From harassment to "harmless" jokes, growing up "effeminate" can be traumatizing in a world obsessed with gender binaries.

Bullying name-calling isolation What happens when boys arent considered manly enoughImage for representation only
Features Sexuality Saturday, April 22, 2017 - 17:27

Bikram vividly remembers an incident from his school days which left an indelible mark on him. He saw his classmate, Arun* bullying and physically harassing Srikant*, who was from the same class and was considered too "effeminate" by the others.

“Come, won’t you do something [physical] with me?” Arun kept saying as he pulled Srikant’s hand. Bikram intervened at that point and pulled Arun away. But the image of a scared and cowering Srikant has remained in his mind.

Srikant and another boy Snehit*, Bikram recalls, were a part of his friends circle until they hit puberty in class 9. “They had mannerisms which were considered too feminine by our group of friends. People stopped talking to them and isolated them. If I tried to speak to them, my friends would question me. It was a very passive aggressive thing to do to make them feel excluded,” says the 26-year-old.

Bikram came to terms with his sexuality way back in school and has been openly gay since then. The incident from school left a lasting impression on him because he and Arun were also involved physically when it happened. “I realized then that misogyny isn’t just in the heterosexual world, but in the world of gay men too,” he says.

People who do not fit into the gender binary are known to have a hard time. But children are especially vulnerable because not only are they still coming to terms with their gender and sexuality, they are also easy targets for bullying and name-calling. And even educational institutions like schools and colleges are not exceptions to this.

It is traumatizing when a child is ostracized by his or her peers, but the discrimination is internalized even more when teachers are complicit in its perpetuation.

Siddharth Ganesh, a Bengaluru-based graduate, identifies himself as gender-fluid. But back when he was in school in Mysuru, he had a difficult time when people around him ridiculed him for being too "feminine".

“People would call me names and the teachers would also laugh. They were complicit in the mistreatment I was subjected to,” he says.

In one particular instance, a teacher even took part in shaming him in front of the class. “I used to love wearing Livestrong bands. One time, a teacher pulled me up and asked in front of everyone if I was a sex worker because only sex workers wore them,” Siddharth recalls.

While Siddharth says that he has moved past the self-doubt and low self-esteem that the abuse instilled in him, he admits that he still feels uncomfortable in some public settings. “I don’t know how people will see me. I am past what happened back in school but you internalize the discrimination to a certain extent,” he says.

Something similar happened with Bikram, as he witnessed the isolation that Srikant and Snehit went through. When he went to a different school, Bikram was upfront about his sexuality and didn’t face name-calling, but he became conscious about his mannerisms.

“I’m an expressive person and I use my hands a lot while speaking. There were times when I would feel like people were scrutinizing me just because they knew I was gay. So I would be talking animatedly, but suddenly I’d pull back my hands and place them behind my back because I didn’t want people to pick on my mannerisms,” he says.

For Timothy, a 21-year-old English literature and psychology student in Bengaluru, the problem wasn’t name-calling or bullying, but the connotations which were attached to being gay. “My college and faculty are open minded so name- calling hasn’t been an issue. But it’s just a climate of discomfort you feel when people routinely toss around the word ‘gay’ as if it’s some sort of bad word or joke,” he says.

Timothy adds that some of his male friends have been ridiculed for having long hair or straying from the gender binary even a little bit. The strict dress codes for girls and boys also reinforce the same binary, he observes. 

*Names changed to protect privacy

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