A look at LGBTQ issues – Relationships, Religion and Access to Resources

‘Who am I?” – This question has haunted thinkers and philosophers forever. We attach an identity to a person and aim to form a generalized opinion of the mass through this segregation. However, each person has multiple identities – a woman, a biracial person of color, a brother, a social worker, a queer man… the list is endless. It is when we feel supported and recognized in every aspect of our collective identity that we feel accepted as a person. This realization, that each of us have something or the other in common and that we are ‘brothers’ through some shared identity, allows us to empathize when we see others being shunned for their sense of identity, for example, being LGBTQ+.

The LGBTQ+ movement is focused on getting EQUAL rights, to overcome the disadvantages they face on a daily basis and to earn a place of respect just as any other person could but without hiding their gender or sexual identity. The road to equality and acceptance isn’t always the same for people of differing identities. Sometimes, it is an uphill struggle with no reprieve – especially for minorities and disadvantaged groups. This fact, in any way does not discount that it might be difficult for a person not belonging to these groups, but only that there is an added hurdle of discrimination that cuts deep into the progress by someone who is LGBTQ+.

This is evident in major aspects of any person’s life – relationships, religion and access to resources. In all these areas, scientific studies conclusively state that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to face hurdles and have less success in achieving a fulfilling life.

Relationships

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Even in countries with a generally progressive view on LGBTQ+ rights, people belonging to the queer community are far more disadvantaged and having a lifelong relationship with a partner remains a distant dream. A 2013 Survey of LGBT Americans shows that only 16% of LGBT people, mostly bisexuals with opposite sex partners are currently married compared with about half the adults in the general public. We can safely assume that the numbers are even lower in conservative and religious countries such as India. Acceptance by family is another major aspect to the problems faced by LGBTQ+ people. The stories of prosecution and attempts at conversion therapy of LGBTQ+ youth who have come out to their family deter the many others still deeply closeted. It is cruel that even their family is no place of solace from the continuous stress and trauma owing to the fear of judgement from society. 

However, there is hope. The trend in urban India shows that there is an uptick in the activism and awareness surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. With the repeal of the colonial-era law criminalizing homosexual relationships, the support on social media and general public has increased. This move in India has also inspired movements in other former British colonies to throw out this outdated law. Support systems form an essential building block in the foundation of LGBTQ+ relationships. Many LGBTQ+ people’s accounts show that they received support and help from online platforms anonymously, opening up an avenue for closeted LGBT people to seek a sense of community. Hopefully, this social acceptance can also translate to more and more families accepting their children’s sexual and gender identity.

Religion

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Faith and hope can come from more than one place. Spirituality and religion can impart a sense of belonging and must be a safe haven for everyone who wishes to practice it. ‘For a member of the LGBTQ+ community , however, that avenue is also riddled with danger. The outlook for homosexuality’s acceptance in Indian religions is grim. Most religions either oppose or remain mum on homosexual relations and this lack of basis in written tenets alienates the LGBTQ+ population from following religion. This is exacerbated by the fact that most liberal religious leaders do not raise their voices for fear of prosecution. 

In our blog article, The Language of Love, we discuss how homosexuality and gender identity aren’t radically new concepts in the context of Indian history. This attitude is slowly changing; in an article published in Indian Express, there are examples of how acceptance by a local church father, temple priest, or Muslim cleric can make an impact at a wider level. As stories such as these are adopted and shared by the media, more and more religious leaders might step up to the need of LGBTQ+ people’s concerns in Faith. A study by GLAAD, Missing Voices, reports that mainstream media outlets were disproportionately reliant on anti-LGBT religious voices and provide a skewed outlook of general opinion. As an example of proof to the contrary, Catholics support marriage equality at 54%, which is higher than the U.S. national average. Faith and Spirituality must be non-political, open, and accepting to all, for it is a sanctuary for the emotionally and spiritually wounded to open up and that is not possible when there is fear of judgement.

