In Focus 13th September, 2016

Sex and Gender- Being on the margins.

To begin with, we were told that you are born with a certain genitalia which determines whether you are male or female. Then, we were told that there is a certain way in which a male should behave and a certain way in which a female should behave. It’s not knowledge that you are born with already planted in your mind. Right from the moment, you are born and the doctor announces your ‘sex’, each step of the way as you progress with your life, this understanding becomes a part of your being. Boys wear blue, girls wear pink. Boys are naughty. Girls are calmer. Boys are more violent. Girls are submissive. Boys don’t have long hair. Girls don’t sit with their legs wide apart. Boys can’t wear skirts. Girls don’t have a loud voice. Girls are attracted to boys and vice versa. A man and a woman have children and make a family. Each one a step, each one a definition of how a particular gender is supposed to live.

So the norm is set. A human being with a penis is a boy. A human being with a vagina is girl. A boy with a moustache is a man. A girl with breasts is a woman. A sexual relationship can only be between a man and a woman. A family can only comprise of a man and a woman and a child born from their relationship. If you do not feel sexual, maybe something is wrong with you. However, if you choose to to be celibate, it is a life choice signifying the ultimate sacrifice. There is a certain way of dressing, eating, sleeping, talking, walking which we have continuously keep performing in order to reaffirm the gender assigned to us at birth. So this then raises the question, does our sex determine our gender or does our gender produce our sex?

Over the years, the understanding of sex and gender has broadened. The notions of biological determinism (only ‘natural’ to be a certain way) have been questioned and gender has come to be seen as spectrum as opposed to a binary. Our sexual/gender identity may not be fixed and can be fluid. The LGBTQIA movements across the globe have played a major role in this. The movement is also constantly growing within itself. However, people who identify with these alternate sexual/gender identities constantly have to tackle stigma, segregation, lack of a safe space where they can share their experiences, have conversations without the fear of any judgement or the fear of being stereotyped, objectified or simply not understood.

There is a need to unlearn our understanding of our bodies, sexuality, gender which is boxed into binaries and has been established as the norm. This understanding excludes a lot of people and hinders the limitless possibilities of human existence. The dominant understanding forces to conform in order to be accepted. This conformity needs to be viewed as violence. The exploitation, discrimination meted out to those who dare to deviate is violence and no less. It is a basic violation of basic human rights of life and liberty. In our country, why is it that we choose to recognise a third gender (often referred to as the ‘other’) in law, yet have another law in place which decriminalises homosexuality? What morality is this? Who gets to decide what is unnatural? Why is one kind of sexual expression acceptable and the other not?

Let’s face it. There are women who are sexually attracted to women. There are men who are attracted to men. There are some who are attracted to both. There are people who do not identify with the gender identity assigned to them at birth. There are some who undergo sex corrective surgery. There are some who don’t. Some people cross dress. And that may have nothing to do with the gender they associate themselves with. There are some who are born with genitalia which is not well defined. No, they do not necessarily have to undergo surgery. No, that is not your opportunity to make a girl into a boy. And, no, it is not always the a decision for the parents and doctor to make. There are people who identify as man one day and then as a woman the other day. There are people who feel they have no gender. There are also people who do not feel any sexual attraction. No, that does not necessarily mean that they do not want any form of intimacy.

To be understood, to be accepted, to be not looked as an aberration in a space is something we owe to each other. Very often, it is our ignorance that can be hurtful. A constant effort needs to be made to make sure that we make spaces inclusive be it in terms of infrastructure or simply by critically engaging with the language we choose to speak. Each time you meet a person from the Hijra community on the roads and fear her, it is a stark reflection of how groups and groups of people have been forced to live on the margins of the society in miserable conditions because of our prejudices. And then we say, that they harass us and they scare us. The irony is just too blatant to be ignored.

This whole week we will be focussing on conversations around creating safer spaces for alternate marginalised gender/sexual identities. We hope to address various aspects such as the stigma that people who identify with these identities have to face and the lack of space to share their experiences, to have conversations due to the lack of inter generational dialogue. Join us in these conversations as we seeks to create inclusive spaces marked by understanding, acceptance and empathy.


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