I didn’t know what the acronym LGBT stood for, let alone the meanings of the words constituting it, for a long time. In fact, I had never even heard the term ‘lesbian’ until the age of about nine, when someone called me one. The loud shout of the word towards my friend and I walking closely together was followed by raucous laughter. Needless to say, I was thoroughly confused and embarrassed.
I didn’t know what the word ‘chakka’–– a derogatory Hindi slang word for ‘transgender’–– meant either until I was ten and participating in a tribal dance in a school function. ‘You all look like ‘chakkas’ doing that dance’, a boy I don’t quite remember told me after our dance practice. ‘Doesn’t chakka mean to hit a six in a cricket match?’ I asked him, my naive ignorance on clear display. (‘Chakka’ also means hitting a six in cricket, but he was using the word in a different context.) He laughed at me, explaining that the word meant a person who was a ‘combination of male and female’. This vague, mostly incorrect definition did nothing much to ease my general confusion.
Sometime later that year, I read a snippet in the newspaper that quoted a man blaming ‘LGBT people’ for ‘angering God’ and causing ‘natural calamities.’ This time, I had had it. Who was this all-powerful community of people whose actions could, according to this wise man, lead to earthquakes, cyclones, and floods? I had to find out.
And so I turned to my faithful companion, Google, who as per usual did not disappoint. It would be a blatant lie on my part if I claimed that I understood, accepted, and embraced the concepts of attraction towards members of the same-sex and deviance from one’s biological sex immediately. Because I did not. But it would be a massive lie if I said that I was promptly weirded out or ‘disgusted’. Because I wasn’t. They were simply very different and new phenomena for me, simultaneously making me wonder how I’d gone so long not knowing and making me question the way I had always perceived romantic love. It would also be a lie to suggest that I spend a substantial amount of time introspecting this because frankly, I did not. Ten-year-olds have a lot of other, slightly more important things to think about.
I understood what the word ‘gay’ meant when I encountered it next in a General Knowledge worksheet provided by my school. No, it wasn’t used archaically and did not mean being joyful. It was used in a news snippet about a country that had recently legalised gay marriage. In hindsight, I am grateful that the school included that piece of news as it led to so many more students questioning, and finding out, what it meant to be gay. I myself explained what it meant to one of my friends. Her reaction:
‘So, you mean, men are allowed to marry other men?’
That’s it. That was our conversation.
Later the same year, Nico di Angelo, a character from everyone’s beloved fictionalised Greek-mythology series Heroes of Olympus, was forced to come out as gay (by Cupid, not that the God of Love outing people forcefully makes it right). All of us were surprised as we definitely had not seen it coming, but not unhappy. And by the end of the next book, all of us just wanted Nico to get with Will Solace and finally have a boyfriend.
‘Woah, that escalated quickly’, you might be thinking. Well, you won’t exactly be wrong in saying that. After all, preteens who were unaware of gayness a year back were suddenly rooting for a gay couple to romantically get together and be happy. To me, though, this demonstrates the intrinsic human ability to learn about, accept, and wholeheartedly embrace our differences. This is particularly strong in children and teenagers who are still not too set in their ways. We don’t inherently categorise people as ‘us’ and ‘them’ and detest ‘them’. We absorb that attitude through enculturation, which could just as easily work the other way round like it did in my case.
When I was in eighth grade, MP Shashi Tharoor introduced a private member’s bill in the Lok Sabha, aiming to decriminalise homosexuality in India. He also launched an online petition to bolster his case. I remember forwarding the petition to every single contact on my phone. I also remember receiving barely a handful of replies, either amused or bemused. I felt strangely sad that people wouldn’t even press a button to sign something that might help a large community of people achieve legal status. I’m really glad that things have changed. This year, when the Supreme Court revoked the part of Section 377 that criminalised homosexuality, the public reacted with enthusiasm and not apathy.
But why does any of this matter? Why should we talk about it?
I believe that books, films, TV shows, music, the people we admire, and most importantly, legal recognition, can influence and shape our perceptions of the world. We’re fortunate to have access to literature and film that represents LGBTQ+ characters responsibly, to be living in an era where more and more people – normal and accomplished people from all walks of life – are willing to publicly share their sexuality or change their gender, and to finally have a law acknowledging that gay Indians exist without treating them like criminals. A lot of people have struggled for years to make these things happen. Now, they are gradually happening.
Similar to me, I’m sure many of you reading this would not always have been aware of what ‘LGBTQ+’ meant. You may not have always agreed with it. You may still not agree with it. You may have used derogatory slurs against people, giggled at effeminate men or masculine women, or bullied people for their sexuality or gender. I am not condoning any of these actions. What I am saying is that mindsets do not have to be set in stone. And if ten and eleven-year-olds can so easily and willingly change theirs, then so can you.
I encourage you to rethink the way you perceive LGBTQ+ love, lives, and identities, and I hope this issue of Reflections is a small step towards helping you to do that.
~ Ananya GroverI like this!