Homophobia and transphobia are metaphoric terms referring to a lack of acceptance of a sexual orientation or gender identity, hatred towards persons belonging to those communities because they are different and a tendency to isolate them. The attitude announces 'you are not part of us'. It is not as much a phobia, as most of those who have a negative attitude towards them. Labels like this unfortunately spread more stigma and fear and are best avoided. It is quite normal to be a transgender person but even as government policies acknowledge that gender identities need not conform to the binary of male and female, it has not gone into the social mind. The social stigma associated with sexual orientation and gender identity can be compared with the stigma surrounding mental disorders. It may not be this horrifying, but the shades of emotional states are comparable.
Dysfunctional and hostile attitudes towards them are best addressed by awareness building. Just the way, seeing women as sex objects calls for an attitudinal shift, this also needs an attitudinal shift. The social attitude causes much distress in persons from the sexual and gender minorities. Take the case of homosexual persons who are termed to be having ego dystonic sexual orientation. The resistance to gender orientation happens on its own for a small section of them, but for a majority, it is caused by social expectations and pressures of marrying a person from the opposite gender, and have children. No one thinks of the agony of such a person trapped in a hetero sexual marriage, and also of the partner. We have to understand that homosexuality is a reality.
It has to be accepted that it is another state of mind. Just the way a left-handed person cannot be forced to be a right-handed person, they cannot be forced to be heterosexual. The person with gender dysphoria have the option to reassign sex through surgery after attaining age of majority. However when we ask if our society is emotionally ready or mature to accept a person who has reassigned their sex, the answer is no. A larger section of our society is yet to come to terms with that reality. It is difficult for even parents to accept that "my son or my daughter is a transgender".
There is always revolt: parents blame and pressurise their children to change the thinking. It is impossible to do that. These conflicts often pave the way for lot of emotional turmoil and even suicidal thoughts. For being contemporary, some people may show hollow acceptance without understanding the rationale behind it. That won't lead to social change. The acceptance should not be emotional; it should be logical. We should aim for well-informed acceptance. To make an intellectual level of acceptance possible, the government policies in favour of sexual and gender minorities should be implemented. The people from these communities must be absorbed into mainstream jobs, like in the Metro.
However, even then, there were fallouts. The practical issue was that they were not able to find accommodation because societal attitudes were not friendly to transgender persons. In addition to bringing them to the mainstream through jobs, a safe and secure environment to stay should be ensured until society changes. If not, they will merely drift away. Persons from sexual and gender minorities also need to consciously work to gain positive acceptance from every opportunity they get, which will be their best response to those who discriminate. Education or mere information cannot change a mindset that is deep-rooted. One finds a reflection of the community's attitude towards sexual and gender minorities in the police forces, too. However if the police exhibits transgender-friendly behaviour, there is a greater chance for society to emulate. This is the reason why police should be sensitised.
(The writer is a Kochi-based senior consultant psychiatrist)...