The recent attack on Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando has been immensely shocking and devastating and has been a huge jolt to the LGBTIQA community from the entire world. Enough speculations have been made on how the attacker was a closeted homosexual and had been a regular at Pulse himself. But the attack is a reminder of how we are falling short in making the world aware of our presence and why we too deserve a life of respect, dignity and above all a safer environment.
Almost everyday as I woke up in the last couple of days, I’d come across the story of an innocent gay man or a wonderful couple who lost their lives in this deadly massacre- the worst the US has ever seen. But what breaks my heart even more is how all of this is the result of a single ignorant man who was probably unable to come to terms with his own sexuality or his shallow pride and took to guns to bring an end to his own turmoil. It’s a shame we have to deal with such issues in 2016, almost forty years since Harvey Milk stood up for our rights and eventually died fighting for them. I really am not sure if we can in any possible way change the thought-processes of millions of stubborn minds out there. Sometimes it is futile for us to think that they could get some sense into their lives and you really can’t do much about it because well, people are rigid! When you’ve lived half or more than half of your life believing in something so strongly and then suddenly someone comes up to you and tells you, “Well you know what? You’ve been wrong all along!”, there simply is no way for them to give in! For example, no matter how much I could try and talk to my parents, they’d never be okay with pre-marital sex. My mum went berserk when she saw 7 condoms from Love My Condom gifted to me by Bernie- Mr. Gay New Zealand and then went all the more crazy when she saw a post I’d shared on Facebook with a picture of those condoms. I might have given my 200% to change their mindsets but if you yourself are not willing to, then there’s really nothing that I or you could do about it. But there’s a solution. We can make sure that our future generation doesn’t have to suffer. We can teach our kids at school that there is so much more to gender than just the existence of a man and a woman and that is okay to blur that line between the two, that it is okay for a guy to dress up in skirt and wear heels, that it is okay for a woman to not want to wear a bra and ride a bike, that it is okay for you to not want to be a man or a woman. I’m extremely happy to see the rise of feminism in the world. The rise of the concept of how men and women must be treated equally and given equal opportunities to learn and prosper in their respective lives. We do have a long way to go, especially in India where a substantial chunk of the female population knows nothing of what feminism is or stands for, but there’s hope and I choose to be optimistic.
But I’m here to talk about the people who don’t exactly fit into these two distinct categories of men and women. And there’s a lot of them. Enough for us to know and understand who they really are and why we need to talk about them. It’s sorta funny when I sit back and think about this issue. Mankind has existed for 200,000 years and the human civilization as we know it has been there for 6000 years yet we have failed miserably to understand our very own-self. Just think over it. 6000 years of civilization and we’re still fighting for equal rights for women, half of my country still doesn’t know what homosexuality is and a major chunk of the ones who know haven’t been able to grow out of their pea-sized brains to accept us for who we are, and let’s not even get to the stigma and the trauma that trans-individuals go through every f*cking day of their lives! The fact that it is so difficult for me to reach out to schools and persuade them to let me speak on sexuality and understand gender beyond the concept of a man and a woman is enough to prove the plight of every LGBTIQ individual in the world. We have manged to create the most ridiculous myths and stories around what God wants us to do, but have failed to understand the very foundation of God’s existence- love, care and acceptance. I wish there was a thing that would enable us to swap our lives for a day. I’m not even asking for more, just that one single day! And we’ll see what they’ll have to say then. All that you need to be happy is an open mind, a book and loads of hope. But look at how we’ve complicated our lives! I only wish for us to be humanists. Equal rights and opportunities for all of us human beings irrespective of our gender identity or sexual orientation. Let us all be humanists.
I very clearly remember this one time my father, my sister and I were watching ‘Gladrags Supermodel Hunt’ on television way back in 2003-04 or probably before that and they had a swimwear round. So they had all the men and women parading down the ramp in thongs and under-wears and there was suddenly a strange awkwardness in the room. My sister and I looked at each other and my father quickly changed the channel. And I guarantee you this is the story of every middle-class Indian’s household. We never spoke about sex. In fact till the time I was fourteen I still thought sex was a bad word and should be never brought up in a conversation. So now you know I grew up real slow!
When I came out to my parents before my nineteenth birthday, I remember my father smiling at me. But it was his usual nervous smile. He didn’t know how to react. My mother on the other hand was very vocal about her disbelief in her son’s sexuality, condemning it at once and went all berserk saying, “This is all the result of those English films you watch all the time. It’s the Western culture getting into your system.” Then followed those months of crying and cribbing over how God had been so unkind to her and unjust with her and no willingness to accept any logical explanation to her crazy list of questions. Their denial was the toughest part. It was frustrating and I couldn’t believe the fact that it was happening to me? An openly gay guy at his college who’s never let anyone bully him and has strongly asserted his sexuality with pride? But interestingly for the first time in years, my father wanted to talk about sex with me. We had a very long conversation where he brought up topics I would’ve never in my wildest dreams thought of him to be talking about with me. It was insane! We spoke about sex, sexuality, attraction, masturbation to pornography. And I’m so glad he did! But he wished for only one thing from me- to never write about my sexuality openly on a social networking platform, which was impossible for me to do but I totally appreciated the fact that he was only being a protective father. But I also got a very genuine advice from a teacher who asked me to never give up on my parents no matter how politically incorrect their arguments were.
I really wouldn’t have ever expected how wonderfully my father stood beside me every time I was in a fix during the entire phase of me preparing for Mr. Gay World. He held my hand and walked me through the toughest times, gave me a hug when I needed it the most, helped me emotionally and financially without even questioning me twice. Neither of my parents ever questioned me when they saw my pictures in a swimwear, which honestly is a big deal given how we grew up. Coming Out is difficult anywhere in the world and more so for our parents who have grown up in a hetero-normative society. Be real patient with your parents, respect them for who they are because the only people who will stand beside you when you’re in a fix are your parents with their undying support and belief in you. Words fail to express how grateful I am to my parents. They truly are the real support-system in my life and I’m so very blessed to have them.
I’ve always felt that it is extremely important for people to be aware of the vocabulary that is appropriate to use when referring to the LGBTIQ community, more so amongst kids so as to ensure that tomorrow they grow up to become responsible, sensitive and mature citizens of the country. As a result I collaborated with Swaddle– a parenting website for people who don’t like parenting websites. You can read the entire piece here. Here’s a small excerpt from the piece:
“Only a week after I’d won Mr. Gay World India, I received a call from a television channel. During the interview, I was asked whether I was okay with being referred to as the son of Jagannath Sahoo (my father), or whether I was more comfortable being identified as his daughter.
I was taken aback and, to be honest, befuddled. Here was an educated journalist, from a leading news channel, with absolutely no knowledge of the terminology he ought to use to refer to a gay man. The journalist might have thought he was being courteous by letting me choose how I wanted to be identified. But his sheer lack of awareness was insensitive and offensive. I am a gay man. Why would I identify as someone’s daughter?”