Are you in or are you out? We are clearly dividing the world into fractions, and are no longer a whole, or perhaps we simply never were.
Last week, I watched a soliloquy performed on Zoom (a video communications platform) by an Indian female actor, who played the role of a mother finding out about her son’s queerness as he comes out of the closet by giving her access to his diary. An emotional play that had two possible endings, or rather two possible conclusions that the playwright put forth for the actor to choose while enlightening us, the audience, about both conclusions.
The first, a tragic conclusion that closed with the suicide of the boy—where taking his own life was easier than facing a “questionable” identity. The second, a conclusion the playwright and actor opted for by overtly dismissing the first as an unacceptable closure, was optimistic, inclusive, and held within it the joy of belonging (both for the person that is accepted and the person that accepts). In this option the mother decides not to conflict with her “non-heterosexual” son’s identity, and to partake in his world to develop understanding and complete acceptance.
While the discussion following the performance largely focused on the need to speak up and take a stand and emphasised sexuality with such fervour that it seemed like gender identity and sexuality were somehow synonymous (a misdirection that many conversations take), the play left me with two thoughts to reflect on. One, partaking is a conscious choice and it does not influence our other choices—if you’re heterosexual, stay that way because you’re comfortable with it, but don’t resist the friendship and joy of including a non-heterosexual person in your life, and vice versa. And two, keep sexual preferences aside as a matter that is personal and therefore must be respected as private. Sexuality is bio-chemical, gender is conceptual, a construct of language and culture.
Therefore, I am deliberately using the term non-heterosexual; it’s a mouthful but at least its not reductive in a way that erases the nuances of a person’s personality to place them within the LGBTQ+ construct. A non-heterosexual and a heterosexual person are the antithesis of each other merely in sexual preference—the flip side of the same coin—the material the coin is made of remains the same, like our common humanity.
The play in discussion, Ek Madhav Baug is an honest attempt at inspiring empathy, produced by Humsafar Trust, a health and human rights organisation for the LGBTQ+ community in India. Non-heterosexual people are labeled and neatly placed on the fringes of society as a minority, alongside people of colour (other than the colour white); women; citizens of the less industrialised (commonly known as less developed) world; indigenous people or people living in tribes; people who do not contribute to economic growth, broadly defined as the poor and illiterate; people whose lives are more dispensable, such as lower middle-income earners. We are all minorities because our subjective realities—and at times our existence—is not respected. Lack of sufficient representation is merely a symptom of the malady, the malady of disrespect and prejudice.
Since many of us fall into the minority classification, let’s think numbers for two minutes:
- There are 7.75 billion people in the world as of 2020, with 3.84 billion females and 3.90 billion males.
- The population of less developed countries (excluding China) now numbers 3.6 billion.
- There are 1.3 billion multidimensionally poor people in the world. And people who fall into the lower middle income category are approx. 3.28 billion—they subsist on 196 US dollars per capita, per month or about 2,360 US dollars a year.
Of course there are overlaps in these categories, but we can perhaps without much statistical complexity take the median number of 3.6 billion people who quite certainly qualify as a minority—a little less than half the world population! However, only together as a collective do we form this incredible half, separately in our own little fractions we are an insignificant minority to be noticed or taken seriously when we contribute to the current rhetoric: I recall that in the 1990s and early 2000s a business was considered progressive when it showed equal or near-equal participation of women in the workforce, and North American universities spoke of diversity by including students from Asia and Africa.
Why were non-heterosexual people not part of this “image of progressiveness” back then? Possible that there were not as many non-heterosexual people demanding representation and therefore were excluded from the adopted hyperbole. Today as the United States of America and Europe espouse LGBTQ+ rights, the community has gained a place in the common rhetoric and in platitudes on diversity, only to have their reality diminished by the label, so much so that many try to fit the stereotype: I remember a gay friend dismissing the stereotype back in 2010 with a remark that he too was a man. This was his reality, and there were characteristics of a man that he identified with, as much as I have seen him identify with the characteristics of a woman at other times. Similar to what most of us in the heterosexual lot feel, whether male or female.
