Exploring how the lack of gender sensitivity in family units has left queer members without any safe space to access during the pandemic.
Muskaan Palod, Managing Editor
Illustration by Suryansh Deo Srivastava
The pandemic has limited our access to community spaces. It has forced us to stay confined in bubbles where we may not be loved. Question is, should we abandon the idea of family collectives being safe spaces?
The pandemic has been especially hard for a lot of queer folk. All the erasure, marginalisation and deprivation has intensified. Family units are traditionally the spaces children are supposed to feel at home. However, when homes are the very spaces with constant flow of heteronormativity as a structure, where would one find affirmation of gender identity and expression?
It is not news to state that the members of LGBTQIA community feel highly uncomfortable around their families to express their sexuality. The community has always questioned the very existence of traditional family units. Queer-trans people have almost always found their safe spaces beyond family spheres among allied communities, chosen family and friends. It has been seen that the family spheres are where most violence and toxicity exists. With the current situation, one is left with no option but to accommodate oneself in hostile non-affirming spaces.
Within these spaces, it’s extremely challenging to decide to ‘come out’. Why is this an arduous process? It’s because the journey never ends. You step out of the room, you need to come out. You step out of your house, you need to come out. You step into a workplace; you need to come out. You keep unboxing yourself, dissecting layers to others. There is constant pressure to prove your ‘queerness’.
Within these spaces, it’s extremely challenging to decide to ‘come out’. Why is this an arduous process? It’s because the journey never ends. You step out of the room, you need to come out. You step out of your house, you need to come out. You step into a workplace; you need to come out. You keep unboxing yourself, dissecting layers to others. There is constant pressure to prove your ‘queerness’. While it helps affirming oneself, it is also an added stressor. It can extract a range of reactions- from presenting total apathy to being ‘tolerant’ to someone’s identity. It invokes violation of rights to gory acts of violence. Even when the hard part is over, there is constant debate on how one should express their queerness around all parties involved. There is a constant battle for basic lifestyle choices. Being queer in a patriarchy means an all-pervasive discriminatory infrastructure. There have been cases with house arrests, forced marriages, removal from jobs, housing societies, hostility at absolutely all fronts. Last month we saw the demise of Anjana Harish to suicide since her family kept actively invalidating her bi-sexuality by endorsing conversion therapy. She was a victim of bi-phobia. Sexuality comes off as a variation, it cannot be an anomaly so what was getting “cured”?
There have been multiple cases citing violence and abuse of kinds when the queer community decides to come out as they would like to. To protect themselves from this storm to their vulnerability, so many are forced into shelling themselves in a ‘straight’ expression of themselves. This creates heightened anxiety and leaves them at the disposal of various mental illnesses. Strength is in preserving queerness with so much stigma and erasure.
For south Asian communities, establishing boundaries with family members has shown to become increasingly important but also a very uncomfortable topic. When there is a lack of acceptance, privacy becomes the only functional point. Spaces are something we have always managed to contain in pockets. That is to say that safe spaces can rarely ever be a manifestation of internalised ideas. The idea of a safe space is almost always associated with tangible spaces. Colleges, offices, cafes, clubs, bars, schools, homes, spiritual and religious institutions – we have never had to make it primarily non-physical. Right now when, one must primarily stay home and dissociate with any other affiliations, there is a lack of accessibility to community spaces which are the primary support systems in place for the queer community. While it is an extreme privilege to be able to afford the physical space required to not get the virus, it becomes imperative to then improvise on institutionalized setups. We have absolutely failed as a community to safeguard the most vulnerable lots living with family, living with heightened transphobia and homophobia.
A man must never wear makeup and women must dress up only in a certain way that is ‘girly enough’. If someone does not typically represent the stereotype of a queer individual – then they must try extra hard to answer the exclamation, “You don’t look very gay.” Hence, what gender expression has come to is the constant boxing and limiting of how masculinity and femininity must look like.
One concept largely failing to reach the limelight is that of queer heterotopias. These are tangible spaces where far-reaching activities can be practised in an unregulated fashion. They are sites of community collectives engaging in politics of disrupting the normative. Redundant concepts are overthrown with respect to configurations of sex, gender, and sexuality through daily exploration and experimentation of crafting a queer identity. This has largely to do with gender roles. A man must never wear makeup and women must dress up only in a certain way that is ‘girly enough’. If someone does not typically represent the stereotype of a queer individual – then they must try extra hard to answer the exclamation, “You don’t look very gay.” Hence, what gender expression has come to is the constant boxing and limiting of how masculinity and femininity must look like.
The very fact that it is not a norm, puts a queer-trans person in a position where they must constantly ask themselves if it’s worth the effort, worth the pain to come out as an abstraction that the society does not expect them to fit in. There is a need to behave ‘straight’- in the clothes one wears, for pronouns one prefers, for medical care one may need (for folks in transition), who is it that they can be openly queer to, what does being queer mean to them? When romance is constantly put into the radar of moral policing for young adults, what’s most important is the accommodation of safe spaces. Unfortunately, queer folk in such trying times are still left with the expectation to be self-sufficient and grow resilient to violence and abuse. It is sheer ignorance on the part of cis-het people to have not considered the creation and accommodation of queer heterotopias.
Isn’t it a privilege just to simply be accepted? Isn’t it highly retreating when the only normative imaginable is heterosexuality because we as a society are primed to it? Isn’t it a privilege that the fear for queer folk transpires in complexities about self-esteem and identity? It is a highly privileged attunement to find yourself in inclusive spaces. Getting bored at home without feeling deprived of a sense of safety is privilege. Being non-binary comes with a closet of suppressed emotions, suppressed angst, confusion driving around identity. Getting out of the closet one faces rage and apathy, hate and intolerance. To have lost their loved ones over matters of indifference and not intolerance is a privilege. A privilege to feel emotions that go beyond confusion and guilt over expression of one’s identity. Lack of sensitivity and education about queerness is a total act of ignorance and lack of inclusive sex-education. Let’s not kid ourselves about how colourful institutions have really gotten for as long as binaries exist, there can never be the scope to explore the spectrum.