This is a time for change. A change to cherish for, a change to feel proud of and feel fulfilled. There was a time when I was ridiculed, bullied, harassed and even beaten for me being different: different in looks, different in attitudes and different in behaviour. They termed the difference as effeminacy or being fag. Those were the days when I used to avoid social gatherings, family get-togethers, picnics and even school. Every time I used to visit those places I was made to understand that I was different, different from the so-called ‘mainstream’. And this constant nagging, constant-criticizing attitudes from my peers, made me feel distressed, traumatized, isolated and feel friendless. The result was after I passed my school, I didn’t keep any contact (mostly intentionally, and also out of circumstance) from my good old buddies (if they can be called so) and lived a more-or-less reclusive life.
But now it is the time for change. Going by the series of events in the last three months I think I have to change my mindset about my school pals. May be I have already changed it, and the change is for a good one. Let me explain what actually happened.
How it all started??
Just the other day about 3 months ago from now, I incidentally bounced upon a very old friend of mine in Orkut; say his name is Saurav. Saurav used to be a good friend of mine in my school days (one of the good few who used to shun himself from scathing me, and used to be a lone spectator). After bits of His and Hellos, after bits of memory-sharing and feeling nostalgic, he asked me what am I doing now? I said, I have joined the social sector working for HIV/AIDS and also for rights of the gay people. I also said that I had made a very short film on this issue and if he likes I can share it with him. Incidentally, Saurav knew about my sexuality previously, so he was not taken aback. But as his usual self, he cheered me euphoniously for my ‘path-breaking’ decision of choosing a career like this, and said that he will definitely see the film, which I had made. I sent him the link and he saw the movie. And then followed a series of events which again made me a topic of discussion among my old school mates.
Saurav posted the link of the film to the yahoo-group of my school friends only to meet with bouncing comments. Many people jumped to see my endeavour, and the result was a series of phone calls from my old pals after a staggering 12 and 14 years, and plenty of friend requests on orkut. It was really a happening month for me. Everybody cheered me (at least on the face) for the role I am playing now. But the most interesting part of the story was yet to come.
Among my school friends there is a girl called Shakuntala. She is now a proud mother of a 5 yrs old boy child. Shakuntala was very dynamic and very rebellious from her childhood days itself, but now this rebelliousness has been refined with a sense of wisdom. Shakuntala gave her son to dancing – an obviously effeminate activity in terms of the Indian context, and openly tells if her child becomes effeminate – its none of her concern because there is no harm in becoming feminine. She posted the video of one her son’s dance performances to the yahoo-group. That generated lots of cheers and appreciation from most of my friends (praise-worthy reactions indeed!!) and also generated a whole new debate on Gender-Constructs and Homosexuality.
The Discussion and The Debate:-
Following the post of the Dance Video, Saurav raised a very relevant question. He asked the group that most of the little boys who go for dancing and singing lessons, face a stringent problem in the society – they will be obviously equated with effeminates and gays. He also raised questions on proper parenting and rules of peer groups. To quote him –
“Given the kind of families we come from and the kind of friends/colleagues/ acquaintances that we have surrounded ourselves with, the biggest problems for us would be the following two:
a) proper parenting and
b) exercising the “right peer/social pressure”
…..chances are we will get them wrong most of the time or else we will be victims of it and therefore spend the whole life defending and explaining ourselves..”
This last line is very important in connection with the present discussion because most of the time it has been seen that the ‘different child’ goes astray from his/her focus and hence remain incarcerated in the chains of social pressure throughout his life.
Wonderful comments followed this mail, from all my friends, like –
- · “So to all new or would be moms and dads, give your child the breathing space. You never know what talent might be hidden in him/her.”
- · “As far as talent goes, everybody is gifted with some or the other qualities. It’s about giving the right time and right space and love them for what they are.”
- “There are a lot of things in the world that are ‘made’ as ‘not-normal’, but actually are ‘very’ normal. We need to change a lot, then only we will know the world better.”
All these comments are extremely inspiring, and readily vouch for the present openness of mind and attitude of my old friends. In fact in one of the ongoing mails I commented, “As with time I have evolved from the shy, timid, nervous guy to a more self-assured and confident chap, my friends have also evolved from their more ‘mainstream’ self to an open and enlightened one.”
