The idea of homosexuality

Once, during my post graduation, I did an unusual thing. I was not walking alone. I was going from my Hostel 9 to Char-2 lab with two more guys. On the course of our voyage, we were intercepted by a bunch of girls. As usual, one of us started staring at someone among them. Someone among us remarked, “Dekh salla kaise ghoor raha hai.” (Look! How is he staring at her.). At this, I told him, “Ghoorega to sochegi ki ‘perverse’ hai, nahi dekhega to sochegi ki ‘gay’ hai.” (She might think that he is perverse if he stares, otherwise she will think he is gay). Guys found it very amusing.

Once I and Robin went to Lake-side having our hands on each other shoulders. Many people looked at us and there were definite smiles on their faces. I told Robin that public is taking a wrong view about us. One of my lab-mate once told me that she passes remark of homosexuality whenever she sees two girls walking together holding hands. I myself never missed the chance passing the comment of “So cute!” whenever I saw Gaurav and His friend taking a stroll.

At another time, one of classmate was asking me if I have seen Health Minister of India in news so much. Those days, our health minister was trying to legalize homosexuality in India.

Then there was poster hanging in front of SOM inviting everyone to take part in the debate about homosexuality at the same time when I was busy making poster about my project work. That indeed is a curious case. Meanwhile, my all time favorite magazine came out with “Sex Determination”.

Homosexuality! The most popular definition of homosexuality deals with penetrative sex. Many of cases which came out in public; from Alan Turing to Elton John  globally,  all of them involved the idea of ‘penetrative sex’. The case has been so if it is between man, and an approval of men that this indeed is a case of queer if it is between women . The non-English India, which in 97% of it, has a different take on homosexuality. They simply do not like to discuss it in these terms. Taking about homosexuality in public is a prerogative of anglo-phonic Indians. Among college students, this is a widely talked about topic. However, there is a confusion about what exactly is a homosexual behavior. When I was an undergraduate student, one of my room mate was wondering, “Yaar, in case of a boy there is a real sex, kind of penetration…but in case of girls .. ummm.. there is no real sex..” Then he became thoughtful to an unusual degree. Later he relieved himself by playing Pocket Tanks.

Next day I told my room-mates a joke. Once Santa proposed to a girl and she said, “No, I am lesbian.” Santa asked, “What is a lesbian?” “I like to have sex with girls.” At this Santa replied, “Wow! Then I am also a lesbian.” Oh! Gaonwala (The Villager) is cracking sophisticated jokes. They replied. Somehow, they believe that debating or talking about homosexuality is a sign of sophistication if not of modernity.

Madhuri Dixit was perhaps the first female superstar of India rose to prominence with some path breaking female-centered role.e.g. Ansso Bane Angare (Tears turns into Fire), Anjaam, Mratyudand etc. One of the most controversial song, “Choli ke peeche kya hai”(What is behind the blouse?) definite has a queer element in it. About this song my Hindi teacher in High-School would say, “Bhai, if you see it in other prospective, Then ‘Choli ke peeche’ is mother-milk also.” But one of us was not convinced. He went to argue with the teacher that this indeed was an assault on our culture. He did not say it in sophisticated way. The language he used is what Bajrang Dal or Shri Ram Sene would use. Anyway none of them see it any sort of homosexuality there. There was no doubt a queer element in it and this queer element was high-lightened by a singer voice which , though of female, but very husky as to inhibit a male element. And if you have seen the dance steps in this song, there is nothing that’d quell your doubts about it.

Majority of Indians still alien from the idea of homosexuality. Perhaps the most funny scene about the perception of female-homosexuality is in the movie, ‘Bend it like Beckham’. When Juliet’s mother was hysterical and throws the word ‘lesbian’ in accusation at Parminder during a family wedding, an elderly aunt says, “Lesbian? But she is born in march. I though she is Piscean.” Another adds, “She is not Lebanese, she’s Punjabi.” The idea of lesbian is very remote from center-stage of Indian mass culture. I am pretty sure many Indian will confuse themselves about the behavior of ‘Kantaben’ from ‘Kal Ho Na Ho”.

The place where I was born, Nichalpur, a typical Indian Village, has no conception of homosexuality. Though there may have been some cases found out but never been talked in public, not even in gossips. A nearby town, Seohara, where I did my schooling, is quite different.  Cities and villages are better than towns of India in handling their sexuality. Once I went to visit one of my friend at his home and He advised me not to come that early or that late. Since I was just five feet tall and was girl-like in composure, too young to be in 12th standard. He told me without much fuss, ” Ye Budhdha log, Sallo se khada hua nahi jaata par gand marne pahle chal dete hai.” (These old guys, they can not walk properly but will be the first one to sodomize you.) I never visited him at his place again. Again, once when I was having a hair cut at a saloon, the barber – Indian barbers are famous for telling a lot of stories – obviously jealous of one of his chela who left him and went to Dubai and become rich was telling one of the many present in his shop, “Bhai woh [people in Dubai] log peeche ke shaukin hote hai. Paisa to isne kamaya hai par ab ye insaan nahi raha.” (In Dubai, those guys are fond of back-side, He, no doubt made money, is no longer a man.”).

