Understanding Sexual Minorities
Today, Supreme Court of India reversed a decision by Delhi High Court that de-criminalised homosexuality. So now, In India, homosexuality is a crime till Parliament comes up with an amended law.
Section 377 of Indian Penal Code gives a description of criminal sexual acts. It calls them “unnatural sex”. It includes sex with animals, same sex humans, oral sex, anal sex and many other things. So by this law a husband and wife indulging in oral sex are criminals and they can be prosecuted and punished!!
This law was written by colonial rulers in 1890. The British themselves reeling under Victorian ideas of what is proper and moral, made many mistakes. IPC section 377 is one of them. They amended their own law to decriminalize sexual minorities many decades ago but that news has not reached Indian Parliamentarians yet.
Indian culture has a 2000 yr history of celebrating various forms of sexuality. That was lost in foreign invasions. After independence, we never really got back on our own feet as far as art, culture and humanities are concerned. So this law is actually in contrast to our culture and history.
As a psychiatrist trained in India and UK, I know that homosexuality is a natural variation in human sexuality. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with it. It is not a disease/medical condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated. The way we have different colours of skin, hair and eyes, so does our sexuality.
This is very difficult to understand and assimilate if you, like me, are heterosexual, married, middle class Indians brought up in traditional ways by heterosexual, married, middle class traditional Indian parents.
Let me explain –
(Following is an oversimplified version for easy understanding.)
Our sexuality (expression of sexual being) is a multi layered, complex neuro-behavioural expression. Various levels are –
- Chromosomal level – XX pair designated you as female and XY as male. There are many variations like XXX, XXY, XYY, XO, etc occurring naturally. This is the most fundamental level of differentiation.
- Gene Expression – genes on sex chromosomes direct the way our bodies develop. Gene expression is affected by chemical environment in which they develop. This in turn is affected by physical, psychological effects as well!
- Gonads – these are ovaries in females and testis in males. Naturally there can be one or more, ambiguous, absent or under developed gonads
- External genitalia / sex organs – penis in males and vagina and breasts in females
- Internal genitalia – prostate in males and uterus, fallopian tubes in females
- Gender – this is how a child develops a certain socially accepted and enforced role as man or woman. ( e.g. boys don’t cry)
- Sexual identity – how do you see yourself externally and/or psychologically – man, woman or third gender?
- Sexually preferred partner – what is your preference of sexual partner on the basis of external genitalia, gender and identity?
- Sexual role preference – how do you participate in a sexual activity as male (inserting/ dominating) or female ( receiving/ submissive). And what role you prefer for your partner?
- Flexibility – are you fixed permanently in each of the above parameters or they can change for you as per your age, opportunity, willingness, surgical and hormonal intervention, etc.
As you can see this is very complex and I have barely scratched the surface here. It really is a miracle that majority of us have unified expression on all 10 (or more) parameters .e.g. I haven’t written about culture and hormones.
There are more than 3 variations possible on each parameter and they are all NATURAL variations. Parenting has NOTHING to do with it at all!!
Traditional narrow view of homosexuality says that it is sex between same sex partners. With our better understanding of sexuality that narrow view is clearly unscientific.
What most people overlook is that sexuality is only a small part of who we are. When we talk about each of us being a unique human being and we celebrate this diversity of human talent and achievements, how is sexuality any different?
I meet many adolescents and their families who are struggling with their sexuality and expression. It is NOT a western phenomenon, it is very human so very Indian too.
I have travelled this long road from being ignorant and unconcerned about this subject to being uncomfortable with homosexuality to understanding and accepting human sexual variations in all its glory. It has been a really long journey. I was lucky to have enlightened teachers and colleagues in India and in the UK. I am friends with many “sexual minorities” and I am thankful to them for enriching my life by sharing their life journeys with me.
If you are one of the lucky majority where your sexuality at all levels conforms with most other people, you had a smooth ride so far.
As a parent, you may be challenged. Up to 10% people belong to sexual minority in one way or the other. If your child belongs to this minority, it is not your fault, it is not anybody’s fault, and it is not a fault at all. Because this natural expression of sexuality is built-in and un-changeable. There are no treatments to seek. There can only be acceptance of this natural variation.
Let’s hope for sake of our kids and 10% of our fellow humans that Indian Parliament shows the guts to do the right thing by passing a law to de-criminalize sexual minorities and to criminalize forced/coerced treatments directed at changing sexual expression.