LGBTQIA+ communities in India have a hard time because of societal stigma and heteronormative systems. No one can deny this fact. But often, we fail to look at the (incremental) victories of queer people and communities.
Assertions and agitations by Indian queer people have set us on the path to (eventual) liberation.
What were some such landmark moments this year which gave young and queer Indians the hope that our future is not as bleak as bigots would like us to believe?
The Madras High Court issued a directive saying that all derogatory references to queer people must be removed from medical textbooks. Textbooks of subjects such as forensic medicine, toxicology and psychiatry contain outdated and unscientific information about LGBTQIA+ people and the notion of virginity.
Following this, the National Medical Commission (NMC) directed all medical colleges to remove “unscientific” information from textbooks and courses. Be it undergraduate or postgraduate medical courses, the NMC said that:
“Wherever the issue of gender or [of a] similar kind arise, the mention of clinical history or complaints or signs and symptoms, examination findings or history about nomenclature shall not be taught in such a way that it becomes [or can be] perceived in any way [to be] derogatory or discriminatory or insulting to [the] LGBTQIA+ community.”
This is an important step as medical professionals are often bigoted towards queer people, partly because of their own beliefs and partly because of what they have been taught in college.
Many of them end up thinking of queer people as being perverted, criminals. Their internal bigotry often ends up getting reinforced by the rubbish they are taught about queer people in the class. This makes them treat queer clients insensitively—which is clearly not okay.
Although it doesn’t look like the central government is open to the idea of queer people having the right to marry our partners, the fact that there is a national debate around the issue is unprecedented.
The centre’s stand is hypocritical because the Bharatiya Janata Party has long been trying to bring about a Uniform Civil Code in India, under the pretext of granting everyone equal marriage rights, among other things.
However, never before has there been a time when the highest court in the land has pondered over the marriage rights of queer people, at such length (not to mention the backdrop of a slew of progressive and queer-affirmative judgments such as the one to do with queer people’s right to privacy).
Dr Aqsa Shaikh, a medical professional and trans woman, who regularly fights for the rights of trans people within the medical fraternity and even otherwise, tweeted that the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) saw the highest number of trans candidates who have ever qualified, this year.
Eight people, whose documents say they are trans, have qualified for the test meant for MBBS and BDS programmes in Indian medical and dental colleges.
It is to be noted that many trans people get “recorded” within the binary of male and female, meaning that their documents don’t reflect their gender as trans. With that being said, this victory is still a big one!
Dr Shaikh said that this should be seen as an indicator of the fact that when trans people are given the opportunity, they can excel in any field, be it a medicine or anything else.
“Nothing for us, without us” has become a popular catchphrase among young, queer Indians, who want to be actively involved as far as medical facilities and interventions are concerned.
We lost Anannyah Kumari Alex, a trans woman from Kerala, to suicide, because she couldn’t cope with the way the hospital who performed a (botched) surgery on her, treated her.
If we have more people from the trans community working within the field of medicine, one can be sure that slowly but surely, the field will become more sensitive to the needs and plight of trans people, who approach health professionals and hospitals seeking gender-affirming surgeries and interventions such as hormones, therapy etc.
8 Transgender Persons have qualified #NEET UG 2021 Exams this year. This is the highest number ever. When provided opportunities, Transgender persons can excel in any field. @drsitu #transcare @TransCareIn
Happy #TransgenderAwarenessMonth pic.twitter.com/uA3y4Rzji1
— Dr. Aqsa Shaikh // اقصٰی شیخ (She/Her) (@doctorsaheba) November 2, 2021
Be it the Bhima Jewellers ad featuring a trans woman, or the Dabur Fem Bleach ad featuring a lesbian couple—we saw many ads this year with queer people as the central characters, and the plotlines revolving around our struggles and sweet moments.
They did court some controversy, as the former was criticised for pushing a brahminical idea of marriage; and the latter for promoting colourism using queerness.
Also, many queer people believe that one shouldn’t be all gung-ho about these ads, because they only reflect capitalists’ eagerness to co-opt anything and everything that appears profitable and makes them look ‘woke’. I do agree with both lines of criticism.
But, I would like to play the devil’s advocate for a minute and point out that the visibility these ads bring about can’t be sidelined.
At the end of 2020, India had 210 million TV sets. So, one can assume that the many, many people who own these 21 crore TV sets might have watched one of these ads.
Why is this important? It is important because not only do such ads contribute to normalising queerness within Indian households, it also gives ordinary queer people a chance to see themselves reflected on-screen.
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Queer people might have ordinary dreams, dreams which might seem like we are aping our cis-heterosexual peers, on the surface. However, given the oppression queer people face, even ordinary goals take extraordinary strength to achieve.
Praveen Nath is a trans man and a bodybuilder from Palakkad, Kerala. He currently lives in Thrissur and works for a queer advocacy organisation known as Sahayathrika.
Praveen and his coach, Vinu Mohanan, convinced authorities from the Body Building Association of Kerala to have a separate category for trans men. Although the authorities resisted initially, they gave in to Praveen and Vinu’s unshakeable determination.
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It’s trans pioneers like Praveen and trans allies like Vinu who make the world a more equal place for queer people. Praveen might have been the only competitor in his category, but that doesn’t make his win any less historic.
Apart from Aryan Pasha, there aren’t that many names that come to mind when one thinks of trans masculine bodybuilders. But now, Praveen has managed to make his presence felt.
Young trans men who hope to become bodybuilders will surely see both of them as an inspiration. Even those who don’t want to will get an added push to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be.
“If they can do it, why can’t we?”