If you’ve come across more colourful rainbows than usual in the past few weeks, the reason is here – June is recognized as the International Pride month – a month to celebrate the existence of LGBTQ+ individuals and commemorate LGBTQ+ activism through the years. With this article, Insight takes a look into LGBTQ+ acceptance at IIT Bombay.
Acceptance by Self:
Self-acceptance is an arduous path for most people in general, and this gets harder when one belongs to the LGBTQ+ community. Society constantly reinforces very specific, often unrealistic ideals, and when someone doesn’t fit into them- simply feeling good about oneself becomes a task.
Self-acceptance ultimately stems from self-compassion. As we understand ourselves better and drop self-limiting beliefs, we allow ourselves to be truthful to who we are.
The road to this acceptance and love for ourselves is a long one and while everyone is on a unique path, one thing that brings comfort is knowing that we aren’t alone. Millions of queer people out there not only understand but also work towards creating safer spaces for others with similar struggles.
A few members of the community were asked whether they have reached the end of their self-acceptance journey yet. Here is what one of them shared: “No, I do not think I’m at the end yet, but I suppose this is true even for a non-queer person. There are so many aspects to us as individuals that it is difficult to be perfectly honest when one says they have “accepted” themselves. Of course, for queer people, this is clearer and the struggle with identity has a very definite outlet, but identity is so much more than just gender/sexuality. The journey will go on for as long as I live. A better question is maybe whether I feel comfortable with myself yet and have overcome my own internal prejudices, which I do and have.”
Another respondent says, “Do not think that it is your duty to come out at a designated time. Do not think that it is your destiny to forever remain in the closet. Take your time, and if you think you know someone who will accept you, then do come out to them. It gets easier to accept yourself once you know that someone else in the world knows, and is okay with it.”
“Honestly none of you should need to come out. Be your authentic self, never hide yourself, never pretend to be something you are not. You don’t need a celebratory coming out, try starting a discussion with your closest friend as the first step. Remember the most difficult step in coming out is self-acceptance, everyone else comes later. So take your time, you have your whole life.😃” – Arif Khan
A significant aspect of self-acceptance is dialogue – a good conversation with someone we trust can alleviate all feelings of self-doubt. When we internalize emotions, it hinders us from accepting ourselves completely. It is essential to be heard and talking to someone who would not judge us for who we are might give us a new perspective. As a society and community of students that support each other, we must make them feel like they are welcome, affirmed and celebrated.
“You might want to hide behind- “Why should I care to tell other people? I don’t care what they think.” Coming out impacts you more than it impacts them. Every time you come out to someone it gives you more confidence and more strength and lets you be so much more free around people.” – Devashish
Last but not the least, it is time we appreciate ourselves a bit more. Living in denial, in all probability, will manifest itself in the form of low self-esteem. It is important that we celebrate every victory of ours against the face of adversity for this is what will empower us.
“I accepted myself when I knew I was worthy of everything not despite but because of who I am. Now it is pretty cool so I would say I have accepted and love my talented self.”
Self-acceptance and a healthy sense of belonging are fundamental to one’s existence As author Brene Brown says, “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
You must have come across the saying – “You need to love yourself to be able to love someone else”, and as cliche as this might sound, it’s true. While the journey of accepting one’s identity might be challenging and emotionally taxing, the repercussions of not being able to love oneself are many. In a country like ours, where people still hold antiquated thoughts surrounding this community, queer people often become victims of self-loathing. The system of support that we can build around us in the form of close friendships and even community groups like Saathi can assist in the journey of self-acceptance.
Acceptance from Friends and Family
As a friend or a family member to someone who identifies as an LGBTQ+ person, one plays a huge role in making the person comfortable with their own identity. While coming out to one’s own self is a very taxing process in itself, a big part of what makes it difficult is the fear of rejection from near and dear ones. The fear that your identity can significantly affect the relationships that you have built over the years, makes coming out a trade-off between living freely and acceptance in one’s close circles.
When asked about what are the major challenges an individual faces when they decide to come out, one of our respondents says, “No matter how much I told myself that they’ll be okay, there was some part of my mind that feared a hostile response. To my mind, it never completely goes away, but it can diminish with time and today I find it much easier to come out to anyone. “
The first step to creating a safe environment for your friends and family, regardless of whether or not they have come out to you, is by becoming an ally. While most cis-gendered heterosexual people are well-intentioned, the internalization of ideas and stereotypes surrounding the LGBTQ+ community often makes them insensitive to the community. The expression of casually discriminatory thoughts through jokes, memes, pop-culture references, etc., although subtle in nature, plays a part in instilling fear in the minds of people. More importantly, coming from a friend or a family member, such expressions further make a person feel unsafe and anxious about the relationship post coming out.
