It’s been 32 years since the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. 32 years. That’s my age. It’s like I was born into this rude awakening that I, as a queer person, am no longer formally considered mentally ill because of my sexuality. Um thanks, leaders of the world? But here’s more. Three years ago, WHO finally woke up and said it will no longer classify being transgender as a mental disorder. 3 years. Well, happy IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia) to all of us!
There’s no casting off the long shadows of what such queerphobic* ‘diagnoses’ and prevalent socio-cultural and medical stigmas have done to the perception, rights, and everyday safety of my community. These numbers are one of the primary reasons I, along with many from the LGBTQIA+ community, firmly believe that queerphobia is coming from inside the house.
We Don’t Struggle Because We’re Queer, We Struggle Because of Queerphobia
We’re ALL products of a system that enables and nurtures queerphobia. To the extent that people from the community battle internalized homophobia and biphobia, and internalized transphobia, before fully coming to terms with something as simple as one’s sexuality or gender.
Contrary to popular opinion, our identities are not complex. Being a bisexual person should ideally be as simple as being a straight person, and being a trans person should ideally be as simple as being a cis person. But it’s not, because of how our identities are marginalized, invisibilized, stigmatized, fetishized, threatened, discriminated against, and criminalized by a very cisheteronormative society.
When you tell a queer person that they struggle because they are queer, you are forgetting that the struggle is caused by rampant queerphobia – NOT because of our identities. Anyone will go through a hard time or suffer through mental health issues when society is deliberately designed against them. Within the community too, cis queer people have a long way to go before they learn how to be allies to trans, nonbinary (enby), and intersex people.
This is why days like International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia are important so that we remember the different forms of queerphobia that exist outside and within the community.
Related Reading: I Am Out But My Family Went Into A Closet
Equal Right To Marry And Love
According to Human Rights Campaign, there are only 31 countries (the number may have changed since the time this was published) where same-sex marriage is legal. To give context, there are around 200 countries in the world. Also, these 31 countries are not immune to queerphobia.
A cishet friend recently expressed shock at that number and said, “How do you deal with not being able to marry who you love? Forget marriage. Not even being able to love freely, or talk about your romantic interest and feelings without fear – I’ve no idea how that feels. I can’t imagine being that restricted, not just socially but legally too. This, along with dealing with homophobia, must be heartbreaking and hugely stressful.”
That’s right. Meanwhile, cishet people have a hard time using gender-neutral language at home and workplaces. And they need their gender binary everywhere (Men and women! Male and female!) like they need oxygen. How easily they box up common human experiences as gendered experiences, how easily they forget the large existence of gender non-conforming (GNC), enby and gender-variant people.
So, on this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, let’s talk about the giant queerphobic elephant in the room. Here are, I believe, the ten ways in which queerphobia is coming from inside our homes. (Trigger warning: mention of physical and sexual violence against queer people, examples of queerphobia, mention of suicides)
1. Forced marriages
A female bisexual friend once told me, “I know I’m more attracted to women and want to be with a woman, but I know I will ultimately marry a man to make my family happy. I don’t want to lose their respect, so I’ll never tell them about my sexuality. I need them to keep loving me.” Another friend with anti-gay parents was beaten up and sent to jail by his own family under the pretext of stealing from their house after they got to know the reason he doesn’t want to marry a woman is that he’s gay.
Another male friend ran away from home a month before his wedding, after desperately trying to convince his family for years to not get him married to a woman. A lesbian woman was married forcefully and now goes through marital rape at the hands of her husband regularly, because would you call such ‘sex’ consensual?
Cishet family members are brutal when it comes to fulfilling their own dreams through their children. They raise us, preparing us for marriage with the ‘opposite’ gender. How many of us had to hear stories of how we’re supposed to be given away to a man when we reach a certain age, and how many boys were raised with the knowledge that they are supposed to be good husbands to their wives?
Has there ever been a childhood around us where parents used gender-neutral language when talking about a child’s future partners? No. This presumption of default heterosexuality is heteronormativity. It’s toxic, and it’s present in practically every family to varying degrees.
We don’t get to marry the people we love because our marriages are not recognized by the law, instead, we are forced into loveless marriages for the sake of our families and their ‘honor’.
