On many days, I am reminded of a version of myself from the past – someone who viewed the world through a lens of hatred and bigotry. A lens through which, for many of my 19 years, I saw the world as one with rigid borders and the sanctimonious, damning ‘rules of nature’ (read: heteronormativity) that I was never spoken to about, but expected to follow anyway.
On days like these, I often think about my brother. Growing up, he was different, to say the least. He used to ask to join in when I played with my dolls, and he never saw makeup as a gendered commodity. He fawned over many of the same male idols as I did. He was curious, experimental and in the best ways, unashamed of everything that he was. I want to say that I accepted him as he was, or, at the very least, bore a grudging indifference to him.
But I didn’t.
I was actively hostile to this anomaly that broke all the rules that I thought were made of iron pillars. Now, years later, I can never understand why my opinions as a growing, learning, child were so fixedly homophobic and inherently misogynistic.
Why was I sexist and homophobic since before I even knew how bitter these words tasted on my tongue?
I accredit a significant portion of the blame on my education. I learned how to write a precis, memorise organic chemistry, apply Newton’s laws, recite poetry and write a damn good essay.
However, I didn’t learn how to be accepting, curious and open to learning more (jigyasu, as my Hindi textbook will tell you). A needlessly rigorous syllabus that tried its hardest to craft me into a blindly patriotic adolescent failed where it was needed the most: it failed to make me empathetic and kind.
Having said that, I can’t lay the blame at the door of school or college only. Much of it starts at home, where we observe and internalise everyday heteronormative practices. It isn’t something that is taught; it is believed to be the norm. Aberrations, therefore, are out of the question.
What’s wrong in telling your daughter to dress up in cute skirts and play with her barbies and telling your son to never wear pink and play exclusively with power ranger figurines, you think.
But what are the chances of your child being queer or non-heteronormative? The utopia of heteronormativity is so imprinted in the Indian mind, that I doubt there is a word in any vernacular language to replace it. In most families, there is no perceived need to disrupt this sense of normalcy – because to disrupt it would be to acknowledge that a differing reality exists.
We have all had conversations about the hollowness of getting good grades in school or the mindless race we are made to run early on life. What isn’t addressed as frequently is the unchecked bigotry that freely roams the school hallways – much like the big-boned, razor-tongued bully who just happens to be the teacher’s pet. Many of us carried the family-pack notion of heterosexual normalcy from home to school – it passes from mouth to mouth unchecked, and as is commonplace at home, a prejudiced generation of misinformed adults endorse this idea of ‘normalcy’ even at school.
Although it isn’t a school’s job to systematically root out bigotry, it is, most definitely, a school’s job to at least introduce students to ideas that challenge and question what we think we know.
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If, at any time, during a history lesson we had talked about Babur’s sexuality instead of Akbar’s polygamy, read a poem or two by Sappho, discussed the varieties of sexuality in Ancient Greek and Roman kingdoms, learned that biological sex and its functions do not directly correlate to gender and its expression – maybe, just maybe, I would’ve been kinder to my brother.
Hence, there’s a need to question the normalisation of heterosexuality. That, I feel, isn’t as complex as it appears to be. If children as young as 12 easily accept that realms of imaginary numbers exist beyond tangibility, then most children can accept that it is possible for women to love women and for men to love men, and that there is no real need for women to look, dress and act a certain way and for men to do the same.
While we learn about the shape of kidneys and mathematical fallacies, we must also learn how to question, grow, and address topics at the core of our identities.
Still, while I blindly advocate for LGBTQIA+ representation and awareness in schools, I am painfully reminded that wanting to talk about homophobia in schools is a privileged take. When even something as fundamental as sex education is unfathomable for most schools and a half-day workshop for others, having schools talk about a topic as seemingly ‘niche’ as homophobia seems largely unnecessary.
It is anything but that. My brother is one amongst thousands of children too young to be bullied for his expression of sexuality and gender. Nobody deserves the trauma that he had to live with.
Let us not sugar-coat this truth: Schools are in dire need of a more empathetic curriculum, one that teaches students to be kind and compassionate (for more than just their country) and not just accept others, but also themselves, just as they are.
Shivani Deshmukh is a first year student at Ashoka University. She begrudgingly calls herself a writer – check her trash folder for proof.
Featured image credit: @dcemr_e/Unsplash