Saturday, April 1, 2017

Alternative sexual orientation and what we need to know about it?

India knows of only three or four sexual identities with the most common one being heterosexuality which is the only one that leads to procreation and preserves the idea of having families, where the man is the supreme head of the institution. It's amusing that in a country where alternative sexuality formed an inalienable part of the society with temple carvings bearing witness to the history, homosexuality was criminalised under section 377 of the Indian penal code, impelling liberals and humanists to spearhead a discussion on alternative sexuality.

Sexual orientation can be defined as the pattern of sexual or romantic attraction to persons belonging to the opposite sex or gender, to the same sex or to more than one genders. These attractions can be broadly categorised as heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality, a fourth category which can be explained as the lack of sexual attraction to anyone of any gender.
The exact causes of the development of a particular sexual orientation has yet to identified although research points to genetics, hormonal action, development dynamics, social and cultural influences. Once upon a time it was thought that homosexuality resulted because of a faulty psychological development arising out of childhood experiences and troubled relationships. Over the years this  myth was busted and it was found that lack of information and prejudices contributed to this idea. 
Scientific studies have proved that a combination of factors like genetic, hormonal and environmental influences with biological factors like early uterine development are the reasons behind the sexual orientation.
Sexual identity may also be used to describe a person's identification of his or her own sex, other than sexual orientation.
Androphilia and gynephilia are the terms used to identify the sexuality of intersex and transgender people as an alternative to homosexual or heterosexual conceptualisation. 
Same gender loving is more than a term for gay or lesbian people and recognises the sexual attraction of transgender people towards each other.

Sexuality in ancient India 
In the Hindu and Vedic texts there have been descriptions of saints, demigods and  even the  supreme God transcending the social boundaries of gender and manifesting multiple combinations of sexuality and gender. Kamasutra, the ancient Indian treatise on love talks of feelings for same sexes. 

Religious art
The most famous depiction of sexuality and other forms of sexuality can be found on the sculptures in Khajuraho. 
A groups of three women and one man can be seen on the southern wall of the Kandariya Mahadeva temple in Khajuraho with two women caressing each other.
At the Lakshmana temple in Khajuraho, two men can be seen involved in a sexual act on one of the sculptures.
An 11th century sculpture from Odisha, now placed in the Seattle museum shows Kama the God of love shooting a flower tipped arrow at two women lost in a sexual embrace.
A 12th century shiva temple in Bagali, Karnataka shows oral sex between two men on a sculpture.
At Padhavali near Gwalior, in a ruined temple two men can be seen sexually caressing each other.

Being a queer in India and the emergence of social media support
In metro cities a vibrant and closed gay community flourishes with its urban outlook and acceptance towards homosexuals. Although there are no exclusive gay clubs in the metros upscale straight bars and clubs have designated nights of the week that attract gay clientele.
Time Out Delhi has a dedicated column covering gay events in the city. Yugyag is Delhi's first exclusive blog on gay life in the city. Kushlist is the first mailing list for LGBT south east asians and websites like LGBT India, GayBombay, GoodAsYou (Bangalore), (Chennai) and Pratibimb (Hyderabad) cater as online resources on alternative sexuality. Dating websites and online communities that came into being for the marginalised community are safe and convenient meeting places for gay people looking out for relationships. Online magazines like Pink pages and Gaylaxy publish regular issues highlighting the problems faced by LGBTQIA people and the need for coming out and stronger emphatic dialogues within the society. 
On September 11th 2013, India's first queer radio channel, QRadio was launched which now runs 24 hours a day.

In urban India where social media and corporate initiatives are creating awareness about LGBT rights, only gay men are getting more benefits than lesbian women or transgenders. There is a world away from gay prides, heated debates on social media and  online meetups where families in rural India have created a dangerous environment with voices being suppressed and in many cases even silenced by executing planned honour killings. The last resort left in this case for gay men and lesbian women is to flee in the darkness to a city with no financial or social support. Lesbian women and transwomen are subjected to corrective rapes by families sometimes perpetrated by their own family members like uncles, brothers or cousins. Vyjanthi Vasanta Mogli, a transwoman LGBT activist and a public policy scholar at TISS Hyderabad has openly spoken about her abuse at school. She was imprisoned in a psychiatric ward and administered psychotic drugs which pushed her into depression. Dangerous psycho-sexual experiments were unleashed on her to record her reactions. Prince Manavendra Gohil whose story of coming out has been documented in the media has started the Lakshya trust that works to tackle HIV/AIDS within the LGBT community. He advises gay people to stand on their feet and detach a bit from their families before deciding to come out of the closet.
Sakshi Juneja, the founder of Gaysi, an online space for LGBT people also favours financial and emotional stability before trying to communicate with one's family.  

