Pride month is observed in June the world over to sensitise the public. However, the LGBTQ community in Goa continues to face several issues which they bear in silence. NT NETWORK gets you real stories …
DANUSKA DA GAMA | NT NETWORK
Although the world today is familiar with the term LGBTQ, the community continues to face a number of issues and still struggles with their fight for equal rights and recognition. Things are more difficult for those who are still afraid to come out into the open.
“Life is never easy and people only add to the problems we face- at home, in school, at college and then at work …everywhere,” says a young working professional from Mapusa who is puzzled about the way forward of living life ie either living life on ‘his’ terms or giving in to the demands of the parents who threaten suicide if ‘she’ changes her gender.
A national level badminton player, ‘Hero’ (name changed) quit the game, for fear of officials discovering male hormones, etc, that could create controversy and bring shame to the family and state. “My friends have been supportive and so has my teacher who is like a friend and has been trying to find solutions on how to convince my parents to allow me to get the surgeries done to become a male,” says Hero.
Another young woman, who is a musician and teacher, came out late and not everybody knows that she’s a bi-sexual. “I was never really sure, being brought up Christian and all. I couldn’t think like that. But I guess I was attracted to the same sex early on,” she says, adding that she did doubt herself at first, but once she began reading about it she learned more. She also recalls an encounter four years ago, when a lady kissed her, which fully accept who she was. But nonetheless she is hesitant to tell people. “Many don’t know still, not even my mother. And I think it’s good this way as I don’t want to hurt sentiments,” she says. Her story is similar to those who are brought up in orthodox families.
“As I’ve grown I’ve learned that being gay is wrong! Inhuman! We lived with generations teaching us this. So I understand why homophobia still exists,” says a crusader for LGBTQ rights, whose family is homophobic.
But she’s made a lot of friends who are part of the beautiful community and feels people shouldn’t judge others based on their sex. “They’re no different than we are. They want to be loved and love who they want just like any other person,” she says, adding that she has learned more lessons on love and life from the community than any books have taught her.
However, she continues to keep the ‘secret’ from her family. “What good will it do if I shout aloud and hurt them all and they fall sick? I won’t be able to live with that guilt,” she says, hoping someday with awareness they will accept reality and then she will be able inform them.
And while the older generation usually looks at gay marriages, same sex love, through a religious point of view, she believes that religion is used as a mere excuse to hate the LGBTQ+ community. “I strongly believe God loves you for being you. Neither you nor I have the high power to judge someone. It’s hard enough to find an identity in society,” she says.
Getting frank with Francis
Francis Fernandes decided to come out as gay in 2015. This was prior to the Section 377 verdict. “It was a scary time, but I decided to do so because I didn’t want to ruin any girl’s life by marrying her,” he says.
Although Francis was fortunate to have supportive college friends, his parents, especially his mother, struggled with the revelation at first
“After the Section 377 verdict my mother asked me what my plans were and I told her that I would marry a man, after being sure that he is ‘the one’. She told me then that she wanted to take me to a doctor. But I explained to her that being gay is not a disease and I didn’t need to consult a doctor,” he says, adding that family is and will always be the slowest to accept, especially if they have conservative/religious roots. Today, his parents appear to have accepted the fact that they can’t change anything about his identity.
“My extended family has not really commented much about my choice of being out and loud, except for one maternal uncle who I had an argument with in a family WhatsApp group after I shared some LGBTQ+ related content,”
And while Francis was teased back in college, he chose to take it all in good humour, although, he says in hindsight, he could have treated this differently. “Now I realise that I was wrong in somewhat normalising what they were doing, because although it may have not affected me negatively, it could affect someone else. So now, I’m trying my best to call out homophobic comments and even de-normalise insensitive remarks or good-humor teasing,” he stresses.
Now actively involved with Goa Rainbow Trust, Francis believes that it has given him the opportunity to not just help others grow in knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community, but also to personally strengthen empathy towards fellow humans. And the LGBTQ+ community, he says, is an extremely diverse one with many new identities coming to light. “I am also learning everyday! I am hoping to see a lot of things change in the near future, he says. Among these changes, he hopes to witness equal recognition of marriages, irrespective of differences, be it gender, sexual orientation, caste, religion, race, nationality-related. “I also want to see adoption/surrogacy rights for all and would also like our community to be able to pass on their properties to their children – equal inheritance rights,” he says. “I’d also like people to rent out accommodation to tenants irrespective of their choice of partners or their own gender identities.”
Given that education has power to bring about positive change, that’s where the basis of acceptance, equality should be imparted he says, adding that he wants schools, colleges and professional spaces to take in anyone and everyone solely based on their conduct, character, personality, capabilities, qualifications and not on their gender, sexuality, caste, religion, or
Being a transgender woman
“I always felt that I was a girl and always wondered why I have a male body? It was only later on that I came to know about gender dysphoria,” says a very soft spoken Nishica. The 44-year transgender woman who was born and raised in Mumbai, moved to Goa around four years ago.
But her early childhood experiences were not pleasant. “I was bullied all through my schooling years. These abuses were verbal and physical abuses by seniors at school. This caused me to mask my true identity and pretend to be a boy, but the bullying was unrelenting,” she recalls bitterly.
Nishica further reveals that she would go to sleep hoping not to wake up; almost every day. “There was not a single day which was not ruled by fear. To top it all I was beaten regularly by my dad as well. This had an adverse impact on my studies and mental health,”
In fact Nishica went on to wear her mask of masculinity so well that she even got into a relationship with a woman later on. “But somewhere deep inside I always felt I was hiding my true identity,” she says. Also, she says, you can fool the whole world but never yourself. “I finally came out in my twenties to a close female friend at that time and she was very supportive,” she says, adding that despite coming out, she still feared for her life and of being unaccepted.
Over time, Nishica managed to come out to a few more friends and close family, but not her parents. “I lived and worked in the gender identity I was comfortable in, in Mumbai and for the most part of it, the public in general were quite accepting,” she says.
But when she moved to Goa, it was quite a different experience with people staring and a few passing comments. “If I shopped in the women’s section of a mall, the attendants would stare at me and whisper among themselves in contrast to when I shopped in the women’s section of any shopping mall in Mumbai where I was treated with respect,” she says.
And though there are awareness activities conducted, Nishica thinks people in Goa are still unaware and unfamiliar with the LGBTQ+ community. “Once people are aware, I’m sure Goans will display their large heartedness and make folks like us from the LGBTQ+ community feel welcome,” she says.