I’m not easily moved as far as films go, but Deepa Mehta’s film Fire (1996) did move me. The story of a taboo lesbian love affair reveals shocking truth within Indian culture.
Mehta’s uneasy underlying message was: more women, young girls and female children are sexually abused and/or murdered each year in India by heterosexual men, than people are killed by terrorists.
(This statement, I believe to be undoubtedly true for The United Kingdom and the USA, and probably for every nation not driven by civil war in which each side refers to the other as “terrorists”.)
Fire was banned in India when it was first released because of the contention and uproar it caused.
In light of this plague of predatory heterosexual men, should the promotion of heterosexuality be banned? Should young girls be warned of the potential dangers involved in associating with heterosexual men? We’re waging a war against terrorists; should we, more importantly, be waging a war against heterosexual men?
It is nonsense to claim that nowadays homophobia is rare amongst heterosexuals in the UK and USA, and that homosexuals have little to fear or campaign for now that a handful of politicians and pop stars have come out, seemingly with little or no detrimental effect, so far, to their careers.
Arguably, the hottest political chestnuts are still, in the USA, abortion and homosexuality, and in the UK, the Single European Currency and Homosexuality. Legislation, and poll after poll concerning homosexuals and teaching, adoption, equal pension rights, and many other issues relevant to equality before the law, reveals virulent homophobia.
In India, a society more overtly repressive than the one I was born into, homosexuals are coerced (by fear of imprisonment, torture, perhaps execution) into hiding their homosexuality, perhaps to the extent of marrying. They may, perhaps, have managed to fantasise well enough and long enough to impregnate their deceived wife. This would not make them heterosexual. It would merely make them a dishonest homosexual, less at ease with themselves and, I believe, less able to make a useful contribution to society.
I also believe Section 28 is a dishonest and cowardly piece of state legislation, and definition is at the heart of that dishonesty and cowardice. It is dishonest because “The Promotion of Homosexuality” is a meaningless term: It is not possible to promote a sexuality, though it is possible, and common practice, to promote prejudice and bigotry, as Section 28 most clearly demonstrates. Section 28 is cowardly because it denies the facts: A long term or lifetime homosexual relationship is not a “pretended family relationship”, it is a real family relationship involving commitment and caring.
Such common sense, focused measures may seem absurd, but are they any more absurd than the UK’s Section 28 which bans the “promotion” of homosexuality. Are they any more absurd than society’s ill-informed, heterosexist attitudes?
It is as natural, appropriate and morally right, for a homosexual, as a long term or lifetime heterosexual relationship would be for a heterosexual. Is a childless heterosexual couple “a pretended family relationship”? I would insist that the gender of those in a sexual relationship is irrelevant — as long as it is a mutually caring sexual relationship.
The heterosexist lobby insist that everyone should be heterosexual. In effect, those who insist that homosexuals “choose” their sexuality, are inferring that all people are heterosexual, and that homosexuals are, in fact, heterosexuals who are just trying to be difficult (prejudice and bigotry depend on the rejection of reason).
I challenge heterosexuals to ask themselves this question “when did you choose to be heterosexual?” Heterosexuals do not choose their sexuality. Why then do so many insist that anyone who does not share their sexuality has wilfully chosen not to.
I’d hope that even those on the politically extreme religious right would agree that a loving homosexual relationship is worthier and more valid than an abusive heterosexual relationship. I also realise that this is a vain hope.
If you wish to promote homosexual acts amongst heterosexual people, the established and proven method is simply to incarcerate heterosexuals in prisons and deny them conjugal visits. However and, crucially, differently, if you wish to promote homosexuality amongst heterosexuals, you will be as successful as a man attempting to promote walking as an alternative lifestyle or preference for fish. Indeed, the concept of promoting a particular sexuality to schools of children is as rational as that of promoting participation in the London Marathon to schools of herring.
At the age of four I knew I was heterosexual; by which I mean that I was aware of who I was seriously attracted to, in a special emotional and physical way; who I wanted to be close to, held by (though I knew nothing of sex).
Crucially, love is a word seldom, if ever, used by heterosexuals when discussing homosexuals or homosexuality. It is implicit in the language of heterosexual discussion of this issue that heterosexuals are searching for wholesome love, but homosexuals are merely looking for sex. I believe this to be untrue, as do my gay friends, most of whom are in long term, loving relationships, while the rest are hoping to find one.
Incidentally and contrary to heterosexist mythology, being gay does not mean that you are sexually and emotionally attracted to all other members of your sex, in the same way that heterosexuals are not sexually attracted to all members of the opposite sex. The gay men I know are not sexually attracted to young people, nor to slim people. The likes of Tom Cruise, Leonardo Di Cappriano, Brad Pit or Michaelangelo’s David hold no physical attractions for them.
To return, briefly, to the ocean: Several species of fish (spotted hand fish, stonefish…) are capable of “walking” and some (mudskippers, some species of catfish and eels) are able to survive prolonged periods on land. However, the ability to move on land “like fish out of water” does not validate the opinion that living in water is an environmental preference, or lifestyle, for fish. An accurate, honest, informed assessment would be that for fish, living in water is an obligatory, natural, necessary and appropriate requirement for the fulfilment of a healthy and environmentally useful life.
Likewise, for human beings, intimate, mutually caring, relationships are not a matter of preference or lifestyle. This writer would affirm that, with few exceptions, at least one intimate, mutually caring relationship is a vital imperative for a human being, and the absence of such a relationship is unhealthy, damaging to the individual, and ultimately damaging to society.
There is almost universal agreement that this is the case for heterosexuals. Sanity would expect an equal agreement that the equivalent, loving, homosexual relationship, is an equally vital imperative. Incredibly, large numbers of supposedly rational people insist that homosexuals should abandon the search for love and should instead, like fish out of water, struggle in pain as pretended heterosexuals or suffer a frustrating celibacy.
People who commit to an intimate emotional and sexual relationship, have accepted, even embraced, responsibility for someone else’s happiness and well being. Love is love, and such people, regardless of their sexuality, regardless of the gender constituents of that relationship, are the bedrock of an emotionally stable and responsible society and should be supported, nurtured and encouraged for the benefit of all.
Because the language of the sexuality debate is at best confused, I include the following explanatory statements (clearly misunderstood by many) so as to establish an agreement of definition in a world where assumed agreement of definition is the basis for so much human conflict. Heterosexuals are sexually attracted only to members of the opposite sex. Homosexuals are sexually attracted only to members of the same sex. Bisexuals are sexually attracted to women and also to men. “I tried it a couple of times but it wasn’t for me” does not move someone from one category to another.
Heterosexism: A term analogous to sexism and racism, describing an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and sti gmatises any non-heterosexual form of behaviour, identity, relationship, or community. Heterosexism highlights the parallels between antigay sentiment and other forms of prejudice, such as racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism. Homophobia has typically been employed to describe individual antigay attitudes and behaviours whereas Heterosexism has referred to societal-level ideologies and patterns of institutionalised oppression of non-heterosexual people.
Thanks to Devika for patiently explaining to me the gender, cultural and familial practices still common in some parts of Indian society today.