Published: 27th June 2020
Being queer, intersex and a Muslim student in India: From assault and conversion therapy to acceptance
A 23-year-old intersex student from Bengaluru narrates their life story to us. They tell us how their family never fully accepts them even now
Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment, Queerphobia, Bullying
Ever accidentally poured some oil on top of a clear stream of water? It doesn't mix or becomes soluble, but instead, forms a thin layer on top of the water. They flow and float together, without much harmony. But look closely, you will see a rainbow gazing at you.
Imran* is part of that rainbow, comfortable under its queerness. They are 23, intersex, queer and haven't been able to come out completely to their family. They did try that a few times, but that did not end well. They were subject to verbal and mental harassment and was subsequently sent to attend conversion therapy, on the pretext of which, they were abused by doctors. Imran does not use labels, they do not comfort them. Their gender identity, they think is like oil that was poured on water. "I believe that the spectrum of gender is very fluid for me," they say.
An intersex pride march in Serbia (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)
Before delving into their life and work, Imran explains intersexuality to us. "It is when one is born with a chromosome pattern that doesn't fall in the spectrum of male or female," they say. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights describes intersexuality as those who "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies".
Never back to school
Imran was born in the late 1990s, to an Indian Muslim doctor couple, as their third child, in Saudi Arabia. They spent the next 18 years of their life there. "It was very conservative, there was no form of self-expression and you couldn't be yourself. I studied in a CBSE school. But that wasn't an education system that encouraged self-expression without being bullied," they say. Imran was an introverted child and did not have many friends. They remember how things were all good until the fifth grade. However, things started changing right after. "In the sixth and seventh grade, everyone else started growing beards, but I did not. I was told that puberty hit a lot of people late. There was also a lot of body shaming and bullying that followed. People were bullied for not being a certain way," they recall.
If given a time machine, Imran would any day go to a future where all genders and identities are accepted and never to the past, especially their school days. "School was a bully haven," they say. Then in X grade, Imran joined Math tuitions, probably the first time when they were in a classroom with girls. While all the other boys would make conversation with girls, Imran shied away. They were rather disinterested. "It was quite unusual for my peers to believe. They would tell me that I'm quite handsome and were surprised because I never spoke to girls," they recall.
Intersexuality in an artist's imagination (Pic: Rehna Abdul Kareen/ Paper Planes)
Soon, school was over. Imran flew to Bengaluru to attend college. For them, that was a different world altogether. "There was more freedom for me to express myself. I was excited. At the same time, I got to know about the illegality of it," they say. "There was a fear of coming out and of visibility, in general. Queer visibility comes at the price of risking your life, especially if you are without any backup," they say. Imran would easily pick their college experiences over the ones in school, if given a choice. Even though there wasn't much talk about being queer, they were also not bullied for being a certain way. "My classmates have no unnecessary concerns or stupid questions. I get to wear a kurta here, which is perceived feminine in a lot of spaces," they say.
Not the right conversation
However, not a lot of people know that Imran is an intersex person. "I can easily pass for a man. That's the advantage that a lot of intersex people have," they say. And when they tried to come out to their family a few times, they denied it. Worse, they took them to a conversion therapist, whom Imran initially thought, could 'cure' them. "I would keep on asking him when I will be alright. But, there was no clear answer," they say. In fact, for a long time, Imran did not know that it was conversion therapy and that it was illegal.
Conversion therapy is a pseudoscientific practice
Conversion therapy, for those who do not know, is a pseudoscientific practice, which attempts to alter a person's sexual orientation. It is considered illegal in many parts of the world. But what happens during these sessions? Imran says, "A lot of these 'therapists' are great orators. They manipulate their ways and words to let you think that you were always wrong and it is the devil's work. You are told that it is a temporary phase and an illusion. He also told me that this is something that every teen goes through," they recall. The worst, however, was yet to come. "A lot of these therapists assault their patients on the pretext of therapy. I was a victim too, many times," they say.
Of trouble and comfort zones
Imran avoids using a public toilet almost all the time. Their college doesn't have a gender-neutral toilet, the college principal thinks that it is a waste. They are forced to use a men's toilet. Even there, Imran doesn't use a urinal and is afraid of being judged for using a cubicle. "I only use a public toilet if it is an unavoidable situation. These days, I take my friends along. They accompany me knowing my trauma," they say.
A gender-neutral toilet sign (Pic: pannapadipa / Pinterest)
They tell us that they do not fear living life as an intersex person, however, their Muslim identity scares them. "The religious aspect, of course, was a hurdle for my family that came in the way of their accepting me. However, upon reading, I understand my religion more. It is not as homophobic or misogynistic as people portray it to be. Any male dominant society would want elements of fear," they say. They also say that getting in touch with a UK-based Queer Muslim organisation was very comforting for them. To describe their current understanding and acceptance of religion, Imran uses the oil-water analogy, yet again. "We floated together, not mixing with each other for some time. But one day, oil decided to mix with water and float together," they say.
In their world, these liquids rebuilt the laws of matter. A rainbow then gazed at Imran and smiled a little.
*Name changed on request
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