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There is no perfectly healthy person in the world, in mind or body. We must acknowledge our damage and dialogue with others

A recent book on what it terms the medicalisation and pathologisation of homosexuality in India is entitled Nothing to Fix. The claim is that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality and that homosexuality is not a medical condition. This is, of course, not news. Even as regressive and hideous a document as the DSM in the United States took homosexuality off its pages decades ago. Nevertheless, this does not prevent the medicalising and pathologising of homosexuality, especially in countries like India.

But one of the many problems with the book is the assumption that there is indeed no psychological damage the gay subject suffers in India or that there is nothing to fix in the gay subject and that it is not this very damage that also allows for the medicalisation and pathologising of homosexuality. In the shallow positivity of the present, we either do not want to speak of damage or injury or pain as part of the formation of our identities. Or we want to locate violence and the inflicting of pain only on medicine and institutions of physical and mental health.

Yet injury and pain are a crucial part of the gay experience in India and not all of it is inflicted by medical and pseudo-medical psychological institutions. Indeed, it is arguable that injury and pain are crucial to the formation of our identities and indeed heterosexual or indeed any other sexual identities, though the hegemonic may not want to acknowledge it. But we go about pretending that a healthy identity is one that has no contradiction, no pain, no damage and nothing but sparkly health.

Freud contended that the initiation into the sexual is necessarily traumatic and this is surely true. Homosexuality as a non-institutionalised form of sexuality which is marginalised involves even more trauma. Yet everyone wants to deny that trauma is part of one’s sexual formation. Internet sites like gay.com are full of men asking their hook-ups and potential partners not to have any “emotional baggage” and not to be “drama queens.” Drama, however, plays a crucial part in how we are formed, so why can’t meeting a guy be about sharing that drama, understanding it, helping each other?

I don’t just mean this in the realm of conversation. Sexually, many of us have damaged histories and it is important to share this to have meaningful sex. But the realm of sex is predicated upon the denial of history. It inhabits some pure realm of “hard core tops” and bottoms who want to be “raped” and “drilled” by a “monster cock.” Sexuality as constructed by gay porn is what dominates the gay imagination and this does not involve any intersubjective experience of sex. It involves blank bodies who love getting their mouth “fucked” till they “gag” or getting their arse “banged”.

A reason for the rise in the medicalisation and pathologisation of all of us (and not just homosexuals) is precisely because we labour under the illusion that there is a realm of pure mental health, that sexual desire or sadness or pain are like diseases that must be “cured.” Psychology in its desperation to create itself as a ‘science’ mimics the biological sciences; indeed it must speak in biological terms. Yet the biological itself and what constitutes health and ill-health in it are contested ideas.

So hundreds of young people who might just be having a bad day are put on medication, after a five-minute diagnosis, that they have to take for life and which alters their minds and bodies forever. And if you are gay or lesbian and trans, then you are definitely in need of cure. We accept this because we are in the thrall of science, of doctors, of experts, of people who apparently know better than us about our own bodies and minds.

All of this might be arrested if we first accept that we are damaged, that we are violated, that we are traumatised. That is the first step. The second is to work on this in dialogue with others, whether or not in bed. There is no shame in being damaged or violated or traumatised. There is no need to internalise the stigma that we are shown. There is no perfectly healthy person in the world, in mind or body, and that person, should he or she exist, is definitely not heterosexual.

Indeed there is a great deal of pleasure (sexual and otherwise) and fulfilment to be gained if we acknowledge our damage and dialogue with others about it. So the next time someone says ‘No emotional baggage’ tell him to fuck off and that you feel sorry for him that he has no baggage. Ask him to buy some. And preferably pink!

Ashley Tellis

Ashley Tellis is an LGBT rights activist and an academic