Access to Resources

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Deprived of meaningful connections through relationships or religion, it is sad but not surprising to find that this has a direct impact on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ people. This issue is compounded by the fact that to access resources, a gay or lesbian person has to overcome hurdles of substantial proportions. Financial independence can be a strong factor in the decision to come out of the closet. A curated study by the World Bank in India, finds clear evidence of stigma and exclusion for LGBT people in India and that this stigma has a possibly substantial economic impact of lower productivity and output because of employment discrimination.The situation is far worse in the case of health resources. In an exhaustive guide and resource kit published by the U.S. Department of Health, it is stated that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to contract physical illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity and mental health issues such as suicide and substance abuse. 

However, In the same guide, it also finds that culturally sensitive mental health services have been shown to be more effective in the prevention, early detection, and treatment of these conditions. At the height of the gay rights movement in the U.S. the fight for access to resources to combat AIDS was a strong motivator. Providing these resources contributed significantly to improving the overall health of the population and bringing about awareness of the deadly disease. A research study published in World Development which analyzes economic data from 132 countries from 1966 to 2011, finds that there is a strong sign that economic development and LGBT inclusion are mutually reinforcing. Just one additional point on an 8-point scale of legal rights associated with a whopping $2000 per capita GDP increase. This shows that there is a strong basis for governments and industries to fight against LGBT discrimination and secure their rights in the workplace.

Open LGBTQ+ people are a minority. The majority of the population might feel inclined to not support their rights or that their problems are exclusive and trivial to a straight person. The research and data however paint a picture to the contrary. Inclusion of LGBTQ+ people has a direct positive impact on the overall health and economy of a nation. If data and statistics aren’t enough to convince you to be a supporter of their rights, we must look past the identity of a gay man, a lesbian woman, a transexual or queer person and see that they too hold an identity that you might associate with; a college student, a sister, an Indian, a neighbor in your community. It is through this shared identity that we must motivate ourselves to be compassionate and empathetic to their cause. Only through this attitude of acceptance and approval can we truly become open and accepting to our own identities and those of others’.

The Language of Love

While many assume that homosexuality and homoeroticism are Western concepts that diluted Indian traditions, there has long been a question of how and from where these seemingly radical ideas originated. And even though Indians can’t possibly take all the credit, we have had a fair share of gender-fluid characters and relationships in our history, mythology, and literature.

Contrary to popular belief, our ancestors were extremely far-sighted and liberal. I’m not talking about our parents and their parents or even a generation before them. Think older than that. Let me help you out; picture the oldest generation of your family who you know of, go back three generations, and you might be where I’m at.

I’m talking about Moghuls and Sufis, and going further than that, even gods, angels and demons.

Yes, you heard me right, we have homosexual and transgender gods across the Hindu pantheon. Ardhanareeswar, the perfect combination of God Shiva and his wife Goddess Sakthi, is the patron god of many transgender communities in India. We also have a god born of a union between a homosexual couple. Lord Aiyappa (who is ironically celibate), is said to have been born between Mohini, a female avatar of Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva.

Hard to believe? Let’s step into solid history, then.

‘When I see my friend I am abashed with shame,

My companions look at me, I look away sans aim’

(Babunama Translated from Turkish by Annette Susannah Beveridge)

There are many accounts of Babur, the man who single-handedly brought the Moghul dynasty to the forefront of Indian history, being bisexual. In fact, Baburnama, his poetic autobiography, mentions how we was once attracted to a man named Baburi, and how he became lovesick even after he got married to his first wife, Aisha Sultan Begum.

And while we’re on the topic of poetry, let’s not disregard Rumi, the great Sufi poet, whose verses blatantly disregarded the idea that love and sexual desire were taboo.

When someone quotes the old poetic image

about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,

slowly loosen knot by knot the strings

of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,

don’t try to explain the miracle.

Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.’

(The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks)

 

Still need rock-hard proof?

Look no farther than the Khajuraho temples in Madhya Pradesh. Built sometime in between 960 AD and 1050 AD by the best sculptors in the Chandela dynasty, this Jain temple complex has explicitly sexual figures and sculptures that would put the Fifty Shades Trilogy to shame! The most surprising thing about these temples? A good part of them pays homage to homosexual love.

