ISSUES Coming to terms with your sexual identity can be difficult and all the more so when you decide to come out in the open… PAROMITA PAIN
The June 1969 Stonewall riots in America saw the fight for LGBT( Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) civil rights gain new momentum. June, therefore, is Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in the United States which is now celebrated globally to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots and highlight LGBT issues. While India hasn’t seen riots break out regarding LGBT rights as yet, the country has a colourful gay scene that isn’t always quiet or believes in hiding away. Our Pride marches are shining examples. While being young is always exciting, is life easy when intensely personal choices like who you like or love sets you apart? What’s it like being young and gay in an India that is replacing its heritage buildings by sleek monsters of concrete and steel but is yet to scrap archaic laws like Section 377 that violate fundamental human rights and increase chances of discrimination?
No single moment
Joshua Muyiwa, 23, Dance Editor for TimeOut, Bengaluru, and a poet, can’t pinpoint a single moment that told him he was gay. “I remember being six and wrapping my grandmother’s shawl as a skirt while running household errands. I think when I was eleven or so, I saw a picture of me dressed as a girl, my grandmother had taken it in a studio, and I liked the picture. Perhaps, that was epiphany,” he says. His poetry (dripink.wordpress.com) is intensely personal, working only on queer themes, sexualising the male body, same sex relationships and using myths. Ask him about homophobia and he says, “Well, homophobia is a very strong sentiment to associate with people. I think people in general are scared of anything that doesn’t resemble them. Yes, therefore homophobia exists. But, you know, queer men and women are absolutely afraid of hijras and don’t know how to act around them. Straight-passing gay men are afraid of effeminate gay men. So, we are mostly afraid of things that make us uncomfortable and in India, sexuality makes us uncomfortable.”
He hasn’t been overtly prejudiced against but “I have been teased on the road,” he says, “But that is because I wear things that ‘an average Indian man’ wouldn’t be caught dead in because it would affect his sense of masculinity. But I like playing with gender, so I wear bangles and have my ears pierced. I wear bright colours and walk down a street like I own it.”Reactions always haven’t been pleasant. Men in restrooms have asked him if he is a boy or girl. He has been propositioned for sex by numerous men who will constantly claim they are straight. But he chooses to make these things the background score of his life and move on “Sexuality is fluid”, say psychologists and sexual rights activists. It’s a need that’s governed by environments, attitudes and of course orientation.
So who decides your orientation? The nurture versus nature argument is still on with new research saying that it’s all in our genes. Well, genes, family or whatever, being attracted to the same sex isn’t really new ground in India yet discrimination is rife as is stereotyping. And gay people don’t usually hit on those who aren’t gay. It’s probably something to do with the gaydar. “Similar to the saying, ‘It takes one to know one,’ gaydar is the ability to detect with guts’ instinct if someone is either gay or lesbian. Of course, ‘gaydar’ can be predicated upon stereotypes, which might be misleading. I usually have ‘gaydar’ except in an ashram, where the traditional boundaries of male/female behaviours are blurred and gender roles are not sharply defined,” explains Anandaroopa, who recently relocated to India with his partner of many years.
Romal M. Singh, 24, said ‘no’ to a girl who asked him out in Std VII. But that wasn’t when he discovered that he wasn’t into girls. It was when he was stationed for a while in Manipur where he didn’t know the language or have too many friends and therefore got to spend a great deal of time with himself that he discovered he was gay. “It totally clicked for me when I fell in love with a man there,” he says “but he will never know.” Romal was never into sports, cars or bikes, popularly considered typical guy stuff. “I was a Bharatnatyam dancer. I was into theatre. Now I realise that I was lucky to be in the world of performing arts where people look at the world different and believe in self expression. When I came out most of my friends said they always knew I was gay. Talk about stereotyping,” he laughs.
