The year 2017 saw all kinds of violations of human rights from roundups and torture in Chechnya to an effort by the Trump administration to roll back equal rights in the United States.
The queer community, often also known as LGBTQIA+ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and others) has seen, from some of the largest nations including UK, China, and Russia, violation of same-sex couples despite legal decriminalisation. There are no laws to protect the queer community as such and the conservative sections are doing all they can to prevent the education of millennials and everybody else about the queer movement.
2018, however, is predicted to be the year when regions like Latin America lead the way by setting an example and advancing human rights for the queer community on platforms like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Back home, a major aspect of the community’s struggle for recognition – Section 377, is all set to take a revision this year. The Supreme Court has decided to reconsider the decision passed by a panel of two judges in 2016.
But while activities happen on the international platform; my curiosity is bound to the individual level. What do my friends and I know? Are we really as open-minded as we claim ourselves to be? If the millennials of the 21st century, people in our age group are supposed to be the ones bringing about change and fighting for rights, how much do we know and care about equality?
I personally, have always been one to stand up for the right to love and be who you want to be. But as I battle questions about my own sexual orientation and go on the continuum from the label of being ‘straight’ to ‘bi-curious’ to just plain ‘confused’, I need to know what heterosexual, cisgender people in my social circle feel. How do they perceive the queer community? Do they know enough?
I talked to an approximate of 20 people I like to call friends. For research purposes, people particularly between the ages of 21-28, belonging to different economic and professional backgrounds and of varying genders. What I found out disheartened me to no extent. While a few respondents gave me hope for 2018, it was mostly a let-down. But then I ask myself – isn’t that how you know things are changing? When opinions do not conform to one’s ideology but are rather scattered over a lot of questions?
I developed a questionnaire for people who identify as cisgender and heterosexual. I asked them what they know about homosexuality, about transgender people, about feeling different than what they have always been told that they are.
Following are the questions I asked them and you can ask yourself too, to really know what you know about the people who aren’t like you-
- Why do you think some people identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, gender queer, and non-binary?
- How do you think people realize they’re trans, gender non-conforming, gender queer, or non-binary?
- What does it mean for a person to be transgender?
- What kind of hardships according to you, do trans people face?
- Is there any sign that things will improve for the queer community in 2018? What do you envision?
- If a transgender person is attracted to the sex they once were, are they gay or straight?
- What do you understand by the word ‘cis’?
- Do you think being ‘queer’ is ‘normal’?
- What do you think causes homosexuality?
- Do you have any peers from the queer community in your social circle? Did you ever romantically get involved with one?
- If someone was to question your heterosexuality, how would you explain yourself being ‘straight’?
I developed a personal scale from 1-10, with labels like somewhat aware, not at all aware, pretty aware, almost there, etc. Out of the 20 people, most ranged between somewhat aware to not at all aware, with 2-3 almost there. Very few people were aware about how the LGBTQIA+ movement is progressing and what 2018 will be like. Very few could explain who transgenders are and what kind of physical and psychological issues they go through. Even fewer were able to answer questions 2 and 9.
A certain friend who I know is extremely well-read, when asked, ‘How do you perceive trans-lesbians in the queer community? What do you know about them?’ Only said, ‘Not much, for sure. Expect for a trans-lesbian character I saw on Sense8, I was not aware of them.’
Another friend of mine was absolutely clueless about the movement and its progress. He travels the world but has never interacted with people from the queer community; he even went on to explain transsexuals as people who either have both sexual organs in one body or none at all! *eye roll*
Not with a very different mind-set, was another friend who proclaimed transsexuals don’t really have bodily issues and it has to do a lot with how their psyche works!
There apparently isn’t much awareness about how to be sensitive in certain situations either. Most of my friends explained that they just guess the other person’s gender when they meet a trans person and it never really occurred to them that they should ask what pronoun the other person prefers to use!
When they came across questions about the hardships and personality conflicts that a person has to face while ‘coming out’ or transitioning to a different sex, almost everyone was clueless. Their answers only fluctuated between social discrimination and psychological conflict. Which really could be true of any person going through an identity crisis.
I can understand the lack of knowledge about the medical procedures, but what about the stigmatization and oppression and exclusion? Why were their ideas about occupations of transgenders limited to begging and prostitution? Why did they perceive lesbians as angry, men-hating women?
What struck me the most though is, that even though everybody knew one person or the other through a distant connection, who was gay or lesbian or bisexual, they had no friends from the queer community in their close circle. Transgender people were not even mentioned! There is barely any noticeable presence of trans people in offices or university campuses or even in their virtual social circuit!
Observation number two- women seem to be much more broad-minded than men. They counter-questioned and asked me to explain concepts when they didn’t understand a question. A lot of men, surprisingly, who claim to be non-religious actually had influenced opinions. A man I know, who is big on animal rights and being kind to the entire world, said he actually was influenced by Catholic Christian beliefs about homosexuality being a sin, till 2-3 years ago, when a friend decided to set him straight (pun intended).
What I learnt from the several questionnaires that I sent out to my friends is that-
A) Questions about homosexuality and queerness make them feel uncomfortable.
B) Their lack of knowledge about the movement doesn’t.
C) While the world might be progressing, I have a long way to go before I can actually see my friends being as open-minded, sensitive and aware as I had hoped them to be.
It worries me how a large proportion of my generation is willing to fight for their right of expression, and freedom to choose their lifestyle and love who they want; but have a tendency to absolutely forget those who need our support and intervention. My idea is not to project the queer community as a helpless group being on the periphery of the society, but rather to look at them as just people who are looking for love and acceptance, people we should be capable of supporting.
Due to the unfortunate social norms, heterosexual people have been given a certain position of privilege, a prominent voice. Why do we not bother to use it for the right cause?
Have we pushed and stigmatized so much that the queer feel they can’t hang around with us? Do they prefer to remain in their circle and not engage with heterosexual people because at times we can be that crude and ignorant? When I mention in casual conversation to someone presumably heterosexual, that I never assume a person’s sexual orientation or gender, I am met with looks of disbelief. Flirtatious men at bars have been offended by me asking an innocent question about what they identify as. As if being straight is really the only option one could have.
Summary Graph of the Survey Conducted