June 2015: Great things are happening in the LGBTIQ world. I take a look.
As America (and the world) watched transfixed as transgender Bruce Jenner debuted as Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, Mumbai Mirror had it’s own transsexual cover girl last Friday. Bidhan Barua, whose case it had been following since 2012, was now revealed as a happily married Swati, post her sex change. Meanwhile, India got its first transgender college principal—Manabi Banerjee will head the Krishnagar Women's College in West Bengal.
These stories are a big win in a world where heterosexual men and women in natural gender roles is the only idea of ‘normal’. It’s not. Even though transgender is not equal to transsexual is not equal to gay (you can choose from around 60 gender options on Facebook and show interest in male, female or both; read a full list of gender definitions here), these LGBTIQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/intersex/questioning) issues are against the norm.
I face ‘confirmation bias’ through my friends, online and off, where everyone is supporting these individuals and calling out their bravery, celebrating these alternative choices that inspire others to live life as their 'authentic' selves. Clearly, this supportive environment is not the standard in a heteronormative world. I have written about the gay struggle; a transgender person was my closest friend when I was in my late teens and a post-op transsexual worked under me in a magazine I used to edit.
All these people have described to me how absolutely traumatic swimming upstream had been for them, particularly where they didn’t know about alternate sexualities let alone having the option to openly identify as such. From feeling isolated and alone to dealing with strife in the family and at work, it’s not an easy journey. In fact, I didn’t know about my colleague’s transformation until someone let me into the slew of gossip that had flowed between one media house and the next, from where she had worked to where he was working.
It may seem that Indian laws are progressive, with the Supreme Court declaring the transgender community a legal third gender last year. Truth is, that was a long-overdue acknowledgement of the historical socioreligious Hijra community, not stemming from progressive or liberal thinking. Judiciary and culture continues to be set against the assimilation of LGBTIQs in to the mainstream. This mainstream is where most would like to live, instead of having to congeal in to a community on the fringes, brought together by their inability to find a place in society’s rigid gender norms.
When father-of-six Bruce embraced her new identity as Caitlyn in full glare of the media, the former Olympian, former stepfather to the Kardashian sisters and reality TV star on Keeping Up with the Kardashians told millions about her struggle with gender dysphoria, it brought the LGBTIQ conversation out into the open. For broadminded liberals, her story only reinforces what we already knew—that those who identify as LGBTIQs are people, no more, no less, with more than their fair share of emotional, societal and religious strife. For others, it shows the inner workings of a lifestyle they had never or only ever heard of, and, hopefully, contributes to their empathy.
Many years ago, my very liberal aunt had said that she would cry if her children had alternate sexualities—“Not for shame or society,” she said, before I could even protest, “but for them. Life is just so much harder as an LGBT person.” For a child somewhere, stories like Jenner’s, Barua’s and Banerjee’s could serve to quell the bitter loneliness and confusion, and contribute to a home and social environment of love and acceptance—and put an end to horrific things like corrective rapes.
Congratulations and best of luck, Caitlyn, Swati and Manabi. You’ve done us proud.
An edited version of this article appeared on iDiva in June 2015.