by Vijay Rengarajan
A great Indian poet of the last century sang, ‘Why poke one of our two eyes and spoil our three dimensional vision?’ to kindle our thinking about equality of men and women in the society. This was a hundred years back. Now the statement should perhaps be ‘Why would a bee poke one of its thousand eyes and spoil its spectacular vision?’ The notion and division of genders are not rigid and binary, but fluid. And so is sexuality. The phenomenon of one getting attracted to a particular gender is a part of nature, and our society should not impose restrictions on it through artificially defined rules.
On Vannam and Why We Need It
As with most other institutes in India, IIT-M is no exception to the lack of awareness of gender and sexualities. Vannam, the LGBTQ group of IIT Madras, aims to address this very point. It also helps the campus to be inclusive to everyone, irrespective of their gender and sexuality. The group was formed three months back, in the summer of 2014. We have an active participation from both the LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ students. There is a mailing list, and we also meet often. There are some IITM alumni too in the group, who give their support to whatever activities we are planning. Students on the online group can absolutely be anonymous if they wish. I can surely say that the group has been a great support to some of the LGBTQ students so far, since I have talked to them personally. There is one awareness event in the queue, and I am sure that we will pull it off this semester.
One may question the need of such a group in insti, and one may argue that one’s sexuality is a personal choice. This argument may seem valid on its epidermis. If we, as a country, treat an individual with a sexuality other than heterosexuality as not abnormal, then no such group is needed. But being different is always frowned upon. Those who do not conform to such societal norms are always ostracized. Students tend to become lonely and depressed, having been made to feel abnormal and ashamed of themselves. Thus, one’s non-heterosexuality, though natural, is always kept hidden from others owing to fear. Non-acceptance and derision toward your sexuality is a severely debilitating experience for many, and in a society where gender norms are so deeply entrenched, it happens right from an early age.
On Coming Out
We are all a part of the society we live in, and one can always give in to its rules and lead a normal hidden life. But an alternative is to be true to ourselves. This does not mean that everyone should come to the streets and fight, but that people should be what they are and not what society dictates they should be.
There are many reasons people would like to come out and speak openly about their sexuality. It is the natural thing to do. Hiding something demands an ever-present watchtower in our minds to carefully phrase what we speak. Coming out frees our minds to engage in carefree conversations with our friends and family, and one would not feel a sense of guilt after the conversation. You no longer need to agree with your friend that a person of a particular gender is good-looking. You do not need to shy away from commenting to your friend that the person you get attracted to looks exquisite. Truth clears ignorance. Guilt and self-loathing are sure to be flown away.
I felt that coming out was the only way through which I could be true to myself. There was no other road. All living beings have a sense of ego about how unique they are. This is not the kind of ego that is related to conceitedness. This is the ego that defines the very essence of being in the world. In one sense, I challenged my friends when I came out to them. “Look, guys. Yes, I like Shelley. I play AoE. I go trekking with you guys. I watch terrible commercial movies with you in theatres. And I also am gay, yes, a homosexual. This is what I am. It doesn’t matter how you take it. I will continue with my own life”. In the end, friends are friends after all, and you continue putting PJs with them.
I spoke with my father too in a straight-forward manner. Yes, he replied with all the usual defences — “This is just a temporary phase.”, “Have you contacted any doctor?”, “If you marry a girl, you would change”. It is important to keep your calm, and explain what you really go through. It is essential to talk to them about the basic emotions that you feel. It helps when they’re made aware of these experiences, through you, or other reliable sources, from an LGBT person’s point of view, as well as from a parent’s point of view.
As most people say, coming out is a process. It may take days and years to accept who you are and share the same with the world. If we think critically, this need not be and should not be like this. Students waste much of their lifetime living in a confused and depressed state. Instead of investing time on learning and creating something, which are two of the most enjoyable activities that a human brain can do, people are forced to worry about an uncertain and false future. In a utopian society, coming out should not really be a process. Every sexuality should just be a natural and personal discovery. Sadly, if we look through human history, there is always a subset of human population fighting for their rights. Our culture follows an impose-fight-freedom pipeline to change, and change requires ethical hacking.
It takes thousands of years for a species to update its biological structure and evolve. But humans have invented a special kind of evolution, cultural evolution. We propagate what we learn to our successors by behaviour, by speech and by writing. We don’t wait till our bio-code is permanently modified to learn a new phenomenon. It is thus unnecessary for every person of the future to go through all the emotions and stress that people of the past have experienced.
Students who wish to join Vannam can visit https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/vannam-iitm or can contact [email protected] for further information.
About the author:
Vijay Rengarajan is a PhD scholar at the Department of Electrical Engineering. He gave an interview to T5E this summer. Read it here.