Archive for July, 2014

Why would anyone care about how I changed my views about homosexuality and what brought about that change? One would not – unless of course one would like to see how I caved into the traps of liberalism, or sold my soul to western values sacrificing traditional ones, or perhaps just curious about how the transformation happened.

Growing up…

I grew up in the 1980’s in a traditional Indian family –  a Bengali family. My father was a mid-level employee in a steel plant and my mother was a primary school teacher. My grandmother and my uncle (my dad’s younger brother) lived in the same two-bedroom house, not unusual in those days, and probably better off than the average Indian family.  I was never a witness to any display of affection inside or outside the house – even if I caught a glimpse it would be so outrageous a thing in my mind, I would dismiss it in a second as an aberration.   Most of my friends and I had our first lessons in love and sex and everything in between from older kids or books – and that was before we hit puberty. It was as if there was an underground network of rebels who were demystifying the secrets of life in a society where such discussions were taboo.

As I hit the teens, my aunts would sometimes discuss “love” in front of me while talking about the weekend movies on broadcast television. But sex was still a big “no-no”. Indian movies were centered around love and more often than not, love triangles. But even the concept of adultery was censored out [Those who are curious can research Libaas, a film that was never released because of this reason].  It was not surprising that the word “homosexuality” was foreign to me.

The first time I came across the phenomenon was when I was about 14. A friend brought it up. He had seen a movie (of western origin, in a “parlor” – where censored movies were illegally screened) where this “thing” was shown. Our first reaction was shock which was immediately followed by disgust. It was against against everything that we knew (albeit that knowledge was only about 6-8 years old).  My friend was absolutely shaken.  Soon after, I was reading a book by a well known Bengali author [Sunil Gangpadhyay, and the book was Purba Paschim] where I first came across the word “lesbian”. My Oxford School Dictionary was mum about the word.  When I asked my dad, his first question was where did I find the word! And, for obvious reasons, I had to lie that it was in the newspaper. He looked away when he said that he did not know what it was.

In the years that followed, our knowledge of homosexuality remained stagnant. However, we were used to seeing transgender individuals (hijra) while growing up. They lived in communes and appeared to earn their living from charitable donations. Bollywood films, an integral part of the popular culture of the 1980s, avoided references to homosexuality; but often portrayed transgender individuals in a disparaging way, as incidental comic relief.  The societal attitude was no different. As we were finishing high school and starting college, our go-to slur for anyone who was less than masculine in our eyes, was “hijra” or euphemistically “50-50”.  Early 1990s was the time when when homosexuality slowly made its way into our vernacular. It was often used to scare others off (“Beware of that guy, he is a…”), or express inability or improbability of a person to attract girls (“Oh him? He is a …”), and variations of that – more of  a handy adjective for ridicule than anything else.  Although, I hate to admit, I was no exception.

Deeper look…

When I came to the United States for my masters, I associated homosexuality with perversion and/or abnormality.  So it was not surprising that a few months into the course,  when I found out that one of my friends, a classmate, was gay, I pondered over it and thought it was “unfortunate”. Over the next few months, these issues were discussed more and more in and out of the classroom – I decided to listen to the other side.

I had many questions, but these were the first ones:

  1. What is it that is unsettling about homosexuality? That it is “not normal”? That it is “harmful”? That it breaks long accepted norms of the society? Or that “God never intended…”?
  2. Why is having an opinion or taking sides on all these aspects of the issue important?
  3. If, indeed it is important to take sides, which side and why?

Is it normal?

What is “normal”? I think “normal” can be interpreted as: usual or ordinary; or, mentally and physically healthy.

One cannot argue with the fact that even today (it was no different in the late 1990s and early 2000s) there are more heterosexuals than homosexuals – regardless of whether one judges by incidence or prevalence. Depending on the sources referred, the percentage of the population that are not heterosexual, in most countries, is less than 10.  Rates are typically higher in the west –  as an example, one study from as far back as 1995 ( found percentages of individuals with homosexual behavior or homosexual attraction were higher than 10% in the United States, United Kingdom and France. But if one in 10 individuals in three major countries demonstrate homosexual behavior or homosexual attraction, it would be hard to consider it highly unusual or “not normal”

The psychological aspect, i.e. whether it is a mental disorder or not, is often argued. I found out that organizations of repute such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association,  and the World Health Organization ruled out homosexuality to be a mental disorder.

Is it harmful?

As long as it stays between two consenting adults, how could it harm me in any possible way? People might argue that some would find it distressing if an individual of one’s own sex approached in a romantic way. True. But that sort of distress is not uncommon. There are people who feel distressed when they are approached by little girls selling cookies or by the overtly aggressive salesman. The simple answer is that we learn to deal with it.

Its discussion or experience put pressure on parents and individuals whose religious beliefs are in the contrary. But so does other phenomena. Public display of affection, for example.  Or explaining hijabs or burquas to non-Muslims; or, their absence to observing Muslim children; all are as stressful. When my daughter was three, she asked me why we do not go to church while all her friends do or if Santa Claus was real,  it was not easy for me to explain, but I survived that without a nervous breakdown.

Does it break long accepted societal norms?

It does break long and widely accepted societal norms. But, if there is no truth to that accepted norm, we are probably better off breaking it. There was a time when people believed that the world was flat, and believing otherwise was blasphemy and people lost more than their religion and credibility arguing against that. It, however was and is true.

On the flip side, the same society might have marginalized one of its sections, perhaps for centuries, assuming that they were “not normal” and deserved to be ostracized.  I remember one of my friends (this was much later, though) mentioned she was afraid that the schools would not consider homosexuality a “sin” and she did not want her children to learning anything to the contrary. Many argue that way when it comes to creationism. But if there is overwhelming reasons against a long standing staunch belief, religious or otherwise, it will eventually have to make way for others.

But God never…

As far as God’s intention, I can write a book on that. To me, this was the least intriguing question. For starters, I did not get that memo on homosexuality (or anything else) from My God, so I guess S/He left it to my discretion. For those who had their epiphany, or consider their religious text to be that memo, I tell you in the words of Dave Allen (and David Shepherd) “May your God go with you”.  I can respect other people’s beliefs to the same extent they can respect mine.

Why form an opinion? Take sides? Justify one’s own beliefs?

Perhaps because our beliefs often trump our reasons in actions and responses. I think once we come to terms with our beliefs, we can rest assured that even in our subconscious, we will act or respond as we would in our full senses.  Belief is that one place in our minds where we are our most comfortable self. Reason comes second, at best. Beliefs, especially the ones that have stayed with us the longest, are also the hardest to alter for most of us. It takes a barrage of reason, experience and most importantly time to alter a long standing belief. With age, it becomes harder. Nevertheless, I believe, it is important to take sides especially if your reasons convince you to do so.

So, which side? 

I came to accept the fact that homosexuality was neither abnormal nor perversion.  It was not easy. For a long time, even after I was convinced that it was perfectly normal to be homosexual, I was not comfortable thinking that a close family member might come out of the closet. I kept thinking that it would break my heart if I found out my daughter grew up to be lesbian.  But I think, finally, I have come to terms with it.  I do not have any qualms before telling my daughter that it was perfectly fine for a man to marry another man, or a girl to be in love with another girl –  they are as much capable of a fulfilling life as any.


I understand that I may not have covered every angle or element on this issue –  just the key ones that helped me come to terms with this dilemma. Also, I can understand why many people find it hard to accept it (and that includes my own parents and some friends). But this is one of those issues that people need to figure out themselves whether they can accept it or not.