After Section 377: The road ahead

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The LGBTQI community of India can finally breathe without being snarled at by every other person on the street. They can finally make love without committing a crime and be free to come out into the open...at least for some of them. That’s the power of overthrowing Section 377. To be specific, the law prohibits oral and anal sex (and that goes for consenting heterosexuals as well) deeming it unnatural. The Victorian era Church of England and British law thought sex could only be had missionary position. The irony!

Needless to say, this law thereby makes homosexuality, by its very nature, unnatural and illegal.

It’s at times like these that we feel India is headed in the right direction. After all, this is a massive step forward in a country whose belief systems are still very conservative, to say the least. And it is most definitely worth celebrating that we have recognised a truth that many nations still haven’t. But we do have a long way to go.

I’m not trying to dampen your high spirits. I’m just saying we shouldn’t sit back down just yet. This is only the first wicket. We have many more to drop.

For instance, where will the LGBT community stand now? Their parents, grandparents, cultural leaders and the society at large still think homosexuality and transsexuality are all unnatural, disgusting and “against Indian culture”. In fact, when the Supreme Court upheld Section 377 in 2013, it was all the religious leaders who, in a rare and revealing move, united to support the decision.

There will still be heinous violence and discrimination perpetrated not only by family members and lowlife citizens but by the police themselves. There have been cases reported of police officers abusing and raping transexuals and leaving them for dead because they knew they would never be reported. And even if they were, with whom would the law side? Who would the courts believe?

Now legal action can be taken against them without condemning the victims, but how many of them will get reported? The stigma remains, after all. The law may have been changed, but victims still have to worry about social condemnation if the word gets out that they’ve been abused. As things stand now, it’ll come back to them as victim blaming, apathy and disgust. This is as horrific and sickening, if not more, as the women who are subjected to the same kind of violence and discrimination and then blamed and shamed for it.

Cultural normalisation is a long way away still. It’s a daily fight against internalised shame, familial embarrassment, dodging marriage proposals, laughing at homophobic jokes at work just to fit in, while keeping ones natural movement instincts under control. It’s having to wear dull colours while straight/cis (meaning non-transgender) men turn up in flashy clothes. It’s having to look and dress like your assigned gender, even if you feel like the opposite gender. The camouflage is profoundly internalised as are the protective instincts. For those very obviously effeminate, life is as easy as it is for a woman walking down a crowded street in a mini-skirt. They get respite only when in the very few safe havens they have. Usually among their few friends who most probably are fellow sufferers.

Can we let all this continue? Just in case you don’t know the answer: No. We can’t.

These are the things we still need to do something about. We can’t rest, we can’t become complacent. We want to move towards a future where LGBTQI people can hold jobs, marry, adopt kids and live normal lives just like to which everyone is entitled.

But what can we do?

How can we face bigotry at such a massive scale?

Get rid of our misconceptions

We all have misconceptions about things we don’t understand and people that are different from us. Mainland Indians have misconceptions about people from the North East; South Indians have similar ideas about people from the north, and its the same between white and black people, Europeans and Far Easterns, Americans and the British and so on. Similarly, how we perceive people with different sexualities is often wrong. Here’s how:

  1. Is my child safe with a gay person? Gay men are not paedophiles. They are just men who like other men like straight people are attracted to the opposite sex, and the same goes for lesbians. They adore children just as much as anyone else. A paedophile, however, is a person who is attracted to children, which has been found to be a mental disorder, at least in some cases. They are criminals, as much as serial killers and should be treated as such. Which takes me to my next point.

  2. Homosexuality is a mental disorder. It has been thoroughly studied and declared by psychiatric authorities that homosexual traits are not the result of a mental disorder. It is merely a tendency as natural as you (assuming you are straight) have when you are attracted to a person of the opposite sex. There is still no scientific consensus on what leads to this effect, but it is still being researched. But there is no reason to think it’s a mental disorder that can be treated by any means. People have tried to do this, and it has horrible effects on those subjected to it.

  3. Will this gay person hit on me? Just like all straight people don’t hit on EVERY member of the opposite sex ALL the time, gay people are also the same. They have friends, partners, relationships, marriages just like straight people. It’s just not with the same gender choices. Just because he put his hand on your shoulder, or touched you, doesn’t mean he was coming on to you. Many times casual physical contact and gestures that we all do as a regular part of our social lives are seen as threatening because it was done by a gay person. Remember, they are ordinary people, just like you and interact with you in the same way as you engage with anyone else. There is nothing to fear but your own ignorance.

  4. Gay people sleep around all the time and have no morals. The fact is that gay people are just more open about it since there is no need to conform to social conventions within their own circles. Consider this: straight people possibly sleep around as much as they can but don't talk about it openly, or at the very least, they would love to be able to get around as easily as gay people.

Don’t do this when you meet an LGBTQI person

  1. Overcompensate: Some people try to go out of their way to tell them how cool they are with the whole thing. If you really are cool with it, don't bring it up and treat them like you would anyone else. If you are curious and have questions, ask away - the good folks in this community are usually more than happy to answer questions.

  2. Ask who is the man or the woman in the relationship: its two men together, there are no male or female roles in the relationship. The same goes for women and transgender people. However, there are roles or duties and tasks carried out by people based on their competency and inclination. The gay population is trying to break out of the man-woman gender role hard-wiring that is so prevalent in cis heterosexuals.

Speak out against discrimination and degradation

As it is with all things, start small. If you find out a friend, relative, or colleague is gay, let them know it doesn’t change a damn thing, and that you are, and will be, there for them if they need consolation or a confidant, or just a friend. If you hear someone mock or judge homosexuality, transsexuality or any other kind of sexuality, speak out and stop them. You don’t have to scream them down, but reason with them. And you don’t have to take them aside. Do it in the open. Do it where people can see you and hear you. Stand your ground. You’re not going to change minds then and there, but such ideas need to be opposed on every possible front. Even if you don’t change the mind of the person you are targetting, there could be someone else in the room, or the forum, who will watch the exchange and begin to think for themselves. Each one counts.

More that Families can do

If someone in your family is homosexual, bisexual or transsexual, love them be there for them. If you feel disgusted, that’s most probably because you can’t relate to what they feel, how they see the world and the people they love. If you care about them, show it by sitting down and talking to them and ask them whatever questions you can to truly understand their position. Most importantly, support them and love them as you would have done anyway. They have probably already gone through a lot of conflict, fear, paranoia and anxiety just wondering how to come out to their family and friends. Don’t let those fears come true. They are family, they are human, they are someone you love. Give them the confidence and assurance that they are in a safe place with you.

Conclusion

The dismissal of Section 377 is the first step in a long expedition to minimise the discrimination and stigma against LGBTQI Indians. It’ll be an uphill battle, but we must continue, for humanity’s sake, if nothing else. We need to look beyond the dogma and fight for our humanity so we can move towards becoming a united, inclusive society that accepts everyone into its fold, no matter what sexuality, gender, religion, caste or colour. We have to stand together to provide safe havens for those who have none and stand against those who threaten them.