Deepak Kashyap wished there were more parents out there. Earlier this year, at New Delhi’s Max Mueller Bhavan, the counsellor and psychotherapist was addressing a motley crowd of around 30 that had gathered for an event put together by DU (Delhi University) Queer Collective. The idea was to chat with parents of queer students. But a quick scan of the room revealed that only the students had turned up. Kashyap continued regardless. He screened a video in which parents spoke about how they dealt with their children coming out. It felt promising—an ideal version of how it should be when one comes out to their folks.
But it’s not as easy for everyone. So, apart from how to break it to parents, we quizzed Kashyap—who practices in Mumbai, Toronto and Dubai—on the most common questions young Indians ask, and how he answers them.
1. Is homosexuality a choice? Can I choose to be straight again?
No, homosexuality is not a conscious choice. You cannot wake up one day and decide that you want to be someone who has a sexual and/or romantic attraction towards a same-sex person. If a heterosexual person doesn’t choose their own orientation, how can a homosexual person be able to choose theirs?
As humans, we don’t and can’t choose whom we get attracted to. Most gay people report having been aware of their homosexual feelings quite early on in life or during adolescence. Many might erroneously think that one can choose their sexual orientation. However, it is quite clear from the scientific data that is available that sexual orientation and attraction is beyond human choice.
2. Why do gay people use the word 'queer' to define themselves?
Since its inclusion in the English vocabulary in the 16th century, the word ‘queer’ has generally meant ‘strange’, ‘unusual’, or ‘out of alignment’. It might refer to something suspicious or ‘not quite right’, or to ‘a person with mild derangement or one who exhibits socially inappropriate behaviour’. Subsequently, for most of the 20th century, ‘queer’ was frequently used as a derogatory term for effeminate gay males who were believed to engage in receptive or passive anal/oral sex with men.
During the ’90s, when gay activism was on the rise in the West, activists decided to reclaim the word and disarm it by redefining it as an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual, or conforming to the gender binary. It is the equivalent of taking a gun that someone is pointing at you and removing the bullets so that even if they continue firing at you, they have lost the power to hurt you. The term was also more inclusive to other forms of sexuality and gender identity that had not yet been defined by labels. The term allowed for people to be able to define themselves without containing themselves in strict frameworks of any label or identity.
3. How do I come out to my parents who think queerness is just a state of mind?
Human beings do have the desire to be perceived as special or different but only for the right reasons. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is rarely considered an acceptable thing. So why would anyone decide to pretend to be homosexual, and invite prejudice and hate into their lives?
The reason why homosexual people want to come out is not to be considered special or stand out, but because they can’t help doing so. They do so as a way to reach out and seek emotional support. The best thing a parent can do in such times is to provide them the support and love they need without judging their motives or being sceptical of their homosexual nature.
4. What is the difference between sex, gender and orientation?
Sex: The physical appearance of the body and the genitals. According to this classification, we have male, female and intersex individuals.
Gender: The mental perception and experience of your physical body. According to this classification, we largely see; man, woman and transgender. This is not to say other unclassified genders don’t exist.
Orientation: Whom do I get attracted towards? According to this classification, we have heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, etc
Mannerisms: A habitual gesture or way of speaking or behaving. According to this largely social classification, we generally see masculine, feminine and androgynous behaviours.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are often confused, as are mannerisms and orientation.
5. What makes some people homosexual?
Sexuality is an extremely complex subject, making it very hard to find one specific cause for homosexuality in human beings. But some theories are supported by more evidence than others, which makes them more likely explanations of unusual human sexuality than the conjectures prevalent in the socio-religious schools of thoughts.
Epigenetic theory: All human characteristics are encoded in the form of genes on human DNA. Everything from the colour of their eyes to their sexual interest develops in the pre-natal stages of human development. Epigenetic markers are chemicals that control to what degree a certain gene is expressed. Think of it as a switch that turns a gene on or off. The researchers found that a particular kind of epi-marks’ that are wrapped tightly around the DNA sequence affect sexual preference in individuals without altering genitalia or sexual identity. This research gives support to the hypothesis that homosexuality stems from the expression of certain genes on the DNA sequence connected with sexual preferences, as against earlier theories that pointed towards an independent gay gene.
