Satyamev Jayate - Jinhe Desh Ki Fikr Hai

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A life less ordinary

A life less ordinary

Once a person realizes her sexuality, many questions arise. "I think I am attracted to women, but what if I am wrong?" or "How will I get to meet other people like me?" Her need is to find others like herself, seek relationships or friendships. And even if someone has discovered her sexuality through a relationship, she still has to look for answers to many questions about how to live these relationships: "How do we meet each other?", "What will we do if someone sees us?", "Are there other people like us?" and so many more anxieties.

These questions around relationships and those around their sexuality lead to a whole range of issues that lesbian and bisexual women especially need help and support to resolve. It might seem that since we are talking about sexual identities, most of the issues we face are related to sexuality. To some extent, they are too. But sexuality that does not follow narrow social diktats has an impact on many aspects of a person's life. The real issues of lesbian and bisexual women also involve dealing with violence, getting education and skills, finding livelihood, housing and other means of survival.

Living in a society which assumes that heterosexual marriage is the only as well as the ideal form of intimate sexual relationships, makes it difficult for us to accept ourselves once we realize we are different from the majority around us. This creates a huge internal dilemma, and makes for a very lonely battle. One of the toughest battles is with the family.

Attitude of the family

The most difficult and problematic issues are the arguments and fights with family members and the ensuing stress. People who approach LABIA and other such organizations for help mostly have two reasons for crisis in their familial relationships. The first is when family members start pressurizing them to get married. At times, after running out of all excuses to postpone their marriage, perhaps out of fear of being married forcefully, some women also try to come out to their families. Very few families show willingness to listen – forget understand.

The second reason is when their relationships have been discovered – maybe a letter got found or a personal diary was forcefully read, or someone 'informed' the family. The story that begins with beating and other forms of physical torture can just as easily culminate in murder. A lot of times, even friends don't support them, and they cannot figure out where to go or what to do.

Running away, and new problems

We often find that in such situations, people run away from home. Those from small towns, or villages, try to go to metropolitan cities. They try to get as far away as possible from everyone they know so they do not get recognized, which sometimes also takes them to another state. But living in a new city, where you don't know anyone, is not a piece of cake, and leads to its own set of problems. Language can, of course, be a barrier, but apart from that, it's not an easy task to make a place for yourself in a new city.

The concept of "two girls taking up a place to stay together" is rarely understood even in metros. To top that, the girls not only stay alone, but their families never visit them, nor do they ever go home. In a few days, all this turns into full-fledged neighbourhood gossip. LABIA published a report titled "Breaking the Binary" in 2013. This was based on a research study for which we had interviewed 50 queer persons who were assigned gender female at birth. Of these 50 persons, 18 had attempted suicide at least once.

Many absences, many needs

The problems are not only emotional. To be able to be financially independent, it is necessary for the person to have education or some skills. As a society the way we bring up our "daughters" even today, we give them no training to be independent. In such a situation, it is very difficult for young women and girls to be able to live absolutely independent lives. Women who express their gender in more "masculine" ways or trans-identified PAGFB (persons assigned gender female at birth who do not identify as women) face other problems because their gender expression makes it tough to get a job, or rent a house, or negotiate public spaces.

Unable to deal with all this violence and oppression, hence, if queer women or trans persons raised as girls run away from home, alone or with their partners, they find themselves in circumstances where they have no means to survive – no place to live, no way to complete their education or develop any skills, no proper counselling services to deal with their mental health issues, to name a few.

What we can do

SUPPORT LESBIANS OPENLY: Say it loud and clear that we accept the fact that women can also be attracted to women and we shall stand by anyone who is being harassed just for being who they are.

COUNSEL THE FAMILY: If families are not supportive, then other groups need to step in and try and counsel them.

PROVIDE SAFE SPACES: Provide safe spaces for these women so that they are not forced to deal with violence or pushed into unwanted marriages.

START SEXUALITY EDUCATION: Sexuality education must be encouraged and teaching administrative staff should be sensitized in issues of sexuality as they are often the authority figures who perpetuate homophobia.

PROVIDE VOCATIONAL TRAINING OR EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT: Since many queer persons assigned the gender female at birth have to leave home due to violence or repression and are often unable to complete their studies, schools and colleges need to play a supportive role in terms of providing educational or vocational training to these individuals.

ADOPT QUEER-FRIENDLY POLICIES: Some big companies have begun to implement queer-friendly employment policies, an example that many others in private and public sectors could follow.

MAKE COUNSELLORS AVAILABLE: Trained counsellors and mental health professionals need to be made available not only to queer persons assigned gender female at birth, but also to their family members and adults in educational institutions, who often have a huge influence in the lives of these individuals.

TEACH HOW TO DEAL WITH VIOLENCE: Empower women to deal with violence in homes, neighbourhoods, schools, at workplaces, and in public spaces.

We reach out to each one of you to join us in making this possible!
LABIA — A Queer Feminist LBT Collective, Mumbai.

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(This is a shorter, edited version of the article written by Team LABIA.)



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