“I have worn a mask for so long that often, my identity gets blurred,” states Sylvia (name changed), as she fidgets nervously in her chair.
Sylvia, a 27 year old Gay Naga woman, has kept her sexual orientation a secret from most people. She has a promising job, enjoys music, describes herself as a “devout Christian” and has “tons of friends and relatives,” who, in her words, are “always kind” to her. “However, I feel all that could change, once they get to know the real me.”
“Even among the few who do know, some express ‘sympathy’ at what they describe as a condition,” she adds, as she anxiously looks around for anyone eavesdropping on our conversation.
Sylvia first realized that she was gay at the age of 14, but never had the courage to reveal it to anyone. It was only at the age of 22, while in university, that she finally opened up to her sister. “My sister did not know how to respond at first, but eventually she provided me with support and listened to me,” she states, as she slowly starts getting comfortable with the interview. While a couple of her friends have been let into her secret, Sylvia’s parents and almost everyone else remain oblivious.
“Conscience must be merged in instinct before we become fine,” wrote literary critic, Desmond MacCarthy, attempting to dissect one of the numerous aphorisms of a Victorian bohemian.
The connection deepens, because the writer concerned was the openly gay and much persecuted Oscar Wilde. History owes an unpaid debt to Wilde, according to MacCarthy, for the canon’s former cowardice and reluctance to look past personal preferences and instead delve into the ocean of wit he left behind.
The same debt is being accumulated by a large portion of humanity today for refusing to accept their fellow beings for who they are; and in the case of Naga society, for refusing to even acknowledge their existence.
When efforts are underway to widen the discourse on Gay Rights and sexuality, Naga society seems to linger under a hushed conspiracy of silence.
Caleb (name changed) is a 36 year old engineer from Dimapur and a Gay Naga man. While his family is aware of his sexual orientation, Caleb still prefers to remain anonymous, as he states that “bigotry still exists in our society on many levels.”
“There are initiatives’ going on to emancipate humanity from bigotry and intolerance, but Naga society has missed that boat,” he laments. “It’s not too late though,” he states.
And it’s not solely about Gay Rights. There is a larger issue on the perception of sexuality and gender. Looking at rights through a construed lens of morality and ‘decency,’ combined with the attitude of ‘shame’ proves a formidable obstacle to opening a healthy discourse on sexuality.
The recent Supreme Court ruling to strike down Article 377, thereby decriminalizing gay sex is a step forward. But simply doing away with a colonial law that traces its history to a 158-year-old provision back to the reign of King Henry VIII is not enough.
There will inevitably be moves to demand greater rights. And voices from the government and other groups (both religious and secular) have continuously emerged since the SC’s ruling, warning of a slippery slope towards what they deem as “unnatural and immoral.”
While coarse dehumanization of the sexually marginalized continues through individual voices, institutional bullying on the other hand has learnt to disguise itself. They come meek and mild on the exterior, but their fundamental arguments are still steeped in parochial ideas of morality.
Their language and means may be more refined now, but even the most progressive of these institutions still persist with arguments like the supposed link of crimes like pedophilia to homosexuality.
Complete escape from the judgment of the pompous and hypocritical may be never possible for the LGBT community. But the fight is worth it.
When our society can rise from its semi recumbent posture and shed away the conditioning to only exalt a perceived ‘normal,’ then only we can begin to progress.
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