The biggest challenge the LGBT community faces on forums is not the usual schizophrenic hate-speech. It is the more insidious menace of educated people, whose starting point is a fundamental dislike for homosexuality, who (ab)use selective scientific facts to spread malicious misconceptions in a country with inadequate awareness of the issue. The article in The Hindu (subsequently retracted by The Hindu following the community- and ally-led protests addressed to the Readers’ Editor, cached copy here) titled “It is ‘nurture against nature’” by Mohana Krishnaswamy is a textbook illustration of this threat.
The article is not an objective evaluation of the arguments. The author’s agenda is transparent: to subtly depict LGBT people as a threat to humanity. It is a clarion call to actively repress, through criminalization, the emotional and physical reality of a sexual minority. Why else would she liken being gay to “terrorism and suicidal tendencies”? Perhaps she realized her advocacy so closely mirrors the Nazis who liquidated homosexuals in death camps to “eliminate undesirable traits [from] the most evolved species on earth” (her words), that she felt the need to distance herself from eugenics in her extended preamble.
Any morally honest reader would have numerous objections to this article. These are mine:
1. Sexuality is not “environmental”: some evidence suggests genetic factors are associated with male same-sex attraction, which the author admits. Other studies point to the role of epigenetic and developmental factors in determining sexuality. To single out one (absolutely baseless) aspect of the law in a country as a strong determinant of sexuality, is beyond absurd. Even if it is mildly environmental, that doesn’t make it more malleable than other hardwired traits! By analogy, “height” is only partly hereditary; “environment” also plays a role, like childhood nutrition, emotional security, exercise etc. But it would be bizarre to suggest that height can be changed during adulthood, or that criminalizing shortness (and the consequent societal attitudes) can mould society to change people’s heights. This author claims no better.
2. Sexual orientation CANNOT presently be altered: Every single study claiming to “cure gayness” has been debunked. “Corrective therapy” is banned in several countries because of the clearly established trauma of trying to forcibly suppress or alter sexuality. Exodus International, one of the largest proponents of ex-gay therapy was forced to close and apologize “for being part of the system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt.” Same with former leading psychiatrists. Decriminalizing gay sex cannot convert straight people into gay. And if 377 is upheld, gay people will remain gay! It is simply impossible to “encourage people” to be gay/straight. Show me a credible scientific study (not pilot studies, not self-reported anecdotal evidence) demonstrating otherwise, and I’ll eat my shoe.
3. Homosexuality is not “unnatural”: What on earth does “natural” even mean? Found in nature? Homosexual bonds are a natural part of life in virtually every other species, and found in every culture and society in human history. Does “unnatural” mean it doesn’t serve reproduction? Neither do male nipples, should we hack them off? Nature is simply too diverse and heterogenous, and it is the author’s antediluvian notions of strict male/female binarity that is unnatural to this planet. A single blade of grass can have up to 12 different genders. And even if the author wants to restrict morality to only what serves reproduction, then rape, adultery, infanticide, child abuse and cannibalism are quite “natural”. Does she endorse them?
4. Even if it is “unnatural”, so what?! Should the author give up vaccines, her clothes and her spectacles because they are “unnatural”? Perhaps she concurs with the exact same dialectic of “natural order” used to persecute women in the workplace, female reproductive rights, racial desegregation, stem-cell research, contraception, the abolition of slavery, and organ transplants? Genetic mutation is perfectly normal, and many people are born different, e.g. tall, left-handed, extreme flexibility, with photographic memory, or “with six fingers”. If the author is uncomfortable with deviations from the societal norm, she needs counseling. Or a history book.
5. Homosexuality causes no harm: To label something undesirable, one needs to demonstrate objective, secular harm. Terrorism, suicidal tendencies etc. cause concrete harms, and are hence problematic. What exactly are the secular harms of being gay? Throwing vague moralistic labels like “unethical”, “unnatural” and “improper” does not make it so. Masturbation (heck, even being left-handed) was once considered “improper conduct”. Today’s homophobes are simply the modern equivalent of the sex-obsessed puritans of old.
6. Traditional marriage is not endangered: We have case studies of over 20 countries that recognize marriage equality. On Friday, a Federal judge in Utah struck down a ban on marriage equality because Utah “failed to show how gay marriage would affect opposite-sex unions”. Does the author have any actual evidence for her fears, beyond doomsday insinuations?
7. “People exhibiting homosexual behaviour” are NOT “prone to AIDS”: That statement is so misleading, the author’s medical license needs to be revoked! HIV/AIDS spreads due to unprotected sex. Societies like South Africa conclusively demonstrate that if you don’t take precautions like wearing a condom, you are at high risk of contracting HIV regardless of whether you’re having gay or straight sex. Yes, the odds of contraction are lower in the case of vaginal sex, but the vast majority of HIV positive people in the world are in poor countries, and are heterosexual. In India alone, of all HIV/AIDS contractions 80% are through heterosexual contact. In developed countries, there are sociological reasons why it is more prevalent in certain groups, viz. the complete lack of sex education and awareness about condoms and disease, the risk of jail sentence or deportation for those who seek medical counsel etc. In the US, African and Hispanic Americans have much higher rates of HIV/AIDS. Does that make being black inherently wrong?
It is a sign of progress the bogus claims of “homosexuality is against Indian culture” or “humanity will eventually go extinct” weren’t made. Ultimately, all of this boils down to one fundamental question: Do we live in a society where the fundamental inalienable rights of all citizens are respected? Just as the author has a democratic right to propagate misinformed homophobic views, I have a right to share my life and love with someone, whatever my gender.
The story of my nation has been the long march to redeem that tryst we once proudly declared with destiny. At every stage, when Sati was abolished; when so-called untouchables entered temples, we faced the forces of fear, blind tradition and ignorance, breaking the world into fragments with their narrow domestic walls. And we overcame them.
And so we shall, again.
From my heart to yours,
An Indian citizen
Orinam’s notes: An earlier version of this piece was published on Nirmukta, in response to Dr. Mohana Krishnaswamy’s homophobic article in The Hindu, published in Dec 2013. Dr. Krishnaswamy’s article was eventually taken down from thehindu.com with an accompanying note by the Reader’s Editor. Other responses include:
The Violence of Irrationality: response to Mohana Krishnaswamy, by Pronoy Rai and Barath Ezhilan, published on Orinam, Dec 29, 2013.
It is ‘nonsense against science’: Analyzing Mohana Krishnaswamy’s defense of the 377 in India, by BerryNice, published on personal blog, Dec 22, 2013