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Understanding Homophobia

Some time ago I was at the receiving end of the unsolicited and unreciprocated attentions of someone I barely knew. At 30, I’ve learnt to deal with such situations, practically on auto-pilot. What made this situation different was that this time, there was a woman at the other end.

The details of the situation are not important. Indeed the matter has been wrapped up and laid to rest. But what struck me was the thoughts and concerns it raised. I agonized and brooded over it far longer than I usually would have. I was apprehensive about my reaction and also more strongly impacted by the other person’s behaviour, than usual.

And at the very base of it, I unearthed something I wasn’t expecting to find and certainly wasn’t pleased to see. I treated that situation differently only because it was a gay person propositioning me and not a straight person. The realisation surprised me because I always thought of myself as liberal and completely open-minded about this.

It’s taken me a good while to hit upon something else though. My response is indicative, not of discrimination or stereotyping. It was an acknowledgment of a situation that was different from what I was used to. I do not understand the norms and the beliefs and the signals of the gay community as instinctively as I understand those of straight people. My extra consideration was coming from the assumption that things could be interpreted differently. If I discovered that at the end of it, they weren’t that different, that’s just, well, learning from experience.

An interesting thought that came my way from a friend was,

A stupid person is a stupid person. It has nothing to do with being gay or straight.

I realized that I had been extraordinarily fortunate in having encountered only insightful, mature gay people prior to this. My attitude so much stems from my experience and it has all been only good thus far.

On the other hand, what if things had been different for me? What if my first ever encounter with a gay person had been someone who was desperate, clingy or immature? Given how little education we get about homosexuality, would it not have been a natural response for me to decide that all gay people were like that?

I’ve taken to asking my straight friends who display homophobia (and they’re mostly men) about why they feel the way they do. A number of them don’t have a clear answer to that and it turns out that they are just going along with what they’ve been conditioned to think, by early influences or popular media. Such people will generally listen to reason and have been even willing to acknowledge that they could be wrong. A sample of the things I’ve heard,

I don’t have a problem with gay people per se. I guess I’m just afraid one of them might hit on me and I wouldn’t know what to do.

There is also another set of responses I’ve received. These are from people who’ve been assaulted, felt up, hit upon (in one case during a job interview) by the first gay person they met. Also considering that this is the average Indian man to whom being the recipient of attention as opposed to the giver is an earth-shatteringly alien experience, you can imagine why this has a diabolical effect on their thinking.

There are no conclusions to draw from this line of thought. Except that my own experience and what I learnt from it, made me understand homophobia a little better. And then again, to tackle something, it’s necessary to understand its origins, isn’t it?

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Fear & Insecurity

A conversation with a wise girlfriend you’re seeing after awhile can be food for thought. As you exchange titbits of information about news and the then and the now, there’s realization and growing up that happens in those very moments.

I mentioned a name, quite unconsciously with reference to something else. She picked it up and probed. So I told her some. And she told me what she knew, coming from a different source, a different angle. As we put the two together, her story and mine, we created an idea, based on the framework of the person we discussed.

There are of course the men who never got used to the fact that women got a vote, the right to their own bodies, education and careers as well. But there’s a different sort of man around now. This one has had ample time to get used to it. Maybe he had a strong mother. Perhaps he grew up with an ambitious sister. Or maybe he was just sharp that way and found himself the company of women like that.

That means he’s had the time to not just understand and appreciate their motives but also see their Achilles heel, hidden as it may be. The women of today are just as human as the ones that came before them. And hence, we have our own brand of insecurities and fears.

The thing is, my wise friend said,

A guy who sees that insecurity and tries to exploit it to his advantage.

Don’t we know him? We all do, we’ve encountered him at various points of time. In the case we discussed, there was a girl who my friend described as ‘not conventionally good-looking’. The guy in question knows this and seems to be using this over her as a control game. The reason this clicked was that I know when he tried a similar strategy but with a different tactic. He used age instead of looks.

Now the guy in question is of barely any, if at all, consequence to me. The reason this stayed with me is because it brought me back to my own experience of an abusive relationship all those years ago. It’s been very difficult for me to answer questions like why I stayed with him and what hold he had over me.

