As a part of our effort to celebrate all kinds of gender expression, Hornet’s #MyFemmeSelf campaign is an opportunity to combat toxic masculinity and create a digital space where everyone can feel empowered to explore who they are and freely express themselves. This time, we spoke with the second runner-up of the recent Mr. Gay World 2018 competition.
Samarpan Maiti is from a small village in West Bengal, India. He’s not just a model, actor and writer, but a cancer researcher. But most importantly, he also does health and gender-awareness research on the underprivileged LGBTQ community in rural India. He’s working to not only help LGBTQ people in slums or rural areas, but also helping the disabled queer population fight for acceptance.
Tell us more about how your work impacts your community
In India, my work is appreciated a lot. I’m able to use this influence to motivate queer youth to work for the betterment of the underprivileged LGBTQ community. As a model, I’m very popular and I mainly work on LGBTQ-themed projects, unlike most models in India; by being unafraid to be who I am, I’m increasing visibility for our community.
Have you ever been discriminated for being a gay man in your country?
My father believed in gender nonconformity, so my parents would buy girls’ clothes and jewelry for me. But as I grew up, everyone at school started bullying me, calling me “sissy,” “hijra” and “aunty.” Even the teachers would bully me, calling me by different girls’ names. Back then, I was scared to go to school. I was particularly fearful of going to classes by certain teachers, so I would just stay in my room.
Things got worse when I went to a small town for higher education. Because I was femme and not much interested in sports, everyone called me gay (even though I wasn’t out at the time). But then, surprisingly, many students wanted to have sex with me, assuming that as a gay man, I was a machine to fulfill any of their sexual desires. When I refused, they complained about me, and said I was in a relationship with one of my friends. But that friend is also the only person who protected me from all their abuse.
Even now, as a researcher, the bullying continues. People say I speak and act like a woman. It never ends.
How does Indian culture react to your feminine style?
In Hindu mythology, all the male gods have a femme side. People worship them — but sadly, people don’t accept femininity in human men.
I think the problem is rooted in our patriarchal thinking; Indian culture believes men are superior to women. That’s why if a woman dresses up like a man, no one cares; it’s seen as progressive. But if a man dresses like a woman, people laugh, bully them and in some places will even assault them.
Why are campaigns like #MyFemmeSelf important?
Everyone has different layers of personality. Everyone has a masculine side and a feminine side. We don’t often get to express it, though, because most of us want to see ourselves the way society wants to see us. But we need to embrace people the way they are.
Femme-shaming is very prevalent in our society, whether you’re LGBTQ or not. You’ll see millions of dating profiles saying “no femme,” and I’m not even getting into the more hateful comments you see.
If we can’t accept femme people in the LGBTQ community, how can we expect the rest of society to accept them? Those kind of dating apps are promoting toxic masculinity as the ideal. That’s why I’m glad Hornet is trying to break the stereotypes. I’m proud Hornet asked to include me in the #MyFemmeSelf campaign.