I clearly remember a lesson where our biology teacher made us read about primary and secondary sexual characteristics. A simple topic, at the end of which she asked us a simple question – “Who here supports gay people?”
I was one of the four (in a class of about forty) who raised their hands. She interjected, sounding almost injured– “It’s unnatural! Look at what we just learnt. A man goes with a woman.”
After she left the class, some girls giggled together. The boys ignored what had just happened. Certainly no people of opposite sexes ventured to talk together. I’d noticed before in our co-educational school that girls mostly only relayed the teachers’ instructions to boys, and boys mostly teased the girls rather than making conversation.
Unhealthy ideas fester and make their home in students’ minds after four or five years in an environment like this. We have no education designed to remove doubts or misconceptions about gender, sexuality and adulthood– all essential parts of our lives. Dr. Harsh Vardhan, our Science and Technology Minister and MP from Delhi, in fact says on his website that sex education in India should be banned.
This confuses me, because I haven’t yet seen any material in Indian schools that would count as sex education. Indian schools actually need discussion, led by young professionals we can relate to. Why isn’t gender and sex education being brought to urban and rural schools instead?
In other parts of the world, people are pressing for better understanding of gender and sexual minorities. A pessimist would say India should not think about these more subtle issues when it doesn’t even have openness regarding gender. But if India could go from being a dominion of the British crown to adopting universal adult franchise all at once, this too is possible. India never had to fight for women’s franchise, because the Suffragettes had already won in other parts of the world by 1950. Similarly, many other countries have left behind their misguided or even dogmatic programmes to offer better interpretations of gender and sexual issues to students. Can India not adopt a similar education programme?
These insights include the fact that gender is a spectrum. Mentally, people can fall on the extreme ends of the spectrum (male and female), anywhere in between or not on the spectrum at all. Explaining this to students at a young age will go a long way in abolishing stereotypes attached to a particular sex, because humans don’t come in only two models. There are two sexes and intersex people, but there are many possible genders.
Another issue that most of my peers don’t recognise is that of gender expression. The way we carry ourselves and our bodies can be, to varying degrees, masculine, feminine or androgynous. If I bind my chest and deepen my voice, it is my gender expression and mine only. Yet many people would see this as some kind of subversive or perverted action.
Spreading awareness about gender expression would help people realise that it has very little to do with the observer and their values/opinions but everything to do with the person in question and how they wish to express themselves.
Many of us are still convinced that the distant past has some bearing on individual liberty. When Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was reenacted (criminalising homosexual activities), the President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad praised it for “protect[ing] our culture”.This is a view irrelevant to the question of whether the urge of any person to begin a non-heterosexual relationship should be legally punished for doing so.
We must ask our law courts–what makes any desire involving an individual all right to act upon?
The desire must not hurt any person and/or it must stem from mutual understanding and consent. This simple condition does not prohibit a relationship between two adults of the same sex. This extends beyond sexual orientation too. Assaulting your partner would be unacceptable, as would forcing someone to marry you. Helping children understand this will stop them from continuing these practices as adults.
Please, let us have gender and sex education that does not ignore the fact that not everyone is attracted only to those of the opposite sex. It is vital to prevent HIV/AIDS, of which India has around 2.5 million sufferers, and necessary to remove the taboos and ignorance surrounding alternate orientations.
Trying to bring up the topic of rights for people of gender and sexual minorities, I got these misguided thoughts from my classmates: “Nobody I know would choose to be gay” and “It is a mistake to call so many people gay, especially teenagers, because only a man who has had sex with another man becomes gay.”
These misconceptions are going to grow up and become the beliefs of India. We have been disappointed by our current legislators, but we can become the generation who will decriminalise minority gender and sexual behaviour, codify legal recognition for transgender people, and let people of the same sex enter a civil partnership or marry.
We can, if only we have the right education.