“But, you don’t look like a lesbian? Are you sure you are a lesbian?” I was asked by a very alpha male friend.
I looked at him, and with a straight face (yeah, the only thing straight about me) asked, ‘So, what do lesbians look like’?
He responded, ‘array, you know. They have short hair, they dress up like men, they also behave like men’. I said, ‘You mean, the butch women‘? He said, ‘okay, perhaps, if that is what they are called’.
I was curious, I asked. ‘So, you think I am not a lesbian, because I don’t fit into your stereotype of what a lesbian should look like?”.
He looked a wee bit uncomfortable as he said, ‘I mean, look at you. I have often seen you in a sari, you wear dresses, you don’t have a typical boy cut, you wear lipstick and make up. That’s why I wondered if you were a lesbian‘. I waited for him to finish.
‘Do you know that being a lesbian is about being attracted to another woman?. How one self expresses is not about our sexual orientation. What we wear, our look is just an expression of ourselves‘.
He said, ‘Oh! But you can be feminine and still love another woman‘?
I had to smile at this, and said gently to him, “Yes, my dear friend. I am attracted to women emotionally and physically, regardless of whether I seem feminine or butch. Does that make sense’?
He said sheepishly, ‘Oh and here I was hoping you got it wrong. I thought perhaps you had not met the right man‘ …..
I looked straight at this man, and said, “And you thought you were THAT man?“.
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Convert me? How?
Today’s ruling in the Madras High Court makes my heart sing!
Are the winds of change coming for the LGBT community?
“I am queer. I am attracted to someone of my gender”, you share this, fearfully with your parents. You confess after spending hours and hours, perhaps weeks, with every bit of strength you have in your being.
You come out to them thinking it’s a safe space – after all, they are your parents and they love you unconditionally.
“I am cursed. How could I have given birth to someone like you? What is this illness you have? Oh, God” your mum exclaims, with tears in her eyes. “I will go on a hunger strike unless you become ‘normal’ again”, she laments.“How dare you even consider this. How dare you bring shame to our family. How dare…” says the father, looking disgusted.
They make it all about themselves and disappear into their shells for a few days. No conversation. They are now desperately seeking a solution. They finally surface, coming up with two solutions. One is to put their ‘unwell’ child through an extensive religious ceremony to take out the ‘devil’ inside. All the child has to do is blindly follow the religious baba or the priest’s sermons, so at the end of the sessions, the ‘phase’ will be over and the child will become ‘normal’ again.
The other solution they think of is to put their child into a psyche unit (mental institution) and put them through extensive medical interventions including shock treatment, so that they may be ‘cured’ of the ‘illness’ they seem to have.
In 2019, Anjana Hareesh, a 21-year-old student, committed suicide. It is alleged that there was a link between her suicide and the fact that she was forced into conversion therapy by her family for coming out as a bisexual.
There have been many such instances in the LGBT community of individuals who have faced this, and who have been put through a ‘conversion therapy’ using cosmic healers, religious and medical practitioners. It is often cruel and barbaric.
So, what is conversion therapy?
It is a practice to change the sexual orientation of an individual, from being a homosexual to become heterosexual. The medical community has denounced this practise as unethical, because such conversions are carried out with an assumption that homosexuality is a mental illness, and there is no scientific evidence to support this. But, sadly individuals in the community are still subjected to this by their families.
Homosexuality has been decriminalized in India since September 2018, yet the mind of the overall Indian society has not changed – it is still extensively believed that homosexuality is abnormal and the individual is diseased, and such practices exist, sadly.
This is why today’s ruling in the Madras High Court, banning medical and religious attempts to ‘convert’ a person’s sexual orientation is a big step towards this basic human right. They have provided strict guidelines which should help the community face less harassment basis its orientation.
I am personally looking forward to the change – I do feel the winds of change blowing. Will these changes be accepted by the general society? Will this ruling be replicated across India? After all, laws are implemented so it can protect its citizens. I am looking forward to that day when this law is implemented so our community can feel safe in society and at home.
In a country where homosexuality is considered a sin, how does one ‘come out and feel safe?
Decriminalization is only one aspect of making it easier for the LGBT community. Until we get rid of our mental attitude towards homosexuality and accept an individuals orientation as their basic human right and get rid of this archaic way of thinking; we will never create a safe space for anyone, let alone someone from the LGBT community.
Thoughts shared by Raga Olga D’silva
Author, Entrepreneur, International LGBT Activist