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Striking down #377 and Societal Response

Patricia Mukhim

The world is a global village and India is part of that village. What happens anywhere else affects us and vice versa. On Thursday 6, September when the Supreme Court of India struck down Article 377 of the IPC, there was  great rejoicing across the country amongst the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer-Intersex-Asexual + (LGBTQIA+) community across the universe.  Rainbow coloured buntings waved wildly and there was excitement in the air as if a dam had burst open. So many of those who identify themselves as the LGBTQIA+ community and had lived a cloistered existence, fearing societal reprisals, could now finally come out and rejoice openly. This was nothing short of an Independence Day celebration for them. I apologise in advance to the Community if in the course of my writing I use words or phrases that militate against the LGBTQIA+ vocabulary. As a journalist it is my duty to inform myself of the rights and privileges of this Community without the ‘them and us,’ posturing so common in our society. Second, I do not wish to be patronising and say, “It’s Ok…I know what it feels like and I empathise.” I would be lying if I said that I understood the travails that the Community has had to undergo just to be who they are and who they want to be.

What prompts me to write this article is that there are parents out there (some who have reached out to me) who are greatly troubled about how to handle the bare-boned fact that their children do not conform to the societal defined binary of male and female. They fear that their children, some of whom may be adults, might become targets of violent attacks by those who judge them as being “unnatural,” and who seek to socially ostracise them. After all, we are a judgmental society and have our own standards of morality which we expect others to adhere to even while we ourselves trample all those moral diktats. We have already seen the stance of the church vide an article written by Rev Lyndan Syiem (which appeared in this newspaper,) which essentially says, that the Church and its members are enjoined upon to love the LGBTQIA+ members of society because Christ has exhorted all Christians to do so, but that same sex marriage is a “No No,” for, the church only recognises holy matrimony between male and female.

There is much that the church actually has to interrogate about whether the Bible as an unquestioned moral authority is also the only edict that guides Christian morality and which today seems to be at odds with Constitutional morality as expounded by the Supreme Court Justices when they read down Article 377. For millennia Christians have lived by these codes and consider them infallible.  Yet, the Bible is a Book written by man, although we are cautioned to not question the Book because it was written under divine inspiration. In saying this I know I am inviting censure from churches, but, a human is a creature of logic, in fact the only creature vested with the faculty of reasoning. Should we unquestioningly accept everything the Bible says including its propensity to devalue the role of women (Paul’s exhortation that women should always be under their male counterparts)? The verses, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord”, and “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church”.(Eph 5:22-24) Christian apologists across the divide agree that the Apostle Paul wrote that the “husband is head” and “wives, submit”, and that he was divinely inspired to write what he wrote, although the two groups Egalitarian and Complementarian diverge in their interpretation of this passage.

Reading further, Paul says, “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (1Cor 11:3 -9).”

If certain parts of the Bible are an outright dumbing down of women and reducing them to a position inferior to men then it would follow that this same Book would have very little tolerance for transgendered individuals.

So much for the church as a source of comfort. Where then do troubled souls go to for solace and understanding?  Parents want to be supportive of their children’s choices and need a non-threatening space to sort out their own complex emotions, inasmuch as they want their children to come out of the closet without hurting anyone. The problem is they are not sure where to begin and how to go about it. In Meghalaya there is as yet no peer support group where parents of LGBTQIA+ individuals can come together and share their feelings. Who will provide them that platform?

Parents of transgendered kids need to understand that it is not wrong to be confused, scared, angry, depressed or just plain confounded. I know of some parents who ask, “Why my child?” In such a situation it is possible that parents might get into a victimhood mode and expect their children to make them feel better. But how? The child/adult is equally at the crossroads of life. Just announcing their LGBTQIA+ status to the world is like crossing a chasm. They are brave to be doing so instead of living in denial just to conform to society’s expectations. No matter how troubled parents are they will have to get their act together; get a grip on their lives so that they can be of support to their children instead of unloading their feelings on the transgender child and making them feel a sense of guilt for being who or what they are.

But perhaps all this is easier written than experienced.  A parent who for a long time thought her child was a boy has now decided he wants to be female. Some parents have no idea at all on how to handle this gender transition but they also have no one to actually turn to. Some NGO in Meghalaya has to come forward to offer that succour and emotional support to parents so that they do not make their transgender child suffer a guilt complex. Having spoken to a few single parents of transgendered individuals one senses that it is easier for the mother to accept and understand the child’s need for sex transition than it is for the father to do so.  A gender transition should not necessarily mean that the relation between child and mother or child and parents has changed. But that also requires a transition of mindsets. Parents need to actually sit together and consider how they can facilitate this gender transition so as to cause minimal problem for the child who, as it is, has to face a hostile world.

Meghalaya is known for its burgeoning mental health issues. We can do without labeling and pushing more people to the edge. But we also have urgent need for psychologists and psychiatrists that are familiar with the LGBTQIA+ issues and are therefore Trans-competent therapists.  I wish we could have a helpline where people needing help could dial a number and get assistance.  Parents of transgender kids need to build a resource base so they can educate themselves and others better about how to deal with the complexities confronting them.  I am not saying it is easy to understand what transgender implies but we are in it now and we should begin to educate ourselves better because there are more kids and adults out there that need our unstinted support.  I know a transgender kid who recently announced to the world that her mother means the world to her because she accepts and understands her.  This is so heartwarming.

We expect our kids to be what we want them to be. Can we allow them to be themselves without making it difficult for them to transition? After all, how long do we live in this world and why create more unhappiness when there is already so much prejudice that sours our lives and our relationships.

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