Different, just like everybody else November 10, 2008
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Different, just like everybody else
The Hindu: NXg November 6, 2008
GROWING UP: To get attracted to someone from the same sex is quite natural and people are yet to open up to the fact fully
The ongoing fracas in Ramjas College in Delhi had college students up in arms. Teacher harassment is something that touches students at every age. But going through the reports did you notice something? One banner clearly stated “We are not against homosexuality. We are against harassment.”
Now everyone knows what homosexuality is. But dealing with the discovery that one’s preferences don’t really match with most of one’s peers can be upsetting. Feelings that naturally occur as we grow might at times be confusing. Don’t let these things confuse you or make you feel guilty. Don’t let your developing sexuality confuse you. As the Terrence Higgins Trust, a leading HIV and sexual health charity in the U.K., explains, “Sexuality is the word we use to describe our sexual interests and preferences”. Sexuality is as normal as hair highlights and mp3 music but it develops in many ways. Some are heterosexuals (boys like girls and vice versa), bisexuals (boys like boys and girls and vice versa) and the homosexuals (boys who prefer boys) and lesbians (girls who prefer girls). Many believe that the definition of ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexuality’ and ‘heterosexuality’ is better expressed as ’sexual orientation towards people’, rather than ’sexual attraction to’. This reflects the fact that people build committed, stable relationships and are not purely focused on sexual activity. “Each kind of sexuality is unique and perfect in itself. But we like putting labels on things; it’s easier to understand and identify. Discover and revel in what works for you,” explains Neha Sood, 27, Delhi-based member of Youth Coalition, an international organisation of young people aged 15 to 29, working on sexual and reproductive rights.
Life isn’t easy
Still since the world has always had more heterosexuals (or straight as they say), gays and lesbians don’t have an easy time. Same sex relations are often considered deviant in an otherwise largely straight (or so they say) world. And sexual preference is certainly no way to discriminate against, be rude to or otherwise treat people badly. Vicky Powell Communication’s Officer at Stonewall, Britain’s national charity working to improving the lives of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, explains, “Originally the term ‘homosexual’ was used by scientists and doctors to describe same-sex attraction and behaviour as a sign of mental disorder and moral deficiency. To obtain distance from such medical labels, the terms gay and lesbian are now used.”The majority of women and men are heterosexual and they experience attraction and seek partners of the opposite sex. The words ‘heterosexual’ and ‘heterosexuality’ come from the Greek word heteros, meaning ‘different’ or ‘opposite’.The issue of attraction and orientation can be a bit tricky.
Some people know they are gay or lesbian from a very young age; others may be much older before they decide to come out, sometimes even having married and had children first. You can’t make someone be of a particular sexual orientation; you are what you are. “Most gay people were created by two heterosexual people. If people could be forced to be a particular sexual orientation, then most people, by that definition, would be forced to be straight,” says Vicky.Makes sense doesn’t it? So what do you do if you being a boy like other boys or being a girl like girls? If you think you might be gay or lesbian how do you know for sure? “Most people as they grow up will have suffered a degree of confusion about who they are and their personal identity. Some people may never feel attraction to members of the same-sex. Some might and then grow out of it, while others know they are definitely gay. Each one of us is different and we develop at different times and stages but each individual will know what he/she feels. What is important is the support and understanding of friends and family,” explains Vicky.
All major religions take a view on homosexuality and some a more stark viewpoint than others. The Stonewall survey “Love they Neighbour” found that many people held more moderate views of homosexuality than is often claimed on their behalf by religious leaders. People of all faiths supported anti-discrimination legislation and were in favour of legislation that gave equal treatment to gay people across a whole range of social issues.This brings us to homophobia. Vicky says, “The word homophobia was coined in the 1960s. It refers to the irrational hatred, intolerance, and fear of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Homophobia can manifest itself in different ways: from discrimination to verbal and physical violence.” Many people have been murdered because they were either or suspected to be homosexual. “Homophobia thrives on myths, stereotypes and ignorance about lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” says Vicky. All young people must understand what homosexuality and same-sex relationships are and work to educate and improve society’s understanding of gay people, how they live and the positive roles they play in society. Next time you hear of prides (marches/processions), walk to show your solidarity. Read more about pride marches and what you can do at http://bengalurupride.googlepages.com/faq
Come out with it
So how can you help yourself in case you have a same sex orientation? You will have to “come out” with it and talk. “’Coming out’ is the process of telling others about your sexuality. There is no one way or age to come out. You will know the right time to come out. Coming out to certain people, such as family, friends or colleagues may be difficult and takes courage. Reactions may vary as well,” says Vicky. Yet once you have made the decision to tell people about your sexuality, you may want to think about how you tell them. A., 17, was happy that finally he had pinned down the fact that it was best friend Y., another 17-year-old boy, with whom he felt emotionally and physically happy. He had had it with trying to join in all the girl jokes his cousins and friends cracked. He felt liberated and empowered. He wasn’t meant for girls nor they for him. Now all he needed to do was to tell his parents so that they would saying: “Wait till a wife comes and straightens you out”. He wasn’t going to straighten up and had no intention of doing so. One day at dinner, unable to contain himself, he blurted out that he was attracted to men and men only. Till date he wishes he had never opened his mouth.
