Fayes T Kantawala thinks about what it takes to win, as he walks past a landmark of the struggle against bigotry

Self-employment is always a bit of a two-faced mistress. I use it to make my own schedule and therefore don’t have to feign interest in the lives of co-workers – a rule I made in 2007 when a casual acquaintance with work-friend Suzy devolved into co-dependent nightmare culminating in attending her third cat’s funeral. But employing yourself also means you have to generate your own motivation, drive and focus. And when that happens, when you can hack your own day, you are living your best life. I’ve hit just such a hack, a rhythm in the last three weeks: up early every morning, gym, lunch, work, sleep, repeat. No junk food, no sweets, so excess calories and I am zipping through my summer reading list. I am, I thought to myself last night as I leaned over to turn off my bedside lamp smugly at 9 30 pm, crushing adult life.

But the cruel thing about adult life is that no one gives you a star for a job well done, even after three whole weeks. There is no one to say “well done” or “how marvelous of you” or “you deserve a statue for the self-resolve you showed in the face of that box of chocolate pecan pie, you marvelous human miracle!” And one needs stars, because if I am brutally honest, the flip side of my “zone” is that I have actually put on 2 kg, haven’t spoken to another person in five days and had so much of my own home-cooked daal that I dreamt I made out with an onion bagel the other night!

The Stonewall Inn, which became the site of riots against police brutality and bigotry

What makes this routine doable is the standing engagement I have with my friends to meet every Friday evening for an after-work drink at a watering hole in the West Village. The respite allows me to let my guard down a bit and it’s disturbing how three hours of your week can reorient the rest of it. Part of this tradition is that every Friday I take the same route over there, and every Friday I pass the front door of the Stonewall Inn, the storied bar in the Village. It was outside its door that the Stonewall riots took place in 1969, which led to the birth of the LGBT rights movement. It looks like a hobbits’ pub from the outside – a fact you wouldn’t notice anyway because it’s usually crowded with tourists taking selfies in front of rainbow flags. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the riots, which means the Pride parade that usually takes over the city on the last Sunday in June and ends at the Inn is going to be bigger and brighter than ever!

Because it’s the fiftieth year, they’ve put up a lot of little signs and messages throughout the area reminding people about the history of the LGBT rights movement. These historical plaques have been also augmented by pedestrians with pamphlets denouncing the Trump administration and reminding people that although the struggle is 50 years old, it is not over. One of the signs I read went into the history of the phrase “That’s so gay”, and the lettering got to me stop mid-stride and pause. It was a familiar phrase. It was one that many of my contemporaries used freely when I first arrived in America, to refer about everything from flight delays to bad weather. It was almost exclusively used by people who would rather die than consider themselves homophobes, and I was always wondering as to how they could not hear the bigotry. Couldn’t they hear what they were saying? Apparently not, because the plaque told me that it wasn’t until GLAAD used popular celebs like Hillary Duff (oh 2000s) on TV ads to denounce the expression that things began to change.

I walked on towards my weekly ritual, but I kept thinking about that placard. I was thinking about the social advancements in areas like institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia etc that the world has made in the last fifty years, but more specifically about how fragile those wins can be.

Today entire generations have been raised at a time when abortion is a legal right, and yet it (and women’s rights in general) are as much under attack today as they ever were. Perhaps the 19th century assumption that the human race is on an unstoppable march to freedom and enlightenment is more gratifying than it is true. Maybe it’s not a given that we are marching to something better. Maybe it’s the fight after the war is “won” that is more important. Homophobia won’t go away simply because the Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriage in the US, or the UK, or South Africa. No more so than racism went away after Americans elected President Obama.

One of the things I think about a lot in this context is Pakistan’s democracy. Not because I’m a particularly philosophical person, but because the country’s political health has a direct impact on my life. So I worry when we call ourselves a democracy while the two main democratic opposition leaders are in jail. It feels wrong – the same way it feels dangerous to assume that the elections are the only things that define a democracy. Yes, we may have had three elections back to back, but that doesn’t end our predilection to totalitarianism. Democracy (like any right) doesn’t just exist in perpetuity. If you don’t fight for it, cry for it, and in some cases even die for it, it vanishes. A symbolic change doesn’t symbolize change forever. Like a routine, you have to fight for it everyday.

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