Brain Structure theory: This is somewhat inconclusive research aimed at studying the brains of heterosexuals and homosexuals. It found that the structure of the brain of a gay man was very similar to that of a straight woman and vice versa for straight men and lesbians.
Hormone theory: This is another popular theory also related to prenatal development. Research suggests that during the sexual development phase in the womb, the child is subjected to androgens or male hormones like testosterone that influence the sexuality of the child. A male child exposed to less testosterone during development may stand chances of being gay. Conversely, a female foetus exposed to more than normal testosterone may become a lesbian.
Despite the many researches, no serious scientist today suggests that a simple cause-effect relationship applies to sexuality. It is also probable that all of the above factors, in part, help influence the sexuality of a child. However, the bottom line is that the common denominator is that sexual orientation cannot be chosen and is not a mental or genetic disease; and noone can become homosexual by being molested by a member of the same sex as it is popularly believed. It is important for scientific purposes that the cause of homosexuality is understood, but it is more important that we treat people of less common orientations with dignity and respect.
6. Am I gay because I’ve never had sex with a partner of the opposite sex?
Let us tackle this by first asking ourselves, ‘Are we straight because we have not had sex with someone of the same sex?’ Of course that’s not the case. We know ourselves to be heterosexual from the time we hit puberty—our bodies changed and we started developing an attraction towards the opposite sex. No one had to tell us that; we experienced it by ourselves because our hearts, bodies, minds and genitals all told us what we like and desire.
This process is no different for homosexuals. They’ve also had the same automatic sexual responses but only to the same sex. Pioneering researchers Masters and Johnson have conducted numerous studies on sexual orientation with huge sample sizes. In their book Sex and Human Loving their research has found that a person with no sexual experience whatsoever may still consider himself or herself homosexual. Also, many homosexuals are able to be aroused by heterosexual partners or heterosexual fantasies.
7. We know people who have been straight for a few years and then gay and then straight again. How do you explain that? Can it just be a phase?
Orientation is not a phase but the confusion that one has with regards to their sexuality, can be. This kind of confusion can come easily to people when they start to realise that they’re different and that they’ve to come to terms with a completely new side of themselves and having to plan their lives accordingly.
In most cases, these people may be genuinely bisexual, and bisexuality is known to cause a great deal of confusion for many. This generally stems from our need to belong to a group and be able to relate to it, but society generally does not accept bisexuality as an independent orientation. Because of this fear of not belonging, a person may end up choosing one over the other as a pattern of behaviour, but that does not necessarily change their orientation.
With people who have fluid sexualities, it is in their sexual nature to be able to be with different sexes at different times. This does not mean that they are able to change their orientation from one to the other or that they are unstable, but in fact, this fluidity is their sexuality.
8. What exact bodily changes and emotions do you feel when you are attracted to a person of the same sex?
Attraction and love are human emotions that we all experience in similar ways. The feelings experienced by any person in love are the same regardless of their sexuality. There are numerous studies that show the physical changes that occur in the human body when that person is faced with someone he is attracted to, like the dilation of the pupils, flushing of the lips and cheeks, increased heart rate, right down to the brain activity. There may be cultural differences in the way we express love depending on who or where we are, but it doesn’t change the human experience of attraction. Our sexuality does not alter our capacity to experience an emotion any differently than our capacity to, say, experience pain or sadness.
9. Can bisexuals be monogamous?
Most people, irrespective of sexuality, cannot control whether they have desires for other people or not; what they can control is whether to choose to act on those desires. Bisexuals, just like heterosexuals and homosexuals, are bound to get tempted and it is completely up to them whether they are able to restrain themselves and not act on those desires.
10. Why do so many gays/lesbians go through depression? Why are there a number of suicides in the community?
A recent review of data from dozens of studies concluded that there are no psychological tests that can distinguish between homosexual and heterosexual psychological performance, and there is no evidence of higher rates of emotional instability or psychiatric illness among homosexuals than among heterosexuals. It is true that researchers have found homosexual people to be at a substantially higher risk for some forms of emotional problems, including suicidal tendency, major depression, and anxiety disorder. This, however, is not because of homosexuality but because of the stigma and rejection that comes with being a homosexual.
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