Finding Love in the Transgender Community

Four months down, and I’m busier than ever in Mysore. No travel has been scheduled and my desk feels like there is no other place to be. The team at Public Health Research Institute of India (PHRII) has been supportive and creative when it comes to my project, helping the transgender community. I can say that at the organization we have a great relationship. I have lots of Dad’s and Mom’s and people that care for my safety, especially my health. We have discussed many topics, but something caught my attention this first week of January. I can say that talking about relationships can be somehow uncomfortable in this part of India. Not everyone is open to talk about marriage or even touch the topic about what is to be in a relationship in India. However, the transgender community was not shy about this topic in the focus groups and had lots to say when conducting it at PHRII.

What defines a relationship? Is it something spiritual or a physical attraction? It was interesting how the Hijada community define having a relationship that will fulfill the definition of a husband, but at the same time, because of discrimination and lack of jobs, it is difficult for them to commit to one person. Having different sexual partners is just part of their lifestyle and line of work. In my opinion, it is not something that they have chosen, but it’s something they have to do to live and survive.

 “In our community, madam, few are there who will dedicate themselves for one person, for whom they will love true hearted and will decide to live with them for life time” (Transgender, 2018).

This quote, taken from one of the focus groups, was given by one of the participants explaining to the counselors how difficult it is to have a partner when discrimination and rejection exist in a community. It is also challenging to create a family when they are forced to work as sex workers because of jobs not being available for a gender that is neither defined as female or male. For this gender, not just the community contributes to the lack of available jobs, it is also the fear of those that decide to be in a relationship with a transgender woman. After reading my first two translations of the focus groups, many men stay around the transgender for different reasons. Some will be in a relationship with a Hijada only because of economic reasons, looking for someone to support their lifestyle.

 “In the same way, few are there who give us money to keep us. Just like that there are a few who grab money from us and keep us” (Transgender,2018).

On the other hand, many transgenders know that having a husband is difficult and preferred many sexual partners that will fulfill their definition of a relationship. Now, what I did find is that when there are multiple partners in a relationship, most of the time the men do not know each other, and this can cause relationships to end very quickly. Unfortunately for Hijada’s it is a way of feeling loved and somehow been taken care of. Is a way of holding onto a feeling of caring for a partner and not worry about people leaving them after a certain time.

 “One will keep 2-3 people, madam” (Transgender, 2018).

Men are not the only problem when it comes to transgender having a serious relationship with a partner in India. Families are a big concern because of the lack of acceptance and the stigma behind the transgender community. As I have mentioned before in previous blogs the LGBTQIA community has been in the shadows for many years in India. Imagine trying to build a family as a transgender and live a life where your partner’s family and the transgender families will not accept a different type of relationship that is not heterosexual.

“That is the truth known to all of us. That is we can’t bear children. Their family will not accept us. So what we do is we will be knowing that they will not remain with us” (Transgender,2018).

But, not everything is sadness, rejection or violence. The community has a strong view of how to love and what are the real expectations in a relationship even though India’s community sees this type of associations wrong and unnatural. The transgender communities still have their own ways of creating an environment where love is present for a long or short time. Most of us dream of the perfect relationship and the happily ever after, but Hijada’s dream of having a person that can support them emotionally even if it is for a short period of time. Having a husband gives them a sense of a regular lifestyle like anyone else in this world. The love is so strong that they believe in giving everything and anything to the person that will become their partners for life.

“We will love them as any woman would love them. When he leaves us our heart will break into pieces. We will feel very sad as he left us though we showed him lot of love” (Transgender, 2018).

Grindr through Mysore’s Eyes

Its December and Thanksgiving was silent. Three months in India felt like a lifetime, but at least I am not getting homesick. I have so much love for this country that sometimes I feel like staying and finishing my career in Mysore. This is a place where I know I will not die of a heart attack because of work stress. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I have had a few wonderful experiences, some of them not as pleasant, but learning experiences that I will take back home with me. It is interesting how life works in different countries because of culture, religions, and politics. It is also stimulating when we can learn about sexual minorities in a country where society rejects those that they consider different. I have been very lucky finding a gay friend in Mysore, but I still have conversations where I feel that I am not doing enough for my community. I do know that changes can be made by taking small steps, but when I can listen to a human being talking about how harsh life can be, and I can see in his eyes how he suffers in his own unique way, I am grateful to be a part of a country that at least allows people to have some kind of freedom of speech.

