Sunsets, alcohol and zero internet connectivity… this magical concoction is a sure-shot recipe for what one calls a profound epiphany. And it took me one such experience to realise what it truly meant to travel 'queer'.
It was a balmy sunset in Koh Rong Sanloem, a secluded isle off Cambodia's Sihanoukville coast. Seated comfortably in an open treehouse by the sea sands, the only music I decided to listen to was the undulating wash of waves on the shore with the faint whistle of an approaching thunderstorm. And in that beautiful culmination of sights, sounds, thoughts and newly forged friendships, the 28-year-old me had an epiphany. Every travel choice I had made, from my first nerve-wracking trip to the big bad city of Mumbai to various solo trips that followed often at the cost of home visits, was made subconsciously not simply to travel but to travel 'queer'.
You might argue, what is travelling 'queer'? Why do we queers need to brand everything, right? The answer cuts a bit deeper than the apparent. We travel to enjoy anonymity. We travel to feel safe in that anonymity. We travel to experience proximity with others with that shared experience of anonymity. The strange paradox of cutting away to connect. And all of this comes from someone who has forever lived out and proud in every sphere of his life... friends, family, work, et al. Strange, isn't it?
The fact that travel is very often an escape isn't a hyperbole. And the fact that as a member of the queer community who can 'choose' to escape, the privilege isn't at all lost on me. Why? Because, even for the most liberated, self-assured, queer person out there, cautious fear is an emotion we've known only too well. And nothing breeds this fear more than brushes with anonymity.
There are very few places in India that offer an open experience on its menu, my current hometown, Mumbai, being one of the few. Post the landmark judgement, will this change? Of course, it will! It has to. That's the natural order of things. But it won't happen overnight. The change that's being sought is for us to be able to travel as a queer individual, couple or community, to experience travel exactly the way everyone else does... devoid of anonymity and concealment. It will take conversations. It will take discourses. It will need active building of safe spaces for the community in places for people to move forward... queer-friendly hotels, bars, restaurants et al. There's a shining business opportunity there too, I hope entrepreneurs realise! Pink money is a thing... and it is itching to be spent!
So, till more Indian hospitality outfits across economic strata realise this potential and facilitate convenience and safety for queer travellers, that pink money shall keep flowing out to our lovely Thai neighbours. And for good reason, too. After all, what’s wanderlust, but a little wander, a dash wonder and a sprinkling of lust.
The writer is a Creative Director in an advertising agency in Mumbai