07 September 2012

S.W.A.G to Masti

Every culture or country has their own lingo for secret gay life. An example of this lingo would be, in the 1960’s the word, swag was used in reference to a gay man living a life in secret. In the United Kingdom there was an entire gay slang language used called Polari. Some examples of the slang are: basket for bulge, butch and camp for masculine and effeminate. In South Africa, gay men have adapted Gail language slang based on English and Afrikaans language.  Kowanin language originally adapted by belly dancers is now used by Egyptian gays. Words like kodyanal for passive male and parghal for active male. In South Asia there may not be a whole gay language but there is a secret life, in the west we call it "down-low" there it is called masti.

Masti translation from Hindi means mischief; it’s commonly described as the homoerotic behavior of men who do not describe themselves as gay. In some circles, it is better to be accused of incest, than to be a man who prefers other men. Thus, he must be effeminate deviants who perversions are deemed contagious. Masti doesn't fall within western definition of homosexuality where two men ultimately seek a commuted partnership similar to straight couples. However, “down low” is the closest western alternative to masti. Masti is a relationship that in most cases does not imply permanence or emotional attachment. It is not seen as a substitute for a conventional straight relationship which will later lead to a marriage and children.  Neither is it limited to particular geographic location as studies in India and Pakistan have proved. Masti is normally a relationship that takes place in private and behind closed doors, it is a continuation of the sub-continental ˝don’t ask, don't tell˝ regarding all matters sexual. As long as a man does not openly exhibit his bisexuality or homosexuality; that man is considered to be merely up to some mischief (masti) However, as soon as he comes out of the closet he is considered to be “perverted”.

India's famous gay activist Ashok Row Kavi pointed out that the diversity of South Asia greatly differs from that in the Western region of the world. "Unlike the west, a common identity that holds true across socioeconomic and language divides is still in the process of evolution across the region. And men who like to have 'a bit of masti' in their lives refuse to see themselves as part of this process. It is further fractured by other classifications such as MSM (men who have sex with men) kothi (penetrated males), etc. to the region"
During the colonial period, South Asia adopted western sensibilities and ideas as a standard.  The western interpretation of homosexuality of that time was accepted as a whole. Therefore, any homo-erotic or homo-affectionate behavior is considered by the western culture to be that of homosexuality. If you were to ask a man in South Asia if he considers himself to be gay he may become defensive. The idea of visible sexuality is related to gay men because of the popularity of transgender males (hijra's.)

In South Asian culture a Hijra can be social shunned as well as abused by law enforcement. The police often treat Hijras with more brutality than their female counterparts. Bollywood and other popular cinema are not kind to Hijra; portraying them as criminals, perverts a pimp and sometimes comical relief within a film.  Hostility towards effeminate and transgender men when also combined with the western ideas of homosexuality has only magnified latent and ill-informed hostilities regarding gays around the South Asian region.  Effeminate gay males face increasing numbers of social humiliation as well as being shunned by their families and peers. Many South Asians have the idea that effeminate men and hijras are not considered real men.

Indian writer, poet, and movie lyricist Javed Akhtar took on the idea of being masti, and took South Asian gay culture to another level saying:
"Most men are highly sexed... every man is a dormant rapist. When this "rapist" is faced with a man who has sex with other men --- a thorough- going villain who is out to destroy the very fabric of society by refusing to knuckle down to all important business of marriage and procreation."

How does Javed Akhtar’s comment affect you? Some think that Akhtar’s criticism has been affected by rejection. He is also considered to be a closed minded person, and person that doesn't see that gay culture is everywhere. Gays are no longer swag, needing to speak in slang. Masti for some is almost like those phrases “have your cake and eat it too". Some gay South Asian men are not comfortable with openness about their sexuality, while others fear what their family and friends might think.

Send your comments below, what are your views on masti and its western equivalent down low? What are some of your views on hijra's and effeminate gay men, do you think they should face the type of discrimination that they do now?
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