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The Irresponsible Stereotyping Of LGBT Community In Mainstream Media

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By Alisha Sachdeva:

“If you believe that your thoughts originate inside your brain, do you also believe that television shows are made inside your television set?” ― Warren Ellis

If I ask you to imagine a homosexual person right now, what kind of a description will you come up with?

SOTY

Chances are, you’re going to end up thinking of a delicate looking, effeminate ‘male’ with soft movements and “girly” gestures, and most likely he’s going to be impeccably well — dressed and well- groomed. He frowns at wardrobe disasters and is a bigger fashion diva than you will ever be. You know, the fashion —designer type. (Remember how the gay Patrick scores over the fashion-goddess Lacey every time in Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management?)

Alternatively, if you’re a girl like me who’s got her heart broken by Matt Dallas, you might think of a devastatingly handsome looking — man, who’s got all his charms set, but to your horror, doesn’t respond to female attention (because he is perhaps feeling like that for another guy himself): whatever might be the case, almost always, a homosexual person is surrounded by a bunch of homophobes (or fake homophobes) who believe they’re their biggest nightmare. (“God, stop acting gay! Get away from me!“)

After numerous fight-scenes in movies following the use of a certain word “faggot” , or the playing out of the classic trope of a homosexual man playing the heroine’s best-friend in movies (a la Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding), we can cross our hearts and ascertain that queer characters have finally arrived in mainstream media.

However, portraying these characters in popular media comes with its baggage — it’s not enough to simply use such characters for the sake of adding entertainment value. What’s really important is to portray them correctly. Considering that the LGBT community is a marginalized section of society that faces enormous social stigma in many developing (also developed) countries, it is absolutely imperative that the media which serves as a channel across people of different beliefs and faiths does its best to push forward their interests, and represent them as they are . People who are entrusted with the job of creating queer characters for the screen shoulder a very heavy responsibility; to strike a balance between entertainment and truthfulness…

…At which, the larger section of them, fail miserably. Merely churning out a laughable queer character is not only irresponsible, but also, unfortunately, the bitter truth about mainstream media today. The LGBT community is given the treatment of an outcast group in our popular culture. So much so, that If we’re asked to imagine a homosexual individual, our minds lead us directly to one of the stereotypical stock images of queer characters we’ve seen in television serials and movies.

Massive generalisation and an overdose of stock homosexual characters have distorted our own sense of reality to the extent that we begin to subconsciously filter people around us through a lens that was created for us, and not by us.

Let us take the recent case of Tiger Shroff — his androgynous looks have made him appealing to both women and men, but for the very same reason, there are jokes being created over his sexuality.

We’ve perhaps been over fed the idea of a queer man as an effeminate character, which might be true of a certain group of these individuals, but not the whole lot of them.

Could you tell just by looking at Ricky Martin that he’s gay? For all I know, all my friends, including myself, regarded him as one from the community of (heterosexual) alpha-males! When the news of him being gay came about, most of us reacted with a sigh, “But he looked so manly!” which just goes on to prove that there is no one prototype of a homosexual man. But if Ricky Martin was to be a character in a mainstream Bollywood flick, he would have been played by Abhishek Bachchan, perpetually shrieking and batting his eyelids. The lacuna between reality and representation, thus, is vast and unfilled.

Abhishek-Bachchan

What’s worse is that the damage done doesn’t end here. A graver aspect of such a demeaning representation is in the use of our language, of terms related to the queer community.

Katy Perry released a song in 2007, titled “Ur So Gay” with the chorus line going- “You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys…” The tone of the song is such that it employs the concept of being “gay” as a horrible insult, the label of an emasculate man. At this point, being gay stops dealing with the concept of a sexual preference altogether. It instead becomes a synonym for unmanliness where Homophobia is glorified and homophobic men are considered “real men”, and homosexuals, pitiable. In effect, the mainstream media has taken the simple case of a sexual orientation and preference, and made it something of a funny business.

It has conditioned us to look for signs of “gay behaviour”. What is gay behaviour but a media created term? By promoting myths about homosexuality, it has ostracised the community, so it cannot be assimilated within our own. One such embodiment of stereotypical queer characters is Rishi Kapoor playing the gay school principal in Student of the Year. If we were to prepare a checklist of seemingly gay characteristics, Rishi Kapoor’s act in the movie would tick off every single one of them. And that is not a good thing.