These comments were also added with honest revelations that more or less every boy has to face the ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ syndrome and pass through the nearly choking sensation of holding his tears back in atleast some part of his life. But the good part of the story is that “social-pressure has fairly decreased in these days, at least in the urban scenario, where everybody is being given the space, not only the different ones but also the ‘normal’ ones”, thanks to the evidence of metrosexuality, and increased numbers of doting fathers, caring husbands.
But between all these rosy mails, there was a mail with a thorn (or a scorn??), which generated a lot of debate. One of my friend Ayan Dasgupta wrote, “When it has been proved medically that homosexuality is just a normal condition, so why all this hue and cry about ‘normalization of homosexuality’, what is the fuss about?” Ayan also said that he “fails to understand that why gay people put on lipsticks to proclaim their sexuality and why people relate male-dancers with gays”. He feels that all these ‘symbolism’ is actually harming the whole effort of making homosexuality a normal thing.
Apparently Ayan’s statement looks as if it is spoken with lots of compassion and support to homosexuality and homosexual rights. But if more focus was given to his statement then it would be clear that layers of homophobia (though a refined one) are embedded in his comments.
Mark his whole statement very carefully. There were many issues addressed in these two lines. – i) Medical sanctioning of homosexuality, ii) why this campaigning (hue and cry) is necessary, iii) why gays puts on female paraphernalia to proclaim their sexuality, iv) and whether these stereo-typification is actually harming the queer-rights movement or not?
In connection to all these questions I wrote a series of mails, trying to address these issues with as many arguments, counter-arguments, examples and anecdotes as possible. The gist of my arguments was this: Homosexuality, be it natural or nurtured, be it biological or social, be it indigenous or western-imported, be it historical or recent, – if two consenting and conscious adults decide to go for a relationship, be it an one-night stand or a long-term relationship without harming anybody, then why a third person or agency be it state or society has to interfere? The total idea of legalizing and making homosexuality socially accepted should be more on the human rights basis, than any other grounds of medicine, biology, naturalness etc. etc. And it is in the purview of this statement that ‘Gay Rights are Human Rights’ that all this ‘hue and cry’ should be made.
Secondly, not only that it itself is a stereotype and a clichéd idea that every gay is equated with lipsticks and hip-swings and sashays, as much as the stereotype itself, but also accepting the lipstick-painted, sari-cladded Kotis and TGs as the part of the queer community, is actually giving more space and respect to diversity and difference.
Anyway, not emphasizing more on what I have said, let’s present what others had commented on this issue. These are some of them:
- “Homosexuality is just one of the many excuses, like religion, education, wealth, intelligence, clothes, for people to loathe each other, superficially, subserviently, consciously and unconsciously. The middle class use these as weapons to comment about one’s lifestyle in a derogatory and yet sympathetic manner.”
- · “Personally I think it is time for agitation and for forcing legislative changes for the LGBT community! So what if the law was defunct! It is a derogatory law, and even the symbolism of repealing it is an important Symbolism!!”
- · “It is a civil rights movement!! It may just be a matter of common sense that sex, color, caste, creed, social strata or sexual orientation should not restrict the rights or opportunities of a person. But at different points in the history of the modern world the Laws of a Land and the society at large has not considered that true! And each time the disadvantaged group, be it women struggling for right to automatic property inheritance or for right to vote, blacks for being treated equal to whites, or for gay-lesbian-transgenders to get legal rights, a movement had to be organized and bold statements had to be made. The government or the society never handed it to them peacefully without a struggle, without rallies, or petitions or bold social statement. If that were the case, then NAZ Foundation and the accompanying NGOs wouldn’t had to fight against IPC 377 for so long. Wearing a T-shirt saying “I’m Gay” or organizing gay rally is a part of this whole struggle to get larger legal and social acceptance. It is a part of getting noticed, getting counted, getting talked about and thought about. It is meant to be this “IN-YOUR-FACE” thing! Once the state accepts, then eventually the people will accept, then probably the need for bold statements will diminish, although staying on at a more personal level. The ‘Hue-and-Cry’ is needed, it is ultimately, a time-tested strategy in all equal rights movements! “
With these kinds of statements, which are positive, sensitive and empathetic, some of my friends also asked direct queries about the movement. Like how do you think a change can be brought about? What new laws, new ethics, new changes are needed to amend that problem? Shall it start with local or national level awareness drives supported by medical experts, explaining that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality? Or does the drive need more support from legislators and politicians? Or does it need awareness programs through media – television, newspaper etc?
