It is tough for gay couples when cisgender people see their relationship as sinful, perverse or dirty. Giving them legal sanction would have taken the stigma out of the relationships. But, sadly, that was not to be.
We are living in a rigid, bigoted, non-inclusive society, where being different is not easy, nor welcome. People find it very difficult to accept anything that does not conform to their worldview. This is largely because those born in the 70s-80s were brought up by the generation of Boomers that passed on its deep-rooted abhorence for the LGBTQ community to Gen X.
Forget about understanding the concept of freedom of choice where gays, lesbians, bisexuals, non-binary and transgenders are concerned. Most people would look at and still look at those who were born with the Third Gender with revulsion. Like they were someone to be avoided, abused or handed over to the police.
Even though in ancient Hindu and Muslim culture, the Third Gender has always held a special and sometimes exalted place, in real life things have been very different and difficult for them. First off, they would face rejection by the family and be abandoned or given up to the Hijra community to beg or dance on the streets, or worse, get into prostitution.
I remember my mother had a colleague who gave birth to a Third Gender child. The mother wanted to keep the baby and was going through a lot of emotional trauma because she feared her family would make her give up the baby. She was also stewing over the reaction of friends, society and wondered how her child would traverse through life, especially school. Her woes were compounded by the possibility of the Hijra community discovering her secret and taking her precious child away.
I recall my mother supporting her colleague and being extremely sympathetic and understanding. My simple, kind-hearted, God-fearing mother was the lady’s strong support and emotional anchor through those early years of her child’s life, till they left Delhi. When I look back at those days and I see the reaction of the so-called modern society today to Third Gender folx, I feel proud of my mother for being a good human being.
That was my first exposure to the fact that people can be different and I am thankful that my mother set an example for a young and impressionable mind by showing me with her deeds that people should not be rejected or punished for being different. That we must accept diversity with open hearts and arms.
My exposure to the gay world came much later in school when I was informed by some “knowledgeable” friends that the gorgeous lead singer of Wham, George Michael was gay. My own response as a schoolgirl was shaped by the giggles, whispers and disapproving comments made by my friends.
Then the dreaded HIV burst upon global consciousness in the early 1980s and homosexuals were largely blamed for it. It didn’t help that later scientists discovered that it had been around since the 1950s in monkey and chimpanzee meat eating people.
The world also chose to ignore that HIV was spreading among haemophiliacs and drug addicts too. The blame was squarely put at the door of gay men who had to face a lot of hate, discrimination and shame because of it.
Then, in school, the general reaction to two lesbian classmates was also not very generous and they had to face jibes and stigma.
Needless to say, my own responses to gays and lesbians were shaped by pop culture, lack of knowledge, sensitivity and exposure to anyone from the community. I grew up a homophobe. Even though I never said anything, I generally avoided their company.
However, all this changed a few years ago when I met an openly gay person at a party. Despite all my reservations about the lesbian and gay community I was just drawn to this person who was so kind, warm, talented, generous, responsible and positive. This was a person who was so close to his family, so generous to his sisters and so caring of his old and ailing mother and who sacrificed many opportunities to travel or get well-paying jobs overseas just so that he could take care of her. He was kind to all the animals in the neighbourhood, highly educated, talented, successful and intelligent.
For the first time in my life, I saw beyond the gay/lesbian tag and understood the real person underneath. I had always thought of gays as self-centered people who only lived for themselves, who hurt their families because of their sexual orientation. I had never been exposed to the fact that they were just like the rest of us with friendships, relationships, responsibilities and a sense of caring for those they love.
I had never been exposed to the pain, hurt, confusion, loneliness, spite and hate they face on a daily basis because of their identity and orientation.
Soon, my friend opened up to me a bit about the bullying he faced and how his father protected him. I saw him grieve the loss of the man who fought the whole world to allow his son to express himself and choose what he wanted to be. I came to know other folx through my friend and got a peep into the community and their problems.
Then came the incident of a teenage boy Arvey Malhotra embracing death because that sensitive child could not face up to the bullying that was taking place in school. I couldn’t get over the fact that he was so terrified and traumatized that he chose death over facing his tormentors. As a mother it broke my heart and made me more aware of the horrors that we, as a society, inflict upon those who are different from us.
My child, too, has had a major role in making me more understanding of diversity as I have seen how Gen-Z is more understanding of freedom of choice and protective of their friends who are gay, non-binary, asexual or who prefer not to be compartmentalised. They are more accepting, sensitive and humane.
Having a close gay friend has given me an insight into how difficult it is to form relationships and find love and the right person to spend life with. Just like us, they, too, long for stability and that one special person who understands and loves them and who they can settle down with. They long for a family, children just like we do. Those who are in a lasting relationship worry about what will happen to their partner after they are no longer there. Just like any couple, they want their partner to inherit their assets, take critical medical decisions for them when the time comes.
The need for love, companionship, stability, nurturing, and leaving a legacy is very strong in humans. It is fundamental and comes naturally, like breathing. Being able to marry, give birth/adopt children is also a basic, human need, a deep-seated urge.
I was hoping that, given the fact that India has made quite a bit of progress where LGBTQI+ rights are concerned — thanks to various activists and the Supreme Court — we would also pass this ultimate test of inclusivity and diversity by making marriage and adoption legal for the community.
It is tough for couples when cisgender people see their relationship as sinful, perverse or dirty. Giving them legal sanction would have taken the stigma out of the relationships and paved a path towards respect, understanding and wider acceptance. But, sadly, that was not to be.
Thankfully, the LGBTQI+ community has a certain amount of sparkle, resilience, positivity, tenacity and courage that keeps them going despite all the scorn, rejection and humiliation heaped upon them from the cisgender community.
So, for these folx and those who love them, the battle has been lost but the war for their rights is not over. And I, for one, wish them well. Shine on all you crazy diamonds.