“We are in a world where the daily images seek to convince us that heterosexuality is the only way to be,” says Neha. Most advertisements, movies and even school textbooks show us that only men and women can be together, have families and be happy. Thus they reinforce that getting attracting to people of the same sex isn’t the way to be. But that’s not the case. Same sex couples can be parents. They can adopt children and be as bad or as good as anyone else.”Neha’s checklist for combating such problems is simple: “What is required is a lot of discussion about sexuality so that families can be tolerant, and discuss issues. Education on issues of sexuality is required in educational institutions so that teachers and students can develop broader world views. The government-instituted Life Skills Education in India’s schools for 10 to 19 year olds may not be comprehensive but is a welcome step.”
No matter what your preference remember the bottom line in all relationships is the same: safe sex. HIV stats among gay men are high, so don’t hesitate to reach for the box of condoms. No matter where, what or who you are, relationships are fun when you play safe. India is slowly waking up to the fact that all people may not have the same sexual preferences. The large number of gay parades or prides is ample evidence of that. Celebrate differences. Be proud of the pride!
Why come out?
- Whether you’ve come to terms with your sexuality or you’re still thinking about it, it can be difficult dealing with that on your own. You may get to a point where you need to talk about it with someone, to get support or simply get it off your chest.
- Don’t feel pressurised to come out; take your time. Only you will know when you feel comfortable and ready to do it.
- Hiding your sexuality from other often means lying and pretending. Think about whether hiding your sexuality is more stressful than being open about it.
- If you decide to come out, but are unsure how others might react, consider making contact with a support group first if you have access to one. Start by telling one or two trusted friends first, before coming out to other people.
- Don’t take unnecessary risks when coming out. If you fear a hostile reaction, bide your time and gather support from friends before you make decisions. Develop your confidence and support network before taking the plunge.
- Generally, however, you may be surprised by how positive the experience of coming out can be. Very few people regret coming out, even if it is difficult at the time.
Want to know more?
- The Naz Foundation (India) Trust’s outreach programme and support group can be reached at 011-29812287, 011-41724636 to know more. Call Naz Dost at 011-29812287.
- For women, the TARSHI Helpline can be contacted at 011-24372229 Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m.
- For questions related to sexual well-being and safe sex practices visit http://www.tarshi.net/index.php?module=faq&FAQ_op=viewFAQs&MMN_position=26:26
- Contact Sappho for Equality at firstname.lastname@example.org or call their Help Line at 09831518320
- Contact the Good As You at 080-2230959 on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. Visit their FAQs at http://www.geocities.com/goodasyoubangalore/faq.htm
- Call Sahodaran, Chennai, at 044-23740486/044-55277810 or 09381016129
- Call the Social Welfare Association for Men (SWAM), Chennai, at 044-23712324 or 09840437656
- The South India AIDS Action Programme, Chennai, can be reached at 044-24522285/2452 3301
CASE STUDY: A wonderful thing…
I think I’ve always “walked the line” between being straight and gay without really being aware of it. I’ve always been a total tomboy and even identified more with guys but I was also this girl who really loved crushing on guys. I identified as very, very heterosexual back then. Girls didn’t even really enter the picture, though I guess I was checking them out too but without really taking note of the fact that I found them attractive. It was only when I was about 14 when I first had a proper crush on a girl that I realised things might be different. Now I know that I’m likely to be attracted to anyone I find beautiful, regardless of their gender!I had this sex education book that discussed sexual orientation in a very supportive, open way and that really paved the way for me to understand myself better. And hey, there’s no point denying it — it was definitely interesting and exhilarating to discover that I saw the world in a whole new way, and saw new kinds of beauty for the first time! It was a very personal experience, but a lovely one.
I’m a little afraid of coming right out and telling my parents straight out, “I’m attracted to guys and to girls”. But I have dropped hints about my girlfriend (ex now, because she’s moved away, which still makes me sad) to my mother but she’s not really reacted to it. I think she gets what I am trying to say but she doesn’t want to think about it too hard. I don’t want to spring the news on my parents out of the blue because they might think I am saying it just to shock them. I think I’ll break the news to them if and when I find a girl who I love and am going steady with and may even want to be with for life. Maybe a bit like the coming-out scene in the movie “V for Vendetta”, though I sure hope my parents won’t react like that!I’ve kept very quiet about my bisexuality, and I don’t really feel like coming out right now because I don’t have a very sensitive peer group or friends who I really trust enough to come out to.
This is not something I am happy about; I want to be more open about my sexuality because that might help others, but when I grow older I do intend to be part of pride marches and do my bit to join the protests against the discriminatory Section 377 of the IPC. Actually, if I could do something actively even now to get that Section amended I would, because I think it is very unfair. I don’t think the situation in India will change soon but I want to do what I can to at least make the people I know more open-minded and to realise that there’s nothing wrong at all with being gay or bi. It may be unusual but it’s a wonderful thing!
Case Study contributed by MIRIAM KUMARADOSS, Good Earth School