Our queer coverage of LGBTQ+ stories
For Indians who belong to sexual minority groups, like lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, intersex people, asexual people and several other queer groups with their own gender identities and sexual inclinations – society is slowly opening their doors to them in acceptance.
There have been many pitfalls, with none bigger than the re-ratification of Section 377. But narratives of LGBTQ persons coming out and integrating into the society are emerging in tandem with stories of struggles, constantly challenging our existing perspectives of what it is to be a man, woman, transgender, gay, bisexual, lesbian or gender queer.
Our country has done more to oppress the LGBTQ community than one can imagine. There are harrowing stories of indignity, like the Telugu TV show host who insulted a LGBTQ couple on-screen. Though at the same time, there are inspiring stories of acceptance, like Madhu, India’s first transgender to be elected as mayor in Raigarh.
Since stories of both extremes are emerging, it is impossible to arrive at a single narrative for Indian media’s portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community. Do we then celebrate the success stories or do you concentrate on eradicating the flaws?
In perspective, one might find no cause for celebration because a majority of the LGBTQ community don’t live in these extremes, but live somewhere in between.Very few LGBT couples are on TV. Very few transgender people are contesting elections and even fewer are winning them.
All these stories miss out on something paramount to the LGBT community – the issues that people from the community grapple with on a daily basis: Issues like acceptance from their own family, “How do I convince my father that I am gay?” or“ What will my future be like after the transformation?”
The reporter at the heart of a story
Naturally, stories on LGBTQ persons tend to place the subject in the limelight. Too often journalists fall prey to the emotion attached to stories on the LGBT community and fail to report objectively, highlighting and even glorifying the person in focus.
It is important today that journalists remain committed observers and detach themselves from the emotion of the story. Stories must not just be told of those who rise to become mayors but also of everyday people, the pizza delivery trans-woman or the gay waiter, day to day people living with dignity in spite of all. The media (ourselves included) has to normalize the fact that gender identity dysphoria can come to anyone, and reinforce the idea that there are no class differences attached to a state of mind.
It’s all in the mind.
The media also tends to focus heavily on the physical aspects of a sex-change operation. The life of Pinki Pramanik, the Asian Games gold medal winning athlete whose gender was questioned, unraveled in front of cameras as the media used any excuse to prod, poke and lay bare Pinki’s life. Revelations about Pinki’s gender and medical proof were closely followed by the media. Instead a chunk of the real issues faced by the LGBT community are almost always psychological. For Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and queer persons, the change is solely psychological. It is only transgenders who undergo a biological change.
Evidently there is not enough discussion, both on the psychological setbacks faced by the LGBT community in coming out, and the psychological response from those affected (parents, friends, neighbors etc) reacting to this situation. The narrative needs to move away from celebrating flash-in-the-pan stories of acceptance and instead reroute itself towards the emotions and issues facing a person from the LGBTQ community.
However, one can cede that a narrative in itself is a breakthrough from the silence that existed for decades. Discussions have evolved from hushed up closed-door dinner table conversations to public spaces, social media, newspapers and 9 pm TV debates. There is still a need for reportage on the LGBT community in India to reinvent itself. The media needs to tone down the rhetoric and tell more honest stories. Stories of LGBTQ persons coming out, transitioning and integrating with society, of acceptance from Indian parents. Stories that challenge how they are portrayed in films, music and art and so on.
It is time we ask tougher questions, both of ourselves and of the society. When will members of the transcommunity be given separate cells in-jail, and when will we have laws to provide remedy to men (heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual) and transgender persons against sexual violence. When will Article 377 be scrapped and homosexual sex acts be decriminalised? The questions are plenty, so the discussion needs to continue, progressively from nuanced conversations to more open and acceptive discussions on gender identity and sexuality.
The conversation is now coming to Manipal, with the first ever Pride Support march in the town organised by Article-19, School of Communication’s (SOC) annual media fest. It is set to take place today at 4pm starting from the SOC premises, covering KMC campus, WGSHA and MIT.
The fest will host Alex Mathew, also known as Mayamma, one of India’s first drag queens and a vocal advocate of queer rights. You can catch the talk at the School of Communication, Manipal on the need for sensitivity in reportage of LGBTQ issues on the February 8.
And in the interest of transparency, this article has been brought to you as a part of The Manipal Journal’s collaboration with Article-19, the School of Communication’s annual media fest.