Sakshi Juneja, the Co-founder of Gaysi, and Priya Gangwani have been committed to keeping this queer collective at the forefront in their lives. With minimal personal information on their social media, their social lives seem synonymous with Gaysi. Their commitment has stemmed from their need to create safe spaces in India for the Indian queer and make sure nobody feels alienated.
The idea here is not necessarily to inspire people, but it's more about relatability, and that keeps us grounded.
Even though embracing her sexuality was not, as Sakshi calls it - "Chudiya todne do (break my glass bangles in desperation) moment," the lack of representation and information around her was disturbing. Twelve years ago, after exploring her sexuality while finishing her higher secondary and graduate studies in Australia, the Indian environment was almost devoid of any spaces where she could find people she could relate to. Her need to be around other queer people intensified when she came out to her family. As with most Indian parents of queer children, it was a journey of acceptance for Sakshi's family. Sakshi's aim of creating the blog was simple. Women and non-binary people in India did not have social media representation. They did not have a language to communicate their identity and, in general, had a lonely journey toward acceptance. She wanted to change that through cultivating conversations where individual journeys and experiences were shared so that others felt understood and could relate to the content. Priya's fascination and vision further catapulted the project to what it is today - a collective with a consolidated readership all over India, online and print publications, collaborations with queer artists, and organizers of post-pride parties, workshops, and social events.
We require safe spaces desperately pan-India.
Sakshi was incredibly proud and positively beaming about the social impact that this collective had had on so many when it came to accepting themselves. It has so far helped hundreds of people feel comfortable asking and questioning what their identity might be. She credits this space to have given so many people a sense of safety, which they have then extended beyond the boundaries of the collective. They started spreading pamphlets in 2011 when they heard positive responses from tier-2 and tier-3 cities. They realized the need to engage with the print magazine Gaysi Zine to reach and impact a wider audience.
It was a time people were engaging in the digital, and here we were dabbling in the printing space.
Sakshi recognizes the massive growth the queer movement has experienced in the last decade and also commends the strength of lesbians and non-binary individuals who have come to the forefront in their struggle to gain visibility in Indian society. Sakshi realizes the importance collectives like theirs have in amplifying queer voices, and the larger the collective, the louder it is heard.
This is the best time to be queer in the country because you are going to be a part of this massive movement, which will set the tone for many queer generations to come. You are responsible for that change. You are responsible for the future.
Sakshi was full of appreciative sentiments for her team at Gaysi. She called the growth of the group, which has expanded and contracted over the years, very organic. The team members have all had specialized contributions, which only made the outcome better. A major element of the magazine that both Sakshi and Priya have been very particular about has been its visual language through which the content has been expressed. Though their first Art Director Karishma Dorai had set the tone, Gaysi has, with help from multiple collaborators, become a medium through which queer art has been used to visibilize the queer community.
Gaysi is an assortment.
The process of content selection goes through the quality checks of being experimentative, feel-good, and especially appealing to the core team. "A little crazy and a little eccentric" is what Sakshi uses to describe themselves. These qualities become necessary when churning out sensitive content and managing what they call a "very difficult space." Their eccentricity can also be related to their choice of 'Gaysi' as the name of the company and website. For them, the quirky name rolled off the tongue first, and then the possible explanation of "the gay desi (for queer Indians)" followed. Their penchant for quirky names continued for their events, some examples being "Flick-it" (badminton tournaments) or "Can you repeat the question?" (trivia nights).
With the occasional happy interruptions to tend to her dogs Milo and Mia, Sakshi included them as her source of happiness. Being locked down with her partner - Naina - has allowed them to understand each other better. The lockdown also enabled Sakshi and Priya to experiment and explore digital mediums when it came to Gaysi. As an individual with a marketing background, Sakshi says she did not have an ecosystem where she could learn about gender and sexuality. She has come a long way since then, and she attributes her journey of self-growth and the person she is today to the people she has met through Gaysi.