Somewhere, over the rainbow

Published: Dec 24, 2013, 03:36 IST | Kanika Sharma |

From coming out of the closet to understanding what and how women love women in India, queer women or lesbians form a minority within the LGBT community that must brave several challenges in their struggle for identity and recognition, and eventually freedom of expression. Kanika Sharma speaks to activists, professors, and helpline counsellors � whose supportive umbrella offers a backbone to them, in inexplicable times where the very reason to come out is being questioned

Case study

Gay and lesbian activists
Gay and lesbian activists cry and protest against the Supreme Court verdict in support of Section 377 at Azad Maidan. Pic/Bipin Kokate.

“I had a young adult who was brought to me by her mother, since she had come out that she was a lesbian. Her mother insisted that the girl had been brainwashed by a friend, whom she called ‘badtameez’ (Hindi: ill-mannered). The mother’s idea was that she had lost her girl to another girl only because that friend has done black magic, exposed her daughter to a different side of life and her unthinking daughter had gotten carried away. The mother tried to punish, beg, ground, beat all to no avail. As a last resort she came to me to help her change her daughter’s orientation.

The daughter was livid and told me that I would have been the fourth therapist they were visiting — and some had even cheated her parents by ‘promising’ them that she could become straight! In the meanwhile the mother had carried the daughter’s ‘beautiful, girly’ pictures to show how her child had been hoodwinked. She carried her clothes that she used to wear as a teenager to prove that her girl was ‘normal’.

The LGBT Cause

The girl revealed that as a young girl she was not ‘put off’ by boys though she was never attracted to them. As she matured and got her periods, her sexual urges began to come forth. She said that most of the time she dreamt of girls and being intimate with them. She revealed that she preferred hanging out with the girls in spite of being in a co-ed school. Usually in co-ed schools, boys and girls hang much more than they would if they were in same-sex schools. Her first crush was in the Standard 7 or 8, and unwittingly, it was her history teacher.

She found herself missing class to just drop by the staff room to catch a glimpse of the teacher. She studied hard in history because she loved her. She would make any excuse to meet the teacher, do odd errands for her. In higher classes, the crush on her teacher began to fade and was replaced by girlfriends. She realised more than ever before that somehow boys were never on her radar and that it was only women who appealed to her. It wasn’t that she had any ‘bad’ experiences with boys; she simply didn’t get turned on by them!

By 21, this girl had a clear indication that she was a lesbian. As time lapsed, she was in a permanent relationship with a girl who began to frequent her home. Her sibling and family members began to suspect that something wasn’t right. This is the girl who was referred to as ‘badtameez’ by the mother.

The girl’s relationship stopped midway as problems at home cropped up. Her parents were pressurising her to get married. That’s when she came clean and revealed all. Her folks lodged an FIR against her partner, which led to my client running away from home. Between the devil and the deep blue sea — to lose their child permanently versus accepting her lesbian identity — the parents withdrew their complaint, and she returned home.

Information courtesy: Dr Varkha Chulani, Clinical Psychologist

The hard facts

>> common issues I have seen in young lesbian women’s lives that they are often pressurised by their families to get married, grappling with the need to be independent and have a source of livelihood and shelter in order to better deal with societal and familial pressures.
>> Need to meet others like oneself, getting into relationships with women, who may not be ready to fight social pressures and may choose marriage /
heartbreak etc.
>> For many young lesbian persons who are not gender conforming, there are multiple other issues such as harassment or even violence in public spaces, from peers, within homes and educational institutions. As violence against heterosexual women is being talked about owing to the recent furore over December 16 rape case, Tehelka and many other cases, homosexual women are still neglected gravely. The violence they are subjected to is not openly talked about.
>> Many NGOs that work towards women welfare do not give shelter to homosexual women in the city.
>> The relationship holds no validity as no man is involved. The fact that a man is absent during sex makes the relationship to be looked at as an emotional bond rather than an act where two women are free to enjoy each other’s bodies.

Information courtesy: Ketki Ranade

Inside a classroom>>

Ketki Ranade
Ketki Ranade, Assistant Professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

The professor shares with The Guide about the practices she follows within the classroom:
1) One of the deliberate things I do is to teach gender and sexuality in class irrespective of the curriculum.
2) I make it a point to not use the he / she pronouns. While teaching social structures such as family and relationships I don’t limit myself to the man-woman relationship only and relate all kinds of scenarios for people who do not adhere to a specific gender.
3) I include a lot of films and readings as well, so that the class is more open to all kinds of people.

Guide to Sexual Freedom

>> Being aware that when you are inclined towards women more than men is when you begin to dream about them. When as you mature physiologically (when you attain puberty), you will sense your attractiveness more towards girls, female class teachers, aunts, automatically. This means that you are sexually attracted towards the female sex.
>> Understand that beyond fantasies, as you grow old, your crush will have physically and mentally ‘fallen’ for a person of the same sex. You can actually feel physiologically and emotionally different in her presence.
Dr Varkha Chulani

>> As an alternate sexual identity is not accepted by the society, feelings of anger, remorse and guilt are natural. It is advised to reach out to members of the same community, helplines,
and psychologists.
>> Once you have ascertained that this is who you are, break it to your trusted friends in order to gain their support. In the case of breaking it to the family, it is best to confront them politely in a single session. In case you think an extreme reaction is possible, getting a counsellor to mediate the coming out, is better.

Information courtesy: Dr Varkha Chulani, Psychologist

Bust these myths
Coming out of the closet is a journey. It’s like boarding a Rajdhani train to let’s say, Delhi. It is entirely up to you if you get off at Surat and are okay reaching that destination or you want to go all the way. Same goes with exploring your own sexuality. In case you ascribe to feeling either more masculine or feminine and / or suppose yourself to be more of a homosexual than a bisexual, the choice and discovery are yours to make.

The stereotype of male / butch and femme do not necessarily exist in a relationship. As gender boundaries are blurred, both partners can have their own traits that necessarily don’t fit into the masculine-feminine division.

Inputs courtesy: Shruta, Umang Counsellor

Help is at hand
> Umang
> Labia 9833278171

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