R. Raj Rao’s The Boyfriend: A Model of the Indian Homosexual?
Last modified: September 10, 2006
Throughout the world, activists are looking for indigenous forms of male-male love. The obvious Indian examples are the erotic sculptures on temples and in prints and drawings but also stories from various sources. In both Hindu and Muslim contexts the relations often follow what might be called the catamite model, with a noble or superior person enjoying a boy, a eunuch or a servant. The opposite is what is often called “Western.” In India large cities tend to have a bar or two where young men preen on the dance floor and older men leer from the corner. The former have the latest fashions and the latter have the money. There is also a more above-ground gay culture, in such forms as the magazine, Bombay Dost, now apparently defunct, various gay websites, and the Queer Studies Centre at the University of Pune.
There is a third alternative, however. Raj Rao’s recent novel, The Boyfriend, published by Penguin India, has been acclaimed as a major “coming out” for gay India. It depicts an urban male sexuality that has a limited relationship to the western gay ideal or to those temple sculptures. Contemporary western cultures see some people as homosexuals and others as situationally homosexual, as in prisons. I would instead refer to “opportunistic”homosexuality.This responds to the individual’s degree of same sex attraction, sex drive and. the situation which presents. While homosexual acts remain illegal in India, opportunistic male-male sex has been tacitly accepted as “masti” or play, a form that does not necessarily disrupt the essence of Indian society, which is heterosexual marriage. This paper will examine the type of sexuality depicted in The Boyfriend in light of sociological studies, such as those by Shivananda Khan. It will compare these to studies from western gay culture about stranger sex, such as Gary Dowsett’s Practicing Desire: Homosexual Sex in the Era of AIDS and William L. Leap’s collection,Public Sex/Gay Space.