The knowledge on sexuality for most of today’s Indian youth is (sadly) limited to Internet porn and those few giggly high school biology classes. What with our parents bearing down on the Government, voicing against introducing Life Social Education (a.k.a Sex Education) in schools, this is hardly surprising. The fact that the very word ‘sex’ is frequently met with a shudder from the society doesn’t help much either. But, a question is to be answered before I begin – Why this column? What is it that I write here that could be more informative than Internet porn?
If we turn our heads away from porn for a while (albeit unwillingly) and critically analyse the political, social and philosophical aspects of sexuality, we would be greatly surprised. One would realise that most of what the society has told us and led us to believe, and what has become our our view on “normalcy” is one Big Fat Lie. One can observe a classic case of majority suppressing the minority, not very unlike racism. The only difference being, in the case of sexuality, it is not so apparent which also makes it so much harder for us to tackle. To begin, however, we must have a clear understanding of what’s sexuality.
Let’s analyse the typical lifestyle norms enforced on everyone by the society. A child is born either male or female; A male child has to grow up to be masculine and a female child has to grow up to be feminine; Past adolescence, a man gets attracted only to a woman and vice versa; Then, they get married, procreate and the same cycle repeats. This society, thus has a set of lifestyle norms that hold that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life. It also holds that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation, and states that sexual and marital relations are only fitting between a man and a woman. Such a society is called a heteronormative society. But, what happens when one starts questioning these norms? Let’s attempt a couple of questions ourselves and try to reason them out.
Why should sex reinforce gender?
Before attempting to answer this question let’s clear something up. Often, people think that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are the same thing. This is one consequence of a heteronormative society. ‘Sex’ refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs that defines a person to be biologically male or female. Gender, however, describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine. Thus a person’s sex is biological while gender is more cultural and depends on how an individual identifies himself/herself.
Now, who dictates gender roles and defines what is masculine and what is feminine? What about people who’re extremely uncomfortable with the gender imposed on them? What if an individual identifies himself/herself with members of the opposite sex? How can we call ourselves a free society if one doesn’t have the freedom to choose something as basic as a gender identity?
Why is heterosexuality the “normal” sexual orientation?
Let’s also clear something up here. Homosexuality or heterosexuality is not a “preference”, as some people might think. Sexual orientation is defined by one’s innate attraction – romantic, emotional, sexual or otherwise. It is a part of one’s identity. It can no more be changed than your blood group can be changed. While it is disputed in the academia if sexual orientation is genetically determined, there is a consensus, however, that changing one’s sexual orientation is not possible and attempts at that in the past have had disastrous effects.
Now, What is “normal”? Who defines what is “normal”? Does normal = majority? If so, is it befitting to call Hinduism, the “normal” religion of India? Is it “normal” because, only a heterosexual couple can procreate naturally? If so, is procreation the only reason for a sexual or a romantic relationship? If yes again, what is the purpose of existence of condoms? What about adoption rights or surrogate birth?
Before we attempt to answer these questions, we must dwell on sexuality for a bit, a bit deeper. But, more later…
One can only hope that we one day celebrate sexual diversity as much as we celebrate other forms of diversity like language and culture.