“You might not realize it, but maybe you have a little shame about LGBTQ too? I sometimes feel people around me are not talking about queer topics and politics because it makes them uncomfortable. Do not do that. And if your friend or family is arguing with homophobic or transphobic people, go support them and make fun of that weirdo. I should not have had to tell you that LGBTQ people are just like everyone but actually show support and not just do the bare minimum of not being a homophobe. Oh, and do not “straightsplain”, please, we are already tired.”
As individuals who have grown up in a country where LGBTQ+ members have little to no representation in any of the mainstream domains such as media, politics, sports, etc, people often lack information and education about gender/sex/orientation sensitivity. The little representation that the community does receive is often insensitive and based on derogatory stereotypes, purely meant to cater to a cis-gendered, heterosexual audience. The little heed that schools pay to sex education doesn’t help either. In this situation, educating ourselves about gender-related issues is crucial.
“The first (time I came out to someone), I remember doing it over a call after watching the portrait of a lady on fire. When you see queer identities and support around you or on a show, you get that courage you might not have had felt before.”
The first step to becoming a better ally is to acknowledge your privilege. One must realize that the LGBTQ+ community has been historically discriminated against and even in 2021, equality has not been achieved. The next step is to seek education. The internet is a huge resource to sensitise yourself. Apart from that, talking to LGBTQ+ members, reading about their experiences and doing research at your own end is important. While doing this, it’s important to recognize that LGBTQ+ members are not bound to answer all the questions, nor are they morally obligated to. The burden of one’s ignorance is only one’s own. The next step is to be vocal and supportive. Let your LGBTQ+ friends know that they can count on you and that you have a safe space to provide. Call out homophobic and transphobic behaviours in your day to day life and encourage gender sensitivity in all your circles. Normalize asking for gender pronouns and use gender-neutral pronouns when unsure. Understand how intersectionality comes into play and certain people are more vulnerable than others and stand up for them. These seemingly small actions go a long way in creating safe spaces for everyone. While being an ally, it’s very important to pass on the mic. Use your privilege to amplify the voices of the underrepresented instead of speaking for them.
“If you are an ally then talk about it. Being vocal about your support will help queer people live openly which in turn just leads to an inclusive environment.”
As a friend or a family member, one must understand the importance of their role in a person’s life. The support and encouragement that a friend can provide, holds immense power that can help a person go places in life. At the same time, apathy and insensitive behaviour from a close one can do irreparable damage to a person’s confidence and mental health.
“The important part about it (when someone comes out to you) is to appreciate them and then ask the person who came out if they want to talk about it or just want to chill. People don’t realize how much courage it needs, even I sometimes become so conscious and scared just before talking about it”
“Match the energy of someone when they come out. If they are scared, reassure them. If they are nonchalant, be the same. Also, don’t make it about yourself.”
“Just be normal I guess? If it’s a sexuality thing, talk to them about their crushes, exes, etc. like you would with a straight friend. I’ve always felt that we need “normalisation” a lot more than just “acceptance”.”
Stigma against the LGTBQ+ community
While all queer folks navigate through their own journey of self-acceptance and coming out, ultimately a large part of their struggles boil down to the stigma against the LGBTQ+ community that exists not only in society but in our very institute. Unfortunately, this is something every single member of the community has faced.
Some of it may hide under the excuse of ‘ignorance’, but there is a fine line between being unaware and simply not caring about the effect your actions can have. Several members of the community were asked how this stigma manifests itself, and they described what they had to go through:
“Stigma does exist: it manifests as the grotesque slogans you hear at cultural orientation (I was flabbergasted honestly), it manifests in the locker room-ish conversations that ensue in the rooms of boys high on hormones. I have not faced direct discrimination but I was aware that some people I had to regularly interact with were a homophobic lot: simply unaware of what are the kinds of sexual orientations and gender identities that exist, hence straight-ness is a badge of masculinity and “gay” is a slur in a lot of their conversations.”
“The obvious [instances] are people being ignorant of everything. I’m fairly hopeful that this will go down in a few years’ time. The not-so-obvious one is the obsession with the gender binary. “He/She” is everywhere, all over the rule book (as opposed to the gender-neutral, inclusive singular “they”). What really irked me was that even the SMP charter had this. Aren’t these people supposed to be responsible for making everyone comfortable? To me at least, this is such an obvious and simple way to make everything inclusive that is so commonly used now. To be ignorant of this while holding such a respectable PoR is shameful and just disappointing. ”
“Before my first day of college itself, people were sharing extremely homophobic memes, and even going to the extent of justifying themselves by saying, ‘If there’s any LGBT person on this group they should know that this is just a joke, we don’t have any problem with LGBT people, we just have a problem with those gays that make it their personality.’
