‘I struggled to call myself lesbian, long after I accepted being queer’

There's no greater blow to patriarchy than a woman who can live without a man, so the society will do everything to silence her
‘I struggled to call myself lesbian, long after I accepted being queer’
‘I struggled to call myself lesbian, long after I accepted being queer’
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By Dolly Koshy

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I am a woman, a lesbian, and an atheist - three minority identities that have, over the years, created a strong personality I am proud to call my own.

Being a woman in India comes with a number of challenges. Worse is being a lesbian woman, and most challenging is being an atheist lesbian woman in India.

When my parents to came to know about my sexuality they tried to show me verses from the bible to tell me that I am a sinner. I came out to them as an atheist then. I still don’t know what appalled them more, my being a homosexual or my being an atheist. 

If people accuse me of wearing my sexuality on my sleeve, I am unapologetic as it took me years of personal and social struggles to get to where I am today. Coming out is a long process; for some it is a lifelong process. The first stage of coming out starts with accepting yourself.  Then you slowly come out to people as and when the need arises or when you feel is the right time. 

There are many people who never get the opportunity to come out due to the strong hetero-normative culture and social conditioning they live amidst.

After years of trying to be someone I am not, I took the courage to step out of my comfort zone, to be as big as possible. Why? So I can live large, so I can help others, so I can be myself. And the end result is that I get to be proud of myself for having lived a true life.

The LGBTQ community enjoys a greater degree of personal freedom now than we did a decade ago. But, lesbians in India, bound by patriarchy and misogyny face greater challenges than their gay counterparts. A man compelled into an arranged marriage can still manage to avoid having sexual relations with his wife, but lesbians have no such luck. Marital rape is not recognised in India.

If women come out as lesbian before becoming financially independent, they bear the brunt of financial disempowerment and familial disinheritance, in addition to risks to their lives. Indian society creates complex webs of dependencies and oppression, within which women are caught, bound and silenced.

Corrective rapes and forced marriages are evils that many lesbians have to deal with even today. A family’s so called honor lies with the woman and the only way she can maintain it is through marriage to a groom that adds to the family’s respect. As a result, a woman's value is judged only by marriage and motherhood. 

According to numerous LGBT support groups, marriage poses, by far, the biggest problem that lesbians face. While marriage may affect the lives of many women in India, the lesbian case demands special attention, as it includes a dimension of fear of being ’found out’ that impacts heavily on the quality of their lives.

Lesbians in India are conspicuous by their lack of visibility in mainstream society. Lesbian invisibility has become a deep-seated feature of society. As nothing can be a greater blow to patriarchy than a woman who can live happily without a man, our patriarchal society will do whatever it can to silence lesbian women. 

It’s no surprise that it took me years to be comfortable with even calling myself a lesbian, long after I was OK with calling myself gay or queer or a homosexual.

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