On the 6th of September 2018, in a ruling by the Supreme Court, homosexuality was decriminalised in India. The day was one of great celebration for the country’s queer community and marked an important turning point in India’s LGBTQ+ history.
While there is little doubt of the widespread relief and joy that the LGBTQ+ community must have felt, it is crucial to keep in mind that this was only the first step of many that we will need to take before the nation truly accepts its queer community.
What is Heteronormative?
Our society is best described as heteronormative. That is, heterosexual is still considered to be the normal and preferred sexual orientation.
For instance, heteronormativity is particularly visible in the way even the youngest of children are told they’ll grow up to marry someone of the opposite sex. Media still portrays more straight couples than they do homosexual. Children too are bullied if they don’t conform to gender norms.
These might seem insignificant to an outsider, but, to an LGBTQ+ person, these norms are a constant reminder that they are different; That society, though aware of them, does not completely accept them.
As a result, a portion of the queer community suffers from internalised transphobia and internalised homophobia in which they dislike themselves for their own gender or sexuality. Often, this means LGBTQ+ people try and ignore part of their identity and pretend to fit into society’s idea of ‘normal’ just so that they can be accepted by those around them.
Furthermore, in places like India, most families believe that a gay or trans child will harm their reputation. Thus, they will often prefer to cut ties with an LGBTQ+ member of their family over accepting them. As a result, many teens are forced to make a choice between being who they are and being with their family.
Attempting to reject a part of who you are is not easy either. It intensifies self-hatred, can lead to depression and is extremely harmful to mental health. Estimates show that the suicide rates of LGBTQ+ youth are about 1.5 to 3 times that of heterosexual youth. This is, no doubt, a head-on result of being rejected by the same society that should support you.
As a heterosexual cisgender, it thus becomes your responsibility to lend a helping hand and support the LGBTQ+ community whenever you can.
Who is an Ally?
An Ally is a heterosexual and cisgender person who supports equal rights for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.
As an ally, you recognise your privilege and use it to help those around you, be it through speaking up against homophobia and transphobia, or by normalising things that otherwise only the queer community might partake in; for instance, something as simple as adding your preferred pronouns to social media could go a long way in making transgenders feel safer doing the same.
Putting it simply, as an ally, you should use your privilege to help raise the voice of the LGBTQ+ community.
Furthermore, you might find that queer friends and family are comfortable with coming out to you and telling you about their sexuality or gender.
What is coming out?
Coming out of the closet is a metaphor for LGBTQ+ people’s self-disclosure of their sexual orientation or of their gender identity. This often requires the individual to have come to terms with their identity and accept it as a part of who they are.
A closeted person is someone who has not come out. It is important to keep in mind that just because somebody has come out to you, it does not mean that they have come out to everybody else as well.
What is a label?
The dictionary defines a label as being a classifying phrase or name applied to a person or thing and, for the most part of it, that is what labels are.
In the LGBTQ+ community, labels range from commonly heard ones such as gay and lesbian to less frequently heard ones such as asexual and pansexual.
While labels do play a role in classifying and defining a person’s identity, the LGBTQ+ community likes them because it gives them a sense of belonging. In a world where they are still rejected and considered to be outsiders, finding a community of people who feel the same way can be incredibly comforting.
There are no restrictions on labels. It’s up to an individual to decide which label they are most comfortable with. Some, for instance, use queer as it gives them the space to be fluid in their sexuality. Others may prefer more specific labels.
What should you do when somebody comes out to you?
There is no fixed set of rules or guidelines for when somebody comes out to you. At the end of the day, the best you can do is be there for them and offer your support no matter what. The following is a list of dos and don’ts to help you out:
- Don’t be insensitive. Saying things like ‘I always knew’ or ‘It doesn’t matter to me’ might come from a good place but tend to rub off in the wrong way. Keep in mind that for the person opposite you, this is a moment of vulnerability. They’re trusting you with a part of their identity, and it deserves to be acknowledged. Maybe say something along the lines of ‘This won’t change how I feel about you’ instead.
- That being said, don’t overreact either. Be patient and give them time to say what they need to. Don’t interrupt or ask them to share more than they are comfortable telling you. Hear them out, and reassure them that you’ll be there for them.
- Do not change the way you act around them or ask if they’re into you. This is still the same person you’ve always known, and your knowledge of their sexual orientation or gender does not change that.
- Do your research. If your friend comes out as trans, for instance, ask them their preferred pronouns and make it a point to use them. Look up how to use the pronouns in sentences if you’re unfamiliar with them (such as the singular they/them or ze/zir). It takes only seconds to do some research, but your effort would go a long way in making your friend feel accepted.
- Accept their labels. Even if you are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, your labels may not align with theirs. Just keep in mind that you use a label to define yourself, not anyone else. What they choose is up to them and not you.
- Lastly, never out anyone without their permission. Whether it is to their family, their friends, or people they may not even know. It is not your responsibility to take this decision for anyone.
In the past few years, a number of countries have legalised same-sex marriage. LGBTQ+ people are being accepted more and more and the masses are beginning to understand what it means to be queer. (Though, if you’re still uncertain about the differences between gender and sexuality, or are hoping for a more detailed explanation, we’d recommend starting here.)
As an ally, you may not have shared the relief of the queer community when homosexuality was decriminalised; you may not share their joy and enthusiasm during pride month or while watching LGBTQ+ representation on screen. Though, in simply showing your support and being there for anyone who feels alone, you are helping make the world a safer place for the LGBTQ+ community. And, that too, is going a long way in bringing about change.
To our queer readers, this is a reminder that you are not alone and that you are loved. There are people here who support you and accept you, no matter who you love or identify yourself as. Wishing you the happiest of Pride Months!
Written by Naintara Singh for MTTN
Featured Image by Ashirwad Ray
Images by Timothy Varghese and from Google Images