Saransh, a history student, lives with his orthodox family who is pretty serious about their beliefs like most Indian families. Every day he leaves home, walks a few blocks away, and finds the washroom in the nearest cafe where he puts on the oversized shirt bought from the women’s section. He also puts on his septum ring, applies nude lipstick, and uncovers tattoos on his collar bone, shoulder, and feet. He then wears his silver rings and anklet and leaves for his college.
He is a freelance writer, a hardcore feminist, and makes art in his free time. He spends his days plotting the murder of patriarchy and actively participates in pride parades and debates for his right in the college society. He aspires to be a historian specializing in gender and sexual history.
He comes back at 7, enters the washroom again, takes his makeup off, removes his jewelry. He uses the best full coverage foundation to hide his tattoos, combs his hair, changes into his dull shirt, and leaves for his home. He reaches home where his father scolds him for not studying enough for the UPSC exam. He listens to him quietly and sits down with books.
This is not the story of Saransh alone, a huge number of people in the LGBTQ community live a secret life. The strict gender norms of the society have made it impossible for them to live their life on their own terms and express their individuality whether it comes to wearing their favorite kinds of clothes or choosing their partners. Under the blankets of inevitable shame and strict gender norms hide the true identity of the gay community.
There are always two different lives that the community survives in – one is the pretentious cover that you show to the world. A mask that hides our true ‘colours’. The other one is the real self, shamed and mocked by people, looked down upon for years and years. There are multiple factors that result in a gross lack of inclusivity when it comes to self-expression. The most dominant one being rigid gender norms which specify how a particular gender should dress, behave, and carry themselves. When the queer community transgresses this threshold, they become a subject of mockery and judgment.
After years of struggle, while some people in the queer community are able to accept themselves for who they really are, it’s important to underline that this self-acceptance doesn’t come without a price. We have to lose friendships, families and tolerate hatred and disgust. When speaking of self-acceptance, which in itself is so hard, years of stigma around their sexuality leads to low self-esteem and confidence in the community members. They grow up facing a lot of physical and mental abuse by their peers and their own parents. The constant thought of ‘not being good enough’ eats away their youth.
It is said that the first coming out is to come out to one’s own self. The battle for your own acceptance is long and hard before we start to seek validation/acceptance/approval from others. While the idea of perfection differs from person to person but it surely does exist. It is generally thought that men and women who sleep with the same sex are exempted from the pressure of having heterosexual ideals of perfect bodies. It is understood that they should have better body confidence than heterosexual people just because they are out and proud which is not the case at all. It is different for homosexuals and heterosexuals because in the case of former, in same-sex encounters, there exists a different kind of bodily expectations from a partner. While society wants them to be of a certain heteronormative way, there also is a burden of fitting into the criteria of being attractive for the partner.
The media and pop culture representation of the community in films, TV shows have resulted in further extension and reinforcement of these stereotypes. The representation is downright offensive and shallow. They follow a heteronormative pattern of storytelling and have successfully sidelined the valid and important realities of queer community. Gays are always shown wearing bright pink colors, are always feminine, and are reduced to gross and unfunny comic roles. Trans people are shown as abnormal, weird, and scary. These portrayals have been villainizing the community members for years now.
Our discussion over pop culture representation will be incomplete without talking about lack of portrayal of ‘real bodies’. The heteronormative idea of women with hourglass figures, big breasts having European features, and men having chiseled body, sharp jawline, and ‘masculine’ traits has taken over the media industry. Truly, it is hypothetical. Not all of us have ‘perfect’ bodies, not all of our bodies fit in the definition of traditionally attractive and it is okay. The way it is being shown to us is problematic because cinema and pop culture influence everyone’s life in ways in long-lasting ways. This not only has severe physical shortcomings but also psychologically affects one’s health.
The porn industry has further blurred the line between reel and real. Sadly, gay porn has been given a heteronormative angle, lesbian porn is seen more as a fetish, and bisexuality has been brought down to threesomes. This has resulted in what you call ‘Sexual Anxiety’, within the community, which is most often a result of being conscious of one’s own body. There is this constant fear of judgment of the body by the partner because again, most of us do not have the perfect body. This negatively affects one’s mental health and sows this idea of ‘not being good enough’ in the world which seeks perfection.
In Body dissatisfaction among sexual minority men, the researchers write –
‘Sexual minority (i.e., gay and bisexual) men experience elevated body dissatisfaction compared to heterosexual men, with up to 32 % of sexual minority men reporting negative body image. Objectification theory may aid in explaining this disparity.’
This theory posits that sexual minority men are under increased pressure to achieve an idealised (i.e., lean and muscular) body, as they, similar to heterosexual women, are attempting to attract men as sexual partners, and men, regardless of sexual orientation, place a stronger emphasis on physical appearance compared to women. People who go through gender transition face a lot more problems than what we can imagine. They face discrimination for their decisions and there are times when their partners can be sexually repulsed by knowing their past.
While many homosexual males and females eventually accept themselves and don’t care about what people think of them, there are many of us who struggle with body image issues. Our idea of perfection as a society is deeply flawed and needs to be constantly challenged and questioned, especially within the queer community who face multi-layered oppression and discrimination at every step of their journey of self-love.
And as Stephen Hawking said,
“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…..Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist”
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