Activism at The Grassroot Level

Written by V.S. Nilanee

Photo by Sane Sunny

“Be the change you want to be.” A sentiment that is so easy to say, and yet so hard to actually be.

Less than a couple of years ago, the LGBT spectrum was just a word for me, a word that vaguely carried taboo implications. Until. Until that fateful day that expanded my horizons. I  decided to ask my friend who identified as FTM what that exactly meant. The conversation that followed opened my eyes, quite literally, to the spectrum of gender identities that exist, those that most of us are either unaware of, or have a prejudiced understanding towards. It started me off on a journey of discovery, including self-discovery, culminating in me tentatively beginning to identify myself as a heteroromantic asexual person.

Anyway, I digress.

When I began exploring the topic along with my friend, I was shocked at the depth of the misconceptions I carried, to say the least. For example, I had thought that transgender people and intersex people are the same, that being trans was a psychiatric problem, and so many more wrong things besides.

The good thing that came out of the talk I and he had was that I decided to, as so often held by adults I’ve known as the right thing to do, “be the change”. I thought it was easily achievable. I mean, how hard can it be for one person to come around? Besides, the picture I saw on the internet, barring some outright hate, seemed a fairly rosy one to me. So many celebrities, so many ordinary people, seemingly spoke out in support of LGBT+ people!

Alas, I was yet to learn that ‘internet activism’ is actually something that exists.

So, naively, I reached out to many people who ostensibly stood for ‘equality’, and I talked to them about educating others, one by one, about the LGBT spectrum, to remove the taboo aspect of it. I was sorely disappointed at the response I got. Most of them, educated people, even doctors, those who belonged to my own family, were absolutely horrified at the idea of me having a trans friend and considering that normal. For they considered it a ‘biologically unnatural thing’. Some of the celebrities I had so admired as being LGBT+ showed their own biases, their invalidation of certain genderqueer identities. Where did the ‘equality’ they ostensibly practice go then? Does it not include trans and other genderqueer people? It should!

In this quest of ‘being the change’, not everything is so bleak. I did find many like-minded individuals, people who were proud of their identity, people who, like you and me, probably, were trying to do what they can.

But, here is where a big obstacle comes. Unlike what we may first think, it’s not the outright haters that are the biggest chunk of the so-called ‘opposition’. It’s the people who are apathetic, unless they are personally affected by it. When trying to give a particular issue legitimacy in the eyes of the society at large, at truly the grassroot level, laws help (see: the abolition of section 377) as does active canvassing among the people. But what to do of the people who just refuse to see that an issue exists? What of the people who normalize the ridicule of people dealing with identities different from socially normalized cis-het identities?

Unfortunately, the reality of today’s society is that making fun of genderqueer people is normalized. Perhaps that is the reason why those of us who are genderqueer take so much time accepting ourselves.

Speaking as a person who identifies as asexual, I can tell for a certainty that I had a nebulous idea that I might be asexual.

However, I refused to give credence to that idea for a long time. Why? Peer pressure. Even though I was open to accepting others’ identities, I struggled with my own. It won’t be too much of a stretch to say that I still struggle with it. Again the question of ‘why’ arises. Because when I say to someone I know that I do not feel sexual attraction, the usual response I get is “But it’s normal to feel sexual attraction.

You’re a human girl, right? You’ll have to feel it someday or the other, otherwise, you’re not normal. You can’t be a child forever.” This statement is usually followed by laughter and jokes about ‘being Peter Pan’ and other such ridicule.

Frankly, who wants to be labelled ‘abnormal?’ It’s a human desire to fit in with something, fit in somewhere. So I suppressed my identity until I couldn’t anymore. Until I found someone who was willing to accept that yes, you don’t have to feel sexual attraction to be a complete human being. For those people, I am extremely thankful. Here’s where grassroots activism can help. Just like me, there exist a lot of people facing (worse) invalidation in the everyday world. People whose very identities are being bandied about as insults, people who feel like they are less than others because they are different. In a world where the world ‘equality’ is a catchphrase, this cannot happen. It is a wrong of the worst kind. It snatches away their fundamental rights. For every human being has a right to live, by extension, a right to their identity.

I say we mobilize people and spread awareness that a variety of identities exist. Just as sexual education is slowly becoming compulsory in schools and wider organizations, so should educating the public about the spectrum of different identities be incorporated into the system. Only when this is widely accepted shall we have an equal world on this score.

Until then, all we can do is one thing. Raise our voices as loud as we can, as often as we can. For every small step counts. A small step for you and me can make a big difference to someone else. What matters is that we be the change we want to be.

V.S. Nilanee

Aspiring writer with a kaleidoscope of varied dreams and opinions. Outspoken introvert. Unabashed idealist. Passionate about words and their fluid meanings.