By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Watch someone dressed in a short pink skirt and a flowery blouse with shoulder-length dark hair, sunglasses and light pink boots walking past the café where you are having a drink. Something a bit weird in the gait makes you observe her legs and arms, and you realize that the woman is a man and the wig barely hides his short-cut hair. The first thought that crosses your mind is that he must be very brave to dare defy the norms and dress as he wishes amid regular men and women. Maybe he is gay.
What emboldens him to do so is that claims for expressing gender identity – homosexual, bi-sexual, lesbian and transgender -, are gaining acceptance despite opposition from various quarters. Is it a new phenomenon? The answer is: No. Ancient civilizations showed more tolerance towards those who were born differently because they understood it was biological variation which befalls some members of society and for which they cannot be blamed. It was the case in old Mesopotamian civilization, Indian society, in Egypt and Polynesia to name a few, and the phenomenon is also observed in certain animals and plants.
It was common practice in Indian society for gay men to wear sarees, and they were invited to dance and bless new-born babies, and newly-weds too. By so doing, society expressed compassion and acceptance of those who happened to be born different. In many societies, there was an expression of fondness and love for the tiny minority of village idiots, physically handicapped members, insane people and those who did not follow the norms as regard sex and marriage. It was a matter of commonsense and wisdom as they were all regarded as God’s children. Polynesian mothers give frocks to their sons as early as 7 years old when they notice signs of homosexuality in their behaviour. Old Mesopotamian society (today’s Iraq) showed wide tolerance towards queer sexual behaviour.
Not all homosexuals are craving to wear women’s clothes. Most are just fine with pants and shirts, and are quite discreet in not flashing their sexual preference around. Claims for more acceptance are gaining ground in liberal societies and at the UN. So as a minority gender who suffered from discrimination and rejection mostly by other males in male-dominated societies, some members are glad to participate in marches to freely and publicly express their identity. This movement started in the US in the early 1990s, and inevitably followed worldwide. As the oldest democracy, the US is also the land where minorities of all hues fight fiercely for rights and end up obtaining them. The rest of the world just follows suit.
The day when most women in the world will obtain satisfaction as regards equal pay, job promotion, recognition of their status as human beings, equal citizens’ rights and an end to sexual harassment, there will probably be no need for International Women’s Day. Similarly, tolerance for homosexuals and transgenders will make the LGBT’s yearly march irrelevant in some years.
In the meantime, it is up to LGBT members to show some discretion in their marches to dispel the fears of other people who would view such marches as a publicity stunt for homosexuality and for attracting more members among heterosexuals to their fold. There are no logical reasons for such marches to go on for decades. But as long as they suffer psychologically from discrimination and rejection, and are beaten up, or worse, get killed by bigots, they will draw the support of societies at large that abide by modern standards of tolerance.
There is no in-depth study to prove that homosexuality is contagious and can negatively impact on procreation in the long run. It sounds a bit far-fetched to dread a demographic decline in the global population of more than 7 billion who is already too much for Earth to bear. What is more obvious is that heterosexuals are not rushing to tie the knot and start a family because living conditions, owning a home, getting a secure job and obtaining bank loans and spending years refunding them just like their parents did are not such attractive projects; they are rather frightening prospects of what normal planning for a future looks like. And you can’t blame them.
In advanced societies, two out three marriages ending in divorce puts off some young adults. Others might ask: What is the big deal about heterosexual marriages? Crimes and domestic violence worldwide are mostly committed by normal heterosexual men. What is the rate of crime among homosexuals is anybody’s guess. Moreover, one must really have a twisted mind to believe that homosexuals have sex all the time.
If we go by the posts against LGBT marches on social networks in Mauritius last year, such people expressed their horror about homosexual couples having sex. Living together is also about sharing meals, keeping company, bestowing affection, conversing and exchanging ideas, giving support and helping to sort out issues. They don’t spend all their time in bed!
