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Minority Within Minority: Trans, Bisexual and Asexual People Ask for Equality in LGBTQIA

After the Supreme Court read down Section 377, people from LGBTQ+ community celebrated, but many knew that certain sections of the LGBTQIA have a longer road ahead to equal rights.

Manas Mitul |

Updated:September 8, 2018, 11:37 AM IST
Minority Within Minority:  Trans, Bisexual and Asexual People Ask for Equality in LGBTQIA
Illustration by Mir Suhail/News18.
New Delhi: When Raj Saxena checked his Queer Whatsapp group on Thursday and found out about the Supreme Court judgement on Section 377, he wasn’t much elated, even as his friends congratulated each other.

“To be honest, I was like ‘okay’. I wasn’t too happy or sad. It was going to happen. It should have happened earlier,” he said. Raj, 25, identifies as an asexual person. He is the A in LGBTQIA+ community. And just like in the acronym, he feels he comes lower down the pecking order within the community.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court read down Section 377, a colonial era law that criminalised homosexuality, and delivered a much awaited judgment in favour of the LGBTQIA community. The 493-page judgment called for a “constitutional morality” instead of a social one and said individual identity and dignity must be guaranteed for all.

The judgment sparked celebrations across the country as people took to streets and expressed happiness on being given their right to be who they are. Yet, there were many like Raj who welcomed the judgement and celebrated with their friends, but who also knew that certain sections of the LGBTQIA have a longer road ahead to equal rights. There were LGBTQIA voices that spoke of inequality within the community as well and stressed the need for further action.

“Socially, our community doesn’t have the privileges and the opportunities like other communities,” said Grace Banu. Grace, 30, is a Dalit transgender rights activist based in Chennai and she knows the transgender community is far from having its moment under the sun.

“I welcome this judgment. But it doesn’t change the discrimination we face every day. The same discrimination we have faced since the time of school, then college and now workplace,” Grace said. “We face it every moment of every day of our lives.”

The judgment guarantees a person the right to have consensual sex with another person from the same gender. But Grace says the transgender community has other rights too. “In day-to-day life, trans people beg on the streets. The judgment won’t change that. We don’t have the right to access the education and the employment. We want to live a dignified life but the society doesn’t give us the opportunity,” she said.

Within the LGBTQIA community, transgender people fight for equal visibility and access. Grace says that access and privilege doesn’t trickle down within the community. “The gays and lesbians have more access and privilege compared to trans people. They have education and employment opportunity. Trans people don’t have the basic rights,” she said.

The upper caste and economic privileged people have access to awareness, Grace says. Even after the judgment, many won’t be aware of their rights.

“Trans people from villages and trans people from the North-east and Kashmir are far more oppressed. They don’t even know their rights or about Section 377,” she said.

Raj feels left out too, not just within the LGBTQIA community, but from the Supreme Court judgment as well. “I read the entire text of the judgment. Everywhere, it says ‘LGBT’. I don’t agree with that. I have been fighting against that title. ‘LGBT’ includes a gender identity and three sexualities. The rest are not included,” he said.

‘LGBT’ does not include intersexual and asexual people. There are several other sexual identities that fight for their space. According to Raj, the correct acronym should be LGBTQIA+. “At the least, one should use ‘LGBTQ’. The Q for Queer can represent all other identities that are left out,” he said.

Raj, 25, is based out of Agra and represents an organization called Indian Asexuals. He works as an LGBTQIA activist. Asexual people feel a lack of sexual attraction, or no sexual attraction at all. According to Raj, there are also asexual people who don’t feel sexual attraction, but enjoy sex, and vice versa. He believes the Supreme Court judgment gives rights to asexuals who are attracted to people of their gender. “They are homo-asexuals, not homosexuals. I’m happy for those asexual men and women,” he said.

Sensitivity and awareness towards asexual identity is also considerably less. “We’re told, if you don’t feel sexual attraction, go to a doctor. Asexuals must not be treated as patients,” Raj said.

According to him, doctors too need to learn about all sexualities, not just homosexuality. For Raj and other asexual people like him, homosexuals are the majority and thus they overlap everything. When talking about LGBTQIA people, the media mostly uses the term ‘homosexuals’ and other sexualities do not get represented. Because of that, Raj says, asexuals don’t get wider acceptance as some other groups do. “We’re the minority within the minority.”

Bisexual people too are considered outcasts by many in the LGBTQIA community. Many think, for them attraction to both male and female sexes, or attraction to people of any sex or gender identity (alternatively termed as pansexuality) is just experimentation or a phase.

“Bisexuals are considered outsiders, they are often side-lined as confused. There have been instances where such individuals have been asked to prove that they have homosexual partners," said Aman Singhal, a dance teacher in Kolkata, who identifies as bisexual.

Anita (name changed) had struggled with her sexual identity for years before finally embracing her bisexuality. She says her LGBTQIA identity was never questioned, but she believes bisexual people have a hard time within the community.

“People just think of you as sexual beings. People think of bisexuals as the convenient ones, or the fashionable ones, or the attention seeking ones,” she said. Anita used to feel claustrophobic before coming to terms with her sexual identity. It was only after an experience with another bisexual woman that she came to accept herself.
On Thursday, after the judgment, Anita came out on social media too. She said the Supreme Court judgment felt as if a burden had been lifted off her chest. “I felt free.”

Shikha Singh, a college student in Vadodara, has also felt like an outsider in the LGBTQIA community. She has had to explain her sexual identity to people who she thought would understand. "When I first went for a queer meet-up in Vadodara, I was asked why I did not come with my partner and if I was single. The fact that I am sexually attracted to both males and females was tough for them to digest. The story has been similar ever since. Every meet-up, every parade has been more of an explanation for me as to how being a bisexual is also as marginalised as others,” she said.

There is discrimination on several other grounds as well. At the end of the day, the LGBTQI community is also a community. And like any other community, caste, gender, economic status play their part here too.

“The hierarchy begins with homosexual males, goes to lesbians and then it fizzles out. Like most patriarchal setups, this is dominated by men as well," said Shikha.

"Have you ever seen a relatively poor looking queer in any of the parades? It is only the English-speaking homosexuals who are backed, written about and find a space in the community. Of course, there is discrimination within the group as well,” said Aman.

And for Grace, it’s a double headed battle against caste and gender. “I’m a Dalit as well as a transgender so I face caste and gender discrimination both,” she said.

Grace was shunned at her school, made to sit separate from all other students. She accepted it all because she wanted to study. Later, when she left the school, her family refused to accept her too. She was accepted by the trans community. A trans woman adopted her and helped her continue her studies. She studied computer engineering and got a job. Since then, she has been fighting for rights of transgender people.

“I want access to education and jobs for all trans people. That is my dream. We need reservation for trans people in education, jobs and politics. I’ll proudly say I’m trans when I get those rights,” she said.

The judgment guarantees rights, but it doesn’t ensure social acceptance. Change needs to come from the society, Grace believes. Raj says the fight has just begun and it will only be won if the LGBTQIA community fights as one.

“The fight is now for social acceptance and marriage equality. The courts might bring marriage equality might one day, but social acceptance is a long way to go. We need opportunities, jobs, and mental health support. We need to come forward. This is the time that the community can come together and work together so we can live with pride,” Raj said. “Homosexuals must think of other sexualities and gender identities too. You can’t ask to go and fight alone, we are a part of your family and you must fight with us.”

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| Edited by: Sana Fazili
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