2. Mockery, condemnation, silence
Who’s the woman in the relationship? Who’s the man? How do you all have sex? That’s not real sex. Only penis-in-vagina sex is real sex. How will you have kids? You’re attracted to her because she looks like a man. Lol, look they are holding hands, how gay. (Yes, it’s gay, cishets forget that we “like” being gay). What genitals do you have? When will you have your surgery?
I’m bisexual and I’ve heard people ask bisexuals to pick a side, as if gender is a two-pronged lane. We are called greedy, confused, unreliable and disloyal. Some people reject bisexual people as partners because they believe we will cheat on them. Thanks, insensitive media representation, for enforcing that trope. All of this is untrue and is the basis for biphobia.
Queerphobic mockery in general comes from our families too. In fact, the first site of mockery for most queer people is their family and their anti-gay parents. They ridicule queer people because they haven’t unlearned their own gender biases yet. They ridicule because queerness threatens the foundations of their cisheteropatriarchal society. They give us the silent treatment to denote their disappointment or disgust without realizing that it’s we who are disappointed in them.
Also, the entire media and film history have always made us the butt of their bad jokes. Watch the documentary Disclosure (2020) on Netflix to open your eyes to the myriad ways trans people have been misrepresented and mocked on screen since the dawn of movies. This dehumanization strips queer people of their dignity and ultimately proves fatal.
Related Reading: Manvendra Singh Gohil, The First Gay Prince In The World, Talks About LGBTQ Rights In India
3. Violence against queer kids
During the lockdown, domestic violence cases were on a rise globally. Any scope of violence at home would escalate when the perpetrators are constantly at home with a marginalized person. And so it was with queer people. During the pandemic, I have personally talked to and raised funds for scores of queer people (gay, lesbian, nonbinary, trans people) who were emotionally, verbally or physically violated at their homes every day — just for being who they are.
Many days during the lockdown, my heart would break when the news of one more queer person being thrown out or facing child abuse by parents would travel through Instagram posts and stories. “Please donate money to me so I can move out of my violent home”, “I need to look for a job from a safe place where I’m not abused all the time, does anyone have a safe space I can use for a month?”, “I need money so I can get the mental health care I desperately need, my family doesn’t support me or care for me, please help.”
In 2021, 375 trans and GNC people were killed according to this report. These are just the reported cases. “These numbers are just a small glimpse of the reality on the ground,” say the report authors. “In most countries, data is not systematically collected. Most cases continue to go unreported and, when reported, receive very little attention.”
Also, as we know, 15 American states have recently imposed restrictions on youngsters seeking gender-affirming healthcare. As if that isn’t bad enough, as per this report, these bills will allow doctors to perform Intersex Genital Mutilations on intersex infants. These are intended to make them fit into the categories of male and female — long before they are old enough to express any form of gender identity.
According to this article, intersex surgeries — most of which are done when children are under 2 years old — can create life-long harm and result in scarring, chronic pain, chronic incontinence, loss of sexual sensation, sterilization, inaccurate gender assignment, and trauma. Do you see how our queerphobia has a far-reaching impact on the health, safety, and agency of kids, teenagers and adults?
4. Cis people misgender like they’re paid for it
Try misgendering a cis person. Do it again and again. Have you seen how they react? Not well. But cis people often misgender trans, enby, and GNC people. Some do it deliberately. Or for ‘fun’ like many infamous stand-up ‘comedians’. Or because “it’s too hard” to respect someone’s gender. They have no issues in gendering every little object around them, but when it comes to a full-sized human being who is telling them about their gender identity and pronouns, there are suddenly crickets and looks of confusion.
I understand needing the time to unlearn gender norms, what I don’t understand is a refusal to do it because it’s ‘inconvenient’ for you. As per The Trevor Project survey, transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected.
Maybe you should address the issue of misgendering on this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Correct those who are misgendering their family members, colleagues or friends. Stand up for gender variant and trans people even when they are not around you.
Related Reading: 10 Famous Celebrity Same Sex (Gay) Couples
5. Distant ‘allyship’
We often find family members and friends declaring themselves to be allies. It is, after all, one of the favorite activities indulged in by many cishets. It ensures they get all the rewards of doing the ‘good work’ with none of the responsibility of continued learning and behavior correction. In such cases, they might pretend to be supportive on the surface but don’t acknowledge the existence of their queer family member’s partner.
