When you think of a gender studies classroom, what comes to mind?
Lengthy, critical discussions about patriarchy, feminism, sexuality, class, culture, right?
You might also think of this space as a safe one to be open about your sexual orientation, opinions, personal experiences and so on.
I expected all these things when I decided to choose this course. I thought it will be a space where I can share my experiences with my classmates and teachers as all of us sharing the space might be interested in similar topics, debates, and some might also be involved in social movements like me.
Working with the LGBTQ community allowed me to share my personal experiences with people. I told my story about being an LGBT person to open spaces for debates around LGBT rights, same sex marriage rights or discrimination faced by the community in public spaces like workshops, events, interviews, documentaries.
As a pansexual woman who has come out, I use my experience to make people touch and understand the complexities of gender and sexuality.
When I joined the course, I was excited to share my experiences with the class. But with time I realised not everyone was interested. Most of them didn’t interact with me, asked questions, or exchange their experiences. After some classes I realized some students felt uncomfortable to talk about LGBT issues. Some didn’t even know anything about the LGBT community. My initial response was to take this as an opportunity for more exchange of ideas about gender and sexuality as we progressed in the course. I was wrong.
I didn’t realise what was going on behind me. I started developing relationship with one of my classmates. We couldn’t tell anyone in the class because she hadn’t come out yet. We decided to be in a closeted relationship. After a month I got to know that people were talking about our relationship. A group of students gossiped about how my lover stayed in my room, guessing what we did in the room and so on. Some of them said they could not accept this kind of relationship.
I thought it was fine to let them think and feel whatever they wanted because their thoughts and opinions weren’t mine to interfere with. I thought I would give them time to learn and try to bring LGBT issues for discussions in the classroom.
After Section 377 was read down, I thought it was a good time for people who still couldn’t accept or were not interested in this issue to learn.
We even had a celebration of this historic day in our classroom. It took me some time to realise that the theory and reality were different. Despite studying Adrienne Rich, Paola Baccheta, and so many scholars writing on same-sex relationships, the reality remained grounded in homophobia. I could see the seemingly unbridgeable gap between theory and experience. Of course, there is no guarantee of reading something and practising it, I realised.
The situation outside the classroom remained the same throughout the course. I felt like some students distanced themselves from me and my lover. Sometimes they looked at us like we committed a crime. I constantly heard from other students they gossiped about us every time we were together. I was thinking how this benevolent form of homophobia: one that exists, maybe unknowingly, in the minds of students studying gender, manifested in my classroom. In public, you might be fighting for the cause of equality but in private, you might be extremely homophobic.
This situation bothered me and made me uncomfortable. I stopped talking or discussing in the class. I kept quiet and didn’t talk much with classmates. I stopped hanging out with them. I used to go to the class and come back to my room.
I didn’t want to discuss or share my experience in class anymore. I realized not everyone can understand and accept a same sex relationship even if they study gender studies course. I accepted that we all grow up with heterosexual normativity in our society. It is not easy to unlearn or change the idea that shape all of us for a very long time.
Gender studies might open opportunity to understand the complexity of gender more than other courses. It aims at the deconstruction of gender and sexuality as they are shaped by heterosexual norms and patriarchal society. But it does not guarantee wokeness. Nothing does until we work towards unlearning and relearning.
Despite my efforts in trying to understand my classmates I realized that the space like that of a gender studies classroom is not a guarantee of consciousness raising of students who take it.
The heteronormative, patriarchal world is still strong and my experience from gender studies class tells me that we need to work harder. Even if legally, we have gained recognition, the work towards getting societal acceptance is immense.