“Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.”
Do Indian teenagers know about the anxiety and misinformation experienced by their non-binary and queer counterparts? No, not really.
In 2015, when eight-year-old me first eavesdropped on my elder brother and his friends discussing whether the respected headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was ‘gay’, I was perplexed by this new term. Nevertheless, I never quite questioned it then; perhaps it was the confidentiality of the entire conversation that barred my conscience from exploring the meaning of the term – one which is still very much a taboo in Indian society.
This confusion lasted several years and was finally cleared in 2018 when the Supreme Court read down parts of Section 377 of the IPC which criminalised gay sex. While for the LGBTQIA+ community, September 6 was a historic milestone and a first step towards social acceptance in India, for me it was a day of enlightenment. Finally, I got an insight into a world and community that I didn’t even know existed.
It also immediately became a joke among teens. Countless times, we would tease two friends of the same sex who were close and tell them, “Haha, now you can get married finally since Section 377 is no more!”
Two years later, I now realise how offensive it was of us to treat homosexuality as a joke or as ‘weird’. A hopeless romantic from my early days, I was smitten by the thought of eternal love, and the first time I was exposed to stories of same-sex relationships was through Thai Boy Love (BL) stories in Class 8. I was surprised by how the meaning and feeling of love was constant and the same – it still meant trust, honour and loyalty.
But wait, there was more. I soon opened my eyes to a world full of terms like ‘asexual’, ‘demisexual’ and ‘pansexual’ and more – a whole spectrum of people. This phase of discovery, which spanned a year, was full of emotion – from sympathy to empathy to rage over having been denied access to such information and even manic mirth over realising that there is a whole population that is conveniently hidden by this ‘anything-apart-from-normal-is-wrong’ society.
By then, my friends considered me ‘weird’ – my best friend is borderline homophobic – and my parents, deep down, frowned upon my interest in non-binary people and other sexualities. I remember my parents treating Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan, the first-ever gay-centric Bollywood movie, as yet another fantasy story, far away from the realities that we would ever experience. It was extremely frustrating to see them act so aloof, and it actually made me more interested to dive deeper into understanding people and their sexualities.
From a very young age, I was always puzzled by why we think twice about equality – as long as you are a living individual, there is no reason that someone else deserves something that I don’t. As kids, we learn what we are taught, and as a kid, I was taught that mental health was a joke, depressed people were just putting up charades to find someone to curse for their mistakes, and that teenage mental health wasn’t even a thing.
This is largely the reason I feel that my problems are small, but I overthink them and that they are not consequential. If I, as a societally normal, straight, educated teenager, have no idea about how to deal with problems I am facing, how would a teenager, possibly unaware that anything beyond the gender binaries even exists, get to know who they really are, let alone deal with their problems?
Sure, with the internet at our disposal, we can conveniently search for anything and find answers, but where does one get the emotional support, the warmth, and the empathy, when the people around us aren’t ready to accept that one may be gender fluid, pansexual and intersex?
There is a spectrum of undiscovered problems, circumstances and solutions that society has conveniently hidden in plain sight under the guise of ‘abnormal’. The world is big and consequently diverse. How are we to find a viable solution to give people of various sexes, genders, and sexuality a share of their rights, let alone equality, when we don’t teach our newest generation about it – to love, accept, understand and propagate?
Swonshutaa Dash is a student from Mumbai, India. She is an aspiring journalist and a trained professional Bharatnatyam dancer and debate enthusiast. Follow her blog on @feat.stressedkanya on Instagram for more.