My Tussle With Homophobia

Growing up in Lucknow was an integral part of my life. It molded me into someone who was always worried about what others thought about them. I always acted the way people around me expected me to, and shaped my gender expression into  what was considered to be ‘masculine’ or ‘normal’.

But ever since I came to Delhi, I have witnessed a lot of changes in myself - physically, mentally and sociologically. But these changes have not always been welcomed or accepted by those around me. Heterosexuality is still considered to be the norm, and anyone who fails to comply with it is subjected to homophobia. Homophobia can take very subtle forms that may lead to ignoring its roots.The patriarchal construct of sexuality has strengthened its roots in society’s ideology and understanding of sexuality.

I still remember my first semester in college when our teacher suggested topics for a speech and group discussion exercise. She mentioned ‘gay marriage’ as a possible topic, causing my classmates to suddenly burst out into laughter. Our teacher proceeded and tried to sensitize us about the issue, but the giggling still continued. This showed me a glimpse of what I would have to endure in my next three years of college.

Another incident took place when was in my second year. My appearance seemed feminine to some of the guys in college and they couldn’t help but say things like“Churi aur bindi bhi pehenkar kyun nahi aa jata? (“Why don’t you also wear bangles and a bindi?”) to me. Comments like this not only exemplify homophobia, but they also show how femininity is something that is always looked down upon. That same day, when I was travelling in the metro, two guys started staring at me. When they were about to leave the train, they whistled at me and called me meetha (sweet). This really frightened me.

There was also an incident that ironically occurred during a ‘gender sensitization’ seminar in my college. The speaker - a psychologist - was someone who was at a high position in a government body. Halfway through the seminar, following a question  from the audience, she started speaking about homosexuality. She talked about how she had ‘treated’ lesbians to lead ‘normal’( heterosexual) lives. She further went on to talk about how homosexuality is a disorder, and how most homosexual people had been molested by someone of the same sex at a young age, which is why they ‘turned out that way’. She even said that homosexuality leads to mental illnesses and low confidence.

I thought of leaving the session but luckily I didn’t. Instead, I engaged with her in a very heated argument, which resulted in her shaming me on a personal level before she abruptly ended the seminar.

These instances represent a very small fraction of what many people who identify with sexual orientations and gender identities that are beyond what society considers to be normal, have to go through.

A lot of homophobia is the result of not being informed. Once people are educated on the subject, or a close family member or friend humanizes homosexuality, in my opinion, their views often change. My parents certainly held some homophobic beliefs, as did the majority of the people in Lucknow since it was deeply embedded in the socio-cultural fabric of the town I grew up in.

While I fought homophobia in a seminar in college, others are fighting it on the streets after being kicked out of their homes for being gay. Some are not getting the chance to fight at all because they succumb to the intended effect of homophobia - a feeling of worthlessness. There is still a very long way to go before heterosexuality is no longer considered to be the only normal way of living.

If you feel the urge to help those suffering from the effects of homophobia, start by confronting it and speaking out against it.

Kshitij Pratap Singh is a final year student pursuing his bachelors in computer science from Hansraj College, University of Delhi. He has been working with the YP Foundation as a peer educator for a year, and has a strong interest in gender and sexuality. He identifies himself as a queer feminist.