Did you parents talk to you about sex? Mine didn’t.
Did they talk to you about sexuality? Mine didn’t.
Where and how did you learn about homosexuality and heterosexuality?
Which did you consider ‘normal’? Which do you consider ‘normal’ now?
We usually hush talk about this. As a nation we brush matters under the carpet. We cite religion. We quote ‘nature’. We hide the truth inside closets. And we wear colourful masks to hide our identity. What I am about today may not be comfortable for some of you…so read with caution.
As an adult, a parent and a human who believes that everyone should have the right to love, today’s judgment from the Supreme Court criminalizing gay sex is a blow. Homosexuality did not affect me in my growing up. In a girls’ school, being ‘lesbian’ was somewhat a joke. So when a senior and I got friendly, someone really called her a lesbian. At that age, I didn’t realize that I was being called one too. I shared this with the senior and we stopped ‘hanging out’. I was never attracted to women. But I realize that on that day, being described as or called a lesbian was nothing less than an expletive.
A girls’ school is a curious place. With no one of the opposite gender to interact with, seniors often became role models for juniors. The tomboyish ones played many sports. They were tougher, firmer and boy-like in many things. They stood for school elections. And there were those occasional fan-girl moments. When we were in the 10th, we famously walked into Class 8th and called up one girl who was ‘following’ one of us. She had begun stalking and leaving gifts in her desk. Back then it felt very cool; to threaten a girl, to ask her not to spend her money and to stay away. We didn’t think about sexuality, or what her sexual preferences may have been.
Our conservative Convent education contributed little to our understanding of sexuality. We were taught about periods. About sex. About self-defence. About attraction and love. About boys. But never about girls.
I don’t think tolerance towards homosexuality came to me in a day. Like many other girls, I didn’t consider it seriously enough. Because I wasn’t attracted to girls and no one was attracted to me, I really didn’t have to deal with it. My last two years in school were spent in a co-educational institution. And so while hormones were raging, and girls were being courted, and crushes were flying in the air, there was also the case of effeminate boys being subjected to taunts and pins.
Boys can be cruel. Yes, in matters of sexuality, they can be really, really cruel. It begins as a casual banter, then it leads to exploitation and suppressive behavior. Notions of gender and sexuality get diluted to an extent that in a boy’s accommodation the most effeminate one is delegated all the ‘womanly’ jobs. Sometimes cleaning, or cooking and maybe even a rendezvous of casual, experimental sex.
Adolescence begins with confusing notions of oneself. And it can be traumatic for a teen who has to deal with uncomfortable notions of sexuality. In such a situation, being told that being attracted to the same sex is not a crime. It is not unnatural. That it is nothing to be shameful of.
In that way, college opened up my eyes. Back in an all-girls’ college and one of the finest ones in the country, I owe Lady Sri Ram College for all my understanding and acceptance of homosexuality. I met women who proudly called themselves lesbians. Some who discovered their identity and others who ‘came out of the closet’ right before us. By then I was 20… old enough to have formed my own opinions. But it didn’t matter to me because I learnt to respect homosexuals.
At 20, as an adult I was perhaps too old to be taught what is natural and what not. In throes of discovering my own sexuality, and hearing tales of violence and abuse I grew up understanding that having sex with a person of the same sex is normal. Having a bottle shoved up your own genital is not.
Things have only matured a decade later. As a parent, I am extremely sensitive to what my child understands as ‘normal’. Because truly, notions of sexuality begin early. Not in the twenties, or the teens. They could begin early, as early as 8. I won’t leave it to his school or popular media or books or friends or the world to teach him. I will tell him that it is okay to like anyone. To love anyone. To want to have sex with anyone. It is normal. It is not a crime. Maybe it is in our country, but not in many others. That one must be tolerant. To support and stand by a friend who stands in the minority. Hopefully in his time, being one among a sexual minority will not be a crime anymore.
No matter how old your child is, or whether it is a girl or a boy… it is important as parents we assess what we consider is basic human rights. It is not about religion, or law or what your mind tells you is normal. It is what you would want the world to be. It is what you would want your child to believe. To accept his own sexuality and be tolerant of another’s.
I know of a marriage that broke up after the first night, because the NRI bridegroom confessed to his wife that he was gay. A doctor, educated and working in Boston couldn’t muster enough courage to tell his parents that he is attracted to men. I have a friend who when she confessed her attraction to another girl was booted out and subjected to some very harsh behaviour. Some of us others stood up for her. But I know, it was so tough for her to tell others that she is a lesbian.
It is important that as parents, educators, and as members of society we stand up and support our children. Because truly, tolerance is the key to a better world. We don’t want our children to be ridiculed, or to live with a sense of pseudo superiority or inferiority complex. We don’t want them to be ashamed or hide because they are ‘different’?
Can we do that? For our children and for another’s?
The TV junkie is back into the idiot box. Besides pretending to be a superwoman between work and family, Rituparna also dreams of flying free as an entrepreneur! Her son’s student, she is learning the ropes of parenting every day. Rituparna blogs at http://onboardthemommyship.