The answer is of course that he knew my fears and took advantage of them. No one is so strong that they have no fears. And nobody is so guarded in a relationship that keep all their secrets. But those secrets can turn into ammunition in the wrong hands.

Strangely enough our conversation earlier in the evening revolved around fairness creams. I was trying to explain why the idea of having worked with them at some point of time in my career is something I carry with heavy guilt. She admitted that she had used fairness creams for a good while herself. Then she said,

Strange as it may sound, my moment of reckoning came when I read about the Aishwarya Rai-Salman Khan relationship. To know that a woman like could get battered was to realize that it had nothing to do with looks whatsoever. And that’s when I stopped needing those creams.

Hmm, interesting. So we have our fearful secrets and we have even more furtive ways of getting over them. Those close to us can turn traitor. While those on a completely different world from us, can be our salvation.

The Death Of Prince Charming

It occurs to me that I’m in the final stages of recuperation. Or rather, I’m like someone who was ill for a very long time without knowing it, then hospitalised, recovered, had a relapse and is now watching the last of the scabs fall off, the scars fade away.

Melodramatic, isn’t it? That’s what the decade of my life has been, vis-a-vis relationships. Full of ups and downs. How bloody cliched. I bet it actually sounds desirable for a lot of people. It’s not. Go back and read my first paragraph. It hasn’t been a fun ride all through. Well, I suppose I have no regrets; I can’t see it having turned out any other way.

I haven’t been in a relationship or even in love or any form of it for months now. There was a 6-month spell last year, right after a period of recovery but that’s over now. I actually do feel like I said above. You know, stronger, healthier but a tad…vulnerable? Like I know now just how easy it would be to fall again and what a pain in the neck (not to mention heart) it would be.

I don’t particularly hate men. In fact, I don’t think I ever did; I was just hurting too much from a particular man at a particular time and they were all too close to each other so it just built up into an unmanageable mass of hysteria and resentment and pain. Over.

I wonder now whether I am ready for a relationship. On one had I do, in the same way someone who’s just been discharged from a hospital may feel hungry, even ravanous for some normal food.

On the other hand, I’ve really have come to a point where I must wonder whether it is worth it at all. It isn’t fear per se. After I suffered gastroentitis over 2 years back, it has considerably dampened my raging appetite for greens and junk-ey food. This is akin to that. Exciting (read ‘toxic’) men and the acidity and heartburn they inevitably cause can stay well out of my staple diet, thank you very much. I have no more desire for that kind of a thing anymore.

The trouble is that they all looked and sounded perfectly ‘normal’ and healthy if you may at the start. Who’s to tell how a leaf of spinach will turn in your stomach? Or a respectable, educated, intelligent and charming man will mess up your heart? You know, I just don’t know.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A couple of weeks back I met this guy who asked for my number and has been persistently wooing me out since then. Last evening too, he did. But all I can think of is, they are all that interested in the start. And the about-turn happens so fast, you’re never even given a chance to recover. What’s more, the more persistant the guy in the start, the quicker he will turn.

Confucius he say, man who fall in love quickly, fall out of love just as quickly.

Well, I didn’t really find him all that interesting anyway. So thank you but no thank you, I’d rather curl up with a good book or spend the evening with a good friend.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Earlier this week, I was out with a girlfriend when she was interrupted by a call. Knuckles at her eyes, she gestured that whoever was on the other end was crying and would I mind if she just took that call. I wasn’t trying to listen in but well, it’s hard to ignore the only voice inside an autorickshaw. One side of the conversation was enough to give me a picture of what was happening. Girl in question being f-witted out of her brains by man, obviously completely broken up over him while he ‘tried to make up his mind’ and ‘was afraid she would try to change his mind’.

I didn’t even want to hear anymore and I was guiltily glad when my friend hung up. Enough already. I’ve been there enough of times. Don’t men ever hurt? Doesn’t it ever prick them to think of how much damage they are causing to another human being? Don’t they stop to think even for a second, whether they are serious about a woman and what they’ll do if she says yes? Not, apparently. I’m done with ranting about men. How can you change what is? I’ll just have to protect myself from hereon.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Yesterday I was speaking to a guy friend. In light banter, he mentioned that he often followed women on Twitter if he liked their profile pictures. And then, he grouched,

Every woman I follow, sooner or later, everyone else also starts following! I mean, wtf??!!