But there was a different face of the argument too. Some people commented that:
“When you call it to be a civil movement it should not be limited to homosexuals only because lots of people have raised their voices and supported this movement who are not gays or lesbians. Many ‘non homosexuals’ have welcomed the decision. So when you go to a rally wearing a shirt and rejoicing saying ‘I am gay’, you undermine those persons who thought it to be a ‘right of humans’, rather than a ‘right of gays’. A non-homosexual should not be interested in what the verdict says but then why he supports that cause? Because he understands that something is going on wrong, something is inhuman. Unless you take the majority with you, you cannot win. The words “our community “, “our movement” spells out troubles. People have to understand that there is no other in a homosexual, and there is no threat from a homosexual, he/she is just another boy/girl living next door. It’s more of social acceptance and removing social stigma rather that repealing a law. Repealing a law may help in getting social and legal security but it alienates the group from mainstream. Try to involve more and more people in the movement (be it homo or hetero), give a space to the hetero, portray it as a movement of humanity rather than a right of homosexual then only the movement will succeed for what it is dreaming of.”
The ongoing and subsequent discussions among my school-friends (who are ‘presumably’ from the ‘straight’ community) indicated (as said by one of my friend) that there is “a certain section of sober people in the society, who remain generally untapped and unidentified during these movements who”-
a) “can understand where the problem lies, but cannot do anything because of lack of proper channelization of their views.”
b) “get confused by the political or socialistic overt ‘coloring’ of the issue.”
c) “there is no effort made from the NGOs(and such institutions) and no assurance/gurantee of safety measures given to these sober people, so as they don’t feel alien and alone while helping the cause.”
So can we conclude that there must be an effort from all the sensitive ends so that the voice of these ‘sober people’ gets heard in order to mainstream the whole process? Wouldn’t it be prudent enough to encourage organizational effort to facilitate non-queers to support the queer cause? Will the overall impact maximize in punches like this – “We are Straights and Gays, together called Humans. Celebrate Humanity, Celebrate Difference : Support the Cause.”
I just want to end this long essay with a beautiful example (or a realization!!) presented by one of my friend. The example itself has no connection with this present issue of Gay-Rights, but it will help you to see deeper into the actual problem related with any kind of violation of human rights and human crises.
“ Say a kid is born with asthma problem and he/she is not able to do the “normal” running and jumping all over as others do. What do you do to him/her?
a) tell that person, this (running and jumping) is not for you, go for arts and such less physically intensive “sport”.
b) tell the parents nothing to worry, this is a general case these days, with some breathing exercises and with some inhalers the kid will be able to perform light duty jobs.
c) and give dosages of some ancient examples from Puran and Greek mythology – this existed before and this is nothing new and generations after will also see these kind of problems. “
“ Solving existing problems and ‘abnormalities’ like this with pen and paper is very easy. Writing essays for academic journals, making posters for international conferences, framing theoretical methods for solving a problem like this is as much easier. But think of that kid, who has been made to realize right from the very first day that he is different, he is deviant from the ‘normals’, and hence ‘defective’ – not to be ‘used’ in the society. Think of that kid who has to fight for his whole life to get acceptability in commonly understood terms, think of them. Do we have Any solutions to Their Problems??” …… NO.
“…. These references to mythology, history, genetics, medical sciences, theories, social and civil movements etc. etc. won’t arrest the individual problems, the personal confusions, the crises, the humiliations – what these people go through day in day out – may be we cannot capture, can never capture their daily issues and daily battles – Unless ‘We’ Focus Our Attention to that ‘Defective Product’ Individually…”
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