As SC decides on section 377, here’s your guide to understanding different sexualities

If you’re reading this, we can safely assume you don’t have a fundamental issue with the *existence* of LGBTQ folks. And that you want to understand the subject of sexuality a little more. We feel you  the various sexual orientations can often be hard to navigate for those who identify as straight. Section 377 of the Indian penal code criminalises homosexuality, infringing upon the rights of consenting adults, reaching all the way into their bedrooms. If this feels outdated, let us remind you that it dates back to the colonial era, which is where it should have also stayed. Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging section 377. 

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Being ‘woke’ in 2018 means understanding the full spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identities. After all, the more you know, the better you can fight the neighbourhood homophobe or the bigoted online troll. 

Let’s recap some basics, shall we? LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. These days, the acronym has expanded to LGBTQ, with Q standing for queer. Lesbians are women who’re attracted to other women, gay men are drawn to other men, while bisexuals are people who are attracted to men as well as women. A transgender person is someone who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. 

Following us so far? Great. Because things are about to get real.   

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To start you off into being a better LGBTQ ally, we get Pawan Dhall, a founding member of the Kolkata-based Varta Trust (which focuses on gender and sexuality publishing), to guide us in understanding various terms under the LGBTQ umbrella.

First up, let’s talk about the body. “At birth, we are all assigned a gender. The doctor takes a look at the genitals present and decides whether it’s a male or female, based on societal norms. If a child is seen with genitals that don’t seem to fit into any typical gender categories, the child may be considered intersex. After permission from the parents, the doctor may carry out surgery to make the child fit into a category,” says Dhall. 

As a grown-up, if your sense of personal identity is the same as the gender you were assigned at birth, you can call yourself cisgender. When people don’t identify with their assigned gender, they may refer to themselves as transgender. For instance, a woman could feel she’s trapped in a man’s body, or vice-versa. 

“Nobody should be assigned a gender at birth. We should decide as grown-ups how we feel. Gender is a social construct, and it’s also really in our mind,” says Dhall. 

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It’s important to understand the difference between transgender and transsexuals, subtle though the difference may seem. Transsexuals are folks who, in keeping with their personal sense of gender, undergo gender transition surgery (commonly known as sex change operation). All transsexuals are transgenders but not all transgenders are transsexuals. Some transgenders may not want to change their physical appearance.  

Then there are also gender-fluid individuals, whose sense of gender is not fixed. “On some days, they may feel male, on some days, they may feel female, and on other days, they may be undecided. It’s also possible that a person can feel like a male in the morning, and a woman in the evening,” explains Dhall.

And if a person’s expression of gender, be it hair, clothing, speech or mannerisms, doesn’t fit into any categories, they may even identify as gender queer.  

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Sexual attraction too is a broad concept. “It’s as fluid as gender,” says Dhall. A bisexual person is attracted to more than one gender. A pansexual is someone who’s attracted to people, regardless of their gender. This could mean a woman feeling attracted towards a transgender, a cisgender man, or even a lesbian woman.

On the other hand, it’s also possible for a person to be asexual  they can feel emotional attraction towards others but not physical. And that’s normal too. It’s not a question of meeting the ‘right’ person or having the ‘right’ sexual experience.

The important thing to remember is that every individual’s experience is unique, and all you really need to develop is a little sensitivity. And an open mind.

Do you have any questions? Ask us in the comments section below.

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