And it’s not just Hinduism, Islam and Jainism; homosexuality and homoeroticism exist in practically every culture in the world.  But so do prejudices and condemnation.

For example, ‘Love hurts,’ is a popular opinion.

‘Unrequited love festers and wounds,’ is also accepted by many.

But something that hurts even more? Not being able to show your love.

It’s taken us 72 years to rid ourselves of our old-fashioned beliefs and practice acceptance by doing away with Section 377. And in those 72 years, a lot of us have suffered because of what others deemed ‘wrong’ and ‘impure’.

How many of us have had to bury our feelings deep inside because of our fear of what society would say? How many of us have felt depressed and wounded because of that repression of our love? How many times have we wished that we had never fallen in love with that particular person?

But let’s face it; society is flawed. It is an imperfect system created by humans to regulate and control each other’s activities. From love that defies the ‘rules’ to lower-than-acceptable marks in your boards, society will keep judging you. There’s no point in worrying about it and spoiling your health and future.

Mahatma Gandhi once wrote, ‘Where there is love, there is life’. Accordingly, love is one of those things that will transform your life. Love, by itself, gives you happiness and peace. Apart from that, biologically speaking, the feeling of love releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical that your brain releases when it feels rewarded or happy, which also eases the negative emotions of sorrow and stress.  And all this happens despite your beloved being older or younger than you, or the same gender as you, or of a different religion, caste or race than you.

Of course, there will always be that fear of judgement from your own family and friends, but then again, what you need to ask yourself is this: Is your love worth all the stress and the effort? If the answer is yes, we suggest you pick up a rose, climb a balcony, and pull off a Shakespearean romance.

After all, what’s in a gender?

Team LonePack wishes you happy life filled with love and prosperity!

Infinite identities – understanding sex, gender and sexuality

“Wahhh…” A newborn cries as it leaves the mother’s warm womb to face the baffling world. The doctor joyously announces, “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy.” The baby is identified by the pronoun -she or he, based on which the life of an infant is mapped out. From the clothes they wear to the toys they play with, from the emotions they can express to their probable profession, the seemingly distinctive categories of male and female becomes a pertinent determinant.  Further, our society traditionally expects that only a man and woman can be attracted to each other. Sounds familiar, right? But just because we are conditioned to look at things a certain way, it doesn’t tell us the entire story! It is now time to move beyond the binary vision that makes us comprehend the world in black and white, or in this case pink and blue. When we perceive things through a prism of possibilities  rather than  a non-dichotomous lens, the rainbow of sex , gender and sexual identity  emerges. Wait, what? don’t they all mean the same? Absolutely not! Come, let’s try to unravel them one by one-

‘Sex’ entails physiological characteristics like genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, and genes that we are born with. But guess what? Our biology can blur the line of distinction between “male” and “female” bodies with the diversity and variation it offers. Yes, intersex individuals have physiologically reproductive traits that do not conform to the “typical” sex assignment. No, there is nothing faulty or unhealthy about an intersex identity. So, do our genitals dictate our ways of being? To answer this, let us put the spotlight on the term ‘gender.’

1) Gender–biologically determined or socially constructed?

 An increasing line of evidence shows that the experience of gender is a complex interplay between nature and nurture. A meta-analytical study by Todd et al. (2017) revealed that a preference for “male typed” toys or “female typed” toys cannot only be attributed to cultural expectations but also biological predisposition. Despite variations in the geographical location of the study, culture setting, provision of gender neutral toys, presence or absence of adults and the year of publication, there remained a significant difference in toy preferences among girls and boys. These differences remained consistent across countries that rated high on gender inequality and those that scored low on the dimension, suggesting an innate influence on the toy selecting behavior. However, fundamental differences embedded in biology should not confine individuals to a particular way of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Our intrinsic differences are plagued by rigid gender norms that society propagates. This is where the social forces of gender steps in.

