Editor’s note: Our educational institutes have a longstanding culture of silence around the discrimination faced by young people who identify as queer. Youth Ki Awaaz and CREA, a leading feminist human rights organisation, have joined hands to break this silence and nurture constructive conversations around the issue. Let’s talk about how we can make our campuses inclusive, so that students across the spectrum can #QueerWithoutFear! The piece below is a part of this series…
His name was ALL. He was a big burly boy in the class. Wore glasses, had his shirt untucked most of the time, pants barely containing his butt crack. He appeared very friendly if you counted the times you’d find him grinning ear to ear. What you would probably not notice was that this smiling came from ridiculing another; not till you were the subject of ridicule. I spent a large part of my school days avoiding his eyes, at the same time very cautious of where they landed. Constantly afraid that they’d stray on me a second too long and he’ll say my name out loud. Faces would turn and he’d perform his routine at my expense.
How would he say it? He’d maintain eye contact with me the whole time. From across the room like we were, in fact, having a very private conversation. Only there were ten other faces between us looking from one end to the other, some in relief, some tense, some clearly anticipating a good time. Like a bull, he’d charge at me with words. Say something (in retrospect) only a ten-year-old would find witty, except no one in the room questions this humour. Everyone laughs. He feeds on their laughter as assent, ignores my consent. Carries on.
What would he say? “Tu saala gay hai na? (You are gay right?)” (This was the very boy who played tag with me and the girls in fifth class). “Kya kar raha hai tu? Aur koi kaam nahi hai? Ja kaha raha hai? Mard ban (What are you doing? Don’t you have any other work? Where are you going? Be a man).” I’d ignore all this (failing at it) and try to flee from the site. Away so I didn’t hear him, away so he would stop shouting all this in front of classmates, because I was no longer around for it to be entertaining. Classmates whose faces I would have a tough time looking straight at till enough time passed for them to forget about it. Unsupervised lunch hours were my worst nightmares.
How would he do it? Hunt for weaker people, crack jokes at them, be loud, threaten with fists, push them around. When? Between classes, before the next teacher came in, in the recess. To avoid the likes of him I’d rush out of class before people packed their bags at the end of school. Skip morning assembly. Anything to ensure I kept my distance from him during in any part of my school life. During the unsolicited instances when I was picked on he would follow me around latched on, with a bunch of cronies, boys who’d laugh at his jokes and egg him on. That was his gang, with whom he’d be found leaning against dusty corridor walls, checking out girls. They boosted each other up.
To his simple question on whether I was gay, I often wonder what would’ve followed had I said ‘yes’. But I know that for the boy I was then it would be impossible to have come to terms with that fact, least of all when faced with hostility over it. The little me didn’t know the world outside, the time spent inside was life as I knew it. And there was no way but enduring and surviving in a dog eat dog world.
Whether you’ve been bullied on campus, or are actively involved in the queer collective at your university, if you’re an educator in support of the LGBTQ+ movement or would simply like to share your perspectives around inclusiveness, we’d love to hear from you. Write in with your campus stories along with the hashtag #QueerWithoutFear, and join us in driving this important conversation forward.