I laughed and told him that when any of his followers saw a conversation happening between him and someone they didn’t know, the automatic impulse was to check the other person out and then presumably other men followed the same practice as he did. Since he was still grumbling, I suggested that he send direct messages (private) henceforth rather than publicly tweet women he was flirting with. That’s what a lot of my followers did I said and the minute those words left my mouth, I knew it was true. I was sometimes surprised when I received DMs especially from people I barely knew. My friend smirked and said,

Just protecting their territory!

I wonder if that should have incensed the rabid feminist side of me but it just made me laugh. The things men do!

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

At the end of it all, I suppose this sounds very much like any woman who’s had some bad experiences with men and has gotten over it. But you know what the difference between me and a lot of my single friends is? I see them all in a renewed mood; hopeful they call it (while they call me cynical). They’ve dusted off themselves after their various falls and are now staring steadfastly at the horizon for their princes to come. Me, I’m looking there too but I think I’m just going to enjoy the sunset and the rest of my life. Because I don’t believe charming princes exist any more.

Superwoman

I am the only kid on the tree in pigtails
I am rejection & peer pressure superimposed on intelligence & expectations
I am the daughter who will one day be the ‘man of the house’

I am the big attitude-no boyfriends Alanis Morisette of the peer group
I am the feminist preaching to ‘the boys’ in between hanging out with them.
I am the second lead in an ‘all-male’ rock band.

I am the token female candidate in a job selection group discussion
I am one of two women at a client meeting, six months later
I am the slender figure balancing a laptop, files and a mobile phone and refusing a seat on the bus.

I am a solitary memo marked “Dear Madam” atop of a pile of “Dear Sir” notes
I am one who knows which detergent brand sells highest but not which cleans best
I am a woman who hates cooking and is proud of the fact

I am the one publications write about when they describe the new work ethic
I am the inspiration for a new wave of soap operas and talk shows
I am the author of a scathing article on fairness creams

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

I am a social butterfly, the party animal, the cool lady who always leaves alone
I am a modern day Cinderella looking for a perfect foot to fit her shoe…and none ever do
I am the last of my friends to get married but mine is the grandest wedding of all

I am an overflowing inbox of memos, bills and ads after my 2-day honeymoon
I am the ‘expert cook in 10 days’ since I am always the best
I am the 5 am alarm for the milkman, the 10 am board meeting, the working lunch and the home cooked gourmet dinner on my first anniversary

I am a romantic SMS keyed in surreptitiously at a meeting
I am two daily planners to be co-ordinated for any family function
I am performance anxiety, loneliness, guilt, fear and ambition all masquerading as PMS

I am the ‘equal half’ of a DINK
I am the face that receives a slap for being better
And only sometimes, am I the fist that hits back

I am the luggage with a tag from every single metro in the world
I am the signature on the exclusive gold card
I am a posh address that is more a museum than a home

I am the employee code on a maternity leave application tacked to the bottom of a report
I am the voice on a conference call from home to 2 countries
I am the emergency Ceasarean operation due to hypertension

I am the lovely lady at the end of the day while my mom is mom to my kids too
I am the signature on a delivery receipt for a dollhouse and an encyclopedia set
And on a resignation letter that speaks of ‘time for family’ and not a word about sacrifices

I am music lessons, art classes, camps, sports teams and tuitions after school
I am the good manners, language fluency, social etiquette and grades all at 7
I am the hands that dress the star of the show in a kindergarten play
As also the signature on a report card that says “Shows aptitude for figures. Is very quiet and withdrawn”
I am the mother of a brilliant, talented 3-foot stressed know-it-all
….…..the wife of a resentful, guilt-wracked escapist
…….…the lover of a ‘new-age’ sensitive weakling
and the owner of a picture perfect 40 going on 25 face

I am the compartmentalized fragments of what was born a human being
And lives as ..and will one day die as…..Superwoman

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A version of this post appears on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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