I hope this letter finds you well and in the pink of your health. It should be brought to your notice that today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia – lengthy name, right? Believe me, the time it took to properly decriminalize homosexuality in our country and normalize alternative sexualities and genders is lengthier still.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his message to commemorate today, highlighted the need for protecting the LGBTQIA+ community. He reminded that the community’s vulnerability is heightened currently, adding that many LGBTI people who already face bias, attacks and murder “simply for who they are or whom they love…are experiencing heightened stigma as a result of the virus, as well as new obstacles when seeking health care.”
Now, if I could paint you, the reader, a picture – a large scale disease that currently has no known vaccine or cure that is threatening to wipe out the human race (this isn’t hyperbole; cases have shown animals and even corpses are carriers of COVID-19 AND as of this minute, the number of cases stands at 4.71 million), North Korea’s dictator almost died (many prayed he would – he didn’t), the economy is spiralling downwards and what are self-proclaimed woke Internet personalities doing?
Using homophobic, transphobic slurs for content that is equal parts annoying and unfunny. Many people on social media are debating as to why the queer community cannot take a ‘joke’?
Let me tell you why.
It is because societal norms have forced us to believe that there are only two binaries and that bullies are at every corner of our lives, whether it be within our families, chosen families, social circles, professional groups or just the neighbourhood in general.
It is because a day ago, Anjana Hareesh, a 21-year-old student from Kerala was found dead in Goa, where the police authorities ruled her demise as unnatural death, the more believed cause being suicide. This isn’t a run-of-the-mill news report. She had recently come out to her parents as bisexual and had been forced into ‘conversion therapy’, a cruel pseudoscientific practice where an individual’s alternative sexuality is ‘changed’ to heterosexuality using psychological or spiritual interventions, often combined with heavy medication that have serious effects on the body.
If you think our community is a joke, I find your sense of humour dangerous.
Ask any openly gay (or even some closeted folx) if they’ve been bullied for their sexuality and they’ll instantly give you an answer and the answer is mostly, ‘yes’.
A., a scholar from Sikkim who is part of the LGBTQIA+ community says, “Being bullied for how I was, has always made me realise how dominant the patriarchy is. Let them be as they want to be; your phobia against the queer community is actually a reflection of your insecurities. It’s time to let the spectrum be vivid and strong.”
Sikkim has a small population but the queer community here is even smaller. Alternative sexualities are still considered “a phase” in the state. A girl finds out she likes other girls – there is no medium for her to understand that it is okay because all she’s ever known is heterosexual relationships whether it be on-screen or in real life.
Stereotypical roles in cinema; a man playing an overtly effeminate character, usually as a comedic prop or a woman who cann– wait. Where are the lesbians in Bollywood? Do you see how bad it is? And I’m not saying movies should have roles for women who play exaggerated lesbians (because let’s face it, actual representation in cinema? That is asking for too much) or bisexuals – I’m pointing to the evident erasure of that section of the queer community.
Even if the directors and producers were hinting at lesbian love, it was depicted as “being closest of friends”, which is, to be frank, a running joke within the community. How many of us have deceived ourselves, when feeling particularly affectionate towards a friend of the same gender and mistaking that as “friendship”. The entire routine would be hilarious if not extremely sad.
It isn’t funny. Being unable to understand and navigate one’s sexuality and emotions because all we’re fed is large amounts of heteronormative, patriarchal bullsh*t.
Homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, queerphobia – whatever one calls it, starts at home.
Young minds are the easiest to influence and the previous generation was focused on extending and strengthening their bloodlines, believing that their names must go on, which is why heteronormativity never left our societal system. Most people have seen queer and effeminate people being the object of ridicule and amusement as if the community did exist only to fulfil the voyeuristic desires of heterosexuals.
As a bisexual, Nepali woman, who has grown up around a strictly heterosexual household (enforced, obviously) it mystifies me that men who spew abuse on women and the queer community are the ones who claim to love their female relatives the most. What is this hypocrisy? Growing up listening to “bya ta garnu parcha ek din (you must marry one day)” has been traumatizing.
What the ‘Normal’ section of society doesn’t understand is that the idea of a relationship, a marriage, a job even – they’re distant dreams for our apparently ‘Abnormal’ community. We cannot tell our parents we aren’t interested in sex (because asexuality is a reality for many) or that we do want to be intimate and love someone but they’re the same gender binary or trans.