Rhoda Unger (1979), a feminist psychologist illustrated that the terms ‘sex ‘and ‘gender’ are not synonymous. While sex suggests biological differences, gender is a socially established role arbitrarily allocated based on this biological distinction. We let the labels, female and male, guide our everyday behavior and choices across situations through the process of socialization. “Why are you weeping like a girl? Learn to play it cool (it doesn’t matter if you are dying inside).” “Who is this horrible driver? Must be a woman.” These are the voices of the everyday gender roles and stereotypes that we subscribe to. We invariably assume someone born as a male to epitomize “masculine” qualities associated with being assertive, unemotional, dominant, and daring. On the other hand, someone born as a female is expected to embody “feminine qualities” recognized as sensitivity, dependency, gentleness, and passivity (Williams and Bennett, 1975).  However, instead of regarding “masculinity” and “femininity” as two ends of a pole, androgyny implies a union of both. On the Bem Sex Role Inventory, designed by psychologist Sandra Bem (1974), high scores on femininity don’t necessarily mean low scores on masculinity. Yes, one can score high on both the dimensions simultaneously! In other words, you can express your gender in ways that renounce the rigid dichotomy of “man” or “woman.” This also brings us to the next concept.

2) Gender identity

Gender identity is one’s self-conception or internal sense of who one is based on their association with “feminine” and “masculine” gender roles.  A transgender individual might feel that their biological sex doesn’t do justice to their subjective experience of gender, elucidating that we are more than our anatomy. Our identity brings with it a universe of possibilities, existing across an infinite continuum. Gender diverse individuals can move across this spectrum, feel they belong somewhere in between, or choose not to associate with any gender at all.  They may identify as non-binary, gender-queer, gender fluid, agender (to name a few), or not label themselves at all. What matters at the end of the day is that self-expression can be myriad, varied, colorful and yet valid!

Sexuality

The discussion around multiple forms of expression remains incomplete without addressing sexuality. Our sexuality is the romantic, emotional, and /or sexual attraction (if at all there is any) towards others. Just like the rest of the concepts discussed here, there are no prizes for guessing that sexuality too exists on a spectrum. Alfred Kinsey (1948), devised a rating scale that ranges from exclusively ‘heterosexual’ to exclusively ‘homosexual’ (the term is outdated and considered offensive. Avoid using it!). This suggests that people can experience their sexuality in ways extending far beyond our listed categories. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, bi-curious, asexual, aromantic demisexual, and pan-sexual are just a few of these diverse identities, each adding its own unique hue to the rainbow. 

While many individuals wish to express themselves in unique ways, they continue to face discrimination, injustice, and isolation because their identity doesn’t align with society’s definition of “normal.” A recent study conducted by UNESCO (2019) tried to understand the experiences of participants (18-22 years) who identified as members of the LGBT community in Chennai’s educational institutions. The results divulged that 60% of the respondents had faced physical bullying and 43% sexual harassment in school. Consequently, they suffered from depression, anxiety, and were more likely to drop out of school. How do we challenge this status quo? The way forward lies in questioning the hetero-normative narrative that promotes strict gender binaries and advocates heterosexuality as the norm. The essence of a pluralistic and inclusive culture is in celebrating differences and accepting all forms of expression as legitimate.

While navigating the evolving constructs of gender and sexuality is an ongoing process, may you define and redefine yourself in unbounded and unapologetic ways, breaking free from the pigeonhole!

                                              You told me the box is where I belong

But I could hear the rainbow call me, all along

You told me my identity is something to hide

But in being myself, I take immense pride.

Citations

  1. https://www.genderspectrum.org/articles/understanding-gender
  2. https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology/chapter/chapter12-gender-sex-and-sexuality/
  3. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=pNUkDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=sex+and+gender&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi4iO6kwuPpAhUGOSsKHZ2YCHQQ6AEIQjAD#v=onepage&q=sex%20and%20gender&f=false
  4. https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/what-is-heteronormativity/
  5. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/lgbt-bullying-in-schools-takes-heavy-toll-reveals-unesco-report/articleshow/69718451.cms
  6. https://qz.com/1190996/scientific-research-shows-gender-is-not-just-a-social-construct/
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/different-types-of-sexuality#d-l