It is generally accepted that clichés often have an element of truth to them. This holds in the case of India too. You won’t necessarily find elephants and snake charmers jostling for elbow room in the city (probably), but you can expect contradictions that boggle the mind. Here, various aspects of diversity intersect in a web so layered and complex that even natives struggle to get their head it around at times. You can expect color, noise, laughter, food, crowds—for everything else, leave those preconceptions at home.
India is no herald of LGBTQ+ rights. This is despite evidence of a spectrum of sexualities in historical times. While transgender individuals are legally allowed to self-identify as male, female, or other, it was only in September 2018 that Section 377, a British-era remnant of homophobia, was read down by the Supreme Court. But Section 377 or not, there are an estimated 100-million+ queer individuals in India. And just like in any other part of the world, they have continued to fall in love, built lives together, and traveled with their near and dear for eons. And ironically, their biggest threat—a deeply conservative society—is also what keeps them safe. In other words, if one is willing to pick one’s battles and co-opt certain cultural norms to one’s advantage, traveling as a gay (gay referring to a range of sexualities) individual or couple can be exactly the adventure you imagine. In short: when in India, do as (gay) Indians do.
The Cloak of Invisibility
The worst thing that has ever happened to Ashdeen, 38, while traveling with a partner, is being given separate beds. “Annoying,” is the word he uses, and he laughs as he says it. He might as well, because this is very likely the only battle you will fight as a queer couple in India. Not many travelers see it as overt homophobia, though. “I think people are just used to a certain idea of what the norm is,” says John, 53, who’s partner was noted as “Mrs” in a fancy hotel. “If it was a dive, I understand that, but this was, you know, supposedly a five-star.” John, who’s from the US, and whose husband is Indian (they married in the US), did get the mistake corrected.