Moving on to the lesbians of the LGBT community, situations are graver. Quoting from the blog, Equal Writers, Feminism and Gender issues in Princeton University, “It’s still somewhat of a novelty to see lesbian characters in films and television shows, and when we do see lesbian characters, we see them as lesbian characters, not characters who happen to be lesbians.” That is to say, if gay men are portrayed in the mainstream channels for the purpose of amusement and laughter, lesbians are props for adding the sex appeal and glamour central to popular media. A lesbian movie sells because of the steamy and passionate love-making scenes in it, and what essentially happens in the process is utter objectification of these women as promiscuous sex-slaves.

In India, attempts have been made to portray Lesbianism explicitly on screen (read Deepa Mehta’s Fire), but they’ve been met with strong criticism of right-wing political parties and flak from conservative audiences. Thereon, the theme has been subtly explored in various mainstream movies by daring directors like Madhur Bhandarkar and Abhishek Chaubey, though the travails of a homosexual female are hardly explored; or even touched, for that matter.

Ours is a country that’s stuck neck-deep in a confusion of ideology. We don’t want to give up on our traditional belief system, yet we want to modernize and become open-minded to issues that challenge our values. God knows how that is supposed to be achieved, but for starters, we could begin by respecting our differences. Sample if you wake up one day to find the world order has changed, and it is not “normal” for a girl to have a crush on a boy anymore, or for men and women to be married. You’ll feel as if something as natural as your sexuality is being taken away from you. And who are people to govern your personal life anyway, isn’t it?

That’s exactly how people from the “other” community feel as well. If it’s hard for us to even imagine a situation like that, consider how difficult it must be for the queer community to live with a reality like that. How dreadful and offensive it must be for them to not even have a right to express their love and sexuality, just because it doesn’t fall in the proper “world order.”

Let’s give this a thought. Let’s not derive amusement from the media stereotyping of the queer community, because remember, one day you might wake up to find a ‘new normal’, and the odds might not be in your favour then. Let us respect every individual’s right to a life of their choice. Let people be more than just their gender. And let us, for once, stop making homosexuality a funny media business.

Stereotype breaking:
-Every gay person is not a “designertype”: I’m talking Alexander The Great and Harvey Milk.

– Every lesbian female is not a promiscuous, drug addict with unstable relationships and career: Haven’t you seen Ellen DeGeneres rocking her prime-time show, and don’t you know she’s in a happy marriage?

– Every transgender is not a loud and awkward person: if your idea of a transgender is still Bobby Darling, you need to grow up.

You must be to comment.
  1. sarab

    LOVED IT ! finally atleast a segment of youth is getting matured ! 🙂

  2. Parboni

    lovely article!i wrote a paper on the same sometime back,and was met with criticism from the gay community itself that atleast they are getting some representation in the mainstream,well to all of u thinking that,it is a problem that to get recognised u r ready to be stereotyped,people who can understand will as it is recognise you.We so wish we had better writers and directors,better censor board and reall really better politicians so that people could be told that they are normal people.Sexual orientation makes no difference between gay and straight behaviour.Well i certainly hope,your article has been able to provoke some thoughts for the better atleast.

  3. Monistaf

    Thank you for the very though provoking article on this sensitive issue. Prejudices agains the gay and lesbian community is driven and fueled by ancient beliefs, preconceived notions of right and wrong and the so called “wisdom” of the ages, in addition to the points you make in your article. It is sometimes too easy for people to “just belong”, and propagate a social injustice and go along the popular opinion for fear of being different or rejected. I commend you for highlighting this issue because any form of discrimination or victimization based on sexual orientation or preference should be outlawed. I have never understood why people do not realize that they have no right to enforce their sense of morality and beliefs on someone else. Variety, after all, is the spice of life!! In fact, I think we should put a positive spin on it. If more women were lesbian, there would be more men to choose from and vice-versa.

  4. Abu Sohel

    Wonderfully written 🙂 , sharing the link to a similar article I wrote couple of months back. Sharing for the similarities in thinking and not out of vanity. http://khurpi.com/lets-talk-about-homophobia/

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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