L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ In India: Social Apprehension Or Ignorance
The Morning of September 6, 2018, was different for a lot of people around the country, many of whom had gathered at cafés, organizations and even parks to see the coverage of the Supreme Court’s hearing on the Section 377 case. At 11:20 AM the CJI, who also headed the constitutional Bench of the top court in this case, stated that the court will read out the judgment after a quick break. Hearts were racing and anxiety was increasing, though the arguments were fair from the side of the petitioners, their ground was strong and every person of logic believed in their cause, the political narrative in the country in the recent past exhibited signs of dissent in the matter. People were confident but the shape intolerance had taken in the last few years, they were scared and were trying to make peace with the worst if it had to come.
Soon the Bench assembled again and the CJI proceeded to deliver the judgment, summarizing a 400 odd page long judgment, he said: “the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises sexual acts between consenting adults of male-male sex, female-female sex or even male-female sex is rendered unconstitutional”. This de-criminalised the previously criminalized act of sexual intercourse between persons of same-sex as well as opposite-sex which was colonially termed unnatural or against the law of nature. The judgment and courts finding therein were elaborate and covered social stigmas as well as freedom of life and personal liberty. To sum it all, the court decided in favour of freedom, in this case, sexual freedom.
A statement by Justice R.F. Nariman who constituted the five-member bench made me ponder, he essentially meant to say that this de-criminalisation is in due alignment with the constitution but there is a pressing need for educating and sensitizing the authorities at various levels of administration, especially the police, so that this social change can fade-in to the beautiful fabric of the country. I personally resonate with this, the courts function to restore justice (which is highly subjective!) but then some locus stands on us as citizens to accept the decision of the court, which isn’t really a decision made by the court, but essentially an explanation of the freedoms that the constitution envisages to its citizens.
Now that section 377 is amended and only criminalises sexual acts involving minors and animals, it becomes a perfect setting to understand what the letters in the LGBTQIA abbreviations mean and how do they pan out. It’s an honest disclaimer that what I write hereon, will be based on what I have learnt and understood over the great ocean of the internet and some conversations with people who understand these terms a little more than I do.
When I heard about these terms more than 10 years ago, there were only four letters commonly used to group various sexual and gender minorities: L, G, B and T. To me these letters were an evolution in themselves toward inclusion (social, mainly!); an expansion of the language used to represent a disparate group that had often just been called “the gay community.” Despite their intent, the letters proved to be limiting.
As times and attitudes changed, the language used to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity also changed, or perhaps evolved. As a result, the established L.G.B.T. abbreviation acquired a few extra letters and a cluster of ancillary terminology around both sexuality and gender. Not everyone has adopted them yet though. To understand these we need to separate the biological sex of a person from their gender identity, otherwise, we might find ourselves more confused than we were before.
The letters “L” and “G” stand for Lesbian and Gay, “gay” and “lesbian” are as basic as it gets. As “homosexual” began to feel clinical and pejorative, gay became the de rigueur mainstream term to refer to same-sex attraction in the late 1960s and early ’70s, till this time, India and Indians were not quite aware of the term socially, but I’m sure there were people coming out and aligning themselves with these identities or orientations (to be diplomatic enough). Gradually, as what was then called the gay liberation movement gained steam, the phrase “gay and lesbian” became more popular as a way to highlight the similar-yet-separate issues faced by women in the fight for tolerance. Gay is still sometimes used as an umbrella term, but these days, it also refers specifically to men, as in “gay men and lesbians.”
The letter “B” stands for Bisexual referring to a person who is attracted to people of the same-sex as well as people of the opposite sex. Unlike popular opinion, it is in no means a middle path between a straight person (people who are attracted to people of the opposite gender) and a gay person (to include the term lesbian). Also referred to as “Bi” many believe that this term isn’t inclusive enough as it relates to the male-female binary.
The letter “T” stands for Transgender which refers to someone whose gender identity or expression or both in many cases are different from the biological sex assigned to them at the time of birth. To be diplomatically correct let’s just say these are non-cisgender (gender identity and expression same as the biological sex) identities.
The addition of the letter “Q” became increasingly popular during the start of the 21st century. Some insisted this stood for “questioning,” representing people who were uncertain of their sexual orientations or gender identities. Others declared it was for “queer,” a catchall term that has shed its derogatory origins and is gaining acceptance.
The letter “I” stands for Intersex, which encapsulates someone born with biological sex characteristics that aren’t traditionally associated with male or female bodies. Intersexuality does not refer to sexual orientation or identity.
The letter “A” stands for Asexual or Ace is someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction.
The symbol “+” in this regard is not a mathematical symbol but denotes everything on the gender and sexuality spectrum which words and letters can’t describe yet.
The list of sexual preferences and orientation doesn’t end here and is not very comprehensive to human understanding at the moment as it is still in an evolving stage, with many concepts and feelings that are yet to be codified into letters words and expression. Having said that, there are a few other words which constitute the expression we are talking about, such as-
PANSEXUAL, someone who is attracted to people of all gender identities or someone who is attracted to a person’s qualities regardless of their gender identity. Once a more niche term used by academics, pansexual is gaining social acceptability as a term after singer Miley Cyrus identified as pansexual in 2015.
NONBINARY is a person who identifies as neither male nor female and sees themselves outside the gender binary. This is sometimes shortened to N.B. or enby. Often people conferring to this expression use non-gender\non-binary terms like they and them instead of him and her in their use of the language. GENDERQUEER, another term often used to describe someone whose gender identity is outside the strict male/female binary. They may exhibit both traditionally masculine and feminine qualities and neither. GENDER FLUID, a term used by people whose identity shifts or fluctuates. Sometimes these individuals may identify or express themselves as more masculine on some days, and more feminine on others. Even though these terms may sound similar or alike, but they are not, they may not be separated from each other by a huge distance but they encapsulate different things.
Polyamory is a practice/way of life where the person is believed to be capable of loving more than one individual in all aspects of love and attraction. In practice it is different from polygamy as here all individuals in the circle are aware of the presence of another partner or their partner and are accepting of it, here the partners are not restricted and bonded to each other by means of sexual attraction alone, rather they practice as more holistic approach towards love and various aspects of it. In this practice, a partners partner is often referred to as a metamours.
This list and my way of understanding the terms may not be perfect, I beg pardon if any person or sections of person believe otherwise. But this is a small step for me to try and spread the word about various known sexualities and even the ones yet to be discovered to speak out about. It is my earnest request to whoever reads this post, to educate people around about these things and more importantly, emphasise on the fact that this is basic choice and freedom, as basic as freedom to choose between eating pasta or burger, let’s not let the societal stigma bog us down.
In the end, Love is Love and the freedom to express it is your own.
Ps. And this is important, Indian law has de-criminalised the erstwhile section 377 but that itself doesn’t make same-sex marriages legal, nor does it mean that we would see more physical display of affection on the street, this is not a means of social obstruction at all, it is a freedom which the citizen deserves and is finally protected for them. But yes this decision will make way for same-sex marriages in India to hopefully legalise it.