They might put up a story about ‘trans lives matter’ but will not check in on their own nonbinary sibling. They will not ask if their colleagues are respecting their identity and if there’s anything they need in terms of emotional support. Many queer people, in short, don’t feel seen, supported, and held by their families. This neglect affects their love for the family and their mental health takes a toll as well.
6. No interest in educating oneself
I’ve had to cut off cishet friends from my life when my simple request that they educate themselves on my identity and the community was not taken seriously for years. Most of my queer friends have gone through similar losses when they’d had enough of their friends dismissing their struggles (that stem from queerphobia), or not participating in or understanding their unique joys.
While we’ve had to learn how to deal with homophobia, our friends and family couldn’t bother to learn what homophobia even is, and how it’s prevalent as a social norm. There’s no accountability or a will to learn and improve.
The worst part is many cishets depend on queer people to educate them. They don’t understand that their questions remind us of our discrimination. Their questions are sometimes not respectful, like when they ask us how we have sex or about a trans person’s genitals. Their questions are incessant and we can’t be the ones putting in emotional labor all the time for cishets to respect us properly.
Their questions remind us that for them, we are still these strange creatures that need to be dissected, processed, and understood, as opposed to us being human beings who simply love a gender different from yours, or experience our gender differently from you. Cishets often complicate our sexuality and gender identity when there’s clearly no need to.
7. Everything is gendered
When cishets and straight couples protest against us and say, “Let kids be kids”, I say the same to them. Yes, exactly, let kids be kids. Let them play with the toys of their choice. Let them like the colors or the dresses they want to wear and stop enforcing your gendered norms on them. Stop telling a little girl that she will one day have a boyfriend or a husband. Stop forcing ANY sexuality or gender role on kids. It’s shocking that many people in our educated families and friend circles continue to do these things.
Using gender-neutral words should be the norm. “One day, you may choose to have a partner. They must be kind to you and love you for who you are.” Simple, right? It tells the child from early on that they are free to explore who they are, and that you are an ally and a safe space.
According to the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 45% of 34,000 LGBTQ youngsters (ages 13 to 24) across the United States seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming. Dealing with homophobia and transphobia becomes a part and parcel of life for many kids, especially when it’s their own homes that are the most unsafe.
8. Hide away the queer
Forget pride, many families are downright ashamed of their queer kids. Some even go to the extent of apologizing for the presence of their kid in front of other people. Their concern is the other person’s comfort, not their own child’s. If a child wishes to present themselves as visibly gender non-conforming, the family shame increases, and so does the trauma that this child goes through.
We learn how to deal with homophobia and transphobia from a young age and learn that we must hide away our beautiful queer self in order to be loved and respected. This is what fosters internalized transphobia and internalized homophobia. Families should teach us how to love ourselves fully; instead, we’re taught to censor our core identities and we drain ourselves to make them happy.
9. Conversion ‘therapy’
Conversion therapy entails any sort of practice that aims at making the queer person cishet. Basically, ‘converting’ a lesbian to a straight woman, or a trans woman to a cis man. In short, they do what is unnatural and inhuman.
Many toxic parents and families force their kids to visit a healer, a priest, an exorcist or an unethical therapist who can ‘cure’ the queerness out of them. In the worst cases, a child is sent for ‘corrective’ rapes where they are raped (with permission from family) by someone whose gender the family finds more suitable for their child. Needless to say, these practices leave a severe imprint on a person’s mental health and self-image. India banned conversion therapy 3 months ago in Feb 2022. It took us THAT long.
10. The “Be positive!” tribe
I’ve been told to ignore queerphobia and just “enjoy life” and “be positive”. I would love to do that, if you could just tell that to the employer who rejected me based on my queerness. Or tell it to the landlord who refused to give my trans friend a house because of her gender identity. Or to the family of my enby friend who misgender and traumatize them constantly.
You’re being queerphobic if you think systemic queerphobia can simply be ignored. Examine your privilege. Do the damn work of being an ally.
These are the reasons that ‘home’ is a loaded word for many queer people, so we find homes in our chosen families. I hope that you, on this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and Interphobia, look through these pointers and think about which one of these you’ve contributed toward. Whether it’s explicitly or subtly through your words, behavior, your policies, your workplace, your relationships, and your belief systems. Let’s make ‘home’ a safe space for all of us.
*queerphobia: the word will be used in the blog to include all kinds of discrimination queer people face – homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, interphobia, etc.