapna Bhavnani, a key member of Stop Acid Attacks, has been a long time warrior for the LGBTQ community, it only made sense that we return the favour through her organization.
X. You’ll pay a lot of attention to the design details of your communication, especially the posters, tell us a little about this.
We have a fantastic team of graphic designers! It’s a common saying that pictures speak a thousand words, and personally, graphic art has the ability to send a strong message even in the most subtle manner. Our designers, of course, are given all the credit here: Fishead and Designaren. While the rest of Team Gaysi Family gives them the most difficult briefs for posters, they somehow manage to put them into the best visual medium! We are driven by good aesthetics and design, after all that’s what makes the biggest impact.
XI. What has it been like, interacting with names like Stephen Fry, Kalki Koechlin, Imran Khan, Gul Panag and Sorabh Pant for Dirty Talk events?
It’s been absolutely fun. People assume that they will behave all ‘celebrity like’ - god knows what that means, but from the very first phone call, every single one of them have been supportive and excited to be a part of something LGBTQ-related. Each of them have been very vocal about their support, which in the long run makes a difference. In a country where the politicians and yoga guru stand on TV telling us we are abnormal and illegal, it’s good to hear a voice tell us that we are just who we are. It’s even more fun when some of them come prepared to have a sing-a-long. Celebrity support is important. The community does need a recognizable face outside of the community, fighting for our rights.
XII. In your opinion, what are some of the best LGBT-related cultural events in India?
On the cultural front, I really do not know of any one hosting these any more.
XIII. Quick questions:
• One thing that the whole Gaysi team loves. – Women (obviously, since we’re all lesbians. Sigh!)
• The last thing that moved Gaysi? - A piece written by one of our contributors, Ajay.
• If you had to pick a song as your ultimate anthem, what would it be? – Since MJ always gets her way, it would end up being Disco Dancer while the rest of the team rolls our eyes.
• Staple after-party scene post-Dirty Talk – 100 odd queers overly happy, laughing (possibly stumbling) and recalling their favourite pieces from the event.
• One person in the LGBT community you’ll look up to and why? – There are many who started this movement. And we all have our own favourites, but I think all of us would agree on Ellen Degeneres. Humour wins.
[Homegrown’s going to be at The Gaysi Family’s event, Dirty Talk 7.0, on September 13th and you should be too. More event details here.]
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari Image Credit: The Gaysi Family