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The recent episode of Satyamev Jayate, ‘Accepting alternate sexualities’, which aired on the 19th of October, 2014 led to a myriad of debates. It was highly appreciated by many, however, it also led to a series of arguments, scathing critique and disagreements on its handling of the sensitive issue at hand.
While it was obvious to see many eulogising about a mainstream TV program of such stature speaking about the LGBT issue, and that too in such a positive, light-hearted way; it was interesting to observe the response of people to the show.
The article in Live Mint spoke about the underlying impulse to normalize the queer stories and hence, lives of the LGBT minority. As much as this article makes sense, I wonder what people really expect from a television show.
From where I see it, the aim of the episode was to bring forth a conversation about acceptance of alternate lifestyles and sexualities to the common masses. Thanks to the show, one got the glimpse of a just, equitable and socialist society where the sex one is born into may not be indicative of the gender choices that one makes and it does not confer status and privilege to one choice over the other; or the preference of a same-sex romantic partner does not mean they cannot want things that other “normal” folks do.
Let me digress a little. We should not overlook that we still live in a country, which is still upholding IPC 377 – a 160-year-old law… It is still a country, which indulges in debates on sexuality as a by-product of nature vs. nurture. It is still a country where people are subjected to shock therapy to cure away their gayness. It is a country where family and family values are above the moral values. In our country till date, it is heteronormativity which is accepted as the natural state of being.
Given this, I think it is a milestone for queer people to see some of their own on a National Television, talking about the common experiences of rejection, struggle and discrimination at the hands of mainstream.
When seen within the existing paradigm, where, the SC has recriminalized homosexuality, the representation of LGBT in such a positive light – acceptance by friends and family, competence to be independent, and self-validated individuals – to the world at large, could change the very future of this queer struggle in India, making it easier for people with alternate sexual choices to be integrated with the society in an equal equation. One thing that most of the queer folks seek, more than the change in law, is social acceptance. And social acceptance comes from the experience of relatedness. We need alliances to go forward… And sometimes normalizing creates a possibility of relatedness.
This episode, if anything, should begin a shift towards changing our own individual institutions – LGBT, LBT, and various other sectional/political groups. If anything, the invisibility of transman people around us suggests that we as a community have failed somewhere. Transman people are marginalized within the LBT political spaces, so why are we surprised that SMJ didn’t have a representative from this section? The dialogue shouldn’t stop at “Oh! They missed out on transman’s story”. It is a point of inward reflection.
Identity politics is a deep and a complex subject. One must dwell into the representations of gay, bisexual, lesbian, transman, transwoman, intersex, queer gender, and other identities; and talk about their specific struggles, needs and interests. However, one needs to remember that fragmentation and non-recognition of common interests holds the power to weaken the entire queer movement.
With transman people sharing their struggle instead of transwoman in the media, I don’t think society or its response would necessarily be very different from what we see now. Caring, sharing, and accepting are not gendered, they are not transgender’s values or bisexual values, they are human values; essential to the building of any family, any community, any society, any nation. Mind it, I am nowhere saying that the struggles or experiences of transman persons are the same as that of transwoman persons. There is a lot that we need to do in our own progressive political spaces but it also demands some reflection as to what we represent as a group in the outside world.
The article also mentions the lives of those who do not proscribe to hetero-normative imperative of getting married or living monogamously are choices made by queer people. Is it okay to make that blanket statement? Do the politics of such people not decide if they are queer? Are we allowing individuality to take over identity here? There are no easy answers to these. Does that imply that we shy away from making a start?
The author also talks about the very important and plaguing socially constructed fractures such as class, caste, religion, privileges, health issues, and disability, apart from gender and sexuality; and I agree that these should not be grounds for discrimination or second-class status. But I do not think these are LGBT issues alone. Our own community is infested with discrimination based on intellect, privilege, and politics. I also don’t think these issues can be tackled on a TV show alone. These conversations are valid and should become a part of a public discourse within the community and the various sectional groups.
The future of identity politics would indeed be to focus on the sectional interests of people within the community. But for now I think it is important to have each other’s back, fill up these identified gaps within our own spaces, and bridge the differences.