LGBTQ individuals told to dress 'queerly' for newspaper photo shoot: Incident's an eye-opener on stereotyping

Have you subconsciously contributed to the propagation of LGBTQ stereotypes in India despite your best intentions? | #FirstCulture

Sukhnidh Kaur January 25, 2018 19:37:44 IST
LGBTQ individuals told to dress 'queerly' for newspaper photo shoot: Incident's an eye-opener on stereotyping

A decade ago, Additional Solicitor General PP Malhotra stated that homosexuality is a social vice, and that the state has the power to contain it. Today, through the course of decriminalisation, reinstatement and reconsideration of Section 377, homosexual (or as per the IPC, ‘unnatural’) sexual activity remains criminalised. Malhotra’s statement and the regressive Unnatural Offences Act prove a glaring point – as long as being LGBTQ in India is looked at as a perversion and an immorality, progress will remain sluggish.

At the very root of discrimination lies the idea that the sufferer of it is the ‘other’, an entity removed from what lies within the norm. Hence, when today’s progressive, socially ‘woke’ youth addresses LGBTQ issues in a way that it deems reformative, there is a chance that it may be sanctioning discrimination instead — by propagating stereotypes that may not seem harmful at first glance, but when delved into, reveal themselves as disadvantageous to the community by othering LGBTQ individuals and their experiences.

A recent incident involving journalists from a leading newspaper asking LGBTQ college students to dress more flamboyantly for a photo shoot-cum-interview (wherein we were to address Section 377) sparked outrage on Twitter, as the thread I posted about it went viral:

LGBTQ individuals told to dress queerly for newspaper photo shoot Incidents an eyeopener on stereotyping

The issue here lies in the fact that LGBTQ individuals are often stereotyped into checkboxes of certain styles and characteristics, distinctive bearings that make them easy to single out. Whether it is the effeminate gay man with painted nails and a ramp-walk gait, or the athletic lesbian sporting short hair — tropes are harmful and unrealistic, and they perpetuate invisibility in context of the reality of India’s blooming LGBTQ community.

The incident is an opportunity to perform a self-check to see if you subconsciously contribute to the propagation of LGBTQ stereotypes in India despite your best intentions, due to your socialisation in a country that has proven itself to be homophobic time and again, with bizarre and comical media portrayals of members of the community, and a lack of attention towards the finer nuances of LGBTQ experiences in the country. Here are some key-points to help you overturn the mindset that perpetuates these harmful stereotypes against LGBTQ individuals:

1. There is no such thing as 'looking' gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans

Not all trans women are hijras, not all gay men are feminine-presenting, and not all lesbians fall into the category of ‘butch’. Bisexuals look just like your parents and siblings, and asexual, intersex and genderqueer individuals fall into physical categories other than ‘androgynous’. Sometimes, you can tell by looking at a person that they belong to the LGBTQ community — but most times, you cannot — because LGBTQ individuals look just like you and me.

2. Gay men can be masculine, lesbians can be feminine

Lesbians can be ultra-glam women with an affinity for traditionally feminine things, and men can fit right into the role of the traditionally masculine man. Your sexual orientation does not define your societal role and individual preferences regarding anything apart from who you are attracted to.

3. Rebellion, promiscuity and rampant party-culture are myths

People tend to believe that once openly part of the community, LGBTQ individuals take to acting in ways deemed scandalous and promiscuous, including partaking in wild night-life activities and kinky sexual adventures, dabbling in drugs and acting out in fiery fits of rebellion against society. Being LGBTQ definitely does not impact your nightlife activities — there are many variables apart from sexual orientation and the community dedicated to it that determine an individual’s cultural and recreational activities.

LGBTQ individuals told to dress queerly for newspaper photo shoot Incidents an eyeopener on stereotyping

A gay rights activist protests against the Supreme Court decision that reinstated Section 377. REUTERS

4. LGBTQ adolescents are not too young to know, and they are not ‘experimenting’

Professing your sexuality is not an act backed by immaturity, the impact of too much LGBTQ representation in the media or a temporary surge of adolescent hormones. If children can know they are straight at a very young age, they can definitely know if they are queer.

5. The opposite of gay is not ‘normal’

Time and again, Indians use the word ‘normal’ as an antonym for anything LGBTQ related, even when speaking in favor of the community. It is a common mistake, seen especially in the older generation. Fix your vocabulary because it can have a harmful subconscious impact on those that are listening to you.

6. Being LGBTQ is not being NSFW

Indian parents and educators censor any information to do with the community in front of children. Gay is not a dirty word, and for normalisation and acceptance to be ingrained into society, it is imperative that this is understood.

7. Media representation is unrealistic and false

The media exaggerates LGBTQ stereotypes, specially so in the Indian context, creating live-time caricatures and mockeries out of members of the community in whatever little screen-time they manage to bag. Media representation is the last thing to be considered a gauge of the lives of LGBTQ individuals, and requires considerable progress and refinement.

8. LGBTQ individuals are not a product of trauma

It is a commonly shared view among many that suffering childhood abuse and neglect, failed adult relationships and sexual assault lead to a ‘switch in orientation’. In most cases, people are LGBTQ simply by virtue of being genderqueer/not heterosexual — no trauma or great switch involved.

9. An LGBTQ life is not limited to a political statement

Often, heterosexuals tend to use an LGBTQ person’s life and lived experiences as a powerful political statement of ally-ship. While experience is the greatest tool, one must not forget that an LGBTQ identity is much more than just a political statement. It is a personal identity before it is a political one, and should not be reduced to a matter of only politics.

10. It is neither a choice, nor a phase

Queerness is as inherent as heterosexuality and gender conformity, and more often than not, it lasts a lifetime.

Ally-ship demands that one is educated with the struggles and experiences of the LGBTQ community. In trying to be an ally, or even a passive non-participant in the struggle for LGBTQ acceptance, one can fall prey to stereotypes and the action of propagating them, leading to more harm done than good. The journey towards an accepting country is not an easy one. It requires careful consideration of everything that helps the community take steps forward, and that which makes it fall a short step back. The choice ultimately lies between ignorance and performative ally-ship, and educating oneself — and when people make the right choice, the country and the community can progress.

The writer is a 19-year-old student, musician and social media influencer from Mumbai. She aspires to be a successful economist and LGBTQ activist. She tweets @skhndh and is @pavemented on Instagram.

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