Domination over other groups leads men to assume they can insult, threaten and silence others with impunity. In the mid-20th century in France, media spokesmen were angry like hell at women wearing pants and called them whores. Same scenario in Mauritius in the 1970s: short hair and pants destabilized regular menfolks, and they angrily shouted a string of nasty expletives, all ending with mama, to women who dared to dress differently.
Another minority scenario in the US in the 1960s at the peak of Civil Rights movement: a little 8-year-old black girl in uniform making her way to school and protected by police and benevolent teachers amid a crowd of angry Whites yelling racist remarks.
Religion is one of the causes of outright intolerance when everything is seen through the lenses of moral constraints. The British persecuted homosexuals during colonial rule in India in the 19th century in total ignorance of why they were accepted by Indian society. Omar Khayyam, the famous poet, had to flee Persia and take refuge in India in the 15th century to save his life.
There was less intolerance in ancient times. Greek emperor Alexander the Great was bisexual, and so was Roman emperor Hadrian. Later on, besides legitimate spouses and harems, foreign rulers in some Indian provinces had male sex partners. Last year’s film Padmavati portrayed one such relation between the ruler and a young gay man with Ranveer Sing in his bath tub and the young fair young man singing his love for him in a most beautiful artistic scene. It was all refined, and the performance was perfect. There was no vulgarity of any kind in it.
Leonardo da Vinci was not straight, and left beautiful artworks for the world to admire.
Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare, who was exiled in Paris on allegations of spying, was an overtly declared homosexual who wrote pamphlets on the delights of homosexuality and a few lines on Christ which bristled the Establishment, but still, Protestant England was more tolerant than southern Europe. Oscar Wilde, a genius writer, spent some time in jail, though. Tennessee Williams, another playwright, was ignored and looked down by his father for his girlish manners and sensitivity. Referring to the heroine of his masterpiece ‘A Streetcar named Desire’, he identified with her, stating: ‘I am Blanche.’
Marcel Proust, who lived with his mother and gave France and the world beautiful pieces of literature during the day, donned his hat and walked off to spend some good time in a men’s club at night. Proust’s ‘A La Recherche du Temps Perdu’ is a marvellous piece of literature whose title is a translation of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets ‘Remembrance of Things Past’. And so many other great men and artists too. What if they were persecuted and lynched as today’s bloodthirsty bigots advocate ? Marguerite Yourcenar was an outstanding intellectual and writer who openly lived with her female partner. Vikram Seth’s mother invited public opinion to ponder over a British law which considered her son as a criminal. Fortunately, the law has been abrogated by the BJP government.
What about you? If your brother or son, or daughter was homosexual, would you be happy and say: Great! My son/daughter is a homosexual! Well, no. You would like them to be normal. Otherwise, you would like him or her to be respected and be able to live normally without being persecuted by others. If taxes are advantageous to heterosexual couples who live together, there is no reason why homosexual couples who want to share the same roof cannot benefit from the same advantages. It is all a matter of discretion in the expression of a relationship which is not the norm.
If in some cases, gay men go back to women because religion helps them to become regular guys, it is just fine. Anyone is free to try and convince homosexuals to get back to the mainstream. It works sometimes, not always.
Harassing, insulting or wanting to beat them up reflect a retrograde mindset. It has no place in civilized society. Last year in Mauritius, at the peak of the LGBT controversy, a female teacher walked into a classroom of 16-year-olds and asked right away: Anyone lesbian in the class? Just tell me, I’ll walk out of the classroom. The teacher made a fool of herself for her pupils rejected her biased opinion outright. The Minister of Education had better counsel her staff on the topic so as to make sure that such adults do not do lasting damage to boys and girls who may be affected psychologically for years.
In villages, there has always been a fondness for those rare people who look queer and are married, and maybe against their wishes. They are talked about with affection, just as the village idiot and the madman. It is sheer common sense and wisdom.
* Published in print edition on 7 June 2019