Thiruvananthapuram: One might think the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), because it is being discussed so widely in the media in recent times, might be clear at least to top people’s representatives. But recently when an LGBTIQ organisation called Queerythm approached a top leader in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation to invite her for an event, she reportedly refused. According to the organisation founder Prijith P.K., she asked Queerythm members, “Are homosexual practices required at all?” Prijith, a gay person himself, tried to explain that homosexuality was not a choice, that it was an orientation he was born with. But at the end of the session which lasted at least half hour, the leader repeated, “I understand that transgender rights need to be protected. But homosexuality?” It was no surprise to them that she did not turn up for the event.
The idea of sexual orientation being a choice is one of the strongest misconceptions that SOGI activists have to deal with. A homosexual person told DC, “If it were really a choice, we would have rather chosen to be part of the heterosexual majority. Why would we choose to be in a marginalised community.”
There is a similar idea that transgender persons “choose” to "dress up" like the opposite gender. However, according to the handbook CDS prepared for creating LGBTIQ-friendly local self governments, modern science offers some explanation to the diversity in sexual orientation and gender identities. Someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity is as normal as someone being right-handed or left-handed right from childhood, according to the book. It has referred to papers published in various international science journals by researchers like J Michael Bailey, Alfred Charles Kinsey and Kenneth J Zucker. LGBTIQ activists hope that this would answer the questions of parents of people who come out.
Activists talk about a study by a team from University of California, Los Angeles, which point to protein switches causing different sexual orientation in twins who have similar genes. This study has been criticised for being underpowered statistically, however, there is a growing confidence in science being able to explain homosexuality and gender identity. Another widely peddled idea is that homosexuality and gender non-conforming identities are mental disorders. WHO, in 1992, removed homosexuality from International Classification of Diseases, its list of disorders. Indian Psychiatric Society Ajit V Bhide told DC, “Indian Psychiatric Society has taken a stance that homosexuality is not pathology, that we will not consider it an illness. There is a small fraction of homosexual people who want to conform (to the societal norms), but they are a minority. So far no treatment whatsoever has proven effective in changing homosexuality to heterosexuality. Worldwide, the movement is towards not recognising homosexuality as an illness, but as a variation of the normal. There are also biological explanations which are not fully validated, but stand a good chance of validation, how some people’s brain structure is such that the orientation is towards the same sex.”
While WHO lists ‘transsexualism’ as a gender identity disorder in ICD-10, the classification is being reviewed and might undergo changes, according to American Psychological Association (APA). APA has stated, “A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.” The Indian Psychiatric Society does not yet adhere to this radical position.
“We do treat it as a disorder that needs treatment, but if consistently the person wants to change, then we will have to help them go through those changes. We wait for usually a period of two years before assigning the change, because we need to see consistentcy,” said Ajit V Bhide. However, the NALSA judgment of Supreme Court gives every citizen the right to declare their gender by themselves. Another major misconception with respect to transgender identities is that, it is often clubbed with intersex. An intersex person is someone born with an anatomy that does not fit the typical definitions of male or female. A transgender person however is born into one of the two conventional gender binary, but identifies with the opposite gender. Lastly, it might seem like all these efforts ‘help’ only the sexual and gender minorities. However, efforts for SOGI inclusion actually benefits the larger society, as the movement attacks the society's prevalent conservative nature as well as its growing majoritarianism, according to academician J Devika.
Not a disease to be treated
Indian Psychiatric Society is thinking of taking some serious action against quacks who claim to cure homosexuality, a welcome step considering the long inaction of doctors’ organisations on the issue. Earlier, doctors’ bodies have condemned such quackery, but have never done anything concrete to stop people like Titus Varghese who say that homosexuality is a “behavioural trait which can be changed”.
Its Kerala chapter President Dr Varghese Punnoose told DC, “Our executive committee has decided to take appropriate legal action, after discussion with Indian Medical Association as well as Kerala State Mental Health Authority, against proponents of pseudoscience. It might not be practical to take on each individual. But, we will consider the possibility of a public interest litigation against quacks. As an immediate measure, we have decided to make the correct information available on a social media platform, so that people don’t get misguided.”
Despite WHO removing homosexuality from its ICD classification of mental disorders in 1992, there are many who continue to offer ‘cure’ for it. Titus has posted a monologue on Youtube, which he starts by saying that “if a psychologist cannot change a simple behavioural trait like homosexuality, what sort of a psychologist is her?” This video has over 13,000 views, but doctor’s bodies have till now not taken any action against him.
When DC asked IMA state secretary N Sulphi if the organisation will take any action like filing a PIL against quacks, he said, “It is the government’s duty.” Meanwhile there are accounts from people about Titus charging a hefty amount for a single session. Jijo Kuriakose, founder of LGBTIQ organisation Queerala, says that there have been cases where he charged Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 for a single session. When DC asked Titus about his fee, he said that they “never avoid anybody only on the basis of money”.
When DC asked Titus about his stance on homosexuality, he said he relies on masters. He said that one of these is Dr Nicholas Cummings, the former president of American Psychological Association (APA). Dr Nicholas Cummings, who during his term had supported the movement for declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness, had later said in an interview that it is possible to leave the “homosexuality lifestyle”.
When Titus was asked why he looked up to the ex-APA president, but did not follow APA’s present stance which is in line with that of WHO, he said Nicholas Cummings was “more genuine than any other APA presidents”. Activists fear that Titus is but the tip of the iceberg. A senior psychologist at a Government Medical College Hospital reportedly told a gay person to consider marriage to a woman, as women only seek companionship. This is where medical bodies like IPS and IMA can be of help.