Could it be that we all identify with either/or characteristics at different times? Likely, if we assign these characteristics by biology in the first place. For me personally, characteristics are the same across humanity: aggression, compassion, kindness, selfishness etc.; only physicality differs. In my previous posts I have taken the stand that information on birth-sex or sexual reassignment (such as in the case of a transexual person) must be collated for medical purposes, while gender because it is conceptual may need to be restricted to gatherings of the likeminded: not all concepts are fathomed by all people and are often interpreted based on our understanding and life experiences. Respecting these boundaries and limitations is important.
Let me illustrate this with an example, a girl who is part of the team at Oscar Foundation, a non-profit that trains youth leaders through sports was encouraged to hold her own at her community in Mumbai, India. She learned about domestic violence and equal rights, and when she witnessed a woman being beaten by her husband, she called the police. She had gained strength and courage, and she did the right thing to support a neighbour in distress, except that when the police came to the destination they carelessly revealed to the neighbour the source of the complaint; the police left; the husband directed his anger from the wife onto the girl; the wife continued with life as normal; but this adolescent girl had to run away from home, because her father a conservative patriarch came to hear of the incident from the irate neighbour and decided that he was going to give his daughter a thrashing. She was lucky (not many are) to have relatives who took her in and intervened on her behalf. The father calmed down after a few days but the girl is not allowed to play sports or go for her training, and has cowered. If we wish to change things in society, we need to create understanding through dialogue, and respectfully win support. By activating the minds of the oppressed without engaging those around them seems like a naive act that needs to deliberate on reality and the tools for social transformation – Oscar Foundation has already made this a part of their community and integration effort.
If labels and gender were useful at ending prejudice or a negative bias then the LGBTQ+ label should have helped increase inclusivity? All it seems to have done is created a more clear divide as reflected by hate crimes that are third to race and religion, and that grew from 2.2 to 2.7% in the US between 2018 and 2019.
No different from the equality rhetoric that has done little to end, let alone reduce violence against women: Globally, an estimated 736 million women—almost one in three—have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life (30 per cent of women aged 15 and older). This is probably true for most of the seventeen UN Development Goals,
I am not certain the world will ever have perfect inclusivity, historically there seems to be no evidence of this; maybe human nature does not lend itself to the possibility? Humans tolerate what is popularly accepted, with political and religious institutions taking the lead in shaping acceptance and culture. In India, transgender is considered the third gender by law, yet they are largely unacknowledged as a part of mainstream society; they are feared and abhorred, shunned and tolerated, merely because they are present in our mythological stories and in history, recognised by gods and kings.
—As a liberal thinker, I flinch at my intolerance of conservative views, because to me that is a farce of inclusivity.
—As a heterosexual person, I feel comfortable enough in a majority to extend respect to those who may not have the same comfort of belonging.
—As a woman, I know what discrimination feels like and I write with the hope that we can cohabit if not espouse.
—As a female of the species, I know I am a design of nature as much as the male, and I hope that our shared origin enables us to live without oppression of the other.
Some humans will make the choice to reflect on their biases; some will not. Some will choose to be inclusive and to cohabit; some will not. Offensive or antagonistic positions are not going to win support or create lasting transformation in society, we need to engage and dialogue, and we need to let things be. We who are half (of) the whole are reduced to a minority when fragmented, we need to stop feeding the rhetoric, and we need to stop creating the rhetoric.
All people, minority or otherwise need a framework of support and solidarity within their immediate surrounding. The rest may or may not choose to be inclusive. Stop an act of physical oppression with immediacy, and win support and inclusivity from the people you rely on and those who rely on you, over time with patience and empathy, after all we are who we are on the inside, the rest does not matter because it changes.