Another place in my life which is is left here are the books which I am very fond of reading. Since my childhood I never spared any book I could get my hands on. The best time I spend in my life was in IIT-B library, founding the oldest books available and leaving my signature somewhere in the book was something I really loved to do. But before that, I used to buy and borrow a lot of books in Hindi  whenever I traveled from Nichalpur to Chennai. The journey took almost 2 full days and in two days I would savor Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Phanishwar Das Renu, Dinker, Mahadevi Verma, Translation of Tagore, Maxim Gorky, Tolstoy. Hindi literature (at least the one I read) never discussed sexuality openly. Only Gandhi has the guts to say such things openly. The first story I’ve ever read about homosexuality was ‘Lihaaf‘ (the quilt)  by  late Ishamt Chaugati. Nothing of the exposure to this world I ever got through reading fiction prepared me for this. Later there was an overdose of Steven Stifler ( from American Pie ). For next few days I would comment, “Potential lesbians on the road!” or “Potential lesbians alighting bus.” One of my room mate would wonder, “Are you getting sex addict.”

This much of my journey in life cutting across the various facets of India tells me that ‘homosexuality’ still has a long way to go. Personally, I am not very much approved of it. Some ideas, no matter how rational, are hard to digest. Just like the idea of ‘spending 100 rupees on a cup of tea’ is not as digestible as ‘spending 100 rupees on a cup of coffee’. Our culture shapes our predispositions. Few alien ideas, no matter how much they have been around you, are too strange to digest. Aren’t they?

To be sure, the idea of homosexuality is itself borrowed from a different culture. Kamasutra might have something of it. In Western culture, as far as I can tell from my experience by watching their movies, they find it easy to label anyone as homosexual if he does not ogle over different sex. This paragraph in a news report is reveals the cultural blindness of accuser.

 Mr. Lelyveld adds: “One respected Gandhi scholar characterised the relationship as ‘clearly homoerotic’ rather than homosexual, intending through that choice of words to describe a strong mutual attraction, nothing more. The conclusions passed on by word of mouth by South Africa’s small Indian community were sometimes less nuanced. It was no secret then, or later, that Gandhi, leaving his wife behind, had gone to live with a man.”

Perhaps such insinuation are easy for someone from a culture which has produced and in turn influenced by Freud.

There are many instances in one of their most popular t.v. show ‘Friends’  where characters were identified as homosexual if they did not stare at women breasts. This is not to say that every one in the Western world thinks a man is homosexual if he fails to stare at the breast of a passing by woman. Popular culture such as cinema, arts, literature etc. do create elements in a culture which are different than that of mass culture. On our campus, one can see young girls and boys walking together holding hands. While an older Indian might see it as a sign of innocent friendship, some one into which a fair amount of Western culture has seeped would not mind labellings them homosexual, perhaps light-heartedly.

Gandhi has been labeled homosexual because some of his letters contained words like ‘love’, ‘desire’ etc. I am not sure how would they react to the movie, ‘Anand‘ in which an cancer patient dying in the arms of a man – first his doctor- who loved him. Or in the movie ‘Sholey’ when Jai was talking to Mausi  about  Veeru for Basanti and deliberatly telling her about his character in a very funny way could be interpreted as act of protecting his friendship from hetro-sexual intrusion.

These days many women find it easy to believe that males do not bond. They just spend time with each other. Such views are backed by the facts that display of intensity of their bond is minimal. A Male bonds with another male over some shared interest.  In old days, it was hunting and bonding was a necessity. It is now a round of golf, a game of cricket, a pub-crawl, a drink at a bar, watching a Formula 1 race and so on. I perhaps do not any men bonding over a long telephone call, a walk, shopping for clothes, over a cup of coffee at each others’ homes and so on. It’s almost as if the activity is needed to legitimise the bond. In old Indian movies, a male friend was often seen as sacrificing something of great value for his male friend, usually love of his life or his life itself. A woman, however, only sacrificed for her man. This contrast in movies should not be overemphasized but their existence can not be denied. Women bonds with each other and then they find some common interest. To put it in Vijay Nagaswamy words :

Men are, in fact, far more tolerant of their friends’ irrationalities than they are of those of their wife and children and I have known this phenomenon to cause serious marital disharmony. Also, they seem to tolerate each others’ boundary violations better, sometimes to incomprehensible extents. One reason for this is that men are able to relate to each others’ foibles with greater empathy and when they forgive or tolerate a friend’s imperfections, they are actually vicariously forgiving and tolerating their own. However, they may not give their women friends the same leeway.

In such a scenario, it is safe to assume that  a homosexual male do not become homosexual for sex.  There is something deeper psychologically which makes a man homosexual. Some of the better known homosexual are very creative people and are not known to be of experimenting perverts type. Perhaps, decline of interest in woman among the top strata of male society has also contributed to this. Besides there is a huge mistrust among males and females these days. Such statements of mistrust are vividly depicted on televisions. Indeed, many men are loosing interest in sex altogether. Why? Theories abound. This is not very unnatural. There are many people who do not show much enthusiasm for breeding even though they are claim to be interested in sex. Sex is only evolved for breeding. So if the case for the primary cause has gone down, sooner of later it surely will terminate the desire. No wonder many males are turning homosexual. They are not much interested in sex but being homosexual gives them a partner which whom they can share a common interest.

 —
Dilawar

Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

One thought on “The idea of homosexuality”

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