June 30, 2022 12:00:04 pm
While Pride Month is essentially an annual celebration around the world, it comes as a grim reminder of the fact that for members of the LGBTQI+ community, mental and emotional trauma — caused by the constant ‘othering’ by a largely-heteronormative society — is a woeful reality.
Anurag Gupta, the founder and creative director of Apara Disum, a jewellery brand, recalls the bullying and physical abuse he had had to face while in school. “It wasn’t one incident that was a trigger, but rather events throughout my childhood that would contribute to a deeper psychological impact on me. Even shaming by the distant family for being ‘effeminate’ and ‘creative’ has been painful, though as I grew up, it became more bearable,” he says.
Mirroring his thoughts, Neeraj, an Indo-British producer of LGBTQ films, shares with this outlet a particularly harrowing episode, when his friend was “found murdered” after he met someone on a gay dating app while on a vacation.
Subscriber Only Stories
“It made me realise how vulnerable the LGBTQ community is at the hands of homophobic and transphobic people. As a gay person of colour living abroad, I personally had to face dual discrimination; the worst has been racial discrimination from within the predominantly-white gay community,” he says, adding that because he is a brown man, he was once “singled out and harassed by cops at a white LGBT music concert, because they did not believe a brown older man could be gay”.
Incidents such as these put the spotlight on ‘queerphobia‘, which is an urgent problem plaguing many countries. While India has come a long way since scrapping IPC Section 377 which criminalised same-sex relationships, there is still some reluctance and resistance when it comes to embracing and acknowledging different sexualities and gender identities in a society deeply rooted in patriarchy and machismo.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the largest grassroots mental health organisation in the US, for many LGBTQI+ people, “socioeconomic and cultural conditions negatively impact mental health conditions”.
“Many in the community face discrimination, prejudice, denial of civil and human rights, harassment and family rejection, which can lead to new or worsened symptoms, particularly for those with intersecting racial or socioeconomic identities,” it states.
Srishti (name changed), who belongs to a small town in Uttarakhand, tells this outlet that one of her lesbian cousins came out to her parents, but did not get acceptance. “This made me realise how vulnerable I am. Now, how do I tell my parents I am a lesbian, too, and I don’t want to marry a man? What if they don’t accept me either? At least [my cousin] has the option to escape these things, since she lives in the US; I don’t have that [luxury] as I want to settle in Uttarakhand only.”
She adds that she and her girlfriend — for the sake of their “mental peace” — “follow [their] hearts and spread love to the society by doing lots of things together, like feeding cows, dogs, etc.”
Dr Prerna Kohli, a clinical psychologist and the founder of MindTribe.in, tells indianexpress.com that research is indicative of higher levels of trauma in the LGBTQ+ community, and that they come in the form of rejection and hostility towards sexual and gender identity.
“Trauma can be physical, verbal, psychological or sexual, and members face at least one of these forms daily. Their trauma begins at an early age, with bullying in school; many families may disown a member of the community or try ‘conversion therapies’. They may also face unemployment due to their sexual identity, along with daily harassment and a higher rate of sexual abuse,” she explains.
The expert warns that suicide, addiction, and self-medication are significant consequences of the lifelong abuse faced by the community.
Concurring with her, Dr Roma Kumar, the co-founder and chief psychologist at Emotionally — a mental health platform — says a majority of LGBTQ+ people hide their sexual orientation and endure harassment out of fear of losing their job. “Particularly vulnerable are teenagers and young adults, who experience estrangement from family and social networks, harassment at school and invisibility, which can lead to, in some cases, underachievement at school, dropping out, poor mental health and homelessness.”
She adds that families who are “conflicted about their children‘s LGBTQ+ identity”, believe the best way to help them survive and thrive is to fit them with their heterosexual peers. “But, this makes young adolescents feel that their parents want to change who they are. Lack of communication and misunderstanding between parents and their LGBTQ+ children increases family conflict. These problems can lead to fighting that can result in the adolescent being removed from or forced out of the home,” she says.
Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that the pain, hostility, and rejection members of the community experience can make them feel worthless, says Dr Kohli. “Suicidal thoughts are a result of this internalised emotional pain and the helplessness that one experiences. Family and friends can help by using kind words, and by not shunning them for their sexual preference.”
She adds that along with this, one must not ignore signs of suicidal behaviour. “Friends and family should seek immediate professional help as soon as they notice signs of suicide, which are hard to miss and include mentions of suicide, frequent mood swings, withdrawal from society, drug abuse, and planning to die,” the doctor says.
Acceptance and healing
Gupta says that today, as a 28-year-old man, he is “doing great”. “I am working on my dreams and surrounded by loving people. Though our lives are complex, I believe in seeking professional therapy if needed, and talking to friends and family for their light and support.”
Citing performance artist and writer Alok Vaid Menon, he adds, “Often, we write things off that we cannot comprehend. That is, maybe, because we have not been through that experience, are unable to empathise or simply do not have the interest [in learning about it]. But, the core of humanity is love; we don’t have to comprehend something to have compassion for it.”
Neeraj states that much like how we accept people with different eye colours, or those with left-handedness, society must learn to understand and accept “gender and sexuality spectrum”. “Acceptance is a two-way street. When we, in the LGBTQ community, accept you as our parents, siblings, friends, and co-workers, it is just as natural for you to understand and accept us,” he says, adding that his positive mental and emotional health is linked to the love and support he gets from his “biological and chosen family, and the support mechanism [he] has created for himself”.
Vithika Yadav, an anti-slavery, sexual rights and gender rights activist, and a social entrepreneur, tells indianexpress.com that when it comes to LGBTQ persons, the society needs to learn about the community. “In some cases, LGBTQ+ persons aren’t allowed to socialise and are also not allowed in bars, restaurants, and other public places because of their gender or sexual preferences, which is absolutely unacceptable,” she states.
Yadav adds that we need to “encourage conversations within the family”, and “show respect and understanding in schools and workplaces”. “We must truly support the community by embracing and practising inclusivity and diversity, and realising that everyone is different.”
Dr Kumar is of the opinion that protecting LGBTQ+ people from violence and discrimination does not require the creation of a new set of specific rights, nor does it require the establishment of new international human rights standards.
“All people — irrespective of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity — are entitled to enjoy the protections provided for and by the international human rights law, including right to life, security of person and privacy, the right to be free from torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to be free from discrimination, and the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” she says.
Dr Kohli suggests having an “anti-discrimination code” at the school level. “For instance, children often bully each other by using ‘gay’ as a derogatory term. Change can begin from here to schools educating themselves as well as shaping children of tomorrow to be kind towards the community,” she says.
There are plenty of resources available to educate oneself to be a better ally, Neeraj says.
He implores parents, allies, and co-workers to help by providing “safe and non-threatening spaces”. “As parents, siblings or friends, it is possible that you realise about us. Don’t wait for us to come out to you; you are always welcome to create a safe space and ask us instead. You will be reducing a lot of ‘coming-out anxiety’ we face as LGBTQ individuals,” he concludes.
📣 Join our Telegram channel (The Indian Express) for the latest news and updates
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.