Social networking sites undoubtedly are the most just spaces on the Earth as they have indiscriminately provided us all platforms to voice our thoughts, unlike in the real space where society is predominantly hierarchical and continuously restrains new thoughts under its rigid structure. (From what I see in India and would be true of a lot of other places.) They have taken the world by a storm. And consequently they have also given rise to this phenomena, where, almost everyone now feels the compulsive need to voice their opinion at the earliest, about anything that is ‘trending’.
People feel a certain compulsion to let everyone else know they are following the current events, they are knowledgeable and have an opinion that they think needs to be put forward. Moreover, they want to be quick or so as to say ‘first among their friends’ to have posted in those regard. And in order to do so, they do not actually delve deep into the subject but skim through it and often through the take of writers on popular sites like BuzzFeed, Storypick, ScoopWhoop, etc. This often leaves their understanding of the issue half-baked. And a lot of times shadowed by the opinion of writers on these websites. Originality goes for a toss. And before you even know, the hullabaloo dies out and another topic takes them slave, and this goes on. And these people form the enormous bandwagon of pseudo-intellectuals.
And people who genuinely ponder over issues are less likely to be as active on social media. And so when they do turn to Facebook, they see their newsfeed flooded with similar posts (often having surface level content) that happened like a wildfire overnight or sometimes within a matter of hours. It pricks them, and quite a few conclude they don’t want to join the herd in its fad. The thinkers refrain from giving what would be a worthy outlook, and end up keeping their ideas to themselves.
Following the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Sates on June 26th, the world exclaimed in support with rainbow-filtering their photos on Facebook, and so did much active netizens of India. And gay marriage undoubtedly became the most talked about issue, pushing behind other topics of concern, namely women’s security, unjust beauty standards, government surveillance, and net neutrality among others, that created much stir in the past year or two.
It’s an alarming situation. While people distributed leaflets, published newsletters, organized awareness workshops, took to the streets and marched unafraid, voicing their demand or support as allies to groups to bring a revolution in yesteryears that led to constitutional changes; today it has reduced to laconic reposts and hashtags.
Unawareness and Hypocrisy
Much has been said, though, there is still a need to shed some light on LGBT issues and rights, in India. People talk about LGBT issues superficially, being apparently supportive, mostly as an act of exhibiting their political correctness expected of the modern, forward thinking lot. But ask them who ‘hijras’ are, and you’re most likely to get a confused look from a few, while you may hear from at least half of them that ‘hijras’ are intersex/hermaphrodite people or people with ambiguous genitalia that were taken away from the biological families into foster ‘hijra’ family right after birth by their likes. They don’t even know that ‘hijras’ are either transgender or transsexual. And how can they help their cause when they don’t understand who these people are? The unawareness of people is appalling. And moreover, if faced with a hijra on the street or in trains, they flinch, try to look away as if oblivious to their presence. Now what else would you call hypocrisy?
Taboo, Unacceptance and Superstition
People in India refrain from talking of anything to do with se*. (Didn’t spell it completely as it is frowned upon to mention it openly in our culture!) Mocking apart, it’s sad how some parents react when faced with ‘abnormal’ sexual orientation or gender-identity crisis of their children. They feel it is a disorder or a disease can be cured if taken to a doctor. Worse, some would even like to believe it is a temporary crisis owing to unfavorable planetary position in the birth chart which can be taken care of by wearing gemstones or by some extravagant ritual performed by the priest.
Pretense-Homophobia and False Machismo
Insecure men hide their lacking confidence under homophobia, even if they have never been hit on by other men before. Can’t comprehend why? It is as if saying they would never be in the close proximity of gay men, so that they are not associated with them and deemed gay, pansy.
And then there is another small fraction of men or attention seeking boys as I should say, who think much of themselves and pretend to be homophobic because as they would like to think it makes them appear more macho. It is a strange way of showing how attractive they are, consequently how prone they are to being hit on wherever they go, by women and men alike; and of course they get much more attention than they want and can handle; but how they would save themselves for the good of the womankind. A mere act of condescension and self-glorification, what I call as false-machismo.
