Queerness 101: Understanding Sexuality
28th June 1969 marked an important day in the history of the LGBTQ+ community. For it was in the morning hours of 3 AM when the police had raided Stonewall Inn (A New York Bar which allowed the entry of gay men and lesbian women) that the community raised its voice against the oppression and ignorance it faced since the very beginning of human civilization. Gay men and women, trans-women and drag queens stood in front of Stonewall Inn and continued their protest for a week, against the violence and marginalization they faced on a daily basis.
The riots gave rise to the establishment of many support groups both in the US as well as internationally. June marks the International Pride Month, commemorating the courageous efforts of the men and women who stood up for their rights in Stonewall.
We at MTTN decided to take a look at few of the various jargons and misconceptions that one often has with regards to Queerness.
If you’re queer and Indian, you will likely recall a most singular moment in your life, when for the first time you knew beyond all doubt, that your queerness would inevitably have negative connotations to your life. This you knew because burdens of Indian society simply didn’t sit well with you. Be it, when you first realized that the law of the land sees you as criminal. Or when the isolation and bullying at high school felt like suffocation. Or even when your mother made playful references to your future wedding. Some say things are better than what they used to be for anyone LGBTQ+. True, in several ways. But the singular moments that define queer individuals, will continue to haunt them for as long as ignorance exists, for they leave their futures thoroughly and abysmally uncertain.
Allow us to introduce to you four simple, not necessarily related aspects of one’s gender/sexual identity. Note that each is a spectrum. Each member of the general populace lies at different points on each spectrum. The following is by no means all-inclusive. It only covers some of the basics.
1. Biological Sex: what lies between your legs
Your biological sex is determined by your reproductive anatomy at birth. It isn’t restricted to mere presence or absence of sexual organs. It is also determined by your chromosomal/genetic make-up, hormonal levels, and everything physical, essentially. Biological sex is what a doctor may determine at birth. It is, however, a spectrum: it needn’t be only male or female. Several biological conditions blur this sharp distinction. Examples include Klinefelter Syndrome (Chromosomally, XXY), Turner Syndrome (Chromosomally, XO) and a variety of other conditions that fall under the umbrella term ‘intersex’.
‘Intersex’ denotes an individual whose reproductive and bodily anatomy isn’t clearly male or female.
2. Gender Identity: what lies between your ears
You may have heard people say this. Gender and sex aren’t the same thing, and using them synonymously is incorrect. Gender identity, referred to simply as an individual’s gender, is an individual’s psychological sex.
It is not determined by genitalia, hormonal levels, chromosomes, or anything else physical. It is how an individual perceives and identifies themselves, and where they fit in, with respect to societal perceptions of gender.
A transgender person is someone whose gender identity is not the same as their biological sex, it could be (but is not limited to being) in between, or even the polar opposite. A transsexual person is someone whose gender identity is the polar opposite of their biological sex, and wishes in whatever way, to undergo procedures said person finds necessary to obtain congruence between body and mind. (Note, people whose gender identities match their biological sex are referred to as ‘cis-gender’.)
Not all transgender people are transsexual, but all transsexual people are transgender.
Is this a mental disorder? No. The term Gender Identity Disorder is outdated and isn’t in use presently. A disorder, by definition, causes dysfunction of part or whole of an organism. Not every trans-individual experiences psychological dysfunction or ‘dysphoria’ as a result of the body-mind incongruence. The accepted term used to refer to the distress many (but not all) transgender people experience due to the incongruence of their assigned sex at birth and gender identity, is Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID).
Who then, is a Hijra?
The Hijras (Kannada: Chhakka, Tamil: Thirunangai, various other terms in other languages) are a group of organized socio-cultural communities, with their own belief systems and practices. They consist of transgender/transsexual individuals assigned male at birth, and may also consist of intersex individuals. In several Hijra communities, a ritual involving castration serves as an initiation ritual. ‘Hijra’ may be considered a gender identity on its own (perceived as the ‘third gender’/neither man nor woman/both man and woman/simply woman; individual perceptions differ), in association with the cultural aspects of the identity. Hijras were given the option of adopting the legal status of ‘third gender’ by the Supreme Court of India in 2014.
So far, you’ve likely figured that, transgender, transsexual, intersex and hijra are not the same thing.
Two of four, done.
3. Sexual Orientation
It refers to one’s sexual identity, defined by which gender/sex one is sexually and/or romantically attracted to. Sexual attraction to the opposite sex is referred to as being ‘heterosexual/straight’. Sexual attraction to the same sex is referred to as being ‘homosexual/gay’. The term ‘gay’ may refer to both homosexual men and women, however ‘lesbian’ refers to the latter. Several people experience attraction to both men and women, and hence identify as ‘bisexual’. Some experience attraction irrespective of gender/sex, and this is referred to as being ‘pansexual’. Someone that doesn’t experience sexual attraction is referred to as ‘asexual’ (yes; that is normal, and is not necessarily a consequence of hormonal and psychological dysfunction). Tens of other terms exist to describe various sexual orientations.
4. Gender Expression
Gender expression is the way one chooses to externally express their gender identity, through behavior, appearance, clothing, etc. When you’re describing someone’s appearance, gait, dress sense and inflections as masculine or feminine, you’re describing their gender expression. Gender expression is not necessarily indicative of a particular gender identity, biological sex, or sexual orientation. Wearing heels doesn’t necessarily mean you are a woman/want to be a woman/are a homosexual male. Short hair is not representative of a need to be masculine. Examples and Exceptions are endless with gender and sexuality.
You may, at this point of time, be wondering what then is Queer ?
Queer refers to any identity under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. The word technically means ‘unusual’, but the community now sees it as a benign description of any non-cisgender/heterosexual identity. The term is especially useful because it allows people to eliminate the need to be precise when describing their identity, the ambiguity of which may be comforting. It’s like saying, ‘I like fruits’ instead of ‘I like apples, bananas, oranges, grapes and melons’. It’s just easier sometimes.
The Queer and Ally Network is an organization started in 2016-17 to promote the cause of queer students in Manipal. It has been actively engaged in spreading awareness about the LGBTQ+ cause. The Organisation has been working towards providing support and a safe and comfortable space for the LGBTQ+ community.
Manipal Ally March: Manipal has stood witness to its very first Ally March, a walk for LGBTQ+ pride. Held on the 5th of February, 2017, students of the School of Communication organised the Ally March in association with Namma Pride, Bangalore.
To read more about the Manipal Ally March: http://manipalthetalk.org/colleges/soc/manipal-ally-march/
Here are some resources which may help you start exploring this topic further:
Here’s wishing you a Happy Pride Month and all the luck this universe has to offer to those with upcoming exams!
-Written by Angad Gummaraju.