Decriminalising Section 377 is a Historical Event in India. This was an important milestone; a milestone that really was due for a long time. This brought liberation to the people who identify themselves as LGBTQ group. A sense of freedom to be who they are without being criminalised. We feel it brings a sense of equality, in fact, I think it brings us closer to feeling equal. The journey just begins, to explain more I share my thoughts below.
The colonial era has had a significant influence on India, both psychologically and constitutionally. Section 377 is one of the examples of the constitutional influence of colonialism. Under this section, individuals who identify themselves as LGBT+ were at a threat of being categorised as criminals (for having unnatural sex as defined by the law). September 2018 has been significant as the Supreme court decriminalised homosexuality. This is path-breaking for LGBT+ community which has been historically discriminated and forced to be “hidden”, denying them their rights. The right of existence, the right of freedom and right of being who they are! Decriminalising section 377, has granted the right that was long overdue to the individuals. This indicates, the fear of being a criminal is taken away and individuals are protected from blackmail threats to be jailed, bullying etcetera. This step is definitely closer to a complete acceptance; however, the journey for acceptance must continue. In this article, I elaborate on the meaning of “acceptance” and “the continued journey” I mentioned earlier. I invite the reader to reflect with me as you read, as what I present is a collection of my thoughts and the truth that matters to me.
The LGBTQ+ is a term used to identify one’s sexuality, which is “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer”. Today they are a minority in India. Heterosexual references dominate the social narrative in India about sexuality. There is a lack of mirroring of acceptance and cultural references from the dominant group – leaving the sexual minorities ignored. Then it becomes important to have a collective voice to represent the minorities. This voice helps in asserting their existence, fight for their rights, stand up for the physical and psychological trauma individuals go through. This voice also provides a platform for individuals to relate and belong. This voice is a collective representation of the minorities – which forms the community. The LGBTQ+ community is not just a collection of individuals who have similar sexual identities; instead, the purpose of fighting for their rights binds them together.
We do not have a heterosexual community! It is because there is no suppression of the heterosexual identity in society and they are constitutionally and socially accepted in society.
Who am I ?
Who am I ? – is a relevant question for all. We are not all just one thing. We tend to label ourselves and make it our identity in its entirety. In this section, an attempt is made at dissecting the “I”.
It is the question that we are often confronted with in multiple life situations. I am a collection of multiple identities. The categories established in the society defines these multiple identities. Categories are formed based on gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, legal status, marital status etcetera. I am a collection of such categories.
Why does one need to feel accepted in a society?
To feel complete myself, it is essential for all aspects of me, and my identities to feel accepted in society. This acceptance has many layers: constitutional acceptance, social acceptance and psychological acceptance.
What happens when an aspect of “I” is not felt accepted in the society?
That aspect of “I” that has an identity or belongs to a category feels neglected and suppressed. This creates oppression that eventually becomes part of the individual. This oppressed identity of the individuals longs for acceptance and belonging. Individuals with similar identities that are oppressed come together to form a social group, which then becomes a minority in society. Alternate sexuality is an oppressed identity in individuals that have formed a minority in the society. In this process of forming a group, having a voice, there are many forms of oppression individuals and the group go through. Some of the oppression that communities and individuals go through are bullying, blackmail to be jailed, public shaming, and physical threat. Despite the struggle, the need for acceptance keeps the motivation of the group to fight for their rights. One of the many ways a community gets formed is through collective oppression, which is the case with the LGBTQ+ community as well – and, hence the formation of the community too.
As the community was denied their existential rights, there is a psychological impact on the community. The individuals had to live in fear of being criminals for who they inherently are! An equivalent analogy is to criminalise individuals based on their skin colour or ethnicity. This fear has forced individuals to be in the closet, curbing their fundamental right to freedom. Some of the impacts of this has been:
- Social stigma which leads to isolation of the individuals. Fear of stigma in many cases has led to forced marriages, creating psychological and sexual distress in the couple and families.
- When individuals are in fear of being shamed and criminalised, they hide their sexual identity. Individuals hesitate to access education on sexual health, as that may attract shame from society. This has contributed to them having unprotected sex and an increase in STDs and HIV infections.
- The fear influences people to hide their identity – psychological suffocation for individuals of the community, resulting in loneliness, anxiety, depression, and alienation.
Then, what does acceptance mean?
Decriminalising section 377 is a step of acceptance at a constitutional level. This means that part of my identity which had to be in fear of being a criminal is no more criminal, and is free to exist. This does not, and must not, stop here. There need to be legal rights to have a family, adopt children, protection from domestic violence – these are required to feel fully accepted at a constitutional level. Because an individual is not in isolation, they may want to have a family, raise children, and feel protected in the relationship. Constitutionally, one needs to have structures for it. These structures will bring a constitutional level complete acceptance to the LGBTQ+ group.
Social level acceptance is when there is acceptance at a societal level. The society does not judge you, or condemn, or exclude you for identifying as yourself. This can happen only when there are sufficient social references. Social references can be built mostly by the action of the entertainment and media industry. We need mainstream entertainment on LGBTQ+ characters, mainstream celebrities playing those characters, fictional stories, and television series. Today, a teenager would grow up to only Romeo-Juliet stories, but they need to have sufficient fictional love LGBTQ stories. This will create a reference for many individuals who are confused about their own sexual identity. Once there are sufficient references, alternate sexualities get normalised and blend into the society.
Psychological level acceptance is when an individual accepts their own sexual identity against all social and vital biases. Constitutional and Social level acceptance can facilitate a psychological level of acceptance. Decriminalising section 377 has provided a part of constitutional level acceptance to the individual. Accepting and embracing one’s sexuality, all parts of the body, sexual desires, leads to a feeling of the complete self. This leads to a step closer to psychological level acceptance.
This progressive court judgement is the first step toward many steps that need further attention.
Now with this understanding, let us attempt to answer:
- What next, after the decriminalising section 377?
- Why does the hetrosexual community not exist?
- What can I do towards acceptance of LGBTQ?
Sexuality is complex and does not develop in a vacuum. There is an interplay between an individual, social and political context. It is essential for us to be mindful of the impact of this on individuals as a whole and the society they live in. Hence, being curious about this subject is imperative. This article is my attempt to bring a tip of the iceberg to you.