Recently, American singer Demi Lovato opened up about her sexual identity saying she identifies herself as pansexual. For many years before that, Demi had already spoken about being bisexual and her search for 'a human connection' rather than a man or a woman. After her revelations, discussions on sexual fluidity have once again picked up pace.
Back home in India, of late, it's the coming out of celebrities that brings the much-needed focus on sexual fluidity and gender issues. Sadly, even for those few, they had to fight violent battles on personal front and in public life, and chose the truth over a more convenient hypocritical stand.
Case in point being Dutee Chand who had to fight two battles and win them both, when most usually succumb to one. In June 2014, when Dutee won two gold medals at Asian Junior Athletics Championships in the 200m and 4x400m relays, she was expecting to qualify for the Commonwealth Games but was dropped at the last minute after the Athletics Federation of India said that hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete. Chand appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). "I thought it was a routine dope test. I had no idea about the gender test. I had read in Odia newspapers about it. They said I was not a girl. I was shocked. Many advised medical remedies. But someone advised me to fight it legally. I appealed. The case went on for two years. I got a decree in my favour," recalls Chand who raised her voice against a discriminatory practice that banned women athletes with high testosterone levels.
But that wasn't all. A tougher battle was in store for Dutee and it was with regard to her sexual orientation and the derogation associated. So, when she first told her mother about it, she was not convinced. Her sister got hostile towards her. With the Supreme Court reading down Section 377 and announcing that consensual same-sex relationships were not illegal, she decided to come out and open up about her same-sex relationship. "It was easier for me as I am a celebrity. But for my partner who lives in my hometown, it was hard to face the world," recalls Dutee.
The fastest Indian woman today asks those in same-sex relationships to be courageous and stand firm. "My partner supported me every time and I have chosen her for my life. People may look at us differently or call us by any name like gay, lesbian etc. That does not matter so far as we get to spend our lives with each other," she says.
"For all who are in love but afraid of the world you must show courage because the world has always taken time to accept all good things," she maintains. "So, please do not be afraid because it is your life and happiness."
After her disclosure, Dutee went on to become the first Indian woman track and field athlete to clinch a gold in the World University Games. She is a national record holder in women's 100m with a time of 11.26 seconds. She also won a silver each in 100m and 200m in the 2018 Asian Games.
The concept of gender fluidity is prevalent in Vedic scriptures and the Upanishadas. The very name Ardhanarishvara that means 'the God who is half woman' says it all. Ardhanarishvara is also known by other names across India, over the ages, like Ardhanaranari (the half man-woman), Ammiappan in Tamil Nadu meaning mother-father), Ardhanarisha (the God who is half woman), Ardhanarinateshvara (the God of Dance, who is half-woman), Naranari (man-woman), and Ardhayuvatishvara in Assam, the God whose half is a young woman or girl.
Why, the concept of Ardhanarishvara symbolises the male and female principles are actually inseparable. The male half of Ardhanarishvara stands for Purusha—the male principle and passive force of the universe and Prakriti—the female active force, both of which are 'constantly drawn to embrace and fuse with each other, though... separated by the intervening axis'.
In post-colonial India, we have developed the unflinching concepts of gender and strict outlining of the sexes into compartments. Anything that transgresses its boundaries is immoral, looked down upon and borders on illegality. Which is why in pre-Independent India, a lot of gays were actually booked under Section 377 on flimsy grounds too, and punished. The recent Supreme Court reading of the section was necessitated owing to this faulty perception.
"There is a huge need for legislation in the LGBTQI+ segment," says feminist and law researcher Ritika Singh. "Law on marriage, divorce, devolution of property, adoption and other issues with regard to the myriad segments of the LGBTQI+ community need to be legislated," adds the feminist, stressing upon the fact that India has a lot to do in this regard.
Also, what others 'may feel' and what others 'may say' is a psychological hurdle in the minds of millions of those who refuse to come out fearing social stigma, censorship and rebuke. "More often than not, so many individuals publicly refuse to accept their own natural sexual orientation even tell their own families about it," says Lucknow-based marriage counsellor Malaika Goel. "In my last three decades of practice, I have encountered hundreds of cases of 'failed relationships' solely because 'a' partner hasn't come out and told the other about his or her orientation. So, while the marriage remains unconsummated for obvious reasons, there's a lot of bad blood spilt and attempts to 'cure' the person with all sorts of unscientific methods such as resorting to whims of 'babas' and ingesting 'miracle’ concoctions," she says.
For every Demi Lovato, India, has a lot of celluloid icons like Rituparno Ghosh, whose works in the genres of womanhood, homosexuality and gender; Kalki Subramaniam - the first transgender in India to do a lead role in a motion picture; transgender actress Pakhi Sharma aka Bobby Darling and the genre of 'gay' films with 'homosexual' characterisation introduced by filmmaker Karan Johar have been truly immortalised beyond the proverbial 'coming out'. It is, in pseudo-traditional homes, that the hypocrisy be called out.