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Expat Voice: Capital Connections

Peter Thurston at Agrasen Ki Baoli at New Delhi

Queer activist and vlogger Peter Thurston moved to New Delhi from the United Kingdom last year to live with their partner, who had landed an internship with a company in the capital. “I was studying in University of Surrey in Guildford when I met Udita, my partner,” Thurston tells Little India.

The vlogger runs a YouTube channel that consists of “fully referenced” video reviews of other online content touching upon subjects such as secularism, feminism, LGBT+ and ethnic equality. They tell us about their life and experiences in India:

Being Bisexual and Gender Fluid

It’s said in the United Kingdom, ‘There are two groups that deny the existence of bisexual people. One of them are the conservative religious Christians and the other are gay men.’

As a bisexual and gender-fluid person, I face hostilities not just outside, but also within the community. We are often told that we are confused and are gay or lesbian but too afraid to come out fully. They also tell us that it is not possible to be attracted to more than one type of person.

It can be quite invalidating when a non-bisexual person tries to tell a bisexual person what the term means. The definition and usage of bisexual has changed over time. However, people even within the community, still believe that bisexuals are attracted to only the male and female genders. However, it is not so, bisexuals can be attracted to male, female or to all genders.

Life in India as a Queer Person

My family and friends know that I am bisexual and gender fluid, but my partner and I do hide it from our landlord and some of our neighbors. We are not sure how they would react.

The major problem I face in India is when I have to explain myself while going through the security check at the metro stations in Delhi. As a gender-fluid person, I try to maintain an androgynous appearance — not too masculine or feminine, rather neutral. Sometimes, the security personnel start behaving aggressively, yelling at me in an attempt to make me understand what they are trying to say. This can be intimidating and does not help me understand anything. But thankfully, Udita is with me most of the time so she explains things at the checkpoint.

Peter Thurston with his partner Udita at the Delhi Pride in 2017.

Essence of Thought

I started the YouTube channel in 2009. I was only a child back then, who had discovered video-editing and began making some really bad videos.

But in 2011, I decided to make factual and informative videos primarily on secular ethics and atheism. Soon, I branched out into more fields like secular humanism, feminism and the LGBT+ community.

I look for videos where people make claims about what an atheist apparently believes in or what being gay means. I respond to those claims with proper references and critique aspects of such videos, referring to scientific journals to prove my point — it is like review system.

I get responses to my videos, although they are not as frequent as I’d like them to be. Sometimes these responses come from people who are unaware about the topic and get angry when I criticize them. Constructive discussions are a rare occurrence. People begin to attack my androgynous appearance.

Standing Up for the National Anthem

Coming from the West, it was strange to see people in India standing for the national anthem in cinemas. I have also heard that people have been attacked or arrested if they don’t stand for the anthem. So even though I’m a British national, I stand for the Indian national anthem.

Recently, we went to watch a Star Wars movie and the movie hall was teeming with Westerners and European. But we all still stood when the national anthem was being played to avoid any mishap.

Difference Between England and India

I didn’t realize how asocial we had become in many ways, until I moved here. In the United Kingdom, we scan the items ourselves pay and leave. In India, store representatives ask you for your phone number, which I thought was peculiar. Although it was surprising, it was nice as we ended up making friends with a few shopkeepers.

In England, we would never provide any contact details. We would keep the level of interaction to a minimum.

I like the metro system in Delhi as the compartments here are larger than those in England. I am fond of the food in the country and I really like the dessert, Shahi Tukda.

Peculiarities of India

It is strange to see people selling things on the carts right in front of the house. Another thing that I find rather peculiar is people trying to sell flags and other things at traffic signals.

I have had a difficult time adjusting to the water here and now we get bottled water cans delivered to our place unlike in Britain, where we drink tap water. Also, I feel Indian drivers love their horns, and it was quite a shock initially. Honking is rare in England and you can be fined for misusing it.

Udita has also told me a few things that were not too pleasant to hear, like people prying and interfering in others’ lives here. She told me families try to keep control of their children all the time.

Peter Thurston at a Durga Puja pandal at CR Park in New Delhi

An Experience for Life

Recently, we went to a gurdwara that had a pool at the entrance. We were walking around the pool one night when I saw a shadow of what seemed to be a bird of prey. I thought it was a kite because we normally see them flying around at night.

When I got a closer look at the bird, I realized it wasn’t a kite but a flying fox. It was within an arm’s length and was a wonderful experience that will stay with me forever.

The Journey So Far

I have had a brilliant experience until now. I’m looking forward to explore other aspects of Delhi. My partner and I host get-togethers for atheists, feminists and free-thinkers every two weeks. We just talk and support each other. It’s a great way to make friends.

The interview has been condensed and edited. 

Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at expat@littleindia.com to nominate yourself or another expat for the column