A parade of new online queer magazine shows a new confidence within the community says Parvati Sharma.
In October, Apphia K found herself back at home in Pune. She had resigned from her job and was wondering what to do next. Flipping through the occasional queer magazine, she noticed they were all about men, and was “bugged about the act that there was no queer women visibility.” Three months later in January, she had launched Jiah: For the Women with Heart, an online magazine for and by lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.
Jiah’s cover features Lestie Esteves, the “first Indian lesbian to come out on Indian Tv”. Coming out, says Apphia’s editorial, is partly this issue’s theme. “Our first issue brings with it the remainder that coming out isn’t an easy task, but I believe that when you do, you become more confident and honest”, she writes.
It’s a little ironic, then, that Jiah is distributed through “controlled circulation”. You can’t download it off the net: you have to email the editors, who will mail back a copy. Apphia said she wanted to see how many people would write in, to calculate how many might buy a print copy. She also wanted to protect contributors who aren’t out yet. “Nobody can google our writers’ names, that will not happen,” she said.
This difference, however, is balanced by a soaring ambition, which Jiah shares with the several other online queer magazines that have appeared in the post-377 era. Since July, when the Delhi High Court struck down provisions of the Indian Penal Code that made homosexuality illegal, we’ve also seen the appearance of Pink Pages (forst published from Indore, now Bangalore) and Gaylaxy (from Calcutta). Their editors are young, some astonishingly so. Apphia is 25, Gaylaxy’s Sukhdeep Singh is 21, and Udayan of Pink Pages who doesn’t use his last name is 22. Still heady with the euphoria of the judgment, this suddenly-free generation seems to have decided that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The magazines are eclectic in content, widely fluctuating in equality and exuberant in style – with what is perhaps one of the densest concentrations of exclamation marks per sentence on the internet. Their pages deal equally, of not more, with entertainment, fashion and heartache as with unsettling news from Uganda or resources for the LGBT community in India.
Their contents pages seem to reflect a maturity and readiness of the queer community to move beyond merely activist issues. “We’ve moved on to a place where our magazines can deal with regular issues, like India Today or something,” said Singh, a final-year engineering student. Apphia describes Jiah as “a lifestyle magazine for LBT women”. Udayan goes even further. “We never thought of making political statements,” he said. Pink Pages is a medium of mainstreaming instead of activism. We’re a magazine for the community – if we focus only on activism, we’re not doing justice to or readers.
The editorial teams realize that this attitude could draw criticism. It could be something Jiah could get flak for”, said Nitya Vasudevan, a contributor. Still, she added, “The magazine could be a forum for complicating our ideas of sexuality.” She does this in her article, writing, “We do not always travel in pairs (or packs), our bodies sometimes look awkward we have sex (not always sinuous, curvy and softly-lit), we are not automatically and continuously monogamous, we do not ‘merge’, and we have widely different opinions on Fire.”
Besides mainstreaming isn’t only about content, but about how a magazine is bought and sold. “There should be no fear of going to a bookstore and buying a magazine and bringing it home,” Udayan said, “I want Pink Pages and other magazines to be mainstreamed with the rest of India, so we don’t need to make a big fuss about gay magazines coming out. It should be as normal as anything else.”