NEW HUES OF THE RAIN­BOW

If you thought not all de­sires could be put in words, think again. The vo­cab­u­lary of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions is grow­ing and ev­ery­one ‘fits in’. Well, al­most

Hindustan Times (Bathinda) - - Htthink! - Poulomi Ban­er­jee poulomi.ban­er­[email protected]

When 33-year-old Payal’s (name changed) friend called her a demi­sex­ual re­cently, she had to Google the word for its mean­ing. “He was telling me that he was gay and then went on to con­fess that he had al­ways sus­pected that I was demi­sex­ual [some­one ca­pa­ble of feel­ing sex­ual at­trac­tion only when he or she has formed a strong emo­tional bond with the per­son] ,” says Payal, adding with a laugh, “I had al­ways called my­self a ro­man­tic be­fore.”

A WORD OF ONE’S OWN

The vo­cab­u­lary of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions is ex­pand­ing to suit in­di­vid­ual emo­tions and de­sires that are be­yond not just the het­ero­sex­ual ma­jor­ity, but also that of the les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der (LGBT) com­mu­nity. Sure there’s queer – any­one who doesn’t con­firm to dom­i­nant ex­pres­sions of gen­der and sex­u­al­ity – but it is not enough, as an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple look for words that express their di­verse ex­pe­ri­ences.

A 2017 ar­ti­cle pub­lished in Time mag­a­zine uses the ex­am­ple of stu­dents in a high school in Utah to look at the “chang­ing mean­ing of gen­der and sex­u­al­ity” and how stu­dents are us­ing words be­yond the LGBT um­brella to iden­tify them­selves. A glos­sary on the web­site of the LGBTQIA (the last two let­ters rep­re­sent In­ter­sex and Asex­ual) Re­source Cen­tre, Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis, lists more than 10 dif­fer­ent sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions, in­clud­ing al­lo­sex­ual, asex­ual, demi­sex­ual and pan­sex­ual. There are many more la­bels out there on the in­ter­net, many of which also bridge the homo-het­ero di­vide and can be used by peo­ple of ei­ther ori­en­ta­tion to con­vey their more spe­cific iden­ti­ties. As the LGBTQIA Re­source Cen­tre glos­sary ex­plains the terms and def­i­ni­tions “are al­ways evolv­ing and chang­ing and of­ten mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple”. Spellings of the la­bels also of­ten vary.

THE IN­DIAN EX­PE­RI­ENCE

The use of these words is not re­stricted to the West. Delhi-based NGO, Talk­ing About Re­pro­duc­tive and Sex­ual Health Is­sues (TARSHI), ex­plains the mean­ing of some of these terms on its Face­book page. LGBTQ rights ac­tivist, coun­sel­lor and au­thor Vi­nay Chan­dran also agrees that “there are more and more peo­ple seek­ing help and ex­plic­itly iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves out­side of the het­ero-homo or man-woman dyad.” While the English-speak­ing, ur­ban youth are more fa­mil­iar with the terms, “even those who do not know the la­bels, like it when I am able to give them a word that rep­re­sents their feel­ings. It helps them ‘fit in’,” ex­plains says Megha Sheth, a psy­chol­o­gist work­ing with the Mum­baibased Hum­sa­far Trust. “I am get­ting an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple who iden­tify as pan­sex­ual or asex­ual.”

Sheth, 36, who iden­ti­fies as demi­sex­ual, says she had to ex­pe­ri­ence years of con­fu­sion be­fore, three years ago, she came across the word that she felt was right for her. “When I was 19-20, the only other sex­ual iden­ti­ties I was aware of, apart from het­ero­sex­u­al­ity were LGBT. ‘Q’ was added to that um­brella when I was about 24,” she re­calls. “In school, oth­ers around me were dat­ing and I would feel con­fused about why I was not in­ter­ested. Some­times, peo- ple called me a prude,” she re­calls.

In com­par­i­son, aware­ness came early to 19-year-old Bharati (name changed on re­quest), prob­a­bly be­cause the dis­course on sex­ual rights and iden­ti­ties had al­ready gained vol­ume by the time she reached pu­berty. “I was in Class 9,” says Bharati, “when I started iden­ti­fy­ing as pan­sex­ual. I came across the con­cept on­line.”

Sim­ply hav­ing a la­bel to iden­tify one­self by, may not make it eas­ier for one to as­sert one­self or get ac­cepted by those around, agrees writer R Raj Rao, “but these terms help peo­ple in un­der­stand­ing them­selves bet­ter.”

Of course, in a coun­try like ours which only made peace with its LGBTQ pop­u­la­tion as re­cently as last year with the strik­ing down of Sec­tion 377 of the In­dian Pe­nal Code (IPC) which crim­i­nalised sex against the or­der of na­ture or non-peno-vagi­nal sex, it will take time for these terms to find place in pop­u­lar par­lance.

ROOTED IN LGBTQ RIGHTS

The ex­pand­ing vo­cab­u­lary of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions, many feel, owes its roots to the move­ment for LGBTQ rights. “There were al­ways peo­ple who had no sex­ual de­sire (asex­u­als to­day), had sex­ual de­sire for any gen­der (pan­sex­ual) etc. They just never found rep­re­sen­ta­tion any­where in so­ci­ety un­til re­cently,” says Chan­dran. “The LGBTQ move­ment helped give voice to these iden­ti­ties and more iden­ti­ties like these are likely to emerge.”

Also, as Rao puts it, aware­ness of and ac­cep­tance of LGBTQ rights “made peo­ple look for terms for sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions that are de­scrip­tive rather than pre­scrip­tive. Many of the ear­lier words were abu­sive.”

The new, evolv­ing vo­cab­u­lary might be mind-bog­gling for the lay­man. But Chan- dran says “the con­fu­sion is only for peo­ple who be­lieve that ev­ery­one should fall into one or two cat­e­gories”. Love may bloom at first sight and de­sire be spon­ta­neous, but dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences of at­trac­tion need to thought about, voiced and ac­com­mo­dated to stop op­pres­sion of sex­ual mi­nori­ties, say queer rights ac­tivists.

Not ev­ery­one, though, is happy with the fix­a­tion with la­bels. “We are brought up to ex­pect that de­sire will be het­ero­sex­ual. Which of course it isn’t. All such la­bels of iden­tity [whether it be het­ero­sex­ual or ho­mo­sex­ual or bi­sex­ual or other such iden­ti­ties] are mas­sively con­strain­ing,” says Mad­havi Menon, di­rec­tor, Cen­tre for Stud­ies in Gen­der and Sex­u­al­ity, Ashoka Univer­sity. “De­sires can’t be cat­e­gorised. De­sires are queer be­cause they tend to be un­pre­dictable, un­re­li­able and sur­pris­ing. But by em­brac­ing la­bels, we are in­dulging in a kind of self polic­ing, telling our­selves that we are this and noth­ing else,” she ex­plains. For those who feel like Menon, the la­bel to go for may be po­mo­sex­ual – a per­son who doesn’t ac­cept or doesn’t fit into any sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion la­bel! Some, though, do use it as an al­ter­na­tive for queer.

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