Holier than thou

Every time Baba Ramdev talks about the ‘disease’ that homosexuality is, I cringe. ‘Yoga can cure homosexuality’, he says. This question of sexuality, sexual orientation and sexual preference has always left me intrigued and a bit confused as well. For ‘regular’ people like us, our sexual orientation is taken for granted. I mean, being heterosexual is something that we don’t think twice about. But the moment there is talk about being gay, hijras, and a touch of femininity, there is either a scorn or an annoying giggle.

Just last week Joseph Lelyveld received a lot of flak, allegedly because his latest book ‘Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India’ mentions that Gandhi was gay. Now, I haven’t read the book and am not sure what the premise of the book is and in what context the above mentions have been made. I am also not sure about how many people in our country have actually read it either, though so many have been quick to point out to the ‘gay’ bit.

From our very childhood Gandhi becomes such an intrinsic part of our lives – schools talk about him, text books talk about him, parents, aunts and uncles all talk about Gandhi. There is a certain reverence attached to Gandhi in our country. Talk freedom and his name arises. Talk 1947 and it is his name that comes to mind.

My point is, Gandhi has done all this for India. He has worked for a greater cause. But why and how does it matter if he were really gay or not? What difference does it make to you and me if he were attracted to men or women? If he were in fact gay, does he become any less important to the people of our country? Does it take away from the fact that he has done what he has done? His sexual orientation was his private business. What he did in his public life is what concerns us.

Why are we as a nation (I say ‘nation’ because a large majority is still averse to the fact that being heterosexual is not the only normal way to be) still making such a fuss about sexuality minorities?

I was speaking to gay rights activist recently. Homosexual himself, I asked him what is the kind of life he would like to lead eventually. His response was that he would like to reach a point where all of this becomes a non-issue. The fact that we are still talking about this, the fact that I am writing about this in a blog, all just goes to show that we are not yet ready to let it rest. These people would like to see the day when people stop talking about and go about their everyday business.

And that’s where we need to be.

As I mentioned earlier, this whole subject of sexuality minorities, sexual orientation and preference has always left me a bit confused. Last year I was speaking to another activist, also a homosexual, who happened to explain the basics of sexuality minorities to me. He told me that being gay or being a lesbian or a hijra or a kothi or a cross-dresser has nothing to do with your sexual attraction to start off with. That is, you being gay does not only surround the fact that you attracted to men. Being gay refers to personal traits wherein you may feel a certain amount of femininity. Similarly with hijras. A boy feels trapped in his body, not because he is attracted to men. But because he feels like a girl. He is oriented towards doing what girls would normally do. The fact that he would be attracted to men is not the centre of who a hijra is.

Just the other day I was speaking to a hijra, who has herself been an activist for very many years. I asked her what she thought of Section 377 of the India Penal Code and she said that the basic premise of that law is incorrect. Section 377 allows same-sex relationships, that is, consensual intercourse between homosexual adults. But this activist told me that that is not the point of their fight. Hijras like herself want to lead a normal life. They want to be able to get married, adopt children, work in regular jobs, go to school, go shopping and do everything else that we otherwise take for granted. But Section 377’s focus on just intercourse is incorrect, she told me, thereby continuing her fight.

So it’s not just about the physicality. A large part of it is emotional and mental. Will Baba Ramdev understand this? Will those who have chosen to ban Levyveld’s book understand this? Your guess is as good as mine.

The hijra that I was referring to above – I spoke to her mother as well. She is one of the 19 parents who have signed a petition to Supreme Court demanding the repeal of Section 377. She makes incense sticks for a living. I was talking to her about why she chose to sign the petition. She told me about how she used to beat up her son when he was younger, because he used to do ‘girly’ things. She even disowned him (or ‘her’) when he chose to undergo a sex change. Eventually, the ‘son’ who is now a ‘daughter’ has become the important bread-winner of the family.

Just when I was leaving, the mother said in Tamil, ‘I still do feel bad. What can we do? I can’t even get her married. If she were born a girl, then things would have been different. The seed was sown in my stomach’, pointing to her stomach. I told her that she could still get her married. She responded, ‘No I can’t. Maybe she can choose someone. But she is like God. Neither a man, nor a woman. She is God.’