The Venus Flytrap: Not A Private Matter

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When I became involved with Chennai’s first LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender – or in broad terms, queer) Pride Month, I fully expected to encounter disapproval from openly intolerant people and organizations. But more disturbing were the less transparent remonstrations, from individuals who seemed far more open-minded than the average Chennaiite. The most lingering of these impressions was when I was told that the rights of sexual minorities are less important than other causes, and that they are, and should stay, “a private issue”.

Whether or not an issue is more or less important than others is a highly subjective matter – we always fight against or for what hurts or matters to us most, based on what we are exposed to by virtue of our circumstances. But the underlying contention was that queer rights only affect some people, whereas issues like education, clean sewage and pollution affect everybody.

And this is where I beg to differ.

Fact is that sexuality and sexual agency are extremely public issues. The entire so-called moral bedrock of society is based on forcing people to behave in certain sanctioned ways, regardless of whether or not these ways are in tune with their biological, psychological and emotional orientations. If this wasn’t the case, arranged marriages – which organize people’s sexual behaviour within a regimented, strictly heterosexual social framework – would not exist. Vast swathes of misogynistic behaviour would all but disappear, because much such behaviour comes as reaction to the threat perceived in fully self-possessed female sexuality. Count honour killings, eve-teasing and molestations – any act of “punishment” based on gender and sexuality – among them. Women would have complete autonomy over their uteruses. People could marry out of caste or culture freely. Divorce would be destigmatized. Asexuality, too, would be accepted as part of the continuum of possible sexualities.

And of course, if sexuality was a private issue, archaic Penal Code laws that criminalize private adult sexual behaviours (such as consensual anal sex between men) would not exist. The law would stay out of bedrooms (and yes, bathrooms and brothels), as long as consent is present. Did you know that under Section 377 of the Code, oral sex between consenting heterosexual adults is technically illegal? Does all this still seem like a minorities’ problem?

I see the Pride movement as paving the way for a society that is better for everybody in it, not just queer people. An environment which is accepting of diverse sexualities is one in which everyone, including straight people and people who “don’t make a big deal about their orientation”, is freer. Perhaps then sexuality will truly be a private matter.

Freer to do what, you may ask? To me, the answer is simple – to love who they love, and be who they are. And if that’s not an issue that matters to every person there is, so universal that no one – bar no one – is unaffected by it, I don’t know what is. Ultimately, I don’t think this is about sex nearly as much as it is about freedom, identity – and love.

So this June, as supporters take to the streets in a fabulous parade, raise awareness (and the roof!) with panel discussions, performances and film screenings, bear in mind just how many people we’re fighting for. All with open hearts will be welcomed with open arms.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

For more details about Chennai Pride 2009, check out the Facebook group.

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10 responses »

  1. You’re absolutely right! Sexual freedom (for everyone) is definitely an issue worth fighting for!

    P.S : There’s going to be a parade?? In Madras this month?? I haven’t heard anything of it in the media!

  2. “you think you are clever and classless and free. but you are still fucking peasants as far as i can see” – i think what lennon said sums up the attitudes of the people you mention in the beginning.

    And, no. we won’t back down. we won’t stay home. we will do what we have to do: be free and if that scares some people ( see the film Easy Rider),they can fuck off.

  3. “Did you know that under Section 377 of the Code, oral sex between consenting heterosexual adults is technically illegal”
    Really? Never knew that. That would mean most of us have broken the law at one time or the other
    And yes, waiting for a time when being asexual is considered a choice to be respected.
    I say good for you and go for it

  4. Most intolerance is 15 parts ignorance and fear, you are absolutely right, lets take the examination public and see what everyone is so afraid of really, about alternative or even mainstream sexuality!!

    Good one Sharanya, have fun at the carnival :)!

  5. Will be with you in spirit, girl. My head nodded in agreement throughout this piece. It ISN’T about sex. The issue I have with homophobes is that they automatically assume it is and bear forth from that fallacious standpoint.

  6. Great writing Shranya. I loved the piece. It gets right to the heart of the matter. Its not about minorty rights but human rights. Not one universal swathe of humanity but diverse and multi hued. And if we don’t accept this diversity amidst us we are violating our own identities as unique human beings.
    Way to go!!! My full support for the Parade. We had one in Mumbai and it was a great hit!!!

  7. wonnerful thought , seriously even i say that society restricts us a little too much , i am a straight person , but i appreciate ur support for freedom , freedom to express their likes and dislikes

  8. Absolutely true, that the issue here is about freedom, identity, and love rather than sex. This totally resonates with my own views on the subject. Having gotten to know someone trans-gendered, I feel very happy that people who are not necessarily “directly affected” are choosing to write on the subject.

    Also check out Kalki’s blog, she is in Chennai too:
    http://kalki.tblog.com/

    Recently came across a news item about “Sahodaran”, another Chennai-based organization for men’s sexual health, publishing an 18 month calendar of hulks in swimming trunks and sarongs ;-) Drooling apart, it’s good to see the improved public awareness.

    How did the LGBT Pride month go? What was the response? Having been born and brought up in Chennai for 17 years, the city in my mind is a hotbed of narrow, parochial views – but ironically it seems to be more active in these matters than other cities…

  9. Absolutely. As one of the dialogues in ‘I can’t think straight’ goes: “we make it their (in this case the families of the two) business when we lie about who we’re with and why we’re with them”.

    So yes, sexuality, gay or straight is very much in the public domain. And yes, as per 377 oral, anal and any form of non-vaginal penetration is (was?) illegal.

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