There are still institute-recognised and funded clubs using transphobic slurs on stage, and naming their events after diseases used to stigmatise the LGBTQ+, all as “a joke”. It’s extremely shameful, especially considering the fact that Saathi took so long to get institutionalised.
And obviously, people still use “gay” as an insult all too often.”
“Just think of actual people from the community who are ‘out and proud’ from your batch. Yeah, not a lot. The campus has a silent treatment of anything LGBTQ+ people need and deserve. Being a trans person on campus is beyond my imagination, almost everything is gendered. There is no respect for pronouns and people still weirdly carry the “LGBT isn’t normal, it is a disease” thing?
Once every 2-3 days, I see a homophobic confession. And let us not forget that the biggest dance event here is named after a stigmatized disease with queer history.”
Another extremely disturbing pattern that emerged is the not-so-overt, almost unrecognisable homophobia and transphobia that is easy to look over (when you aren’t the one going through it). Although it may seem like times have changed, and being ‘woke’ is the new trend, the ground reality is not positive:
“It is not like people are homophobic a lot but most of them do not care which is not a good stance when almost 10% of people have to think about safety just in their identity.
One of the common things I encounter is “secret homophobes” who are afraid to say it and just do it in DMs. The group chats at the start of my freshie year were full of “I don’t like people who make their sexuality their personality” edge lords (which is a homophobic implication). It can be a lot to take in especially when most of us were excited to come here.”
“When you have navigated life as a gay man for a year or two, you can gauge the people around you pretty well as to how they react to the community. So at a glance, it might seem that IITB is free of homophobia. If you send out a form asking people what they feel about the community, you will get a lot of positive answers, almost all even. But the reality is somewhat different. People come from different parts of the country and accordingly bring different views about the community. While a lot of people are very supportive and accepting, there are just as many people that aren’t. Thanks to the kind of environment that exists in our insti, which a lot of seniors and professors have put in efforts to create, these homophobic students don’t openly express their phobia. But in a very subtle way, it is apparent every now and then when they speak about stuff.
Boys are supposed to automatically have the goal of “bandi patana” the moment they step into insti. Most misogynist comments (and there are a lot that come your way) come naturally with homophobia.” – Devashish
Several others spoke about how discrimination comes into the picture in seemingly casual conversations, whether it is making fun of anything related to the LGBTQ+, or even discussions on how it is ‘psychologically wrong to be gay.’
What can we do?
Straight and cis-gender people must not underestimate the role they play, albeit unknowingly, in perpetuating discrimination.
As Pride Month comes to an end, the most important question that still prevails is, ‘How can we create a healthy environment for all communities in the institute?’ There is, of course, nobody better to answer this than queer folks themselves:
“Most of the instances of the stigma that I had described were points I would not have noticed myself had it not been for my own experience. The best way to ensure that everyone feels included is to have representation. Also, no cis person will ever be able to understand what it feels like to be trans. And that’s okay. You don’t have to understand everything to let people be. Take feedback and be receptive to it. But don’t think that talking to people will help you understand everything. You can always try to do better, and if all of us follow this, we will already be a long way in.”
“Stop gendering everything. Not everything is binary. The administration (under Gender Cell or Saathi) should create rules for action against homophobia and transphobia. Just normal inclusion such as gay couples on Salsa Night, LGBTQ+ people actually writing confessions would help out.”
A few members of the community also mentioned a session on Sexuality 101 as the first step towards inclusion. However, they also pointed out that this would either be met with indifference or immediately made a joke.
This is quite unfortunate, since we all belong to an institute that places supreme importance on education, and yet cannot bring ourselves to learn about matters that affect the people around us so deeply.
“Most people really have no clue what the difference is between bisexual and transgender. Creating a healthy environment is a consequence of spreading awareness.”
Finally, members of the community talk about the importance of representation- simply put: seeing others like themselves out there, living their lives freely and being proud of who they are.
“Seeing other students being ‘out and proud’ helps the most.”
“We need people who are queer and stuck inside closets constructed by homophobic peer groups and/or parents to muster up the courage to reach out to someone trustworthy and begin to discover themselves. This means: we need a structure of people who can absolutely be trusted to take up the sensitive responsibility of this ‘trustworthy person’. “
To our non-queer readers:
Although Pride month has come to an end, the journey to creating a safe and inclusive space has not. Do not hold back from learning about the LGBTQ+ community and speaking up. As one of our respondents put it,
“If you are an ally then talk about it. Being vocal about your support will help queer people live openly which in turn just leads to an inclusive environment.”
A good starting point could be checking out Saathi IIT Bombay. Lastly, let us not forget that society, and our institute, will only be as inclusive as its people. 🙂
We would like to express our sincere thanks to each and every member of the LGBTQ+ community that helped us create this article, whether it was through sharing their experiences or providing us with their inputs.