Always culturally inclined, he doesn’t attribute this to his orientation. “I know lots of straight people who are also into these things but I do know for a fact that I dealt with it better because I was with people who had a more open way of looking at the world. It was easier for me to come to terms with it,” he says. Though in India certain differences between males and females are set, certain attributes aren’t so vehement, especially among the young. “For example you won’t randomly go around saying that a quiet boy is gay. Gender is not all that role-defined. Most of us kind of fit into these grey areas”, he explains. Romal believes that India’s homophobia has many shades to it. “It’s a land of diverse cultures and religions that lends it many shades. As long as it doesn’t have to come out in public its okay. For large families if two gay men live together it really isn’t a problem. It when you come out and want recognition for what you are, it is then that’s it’s a problem,” he explains. The random generalisation that he wants to sleep with every cute boy he talks to, can be quite taxing.
Hide or no?
While it doesn’t pay to be Mother Hubbard and live in a cupboard, coming out have different repercussions for different people. “Well, come out by all means, but only if you want. Makes sure you have some sort of support system to fall back on. Put it in the framework of loving someone. Try to steer clear of the sex aspect of it,” cautions Joshua. Aspects to staying closet are many. Many gay people don’t want to go public. “The lack of gay men interested in relationships convinces many that they won’t find partners. 80 per cent will tell you they don’t want to be in relationships or don’t want to come out. Finally a young person will think that the only way not be lonely is to sleep around. The men you are sleeping around with also went through this. I am sacred that this will not end,” says Romal.
Believe in yourself
Governments across the globe have failed to deliver the promises they made 15 years ago to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people putting the lives of millions at risk. Shocked by the lack of progress , the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has launched the 15and Counting campaign urging young people around the world to call their government and demand action. Dr. Gill Greer, Director General of IPPF has said “Those born in 1994, when governments all over the world made their commitment, are now 15 years old and have needs, desires and expectations that the world seems unprepared to address. Governments have failed to prioritise the sexual health services, education and information young people need to lead healthy, safe and empowered lives. It is critical they review the promises they made and to accelerate programmes to meet the needs of all young people.”
The 15andCounting campaign is asking people all over the world to sign the “Count Me In: Sexual Rights for All” petition to demand better access to sexual health services and education for everyone, which will be presented to the United Nations in October. The campaign is being delivered on the ground in 176 countries worldwide by IPPF’s Member Associations. As well as spreading the message on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, the campaign encourages petition signatures through instant messaging via mobile phone for young people without internet access. To sign the petition and find out more about the campaign visit www.15andcounting.org
June is hot and things are about to get warmer. Not because the weather gods aren’t on our side but because for the first time in history, Chennai will be in PINK with Pride events celebrated throughout the city. Join the Support Group Meeting for parents and siblings of LGBT facilitated by the Center for Counselling, a non-profit organisation. The meeting will provide a supportive and confidential space where parents and siblings can ask questions, get factual information, and most importantly, meet other parents who are struggling to cope with similar issues relating to their adult children. Join Lesbian, Gay, Kothi, Aravani, Bisexual, Trans folks and Straight allies as we march in Chennai to celebrate June as Pride Month.
When: June 26Time: 4:00 p.m.
Where: Center for Counselling, No. 18Radhakrishnan Salai, 9th Street, 3rd Floor,
*Entrance Free but restricted to parents, siblings and LGBT individuals.
RSVP :91-9884100135Mail: magdalene. firstname.lastname@example.org For more information, contact Sangama, Chennai
Watch it: http://www. youtube.com/watch ?v=Z3F5YYk5VWcContact:email@example.com
June 28 (4:00 p.m. onwards): The march along Marina beach, from the Triumph of Labour statue to the Mahatma Gandhi Statue. Sangama, Sahodaran, Sahodari Foundation, The Shakti Centre, Centre for Counselling, Social Welfare Association for Men (SWAM), South India Positive Network along with other human rights and women’s rights groups will participate.June will also see The American Library display books on the history of the gay and Lesbian struggle for equal rights in the U.S. and other woks by famous LGBT authors.
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