This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by sunil deepak. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘Am I Gay?’ An Out-Of-Syllabus Question For Indian Doctors

It was around 1973-74. I was a medical student. One evening, a close friend from my school days had hesitatingly asked me for advice. He felt attraction towards a male classmate in the university and wanted to know if this meant that he was gay. Probably he had thought that because I was studying medicine, I must know something about it.
I was not sure how to answer him. Yet, I was pleased that he had enough confidence in me to raise that question. I don’t think that it was, and I don’t think that it is, easy to discuss doubts about your sexuality with your close friends.

Till that time, the subject of sexualities had never been raised in our medical studies. In our anatomy class, when he had come to the chapters on sexual organs, our male professor had told us with a knowing smile that we could read those chapters ourselves. I used to think that it will be taught in the final year. I wouldn’t have believed at that time that at undergraduate level, medical students were not taught any thing related to sex, sexuality or genitals. And, I don’t know how much of it has changed today. Perhaps young doctors can add about their own learnings on sex and sexualities in the medical colleges in India now.

It was a time when many of us went to work after the medical degree, rather than going for a specialisation. So our education system was turning out doctors, who were going to work, and who had never been taught anything about sexuality.

During our clinical studies, we had studied about the health conditions linked to the genital organs, especially sexually transmitted diseases, those that require surgery and those related to child-birth. And that was the end of our sexuality knowledge. Our medical education was linking sexuality exclusively to the ideas of disease conditions, rather than to ideas of pleasure and self-fulfilment.

“So what is the opinion of the doctor about it? Is it normal?”

Similar questions are common in a variety of situations. When people are not sure about something related to the human body, asking the opinion of the doctors seems like a logical solution.

Rarely people ask themselves if the doctors have the knowledge and training to answer those questions properly. It is difficult to think that doctors, like most other persons in the society, carry the usual prejudices of the society in which they live.

There is limited research in India on the issues of sexualities. Often the research is carried out under the aegis of psychiatry departments, leading to the impression that sexuality is related to psychiatric disturbances.
I could not find any research on attitudes of Indian doctors about alternate sexualities. However, from colleagues, I have heard stories of doctors refusing to see and to treat transgender persons or being rude to them.

Image by © Serena De Sanctis/Demotix/Corbis

What are the opinions of Indian doctors about LGBTQ issues? 

After the Supreme Court judgement on 11 December 2013, that reinstated section 377 of Indian Penal Code, on 27th December 2013 the Indian Medical Association (IMA) passed a resolution that “homosexuality is a variation of sexual orientation and not a disease.” However, many members of IMA did not agree with this official position.

On 19 January 2014, an ex-president of Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) said that in India, talking of sex was unnatural and that homosexuals had brought these discussions out on the streets, implying that homosexuals were unnatural. Some days later, on 3 February 2014, the general secretary of IPS said that “Homosexuality is a grey area, entailing confusion and complexity, and black and white comments can’t be made on it.”

The above statements made by psychiatrists, who are supposed to have greater understanding about sexualities, did provoke some debates. Thus, On 7 February 2014, IPS was forced to issue a statement that “there is no evidence to substantiate that homosexuality is an illness or a disease.

A recent newspaper story dated 26 July 2015 talked about a group of psychiatrists in Delhi who considered homosexuality as “a condition similar to bipolar disorders and schizophrenia,” to be treated by “conversion therapy” based on electro-shocks. This story provided details of interviews with many doctors.

One doctor claimed to have “helped” more than a thousand persons in “treating” homosexuality and usually charged 1.1 lakh Rs as a “complete package for treatment.” Another clinic claimed to “cure homosexuality” in one month for ‘only’ 2,100 Rs. One doctor blamed the “excess of female hormones in male bodies” for homosexuality, while another talked of a “recessive homosexuality gene.”

Such pseudo-scientific talks, not based on any scientific-evidence, feed on the common prejudices among people. Since doctors and even more so, specialists like psychiatrists, are seen as authority figures, such claims and such services, serve to perpetuate and strengthen stereotypes and prejudices in the society.

Thus, even when official medical bodies make the “right” statements, individual doctors often continue to hold-on to their ideas that do not agree with the official positions.

This newspaper story was about doctors in Delhi, but are doctors in other cities any better? What about similar doctors and clinics in the North-East? Probably the situation will not be so different.

So what should persons do when they want an advice about a sexuality issue from a health professional?

There are many occasions when LGBTQ persons and their families need sensitive and sensible advice from professionals who understand their worlds and their specific needs – such as, when young people are not sure about their orientation or gender, when persons wish to undertake hormonal or surgical treatment for gender reassignment, and when persons want to have families and think of surrogate pregnancy or artificial insemination.

Today a lot of information is available on internet. However, it is not always easy to judge the reliability of this information. It may be too much and sometimes, contradictory. Thus coming to a decision may not be easy and some guidance may be needed. However, I feel that the greatest advantage of internet based information relates to sharing of personal life stories and experiences, and creating peer support groups.

One answer for LGBTQ groups can be to start working on creating a database of responsible and sensitive health professionals in their cities. For example, a group of persons have started a crowd-sourcing work on identifying “Gynaecologists whom we can trust” (#GynaecsWeCanTrust), that provides information in different languages about reliable gynaecologists in different Indian cities.

Some time ago I had visited the office of an Association of transgender persons in Bologna (Italy) called MIT. They were able to convince the local government on the need of having access to experienced psychologists and health professionals. Thus, in their office, the local government had agreed to provide them with professionals, to be available for consultation a few times in a month. Though initially the professionals had limited knowledge and skills about issues related to transgender persons, with time, they were able to gain both.

Hoping for a support from the Government on this issue in India may not be realistic in the short term, but perhaps similar solutions can be explored with some professionals who have an understanding of LGBTQ issues.

Originally published in ‘The Forbidden,’ Xukia’s Online Zine.

You must be to comment.

More from sunil deepak

Similar Posts

By Tania Mitra

By Kunal Gupta

By Ritushree

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below