Published: 29th June 2020
How this dancer overcame discrimination from the LGBT community and became a confident gay man
Asit Baran Biswas learns and teaches Odissi, embraces the androgyny on stage to spread awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community through his performances
It was at the age of 12 that Asit Baran Biswas realised that he harboured feelings for a boy in his neigbourhood. While he couldn't do much about it then, it was a moment that changed his life. "At that age, I didn't know what this meant. All I knew was that I liked this boy and wanted to be with him," he recalls, "I wanted to write a letter expressing my feelings and I did, but nothing materialised." It was only much later when he came to realise what being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community meant and how much he had to struggle to get to where he is today — a dancer, a drag queen and an activist for his people.
But rewind to how he found himself and it all comes down to one pivotal moment, "Before this, I never knew much about my community. It was in 2016, when my friend took me to the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk for the first time. I was mesmerised. Here, I could be myself and could express myself to my heart's content. That experience really made me feel like I belong to something bigger," he recalls. It wasn't all smooth sailing though. "I came out to my parents when I was 22. While they have somewhat accepted my sexuality, I still somehow feel that they think this is a phase. They even wanted to get me married after my five-year relationship ended," says Asit, adding, "I think my father still believed that I would change before he passed away, four years ago. But they have never openly displayed their discomfort and have been supportive of what I wanted to do and how I was."
And then, dance happened.
Asit identifies as a demisexual and although he enjoys cross-dressing, he prefers wearing "manly" clothes in his everyday life. "When I look into the mirror, I feel that I'll look better in clothes designed for a man and not meant for women. But I like to dress up in an androgynous look when I go on stage," adds Asit, "I realised I like gender fluid looks after dressing up for the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk in 2017. We performed a flash mob that year. We were the first queer group to do so in the city. I received several compliments for my look and my performances and that propelled me to pursue this relentlessly - creating androgynous looks and upholding the LGBTQIA+ community in my performances, especially while performing in the grassroot level." Asit, who sports a beard, says "When I cross-dress, you'll see my body hair, hair extensions, jewellery, make-up, a dress and also my beard because I embrace the androgyny."
Dancing was always more than a hobby for Asit. In it, he found a way to express himself like no other. Today, through his shows, he seeks to educate his audience about what it's like to be queer in India and the nuances of the people in the community. Asit is a trained Odissi dancer and he now also trains children of different age groups at his dance school in Kolkata. But this passion for dance also stems from something personal. "I think I took to dance more vigorously after I broke up with my boyfriend of five years. I was devastated at that point and dance was the only way I could cope," says the 31-year-old.
However, it is with great disappointment that Asit talks about how he was bullied by the people of his own community, whom he believes were closeted. ''I was clear and open about my sexuality from a very young age. Everyone in my locality knew about it," he says, adding, "But when I took to dance, I had faced severe bullying by some now-famous dancers in the city. I was always keen on upholding the nuances of the community in my performances but that did not sit well with a lot of people, including my contemporaries."
Asit talks about one instance when he was criticised for letting his dance team, composed of boys, dress as women and perform on stage. "But later I saw the same people who criticised me performing as women on stage," he recalls. However, Asit says that he didn't face discrimination while performing at events. "I really haven't faced much discrimination from people who don't belong to the LGBTQIA+ community. They have stared when I cross-dress but seldom has anyone come up to me and said anything," he says.
After spending years dealing with the repercussions of his sexuality, Asit says he doesn't wish it for anyone. "Had I been a father, I wouldn't want my children to be a homosexual. It is very difficult to be a homosexual in India even today. Even though homosexuality has been decriminalised and it is a step in the right direction, is there a future? We still can't get married or start a family," rues Asit, adding, "Societal constructs have still made homesexual relationships precarious and I'm uncertain when it will change significantly."
This Pride Month we're celebrating diversity in its truest, most leveling form by bringing to you stories of hope and great cheer from the LGBTQIA+ community from across India in our new series Matter of Pride. If you'd like to reach out to any of them or need help, reach out to us WhatsApp at +917358029990