Queerphobia is as deeply rooted in Indian society as queerness is rooted within me. Queerness has always been a part of me, even before I understood what the term ‘queer’ even meant, before I even knew that people could choose to not live by the gender norms associated with their biological sex or could love someone of the same gender. But even then, I had to deal with queerphobia simply because I was effeminate. At that age, I had no choice but to ignore or just tolerate the bigotry directed at me as I had no support and no one to guide me. But no matter how much I tried to ignore it all, the abusive slurs, assaults and bullying left a deep impact on me and continue to effect me even today. Although I am now aware of the fact that there’s nothing wrong with me, things haven’t changed much. When I experience prejudice because of who I am, I still find it difficult to deal with.
When I was a kid filled with internal queerphobia, being called a ‘chakka’ or ‘gay’ was very offensive and disturbing for me, as if ‘chakkas’ or ‘gays’ were some monsters from an alien planet. But over time, after years of educating myself through queer documentaries, talks, stories, articles and meeting other queer folks, I’ve realised my queerness is completely normal. Loathing myself for my sexuality is pointless.
This realisation has also helped me deal with the ignorant cis-heterosexual people who matter to me. I came out to my friends and family knowing that they weren’t going to accept me right away but I also believed that with time, they might understand if they meet or hear more about people like me, which is why I think representation matters a lot.
At a certain point, I realised I was always switching between two different roles – the perpetuator of queerphobia and the one who fights against it. I finally chose to be the latter and since then, I’ve made it my goal to make people question their misconceptions about queer people. I do this by being out, proud and visible every single day. I know now that gender is not what defines our capacity as people, and the ones who believe in gender roles are the ones who’d rather live in darkness than progress to something better, so their opinions shouldn’t affect my work.
As a queer student who is also a member of the college theatre society, my femininity often makes people uncomfortable – resulting in lots of double-takes and staring. I deal with these situations by not reacting, unless a situation absolutely requires it. Sometimes, I even dress more masculine, just to avoid harassment and violence because toxic masculinity makes it dangerous for men to disobey our society’s strict gender norms.
We have been conditioned to think of queerphobia is an unavoidable reality, and unfortunately sometimes we do have to follow social protocols just to ‘avoid’ confrontations and harassment. People get uncomfortable when they see someone breaking gender stereotypes, and then they resort to queerphobia or misogyny instead of trying to understand the other person.
Nivedita Menon puts it best in her book, Seeing Like a Feminist:
“Social order displays not the absolute presence or absence of intolerance to difference but a spectrum of intolerance. Each of us bears responsibility to some degree for maintaining these protocols of intolerance, which could not be kept in place if every single one of us did not play our part. From bringing up children ‘appropriately’, to lovingly correcting or punishing their inappropriate behaviour, to making sure we never breach the protocols ourselves, to staring or sniggering at people who look different, to coercive psychiatric and medical intervention, to emotional blackmail, to physical violence – it’s a range of slippages all the way that we seldom recognize.”
I don’t believe that avoidance is key to surviving, but reacting to everyone all the time isn’t sustainable either. In our current social and political climate, retaliation almost always leads to violence against those who don’t fit the ‘norm’. The key, I believe, is to slowly ‘queer out’ our public and private domains by responding to hate rather than reacting to it. Most of the time, hate is rooted in a fear of the unfamiliar. We must try to normalise our identities and expand the community by engaging in discussions with those who are unaware of our existence.
We can build solidarity by sharing our stories with those who are unfamiliar with the community.
Aniket Chauhan is a college student from New Delhi and a member of Nazariya.
Featured image credit: Pixabay