I wish I could tell you, it is easy to ignore casual queerphobia, sexism and racism but it isn’t. And I’m the more privileged of the community. Every other person who is part of the LGBTQIA+ community in the hills has quietly suffocated their identities, out of fear. Oh and the things we have to fear! Rejection, bullying, harassment, physical threats, abandonment, sexual abuse, verbal slurs…the list is a long one.
Add to this our caste, race, economic background, political leanings – we have NEVER had it easy. Hiding and pretending is almost second nature to us because prey is what we are often made to feel like.
Usually, people from same-sex schools/colleges have their sexualities questioned – if they go to a same-sex education institution, then obviously they must have ‘experimented’? I went to an all-girls college and if I could tattoo a FAQ section on my arms, the first question would be – “so you’re gay?” (You did not see it but after I typed that sentence, I took a pause to roll my eyes so hard it hurts and the answer is, yes. Yes, I am gay – but being at an all-girls college didn’t do it for me; sexual orientation isn’t a choice.)
“People have been fighting against caste discrimination, racial discrimination, religious discrimination but why do we shy away from voicing out against gender discrimination? When they all are in principle the same thing”, says Viveka Gurung, an open lesbian and Assistant Professor of Sociology at NBBDC.
“People want to defy the law of nature and go live in freaking Mars but won’t accept remodelling man-made gender norms? Patriarchy has an evil twin. It’s called homophobia.”
Aahan Raul, a makeup artist from Gangtok, recently came out on Instagram. At 18, he is confident and has an air of optimism around him, contrasting my cynicism about our society, as he narrates his experience of being an openly gay teenager in Sikkim.
“Well, honestly, being queer within the Nepali community, in fact within the Northeastern region, is really great. We do face a lot of criticism, but keeping all the negativity aside, I believe that maybe because of us being a minority, we share a bond with everyone around us that lets us see others as human and our people rather than someone who is queer or someone who is not a part of our typical society. I personally think people are really accepting, but on the other hand, we do always come across people who judge, who are homophobic.
“I do receive a lot of comments from people who say, “you are not meant for Sikkim/India, you should eventually go abroad”, and this is where the judging starts, people are accepting but they are still not very open to the idea of the LGBTQ+ people being a part of their community/society, there are also some seriously homophobic people who have thrown comments straight to my face such as “I would never want a son like you” or “you must be embarrassing to your family”, etc.
“But honestly, I don’t blame them for it, they have always been brought up in a society where these things were considered taboo, so what I want to do and also want to encourage others to do, is not to fight back with anger and hate (which will only make matters worse) but to make these people understand that it’s okay, you know, it’s okay to be like this, that we are the same person we were before we came out, that we are no less human than any other human being.”
I ask him if he was ever bullied for his sexual orientation? “Not exactly bullied; people did try, but when you accept yourself, what can others say? They have catcalled and said things like “gay” “faggot” but there I’m sitting with a drink in my hand like “yes exactly, hi”. When you accept yourself completely, nobody can put you down. But I do know there are people out there who are getting physically bullied. All I’d say is for them to stay strong, and no matter what, never to lose hope for better and brighter days.”
In the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are queer children/teens/adults living with homophobic parents/family/roommates; there are no separate wards at quarantine facilities for trans people; online bullies who just won’t stop abusing and harassing the few who have come out; the abysmal healthcare facilities (including screening for the virus) for trans people, especially those who come economically backward sections of society; lack of proper sanitation, food and housing facilities – who will address this? I have only one question for our leaders – do you honestly care about the LGBTQIA+ community?
There are 2 million transgender people in India, most of whom have to resort to begging and sex work because there aren’t enough jobs in the world that accept a candidate for their merits and not their gender or lack of. Those who are living in economically backward areas in cities and towns, where having a room for oneself and maintaining social distancing is as difficult as it is to get basic healthcare, are invisible. Who lends a helping hand to them?
Additionally, the reality of the lockdown is that many sick minds find this the apt time to sexually, mentally and physically harass us. Who should we turn to if the laws that were made for us (by committees that had little to no queer representation) still oppress us? Do we turn to religion, which says that at the core of every faith, there is only love? We try but find that even there we have no space.
Can people realize that we are living, breathing humans able to feel every emotion – can people ever see beyond gender and sexualities? Or are we still the punchline to your joke?
Your Friendly Neighbourhood Gay
By Shradha R. Chhetri. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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