The Instagram page of the Museum of Queer Swipe Stories (QSS) is peppered with stories of love and heartbreak, and everything in between, which capture the complexities of queer relationships. The recent post by VP, 24, a bisexual female reads: “I don’t have her in my life anymore. But the way she made me feel about myself and life, stayed. Her smile still lingers like a fragrance you can never forget.” There is another heartwarming one by Navin Noronha, 29, a gay male, which states: “He loves punk rock, I love classic rock. He snores while sleeping, I put up with it. In a very odd manner, we make an even couple.” This project has been started by Tinder, a online dating platform, in partnership with the Gaysi Family, a space for the Indian queer community, to showcase LGBTQIA+ Swipe stories. It is a curated archival project that seeks to collect the many moods and experiences of queer dating.
In early November, the project launched an animated short film featuring a true story of a lesbian couple, who had matched earlier this year. With original soundtrack by Grape Guitar Box, helmed by singer-songwriter Teenasai Balamu, and animated by Goa-based illustrator Deepti, the film explored the connection forged by the couple over a shared digital experience and how they plan for a post-pandemic world. The story underlying the film is that of Priya Dali, 24, a lesbian cis woman. It all started during the lockdown when Dali was in Mumbai and matched with a teacher-artist based in Pune. Gradually, light banter gave way to long, deep conversations. “We’re planning to meet once the pandemic is over. If and when we do, I can’t say I know what will happen, maybe we’ll end up working together, maybe we’ll just end up being two very gay friends who met on Tinder and found a few moments of calm and laughter in a time when the world was crumbling,” posts Dali on the Instagram page of QSS.
Incidentally, UK-based Teenasai, who has worked on the video, also met their partner, Jo, on Tinder, and was more than happy to write a song about another queer love story. “It is heartening to read these stories in the Indian context,” they say. It was an interesting process for Teenasai, as usually they prepare a song on their own, after which other people join in. “It is rare to have written a song for someone else’s story. The team from Gaysi helped a lot with how the story will flow. Since this is a 1-minute film, the breaks are shorter. I am used to writing longer songs. But the queer community is so starved in terms of representation, that it was exciting for me to be a part of this initiative,” they say.
For Sakshi Juneja, writer and founder of the Gaysi Family, the project is an opportunity to change the narrative around the queer community, which usually revolves around hardships: coming out to the family, the legal aspect, and more. “But we don’t focus on interpersonal relationships, which form a strong support system for us,” they say. “Queer relationships in pop culture and the media are mostly shown as doomed. We rarely see positive, happy wholesome narratives.” Juneja maintains that they come from a privileged space, wherein their family supported the relationship with their partner of one year. “These are also realities, We could find partners and communities. This positive outlook towards life makes them realise that this kind of wholesome relationship is possible,” they add.
What has helped people open up about their stories is a sort of trust in the Gaysi Family, which has been around for 12 years. A call out was sent, which received an overwhelming response.
For the dating platform, this project was in sync with its stand on same-sex relationships. “Tinder has facilitated same sex relationships since inception, and Swipe Stories is a format we regularly use to feature member stories. We realised it was important to celebrate more than heteronormative narratives of dating and finding connections, especially the diversity of dating and relationship experiences, so not just love stories, but everything on the spectrum of romance, bad dates, first kisses and more,” says Rashi Wadhera, Communication, Tinder India. The team does realise that they may not have been the best people to create this project, and therefore partnered with Gaysi to bring it to life. “For some members, gender and sexuality reflect their own assertion of identity and as identities evolve, the language we use and stories we tell should include everyone,” she adds.
After eight months of working on the project, currently, the team has a bank of 800 stories. “You have non-binary folk ready to share their stories. This wasn’t possible a couple of years ago. There is visibility for cis men or cis women now, but still not for asexual, transsexual or transwomen. It is fantastic to see people from other gender and sexualities also come forward,” elaborates Juneja. QSS is not just looking at a narrative around sexuality, but at an intersectionality with religion, caste, and more. The team hopes to carry on telling the stories for the next couple of years, without the narrative becoming repetitive. “We started the project during the pandemic. Hence, you see so many covid stories, which shows that seeking such intimate interactions doesn’t slow down during the pandemic. It is amazing to see how people are navigating the digital dating space,” says Juneja.