After years of struggle, the LGBTQ+ community of India had a historic win on the 6th of September 2018. The Supreme Court unanimously voted for the decriminalisation of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code finally giving queer Indians the right to love without fear. And even though that by itself is a victory of an unprecedented scale, we still have a long way to go.
The legal barriers may have lifted. But there is another major factor that comes into play when we talk about true freedom for members of the LGBTQ+ community. The society. Us. Each and every one of us who have enjoyed the heterosexual privilege all our life.
It is time we learned how to be more inclusive of our queer brothers, sisters and everyone in between. Especially since there is a major lack of awareness about who and what they are.
So where to begin? Frankly speaking, its something that’s going to require constant self-monitoring. We have years of prejudiced conditioning to unlearn, thanks to what we were fed through movies, TV programs, surroundings we grew up in etc.
However, we need to start somewhere and so let’s begin with the basics. Here are 8 tips that you could keep in mind while interacting with a queer person, to make sure you don’t come off as rude and insensitive:
1. Do NOT call them your “gay best friend.”
No, just no. They are way more than just their sexuality. If they’re your best friend, then that’s what they are: Best Friend. No prefixes or suffixes attached. Do not label them on the basis of who they choose to love or not to.
2. Heterosexists or transphobic language.
We’re all guilty of having some sort of heterosexist or transphobic slang in our vocabulary. Like when your male friend says or does something that is not in line with the toxic masculine image that men are supposed to adhere to, and you respond with “That’s so gay!” We do the same thing with casteist slurs in our casual conversations and this time, it’s not too late to nip this in the bud. Soooo… be a bit more mindful of your words. You might still slip a couple of times at first, but make a mental note of it and remember not to the next time.
3. You don’t look very gay you know.
If at all you’ve been saying this as a compliment, stop right now. Stop trying to classify people into boxes on the basis of how they look. Just because someone is of a certain sexual orientation doesn’t mean that everyone of that specific orientation will have the same physical or behavioural traits. And if you’ve said this as a careless afterthought, stop that too. How would you like it if someone came up to you and said: “You don’t look very straight you know?”
4. Keep an open mind.
This one actually applies to everyone, not just the LGBTQ+ community. We’re all different in our own ways. Respect that. Your reality could be wildly different from that of someone else’s. And you can never truly know what their life is like unless you’ve lived it. So respect people’s way of living. Do not, and I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT go poking into other people’s lives with your judgements. Live and let live, will you? Even if it seems strange or weird to you at first, catch yourself before you tag them as such and stop it from tainting your image of them.
5. Know the proper pronouns/names/terms.
Never assume. If you are unsure, ask. Especially in the case of trans or gender non-conforming/non-binary people. We’ve gotten so used to the binary sex system that we try to fit everyone within the two categories of male or female. Never ever call a transgender woman as a she-male. That’s just plain disrespectful. If you are comfortable enough with the person, approach them and ask them what they’d prefer to be acknowledged as. Respect what they identify as. And act accordingly.
6. Educate yourself on what the LGBTQ+ spectrum covers.
We all know that the rainbow is associated with the LGBTQ+ community. However, what does it mean? It stands for the wide spectrum that is sexuality. Straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, transexual, intersex, queer, gender fluid and everything in between. Read up about what these are or even talk to someone who belongs to the community. It is our responsibility to know of the different kinds of people among us and treat them with love and respect accordingly.
7. Create a safe space for them.
They’ve been ostracised their whole life. And we are all to be blamed for it. Bear this in mind and make amends now. Create a safe space for your queer friends so that they no longer feel the need to hide who they are. Be welcoming, be open and throw your judgements out the window. Treat them as you would any other friend, but also be mindful of their struggles. Shut up and listen to them. Be there for them in any way you could help. We owe it to them.
8. Don’t try to set them up with your other friend who’s gay.
You might be trying to be helpful, but unless they ask you to set them up with someone, don’t even bring it up. Again, there’s more to them than their sexuality. So unless you think they’d genuinely get along with each other as individuals, do not play matchmaker. You wouldn’t want someone to set you up with someone just because you both wear glasses, would you?
The above-mentioned tips barely even scratch the surface. So remember primarily to be mindful of your actions and words. A little empathy can go a long way. Respect and love one another despite your pre-conceived notions. That is how we might even have a glimmer of a chance at building a better society together.