We are struggling to narrate stories that our community wants to, and not what TRPs or clicks dictate.

Transforming LGBT narratives Why some of us hesitate to engage with the media
Voices Opinion Sunday, October 02, 2016 - 17:03

Media plays an important role in any society. It has helped shape many movements in our country. Media brought the conversation around LGBT issues in India to our living rooms.

Earlier, there were only a handful of news outlets that consistently reported on LGBT issues in a positive light. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the occasional prime-time debates on news channels helped many queer individuals. This was a big leap from news on LGBT individuals and lives being restricted to perverse narratives.

Most queer individuals who are not associated with organizations or NGOs interact with the media and share stories primarily to reach out to other queer individuals. We do not understand how media works. There are numerous times where we feel that our comments are misquoted, our experiences twisted to suit the predetermined editorial narrative and so on.

Some of us have given up on interacting with the media. Even if the intention is genuine, our past experiences have made us stop giving interviews to the media. Some of us have made it a habit to interact with media only through emails, at least we would have proof of what we said. I have also seen journalists who run through our quotes before publishing and be sensitive in their approach. On the other hand, I have also met persons who feel entitled because they are doing service to the queer community. I have also had to deal with a journalist who threated to divulge personal information given off-the-record, because he felt the conversation was not going his way.

Media portrayal about lesbian and bisexual women are always reported with an overdose of voyeurism and objectification of their sexuality. The reporting also fulfills the heterosexual male fantasy about lesbian women.

There is ignorance about the LGBT community, and there are preconceived notions about the community - positive and negative. We are now at a stage where only the stereotypes about our community are consumed as news. The diversity of the community is erased.

Sometimes when reporters call us for a story, I suspect if they have already written the story. They would reach out to only to get a ‘character’ to fit in their own narrative.

Frequently we receive calls asking for personal narratives with a set of caveats.

Experiences with media students and independent film makers are no different. At the end of every academic year, I get calls from media students as part of their project work asking for a ‘successful’ gay man to share his story. I often wonder if they mean successful in being gay. Then I get requests to introduce a bunch of queer people with specifications – butch lesbian woman, English speaking transwoman, and so on.

In the past two years, there has been a noticeable change in the queer politics in India. We have started talking about intersectionality with other movements and issues beyond Section 377. These are rarely highlighted in the media. Our political assertiveness is confided to a singular view. No media person ever asked us why Chennai Rainbow Pride was dubbed as Rainbow Self-Respect Parade in Tamil, no mainstream report about the visible Queer Dalit assertion in Delhi Queer Parade or why we keep away direct corporate sponsors from our Pride marches.

The appropriation isn’t restricted to our experiences. In most protests, there would be an argument with photographers and news channel videographers who dictate us on how we should stand and hold the placards. Some even go to the extent of manhandling us for their photographs. During one Pride parade, a photographer snatched my placard and handed it over to a white woman and asked her to pose with it. My friends and I explained to the photographer that what he did was wrong and that the placard is very personal, that it reflects our politics and he could not have it posed with a person who he feels would look ‘good’ for his photos. The photographer did not understand what we said, he was keen on taking photograph of the white person with my placard.

The recent protest by the transgender community of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry did not even get the coverage of social media posts of socialites who accuse the transgender community of obscenity and bringing the ostracization upon them.

Queer individuals do not have the negotiating power in how we are portrayed. Most of the times, we are promised that nothing would be changed, but at the end of the day the reportage would be sensational, victimizing and highly insensitive towards the individual who shared their story.

There was outrage against the transwoman character played in the movie ‘I’ by celebrity hair-stylist Ojas Rajani, a homosexual man. Many said that director Shankar alone cannot be blamed as the character was played by a member of the LGBT community. Do they honestly believe that Ojas Rajani, or say Bobby Darling who holds the Limca Book of Records for playing 18 gay characters, have the negotiating power in their character portrayal? Most of the characters portrayed by Bobby Darling were caricatures which thrived on stereotypes used for comic and sexual relief.

Shankar’s ‘I’ also proved that the LGBT community is not a single happy family that understands each other’s problem. The movie and Ojas Rajani’s interview to The Hindu following the protest proved the insensitiveness cis-gay men have towards the trans community. (cis-gay men are those who are gay and are comfortable with the male gender assigned to them at birth)

The media coverage has increased the visibility of the queer community. But today, we are struggling to narrate stories that our community wants to, and not what TRPs or clicks dictate.

We have started to tell our own stories. Social media and new age media platforms helps us in sharing our experiences and viewpoints first hand. Five years ago, there wasn’t much resource available about the queer community to refer and learn. When we still have media reports with the heteronormative gaze on the Queer community, it defies the whole reason why we put ourselves in the line.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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