It is sad how straight people use homosexual terms such as ‘gay’, ‘faggot’ as an insult to offend anyone for being apparently sensitive, highly metrosexual, or effeminate. And it isn’t cool at all when people update their friend’s status as “I am gay” etc. as a “joke”. Because being homosexual is so laugh worthy? Sigh.
But if people stop taking offence, and either ignore or smile back instead, the offenders won’t do it again, as a lesson of wasted effort. It will give out a message that you think being ‘gay’ is not bad, but they are wrong in their judgement to have called you one. It needs to be made clear that straight men can be effeminate and gay men can be classically masculine. Every human being has both femininity and masculinity, only the proportions may differ which is irrespective of their sexual inclination. It’s time we overthrow the age old stereotypes and, and set gender roles. Cleaning up our language should be the first step.
The Recoil of 377
The High Court of Delhi declared Section 377 of Chapter XVI of the Indian Penal Code ‘unconstitutional’ which criminalizes sexual activities ‘against the order of nature’, arguably including homosexual acts, on July 2nd, 2009; a truly triumphant moment for the broad-minded and liberal citizens of this country. People celebrated the ruling. Many glorified the Indian past- the texts of Kamasutra, the carvings of Khajuraho, mention of characters like Shikhandi and Brihannala in the epic Mahabharata, Lord Krishna undergoing sex change to marry Aravana, and the Goddess of the transgender Bahuchara Mata. Some even condemned the British as the Section 377 was introduced only in 1860 during the British Rule of India. But, the glory was short-lived. The judgement was overturned by the Supreme Court of India on 12 December 2013, with the Court holding that amending or repealing Section 377 should be a matter left to Parliament, not the judiciary. And the nation drew back into a regressive mode.
Ecstatic about decriminalization of their love in this nation, one of my teacher and his British boyfriend chalked out the plan to shift their business to India and settle down. Halfway through the cumbersome process, suddenly the country shut them out, being intolerant to gays with its overturned judgement. This man’s boyfriend had to reverse all of his hard work, not to mention being jobless as he had quit work to come to India and to resell the flat the couple had leased together to live in Mumbai. And when he was telling the class of his troubles, one could see how tired he was of being guilty to love.
Ally? Rally, and Click!
There are people who hop to every event in the city. Not to mention, LGBT pride rallies are definitely not spared. (After all, the swag factor of these parades can’t be ignored!) They paint the rainbow on their cheeks and there you go! Clicking away to glory and flooding Instagram and Facebook with their selfies hash-tagged – #LGBT #DelhiGayPride #RainbowRally etc. (And oh, the count of likes on their profile shoots up like crazy!) Take as many pictures as you want boys and girls, it shouldn’t hurt anyone unless it doesn’t remain to just that! The realization needs to grow that such a support isn’t going to make any considerable difference, not to society.
Please honor the cause you marched for and actually help like allies should? Nobody in your family or among your friends maybe gay, yet go up to your parents, grandparents, and other family members, sit them down and talk to them about homosexuality, about transgender, the difference between gender and sexuality. Remove the taboo, make them aware, broaden their knowledge and understanding about the issue, and persuade them into dispelling old, unhealthy opinions. To make it easier, one could begin with talking about love, the choice to love. Such discussions may not be not be always be pleasant, but yet it’s worthwhile, at least it’s a start.
Since my concern is how the revolutions have reduced to hashtags, I will do my part as an ally to the LGBT community and disambiguate a few misconceived ideas, share some trivia, bring into light a few relatively less thought over issues and some food for thought.
