• Nishtha Pahuja

Queerphobia: Let's Talk about It

Queer- different. Unusual. Strange. Odd

That's the dictionary meaning.

In common language, it is also used to refer to the LGBTQ community.

Phobia means an irrational or unexplainable fear. In more common language, phobia is used synonymously to fear.

However, this discussion goes far beyond the dictionary definition. I will be giving some of my perspectives through this piece.

It is not a very difficult concept to understand when we say that humans fear the unknown, the strange and the unfamiliar. Humans live in and believe in the concepts of communities and society.

The ideas of communities and an ideal society are changing dramatically over the years. But for a minute, let's go back in time to about 30,000 years ago. (Since humans spent a long period of our evolutionary history in the prehistoric times, many aspects of the human nature make more sense when we view these aspects from a different perspective). At that point of time, man had a lot to fear. Strange noises (that could belong to predators) and strange fruits and even other people who were seen as rivals and competitors were all sources of fear. Even now it is an intrinsic part of human nature to be apprehensive about the unknown, be it the questions in tomorrow's interview or what might lurk in the shadows of a dark room.

Therefore it is no surprise that traditional societies which live with values belonging to a time over 1000 years ago (cough religious scriptures cough) are apprehensive about concepts and ideas they perceive as new, strange and different. And despite the fact that the LGBTQ community has been a part of the society for a very long time(maybe without this name) it is seen as strange, or the word used to refer to them was queer.

This word was seen as offensive for a long time (see dictionary reference) because it seemingly portrayed the LGBT as strange, abnormal, and in the old definition, queer. However this word was reclaimed by the LGBT community which now became LGBTQ community to describe gender and sexual identities that were deviant from traditional society and hence marginalised.

Now a fraction people with limited exposure and education see this community as something to be ostracised and isolated sure to the fear that they will damage the familiar family and societal structures. Many would agree that the social structures aren't perfect but still believe in maintaining them since they provide a sense of safety, predictability and comfort. Changing them is hard work but we should always strive towards a perfect, shouldn't we?

These fears (that they will have a bad influence, corrupt the society and so on) were irrational and people who indulged in such fears were referred to as queerphobic.

Also, I would like to spin this discussion to a slightly different tangent. Queer means strange, not usually seen and something unpredictable. However I referred to this word earlier to talk about communities or groups of people different from whom we see around us all the time. These groups have historically been based on characters that were obvious like skin colour or behaviour (as seen in neurodivergent people). They are seen with a feeling of fear and aversion. It is not a coincidence that they end up being discriminated against since that's a way of the society to control what is perceived as strange.

This explains racism to a great degree. Saying that these strange and different people came to our land and are using our resources is the primary underlying belief. This can only be countered by understanding that they too are normal people with their own basic rights which need to be respected. Another important change in beliefs is to stop seeing them as someone different but instead seeing them is a part of the community and society, eventually blurring the lines between them and us.

Interestingly far of strange and foreign things and people is not limited to discrimination against dark skinned people in the United States. North East Indians have to have discrimination did to phenotypic resemblance to Chinese people. In the pre colonial times, white men who came to our sea shores were often seen with a sense of fear even when they were trading. In those times, India was made of a bunch of kingdoms so random people were sometimes eyed with the fear that they could be spies.

The idea behind stating these examples is to highlight the underlying biases that we as humans have. Once we are more conscious of them, it will be easier to eliminate these biases that are the main cause of some social challenges.

At this point you might be wondering what is the use of understanding and analysing all this. Well, queerphobia and racism are issues that affect a large number of people in the society. Understanding the root cause can help us develop better strategies to eliminate these issues.

One way to do so that is evident after this discussion is to ensure that they are seen as normal and not strange, abnormal, harmful or dangerous. It is important to make people realise that they too are humans and a part of our community and society. This can be done by normalising integration of people with different skin colour and sexual orientation or even including neurodivergent people in popular media portrayals. Normalising intermingling with marginalised groups of people with surely help them feel less marginalised. Special care should be taken to prevent perpetuation of meaningless stereotypes. Another thing that can be done is educating the youth and future generations to treat all humans as, well, human. Dignity, compassion and respect for all is the key to managing this issue.

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