While the pandemic has driven almost every facet of everyday life upside-down, fewer things were as upended as our approach towards dating and relationships, particularly for those of us who are queer.

With safe spaces to mingle and meet disappearing overnight, 2020-21 was a particularly difficult time for the queer community across India. While couples found it hard to meet, singles were relegated to the unfortunate reality of strictly online dating for months on end.

Fortunately, things seem to be clearing up as we cross the two-year pandemic mark. Nightlife and open air events have resumed across India’s biggest cities in 2022, with several excited folx looking forward to meeting new people, having new experiences across the span of desi queer culture, while reconnecting with their romantic and sexual selves.

It’s in that vein that we found ourselves at Tinder’s first-ever Queer Mixer event, curated by queer collective Gaysi. Both organizations have been closely collaborating over the last four years to showcase and celebrate one of the world’s most vibrant examples of LGBTQIA+ culture, and this time it was at Mumbai’s Pioneer Hall, Bandra.

With excited singles and couples getting to know each other across select cocktails, exciting games, and everything in between, there was plenty of conversation to be had that night. We spoke to Gaysi co-founder Sakshi Juneja, as indie artists Saachi and Gaia Meera set the mood for yet another celebration of love in the city that never sleeps.

Sakshi Juneja

“My name is Sakshi, and I’m a founder of Gaysi,” she said, introducing herself. “Gaysi is pretty much an online and offline [queer] space that we started back in 2008. In the beginning, it was largely for queer women, but as our sensibilities and understanding of our sexualities grew, more folx from the community began to join us.”

For Sakshi, much of seeing her community rise and resume growing once again reminds her of 2013, back when the Supreme Court reinstated a draconian 1861 British colonial-era law that criminalized gay sex under the infamous Section 377 of the IPC. While things have come a long way since, Sakshi reminisces about the explosion of queer solidarity during that year through protests and inclusive events as thousands ‘fought back’ for the common cause of freedom and equality.

Tinder Mixers Gaysi

“Since then, I feel like our community is growing,” she enthused. “With digital spaces, boundaries and borders have diluted – there’s so much exchange of information across the globe. Because of that exposure, more people are feeling comfortable and safer. There’s also so many support groups that are now accessible and not just in metro cities but 2-tier, 3-tier cities as well.”

In Sakshi’s words, this rapidly growing ecosystem for people across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum gives us an idea of the ‘sheer number’ of queer people among us. This in turn has resulted in a massive increase in participation for online and offline events through the pandemic era, especially with queer women, trans, and non-binary spaces.

Looking to the future, Gaysi already has a powerful set of events in store that go beyond just bringing the community together. 

Sakshi stresses on a certain desire to push for unique ways to connect, from this very mixer event to more creative ventures. From New York to Amsterdam, queer voices have been at the forefront of creative expression and pushing the boundaries of art – and India isn’t all too different in that regard. In the month of June, Gaysi also has a theater production planned that explores six short stories, with Halloween parties, an infamously iconic zine bazaar that highlights queer writer-artists, and much more to look forward to.

Tinder Mixers Gaysi

“I might come across as a bit snooty if I say this,” Sakshi smirks, “but from the day we launched in 2008, we were always design and art inclined. We tried to push a lot of queer narratives in visual media, which worked a lot in our favor, because it’s not just the queer community at work here. India’s design community has also reached out a lot to partake in the kind of conversations we want to have.

Art is such a big motivator when it comes to having conversations, right? Whether it’s about protesting or about joy and celebration… everything,” she concludes, nudging us in the direction of Gaysi’s stunning visuals on their 45k+ strong Instagram page.

Online Queer Dating, and Digital Disruptions

Tinder Mixers Gaysi

While the effect of community events has led to thousands of gay individuals across India discovering public spaces for a shared culture and safe dating envrionement, much of India’s queer revolution has happened quietly through dating apps, with Tinder taking a considerably outspoken and direct position as a queer ally – a self-described ‘proud partner’ of Gaysi.

Tinder India’s Taru Kapoor (GM, Tinder and Match Group) reminds us of how even as sponsors and partners for events, the change towards a more inclusive society begins with identity. 

“Tinder was the first mobile-first dating app to give people a feature that empowered them to identify beyond man or woman in 2016,” she explained. “This feature was built in partnership with GLAAD, trans advocate Andrea James and trans Tinder members.” GLAAD happens to be one of the oldest media gay rights organisations in the world – having sprung up amidsts writers and journalists sick of America’s homophobic news coverage of the 1980s HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Tinder Mixers Gaysi

Taru also acknowledged the need to not just facilitate, but also document the experiences of queer love, which is rarely taken up by mainstream media organizations in India. “Queer Indians have rarely had a chance to engage in the popular idea of dating, friendship, and romance,” she continued. “There’s little representation of their narratives in popular culture, especially stories of love, romance, partnership, and all the little sparks in between.”

“Archiving these experiences that queer folks in desi communities have had is an important task, one that may lead to a better understanding of the nature of human connection and love, and how universal the experience of meeting someone new for the first time is.”

Right at the height of the pandemic, Tinder succeeded in pushing this message through the ‘Museum of Queer Swipe Stories’—an earlier Gaysi collaboration that sought and shared tales of gay love from India and beyond. 2021’s ‘Queer-Made’ brought a similar spotlight on India’s LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and business owners.

Ultimately, the night was a great celebration of how far both organizations have come in making strides for queer folk in India, with plenty of smiles, hand-holding, and the occassional kiss on proud display. 

Tinder Mixers Gaysi

“It’s not just about diversity,” Sakshi reminds us. “The idea today is that the whole movement is going towards space—where creating more spaces to be just themselves, to be what they want to be, to change their mind , to make errors and move on—that’s the conversation we are trying to make happen.”

(Featured Image Credits: Wanda Hendricks)