It is quite daunting to be applying for colleges, not to mention extra-daunting when it’s amid a pandemic. Boards being delayed, results and entrances postponed and while half your friends may have already landed in a college you’re still looking at all your options.
But there is an extra layer of anxiety when you’re a young queer Indian, who pledged that this year was gonna be YOUR year; that the start of college was the start of a new journey filled with rainbow streamers.
While your straight peers thought of schools based on rankings, fees, hostels, party-life, and notoriety, we have an extra section to tick-mark; whether whichever campus that does welcome us also welcomes our sexuality or gender identity. And so off you go, in the middle of a pandemic, to do your intense research about the colleges you apply for. You score through the official College Prospectus, you might contact a few seniors who know the place or you’ll just google your way through the many things your college offers.
For queer students, the very idea of college is that of liberation, of seeking our identity.
Most of us are probably in the closet right now, growing up in a close-knit society and an authoritarian school system that even dictated your hairstyle, let alone the gender you’re attracted to you.
I’ve been there; growing up in a Catholic School for the past few years has been one of the topsy-turvy years of my life. Sneaking out of Friday Mass to go hang out with this cute guy I had a crush on at the school grounds and all those little ‘scandalous’ moments that your aunties shouldn’t come to know of.
Yet, here I am. Part of Class of 2020.
Feeling both euphoric but also a sense of dejectedness. I cannot speak for my Queer engineer and medical counterparts, whose exam ranks may dictate where you get to go for college; but as an art student, it’s quite a tricky thing to settle on. Peer pressure could have me going to the college that’s right next to the school I attended, in my suburban South Indian Port city. My parents sure feel that an institution 14 minutes away to be a safer guarantee than one that’s 4000 km away, especially when Miss Rona continues to spread havoc.
Regardless, I’ve got plans and dreams and aspirations; and being stuck at the same place with the same homophobic people is kind of a dealbreaker for me.
Over the past few months, I’ve been filing forms all over the country; Hyderabad, Manipal, Chennai, and Delhi. I even thought of attending the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) in hopes of landing a good place but alas, it got postponed for the 4th time…I think. Campuses like Symbiosis, Delhi University, NLUs, and such are all portrayed in the media as liberal bastions in a country that ever so slightly leans to the right where even Valentine Day draws flak for being “Anti-Indian”.
The next time a Bhakt tells me that my raging homosexuality is a western import, I’m going to take him on an educational field trip of the countless temples that have graphic queer sex depicted on their walls. Surprise Surprise.
Thus, how queer-friendly a college campus is, is a great deal for me, as it will be for a whole generation of queer students that are applying for college this year. And the lack of queer-friendly spaces in a place that could mould ourselves is a frightening aspect. Reading through my choices, all the colleges that my aunties and parents touted as “great institutions of excellence” were reeking of patriarchy, misogyny, and homophobia.
I speak from a place of privilege, which I must acknowledge. A middle-class English-speaking cis-gender male gay student. I cannot fathom the insecurities that plague those who aren’t afforded the same luxury. In a country where restrooms aren’t even properly built, or where sanitary products for menstruating people aren’t promoted and having binary-gendered bathrooms with a faculty and a peer group that may not agree with your gender identity, college life would be daunting for especially those whose gender doesn’t fit the binary. And yet Gender-neutral or Transgender Bathrooms are a rarity.
But yet at the end of the day, we are faced with a myriad of conundrums. Do we listen to our learned elders and follow their path, or just pick the most convenient option? Would we regret the choice we pick and imagine how life could be so different? Those are left to be seen. What should be the way forward instead, is not placing the burden on us students to fear for our identities, but rather the institutions that are supposed to nurture and protect people who may not fit societal norms.
Most colleges have a Gender and Sexuality Cell that may be involved in many queer-themed initiatives and offer you a place of refuge. There may be clubs and societies of people with the same interests and likes as you. Go through them and learn about their activities.
Why don’t our colleges mention the word queer a single time in their prospectus when the words ‘holistic’ and ‘excellence’ get repeated a bunch of times. To ignore the existence of an entire community is to ignore students that will be raised within the corridors of the building, and when they walk out of the school with their certificates and become an alumnus; it won’t just be that that achieved that ‘because’ of the college and its rigid environment, but rather ‘despite’ it.
Two years have passed since the decriminalization of Section 377, and more than half a decade since the NALSAR judgment, yet not a single college comes to mind when I think of those that offer residential facilities for Transfolk, of those that have made homophobic bullying an explicit part of their anti-ragging policies, of those that offer Queer sensitization classes.
It isn’t just focusing on the queer community that needs to be done but also the general populace, starting with the student community. And besides, taking note of how Queer teachers have been treated in the past, with most of them either being ostracised or migrating abroad due to the treatment they received when they publicly came out, it is just telling that our educational institution needs a lot of work from the ground-up to be more queer-friendly. The words of “holistic endeavours” ring hollow, when the holistic only encompasses the privileged, upper-caste cisgender heterosexuals.
Colleges should wipe that heteronormativity off and craft an image to welcome young queer Indians to be proud of who they are. Whatever college you do eventually land up in though, be sure to seek your people.
Just as a sky may always have a peeking rainbow, finding someone to confide in or whom you can relate with, shouldn’t be too tough, especially in the age of the internet. Be safe though, and choose your friends wisely, but when you do, you’ll maybe finally feel at home. Go out for extracurriculars, hang out, meet new people, learn new things; the world is an exciting place (preferably in a mask!)
College will be a time for you to build a home away from home. Whatever you choose, make the best of your opportunities, put yourself out there, and make a mark in a world that continues to not take down notes. From one raging queer unicorn to another, I hope your college life, despite any and all adversities, may truly unlock a new door that’ll change you forever, for the better.