6:24pm, 8th December, 2016
If you talk to academicians or literature veterans they will tell you that the era of feminism in literature has gone. It is time for the literary world to now focus its attention to this neglected, stigmatized class of people who are fighting for their basic human rights and taking a stand against their oppression in the ‘respected’ society – the LGBTQ. In fact literature enthusiasts would opine that there is already so much being written, spoken and debated on this topic that anything you say on it is stale news. Yet, it is one thing to be spoken about and legalized while another to imbibe this into the society to make their day to day life easier.
The stigma is so much so that we don’t even allow them to be themselves out in public. They need to hide their identities lest they should be ostracized. India is particularly still behind when it comes to social acceptance of homosexual and bisexual people. I have had two distinct experiences in this regard that speak for themselves.
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This is when I was in UK for my Masters. One of our professors, an expert in Magazine Publishing, was once taking a class on some Editorial aspects of publishing. We were used to her being absolutely vocal and vibrant in the class. Today she was speaking on the importance of being consciously vigilant about gender assumptions while writing mails, especially to authors and subject matter experts. ‘Sometimes some names can be misleading because they can belong to a man as well as a woman. Don’t make assumptions especially if the person is from another nationality because then you are entirely clueless about the norm in that country and also what could be offensive in that culture’.
This was my first experience outside India studying with students from multiple nationalities and what she was saying made complete sense to me. Sometimes names are quite difficult to filter out as female or male. A mistake in identification can be a massive blunder and deal breaker at times. As she continued she highlighted the fact that special attention should be given to the LGBT community as their preferred gender might be different from their biological/physiological gender. Especially the lesbian/gay people do not appear any different from any other person of the same biological gender and so it would be very difficult to tell. Just as we thought she had made her point, she added, ‘ A live example is myself. I’ve been married to my wife for 5 years now and I have faced all that LGBT is fighting for today.’ She continued speaking about herself but I was pretty taken aback by this revelation. I wasn’t used to having the LGBT community declare themselves openly, leave alone declaring yourself in front of a class that you are teaching. But she was bold and confident and the entire class applauded her candid admission and also cheered her for doing so.
This experience speaks volumes about how the psyche of my fellow students in the Masters was much open to the gender reality and how I was still in the preliminary stages of witnessing this change in a public setting. This was the first ever tryst I had with a homosexual woman and this was followed up by several in our class who chose to speak up after this incident. This opened an entirely new way of thinking for me.
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A couple of years later, while I was travelling in the ladies compartment of the Delhi metro one day, I saw a girl in the compartment who was sneaking looks at me from time to time. I was talking to another friend of mine and thought I was speaking too loudly in the heat of the discussion, so I lowered my voice a little. But the girl didn’t stop looking around at me. I didn’t think much of it and got off at my metro station. I did not notice that the girl had gotten off at the same metro station and was walking behind me.
When I swiped my metro card and was walking out I heard a voice call out to me… ‘Excuse me…’ she said.
I turned around and saw the same girl walking up to me. I stopped and waited for her to approach. ‘Yeah?’ I asked.
‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ she asked in a very polite and anxious tone.
‘Yeah … ‘ I responded again wondering what it was. Did she need directions? Did she overhear my conversation with my friend and was she going to take it up with me
She walked up to me and saw me standing… ‘Shall we walk while I’m talking to you?’ she sounded very awkward this time.
‘Sure!’ I said and started walking down the stairs. She started walking with me. I was looking at her now impatiently. The silence was making me awkward. My mind was running places – Does she need directions? Has something wrong happened to her? Have I said something wrong in the metro?
She finally spoke up – ‘Look, you are very beautiful! And I’m not straight… So … I was wondering…’
Had it been my two-year younger self before I went to UK, I would have panicked in such a situation not knowing how to respond. The fear of unknown creeps in when a situation never dealt with before crops up in your face. But now I was not the naive me… I did not stop, I did not show shock on my face. I just looked back at her and told her ‘Sorry, I am straight.’
She slowed in her tracks. ‘Ohh Alright…Just wanted to ask.’
‘Yeah, no problem!’ I said and continued walking. By now she had stopped walking down the stairs. I figured she had only gotten off the metro because I got off.
‘Don’t worry about it.’ she called out from behind me knowing that someone approaching you like that on the streets can be awkward and a cause of worry in a country like India.
‘Ohh no, that is fine!’ I said and smiled back at her.
‘But you are really very beautiful!’ she smiled back and called out louder this time. I was almost at the bottom of the stairs.
I turned around and said ‘Thank you!’ before I walked out of the metro station and she went back up to take the next metro.
If you noticed carefully, she was scared to be candid about how she felt because being gay/lesbian is a taboo in the society here. She was unsure of how I would react. She was also very aware that if the LGBT open up in front of people they may intimidate them. She was careful to mention that I should not worry about what happened. This only goes to show that our society is still to become LGBT friendly and we need to understand that the best way to respond to them if you find out is to be just as normal as you would be with any heterosexual person. Too much positive or negative reaction would only hamper the chances of them being themselves. This may have been reinforced through several articles and papers but making this a reality will take every individual to be sensitive and aware about them being a inherent part of our society. They are among st us and one of us.
Feature Image :- wgss.yale.edu