I’ve been working with Gaysi Family for the past month, and being a part of it has made me realize more than ever how much spaces like this are necessary. Not only for people who identify as queer but even for allies and everyone in between. Queer rights, gender identities and expression are subjects that we learnt about only when we had unrestricted access to the internet and most of us had to do a lot of unlearning along the way. The problem with this is that these are not things we should have to learn about on our own. These are not topics that cannot be discussed with children. My unlearning process took place over the course of many years and there were several times where it could have gone wrong. Looking back, I wonder what it would have been like if I knew ten years ago what I know now.
I don’t remember when I first encountered the fact that the world did not consist exclusively of heterosexual people. I was an avid reader throughout my childhood and something I was reading mentioned a man having a relationship with another man. I remember looking up the word ‘gay’ in a dictionary and wondering why I’d never heard of it before. At the time, it seemed completely logical to me that people of the same gender could have romantic relations with each other. I had never been told it was possible but I’d also never been told it was not.
I was around eight or nine at the time and the internet was not as prevalent in my life as it is now. My first thought was not to research homosexuality but to want to talk to someone about it.
However, I had no idea who to talk to. I’d always been very cautious about what I said to people and because no one had ever mentioned this information to me before, I thought it was something I was not supposed to know. So, I kept it to myself and after finishing the book I had been reading, pushed the information to the back of my mind. The system of heterosexism is so strongly established in our society that the mention of non-heterosexual people in books seemed like an anomaly to me.
Eventually, as it tends to happen with things that are not talked about enough, non-cis, non-heterosexual identities started being discussed at school. At the time, no one knew what they were talking about. We hadn’t been exposed to the right information yet. All that we knew came from whispered talks in corridors and badly represented media. One of the clearest memories I have involves the word ‘gay’ being used as an insult. If a boy did anything that was considered conventionally feminine, it was considered ‘gay’. Boys putting on nail polish, mehandi or any sort of makeup was too ‘gay’ to comprehend. Even though everyone knew by then that being gay just involved liking a person of the same gender, lack of knowledge made it into something else entirely. As far as everyone could see, heterosexuality was the norm and any other identity was something unknown and abnormal. The only queer people most of us had encountered were from the media we consumed and in most of it, we saw only one kind of gender expression. Queer people consisted only of extremely flamboyant guys with a great sense of fashion and an excellent wardrobe. Gay women probably existed somewhere in an alternate dimension but were never talked about because we didn’t see them as often as we saw the extremely stereotypical gay man. It did not even occur to us that any of us could or would ever have a non-straight identity.
Another thing that I remember from when I was younger was my lack of understanding of people who identified as transgender. I didn’t know the difference between identifying as transgender and being intersex or how being trans was not a singular identity but a whole spectrum. I saw the people wearing sarees at traffic lights asking people for money. I did not understand why they had to do that. I did not understand that it was impossible for them to get jobs because of the way they looked and how they chose to express themselves. I did not know that there were people in the community other than them who had to hide who they truly were because they feared that they would not be accepted.
I think the first time I truly understood gender identities and gender expression was when I was in the eleventh grade. I had joined Instagram because a few of my friends were on it and I was going through my explore page. While scrolling through, I stumbled across a post from a LGBTQI+ account and went through it. I do not recall what the post was about but it made me go through the rest of the account, which resulted in me getting more LGBTQI+ posts on my page. Before I went through these posts, I had thought that people could identify only as gay, lesbian or bisexual. I had a vague idea that people could be transgender but until then, I did not know what being transgender entailed and how vast the spectrum was. I did not even know of the existence of gender outside the binary. Looking through the Instagram posts after that educated me about non-binary identities, genderfluidity and asexuality, identities that I didn’t even know existed till then. I found out that people having queer identities was more common than I had thought and the reason they seemed so rare was because of the lack of representation and the fear of coming out in a world that was so focussed on heteronormativity. I learned that not everyone had to feel sexual attraction and that was perfectly all right. I learned that you could be attracted to a person without being attracted to them sexually. My only regret was that I learned all of this so late.
Even before I learned how vast the LGBTQI+ spectrum was, I don’t think I was biased against someone because of their identity. However, due to the lack of conversation on the topic, I’m sure I’ve had my fair share of insensitive moments. I’m sure a lot of us have. I learned about the spectrum when I was 16 years old and just because I found the right posts on Instagram. What would have happened if I’d stumbled upon the wrong ones? What would have happened if I’d never joined Instagram? Where would I have accurately learned what I know now? It’s extremely important to convey to children from a young age that we do not live in a world where heterosexuality is common and anything other than that is rare and abnormal. No child is too young to know about identities and expression. Fortunately, media has progressed a little bit from when I was younger. There is more representation in books and movies than there was before. Even though the world is still not as accepting and educated as it should be, we can only get better from here. We have to be the ones that raise awareness. We have to be the ones that answer the questions that the younger generation (And anyone else really) have and initiate conversations that educate people. Information like this must be accessible I sincerely hope that it will get better in the future and social media won’t be the only place that people learn about themselves and the people around them.