Sexual Orientation and Gender
Though LGBT is a widely accepted umbrella acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, there is a growing concern that ‘T’ be separated from LGB. The reason being a very fundamental difference between them. LGB are characterized by their sexual orientation, while transgender and transsexuality have to do with gender identity, or a person’s understanding of being or not being a man or a woman irrespective of their sexual orientation.
These distinctions need to be made in the context of political actions. For example LGB goals will be- same-sex marriage legislation, while goal of the transgender, transsexual and intersex people, will be incorporation of the third-sex in the country’s system, subsidized /free SRS, etc.
It is surprising how a country that regressed when it re-criminalized homosexuality, has taken some very progressive and fast-track measures for welfare one part of the LGBT community–the transgender people:
- Third Gender- In India, though sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is criminalized, and is punishable by incarceration, however, the country legally recognize Hijras as a gender separate from men or women, making the country one of the few in the world to legally recognize a third gender, as per the ruling of Supreme Court of India on April 15, 2014.
- Shabnam Mausi- Shabnam Mausi is the first transgender Indian or hijra to be elected to public office. She was an elected member of the Madhya Pradesh State Legislative Assembly from 1998 to 2003.In 2000 Shabnam Mausi became India’s first eunuch MP. (Hijras were granted voting rights in 1994 in India.)
- SRS in Tamil Nadu– Tamil Nadu state in India was the first state to introduce a transgender (hijra/ aravani) welfare policy. According to the transgender welfare policy transgender people can access free Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in the Government Hospital (only for MTF); free housing program; various citizenship documents; admission in government colleges with full scholarship for higher studies; alternative sources of livelihood through formation of self-help groups (for savings) and initiating income-generation programs (IGP).
In the first phase, the government wants to focus on feminization (MTF) owing to complex nature of SRS in case of FTM, lack of advanced medical facility, cost, and comparatively less demand. But, I am sure this will be addressed in near future.The state of Gujarat followed the footsteps of TN and now the Central government is currently deliberating whether to enact this into a law in the monsoon session of the Parliament or to make it a part of transgender welfare policy. The Centre would then either provide the surgeries/interventions free of cost or at a far subsidized cost. It’s empowering to know that medically unsupervised and clinically unsafe castration which a lot of times resulted in deaths will soon be history of the bygone times.
Think It Over
Transgender – Female to Male (FTM) – Although there is a growing awareness in regard to transwomen but close to nothing has been said about transmen. Since they are born girl, and as we know women in our country are brought up in the most (over)-protective way, with much grooming from the family in the formative years, these people face much trouble as their gender crisis is reduced to just a ‘tomboy’ phase which shall pass with time.
Demanding Hijra- Before you curse them when they come demanding for money, an assertive form of beggary, please remember that no one likes to live off beggary. It is because the society hasn’t been accommodating to them in the past in its infrastructure, be it education or jobs. Since they have no other means of earning a livelihood, beggary and sex work are the last options they resort to.
On the Brighter Side
Panmai- In August 2014, Panmai, the first of its kind theatre group in Tamil Nadu staged its debut play – Color of Trans. The group is made of two transwomen and a transman. They also went to perform it in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Now that’s a ray of hope.
Padmini Prakash – Since 15 August, 2014, India’s Independence Day last year- Padmini appears every evening at 19:00 (yes, on air at prime time) to present a news show on the Tamil channel Lotus TV based in the city of Coimbatore. Padmini Prakash has become India’s first transgender to anchor a daily television news show. Having met her personally where she demonstrated live how she reads at the news hour, I can say that her voice modulation, her pronunciation, over all presentation is very good, and she is as gracious as a woman can be.
She also shared about the man who fell in love with her, took her home to meet his family, and married her. That’s not it, she talked of the loving and accepting mother-in-law she got, and how the couple managed to adopt a child and the beautiful family life they are leading. And all of this in the city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, normally seen as conservative
The reality of a healthier nation begins with awareness, with knowledge, with unprejudiced discussions. Love can only win if we talk about it, unafraid and loud. Let’s un-hush.