Family and its supportive role
The fundamental responsibility of any parent is to accept their child's sexual orientation which will help in the formation of a tolerant society that accepts diversity and promotes inclusiveness of other sexual identities. In a society bound by societal and cultural norms that dictates an adult person's life and goals, the lack of family support can lead to the isolation of LGBTQIA people resulting in a big blow to their mental and physical health. Many move to bigger cities to escape the pressure to marry and start a family. Seclusion and the pressure to conform can lead to depression, suicidal  thoughts and psychosomatic diseases. If the families accept alternative sexual identities they impose restrictions in the manner their children dress and interact with their partners. In the absence of family support, online and social media have offered safe alternatives to form a community outside the family. Platforms like Gaylaxy and Gaysi have built spaces for LGBT people to interact, communicate and form healthy loving support systems. However sometimes, in the absence of support from families many LGBT people decide to succumb to the pressure of starting a family. Many lesbian women try and find a gay man and vice-versa, who can put up with the show of marriage without worrying about coming out to their partners or sexual abuse.

The way ahead
Schools and colleges are involved in institutionally approved LGBT activism with gender and sexuality clubs coming up in IIT's, Lucknow university, JNU etc. Their greatest challenge is to make the LGBT students visible and provide a platform for their voices. Stereotypes need to be questioned for example the rampant usage of homopohobic jokes which curtails the freedom and dignity of people with alternative sexual identities and their struggles to get employed. Children must be taught about their basic human rights and the legal tools that can protect these rights. Systemic change is the need of the hour where the existence of Section 377 needs to be challenged or the transgender bill should discussed so that the gap between an intolerant society and a inclusive equal future is bridged. 

TV shows such as Satyamev Jayate and The Tara Sharma show have helped raise awareness about LGBT issues amidst parents and children. Movies like Onir's My brother Nikhil, Reema Kagti's Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and independent films like Gulabi Aina, Girlfriend and Yours emotionally have dealt with homosexuality. Portrayal of LGBT characters in mainstream movies will offer visibility to this closeted group of individuals. 
Social media has not made a leeway in rural India which is where TV and movies can enlighten and educate families and redefine their roles and attitudes while tackling the blindness towards individuals with alternative sexualities. 
It is a reassuring to see people with alternative sexual identities voicing their opinions on social media platforms like Twitter. Particularly notable is a twitter handle @genderlogindia that is involved in lending support to LGBTQIA people by organising regular tweetchats.

Support groups and events that work for LGBTQIA people

Pride parades
Since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, a majority of pride parades have been established in various major cities of India:

Bengaluru Pride (2008)
Chennai Pride (2009)
Chennai Rainbow Film Festival (2013)
Bhubaneswar Pride (2009)
Delhi Queer Pride Parade (2008)
Mumbai Queer Azaadi March (2008)
Kolkata Pride (1999) 
Puna Pride (2011, second to be established in Maharashtra)
Ahmedabad Pride Parade (2009)
Kerala Queer Pride (2010)
Asia's first Genderqueer pride parade and Alan Turing Rainbow festival, Madurai (2012)
Bhawanipatna Pride (2012)
Guwahti Queer Pride Parade (2014)
Cochin Queer Pride (2014)
First Gujarat state LGBT pride parade in Surat (2013)
Baroda (2014) 
Kerala Queer Pride 2015 at Thiruvananthapuram
Orange City LGBT Pride March, Nagpur (2016) 

                                        Picture credit:

Traditionally in pride parades the participants wear colourful masks to conceal their identity from the public and to avoid altercations with families. This attitude went for a change in the Pune pride parade in December 2011 which required participants to dress professionally and avoid colourful makeup or masks. 

Organizations working for people with alternative sexuality

Organisations like Queerla (Kerala), Humsafar (Mumbai), Sangama (Karnataka), Alternative law forum (Bangalore) and Chennai Dost work for LGBT rights and are locally funded.
In June 2016, a platform named Amour was launched in India to help LGBTIQ members find long term companions. 

The first step towards breaking the silence around alternative sexual orientation is to accept the sexuality of human beings, right from the time they are children. When voices of doubts are hushed, children become confused about their personality and orientation. It is important for Indian parents to stop feeding their children with the stories of birds and bees and educate them about sex. An open fearless discussion with an acceptance of  sexual diversity is the only way forward towards healing the world from the xenophobic treatment of LGBTQIA people.


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