Coming from a culture deeply rooted in tradition and conforming to the stereotypes, I have always encountered bullying right from the childhood till now. There have been instances where I have avoided the company of certain people, groups and relatives just so I am not at the receiving end of snide comments about my behaviour, my language and my expressive hand gestures etc. All these mount up to the point that these bullies find you “different” from their idea of what a boy or a man in their society ought to be!
I was a boy soprano in the church choir and a bit on the plumper side of life (not very different now) and had a shrill voice. This translated into an ideal situation for the “outstanding church romeos” who’d sit in groups (they’d never do this alone) to imitate my voice in their ridiculous falsettos, just to make fun of the voice and the girly me.
My Response as a Kid
I always avoided eye contact with them. Many a times when I used to pretend like I never heard them when they did catcalls and passed shallow remarks, but it always made me feel disgusted about myself. However, every time a woman caught these guys passing remarks, they have always stood up for me and told them off, sensing fully well that these guys were picking on me. If confronted they’d run away. I’ve never felt safe with an all-male group as a kid. This is comparable to a pack of hyenas targeting a baby elephant when his mother, grandmother, aunties or older girl cousins weren’t around. And if I cried for help, it would be ridiculed as being a “sissy” – “Oh! Such a cry baby!” etc. So, even till this day, if someone passes a remark about my “gayness” anywhere or, if they tried to imitate my expressive hands, voice or gestures, I am reminded of those childhood scary moments. I’ve never seen men stick up for me. They’ve always been silent observers. Most male cousins or uncles would rather shout from the sidelines saying “Give it back to them, boy!”, “Don’t stand there and cry”. I guess, they couldn’t fathom this non-male, yet male kid!
In a Place of Work
I’ve encountered bullying incidents more at the work place in Chennai than in Mumbai! The average Mumbaikar seems more accepting, and can seem quite indifferent to these issues that seem to affect the rest of the country, thus making it a progressive society. The cosmopolitan structure of Mumbai probably makes it a more accepting place to be.
Within the LGBT Community itself
Funnily, a few lesbian women have done this too to me in the recent past, but it’s never worked with them. What’s with clubbing me as a part of the ‘gay’ stereotype and trying to conform to society’s image of a ‘lesbian’ stereotype too! Can’t understand it! Give it a break, ladies!
My Response as an Adult
Now, my reaction would be different to from when I was a child – I’d show my middle finger to them metaphorically with words in a strong baritone voice that I now have, looking at the bully straight in the eye, rather menacingly in a response that can be summarised as, “I’ll break that stereotype you have in your head and also in the bargain, your face!”
A bit of history…
Throughout school I have hung out with girls more than the boys. I’ve played more badminton than a boy would have or field events like a long jump, high jump or shot put than cricket, hockey or football. I used to love to watch the girl scouts and secretly wished they’d call me to be part of them. Of course, I was a boy scout too, who excelled in the cooking competitions, sewing and knot tying. My peers used to make fun of me calling me a ‘girl’ and “he’s not a boy” etc. The more they said so, the more I avoided them. I’ve never liked boys or men pass lecherous comments on girls or women’s breasts or hips and have always felt dirty and used to cringe at this. Somehow, the women folk always included me in their company readily. I guess, they felt I was ‘different’ from the other ‘normal’ boys and would stick up for me all the time. Always felt blessed by that!
The Impact & The Now
These incidents scar you for life. You feel the blood gushing to your face and your neck getting all hot with rage when such bullying incidents from your childhood happen to you as a grown up again! But, I have learnt to put my foot down with a resounding thud (glitter and high-heeled as it may be). I’ve learnt to intimidate the bully so bad, that they’d scoot from that place and hopefully not pick on anyone else like this in the future! Of course, a bit of working out in the gym and power lifting didn’t do any harm. At the end of the day, ‘confidence’ and ‘boldness’ is the key!
One may say, why not try talk to these bullies and sensitize them etc.!
My response to that suggestion is… I have tried this before, it’s never worked! In this day and age of the internet – they should Google homosexuality and get educated! Can’t waste time on these bullies!
Remember, that the bullies have never changed over the years, but I have! And that’s what’s made it possible to take the bull(y) by its horns – head on! Once you do this, there’s no turning back! More power to an empowered ‘you’