A Call for Diversity & Inclusion Within Queer Communities
By Tausif Sanzum
Growing up as a teenager in Kuwait placed the 12 year old me in a vulnerable position. Looking back, makes me realize how torn I was between my attraction towards men and an active sub-consciousness shaped by my environment constantly telling me that this was abnormal. Everyday became a battle either to fit in or find another another individual who could relate to me. Things got more toxic as I grew older and my classmates, teachers, friends, family members and sometimes strangers repeatedly pointed out to things which they considered effeminate in my behaviour. There would be constant comparison to being a ‘girl’. Pedophiles took advantage of this naive teenager and indulged in sexual activities. All through this process, I kept telling that these ‘sexual assaults’ were a form of romantic expression just like in fairytales. Over the years, I realised that this is not something which happened only with me but one that is shared by hundreds of teenagers.
According to the editor of a Bangladeshi LGBT magazine, communication between members of the LGBT community has changed in the last couple of years. Growing up he would communicate with other gay men in chatrooms and then meet them in a public place. It is quite different now as few Dhaka based financially privileged gay men have transformed their houses into hubs where members of the queer community particularly gay men can come under one roof. While this has created a safe space for many individuals who fear being themselves in their daily lives, a vicious cycle of power politics also runs within these ‘safe havens’.
He feels that despite being a crowd comprising of mostly gay men, a strong patriarchal and heteronormative culture prevails in these hubs, starting with a serious lack of female representation. Within the group itself, there are various yardsticks for measuring one’s loyalty towards the shared norms. As such a prototype is developed and it becomes an unspoken rule to resemble it. The places which were created to allow diversity to thrive become homogenous chambers. When young gay men from smaller cities of Bangladesh travel to Dhaka for work or educational purposes, they slowly become aware of the existence of these safe LGBT places. Then they desperately want to be a part of them in search of love, sex, friendship, acceptance or plain curiosity.
In case, these young men mostly in their early 20s fail to imitate the prototype within these households, they are subjected to bullying based on their clothing, speech delivery, financial standing and appearances. Over an extended period of time, it becomes a case of stockholm syndrome. The victims start empathizing with their bullies which gives birth to a harmful bullying culture. This becomes a cycle with the victims becoming offenders themselves over a period. It becomes impossible to avoid people you might feel uncomfortable with as there is a very small number of visible gay men who go to the same parties and gatherings. The other option would be to remain completely detached.
A closeted Bangladeshi young man currently studying in the US says that the fear over how safe his identity was in these groups always prevented him from being part of one. The gay men he met through dating apps such as grindr were more inclined towards sex and it prevented any real connection. He thought that moving to the US would change that but now he fears even being on dating apps. It constantly gives him a sad feeling of being judged and ignored because of the colour of his skin. This incident sheds light on how dangerous dating apps can be for an individual’s self-confidence forcing him to believe that he might not be good enough. It has the ability to shred away individuals and reduce them to products who are judged on the number of abs they are showing or the colour of their skin. There becomes a distinct class who are ‘desired’ and another who are ‘ignored’.
Not just in a country like Bangladesh where a visible queer community is fairly new, these prototypes of an ‘ideal’ gay man exist even in countries such as the US where the gay community has been visible for a longer time. There are various pillars which hold this system into place. Everytime I mention to non-white friends about visiting Town dance boutique, one of the largest gay dance clubs in USA, they plainly deny. An integral part of any dance floor is it’s music and they feel that ‘town is affected with an air of pretend sophistication that doesn’t necessarily breed inclusiveness.’ In other words, ‘while they play music of every genre, each song is remixed and curated to create an atmosphere of a gay music circuit which is not necessarily known to attract crowds of diverse taste.’ As such one might get the feeling of being ‘othered in spaces that were designated as LGBT spaces but turned out to be for white LGBT (white cisgender gay men) rather than inclusive.’The result of this is again the formation of a homogenous gathering place where if you do not follow the assigned norms, you are an outcast.
In my travels to India and Malaysia, I have come across different factors which people use to judge each other within a gay community. Everything we can see in a person to intrinsic values such as intellectual capability and educational qualification and behavioral characteristics is scrutinized and a decision is made whether he can be part of the larger LGBT community or not. In Malaysia, for example, whether you are of a Chinese origin, Malay or Indian Malaysian becomes the defining factor in measuring how ‘attractive’ you are.
The pillars of bullying are consistent all over, only their names changes from one place to another. Judging from a personal experience, at times we do not even know that we are part of this bullying enterprize. As LGBT community is struggling to find acceptance all over the world, it is a atrocious to create more fractions within the community itself. As humans we have the ability to evolve and it is on us whether we want to develop a weaker community by continuing with the judgmental culture or make a stronger circle which appreciates beauty in diversity.
Tausif Sanzum is a Bangladeshi freelance journalist