Published on November 29th, 2011 | by Emma Hackwood0
Open Hearts & Open Minds in India
After returning from his Golden Triangle Tour with G Adventures, Ryan Bint shares both his hesitations going into the trip, and how the experience changed his perspective on both India as a country and the people that live within it. From acceptance to forms of expression, he shares his experiences with us:
In the beginning I was uneasy at the prospect of travelling to the other side of the world. I wasn’t too sure I would be able to handle the culture shock. After many talks with a very close friend that travelled to India and fell in love with the country, I decided to go with an open mind and open heart.
Upon arrival, the culture shock took me quite by surprise, it was unlike anything I had ever seen. People everywhere, cramped streets and cows wandering everywhere! One thing caught my attention the most, was the first time I noticed two grown men holding hands.
As a thirty year old gay man I always try to be conscientious of how accessible a place is for the gay and lesbian community when visiting a foreign place and India never struck me as very “accepting”, I blame that now on my lack of knowledge.
Living in Toronto, Canada, a very progressive city when it comes to gay rights, if two men are seen holding hands strolling down the street your first instinct would be, they are gay. It wouldn’t cross your mind that these people could be lifelong friends. Men in the Western world would be ridiculed or worse for doing this, yet in a third world country like India, you wouldn’t even be looked at twice for holding another man’s hand. I saw men holding hands, sitting on each other’s laps, arms around each other and linked together, and no one batted an eye as they walked past… except for myself and the group of North Americans on my G Adventure tour. Homophobia is something we witness on a daily basis in Canada and the USA. We see it on the streets, read about it in papers and see it all over the news.
The level of acceptance in India is far more wide spread then here. I found that a lot of the teachings in Indian culture and religions were about acceptance and expression. Within a degree of course as public affection is still quite taboo, this made me want to learn even more. Was India a gay friendly destination? What was the country’s stance on gay marriage? Could I bring my boyfriend without hesitation?
Before July 2, 2009 it was still illegal to be a homosexual in India and could get you up to 10 years in jail. Men holding hands in India isn’t necessarily “gay”. Indians wouldn’t categorize themselves as homosexuals. As far as I can tell a title like that doesn’t exist there. This is just a sign of camaraderie, friendship, or respect. This left me baffled. Why on Earth would North Americans not adopt something like this and why would we look down at the men that do? As a travel agent it’s my job to make sure my clients have a safe and happy vacation. You never want your client to be uncomfortable. If and when I travel to India again, I would feel quite safe holding hands with a friend or loved one. However, whether in a group or on our own, public displays of affection should still be kept behind closed doors. I don’t remember once seeing a man even kissing his wife in the streets. Gay relationships may not be evident as of yet, but I hope for better things on the horizon. Maybe even marriage will be accepted one day. I remember a time when I thought it wouldn’t come to Canadians but I was proven wrong. A year ago, India would not have been on my list of places to send such a client. Now that I have lived and breathed the culture, it is on the top of my list.
So from a boy that didn’t even want to go, I have become an advocate for India and all of the treasures it holds. Don’t miss out! Whether you’re gay, straight, male or female. Indians will make you wish you didn’t have to leave.
Ryan Bint is Future Team Leader at our Bay St store in Toronto and can be reached by e-mail or calling 1-866-870-9004. He participated in G Adventures Golden Triangle Tour which introduces travellers to three very different northern cities and the colourful rural life of Rajasthan.