My friend and I have been spending time together for the past two months and when we sit down to talk we converse for hours. This past week we were watching a movie and out of nowhere we started talking about how he feels after being in India for the past 5 years. He said when it comes to relationships he feels unlucky in finding a partner to spend the rest of his life with. I asked my friend why he thought it was so difficult to date in India? especially south India? In his opinion, in some countries on the East side of the world, because of culture, religions and family expectations, being a homosexual is a dishonor. Being part of an “unnatural” group is seen as challenging the community. It’s a way of not supporting a family and bringing shame to your relatives. However, this does not stop men from having sex with men to satisfy their sexual needs.

Internet websites and phone applications have been created in cyber world to give easy access to all types of relationships. For example, Grindr, a major company created for gay dating is one of the most important organizations that allow many individuals to have some kind of interaction in different parts of the world, I have known this phone application for a few years, and when comparing American Grindr culture to India Grindr culture it is kind of similar. The application is used by gay men and is also used by a small portion of the transgender community. We all look for different types of relationships, but in the end, we want to feel the freedom of being who we are. In my experience, Grindr is mostly used for people to hook up, explore their sexuality, and communicate with others locally. However, my idea of what Grindr is has changed while in India these last few weeks.

A few weeks ago, I decided to open the application and explore “The Grindr World” in Mysore. For what I have experience in America, men will often cover their faces but will show their bodies and will only send you their picture by inbox if they are interested. In Mysore, I believe that 90% of the men will have a picture of an artist or someone’s picture found on the internet. I asked myself, why do men in India not show a bit of who they are even with the changes in laws? And the answer for me was very simple, they are still scared of laws, societal repression, violence, and rejection. Most men on the online application are looking for a safe space to meet other men in India; a place where they can fulfill their romantic feelings and sexual desires. In my opinion, Grindr in India has become a space where Indian men and others can communicate within the homosexual community and feel that they are not alone in the world. It’s a place where people can be themselves and not worry about being excluded by society. A great example of this culture is me because this is the place where I have found my current friend. It is interesting how he describes the application in his own words. For him, Grindr is a place where people connect, meet, and exchange stories and experiences in a country that until a few weeks ago criminalized same-sex intercourse. A phone application that allows humans to have some kind of mental balance, body exploration, and fulfill desires that they cannot fulfill being around people that do not see gay life as equal.

I have known Grindr for a few years now and I can say that I have got to the point of not even looking at the phone application in America, because in my opinion it exploits men for a sexual encounter. But getting to know Grindr in India has opened my eyes to explore a world where people in the shadows need apps like this to feel relief from the pressure of family and friends. For me, the app has become a space of learning about gay culture in India and understanding a different kind of feelings and opinions. I think that us gay men in America have this negative image of dating sites and we don’t see beyond our expectations of how websites should work. Getting to know a few men in India has shown me how important social networks can be when laws and rejection surround us. Social networks can also be a space to fight for rights and show the world that we all are humans navigating and exploring the different tastes of the rainbow. I guess that at the end of the day we all have our own opinions, but we should explore other cultures to see how others use MEDIA!

Go, V. F., Srikrishnan, A. K., Sivaram, S., Murugavel, G. K., Galai, N., Johnson, S. C., … & Celentano, D. D. (2004). High HIV prevalence and risk behaviors in men who have sex with men in Chennai, India. JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes35(3), 314-319.

To Be Gay or Not To Be Gay

In 1994 a Middle East republic created a decree for laws title “Section eleven adultery, defamation; corruption of the moral” an article that follows: Homosexuality is the contact of one man to another through his posterior; both sodomites whether males or females are punished with whipping of one hundred strokes if not married. It is admissible to reprimand it by imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year punishment by stoning to death if married (Presidency, 1994). As exacting as it sounds these are laws run by government in today’s world. It is 2018 and I still cannot believe acts like this exist around humanity. You are wondering why am I writing about homosexual laws in other countries and my answer is very simple, FRIENDSHIP.

It is now the beginning of November, almost 3 months since I came to India. The first 6 weeks I had time to wonder around, get to know Mysore and start my research project with a wonderful team. I have meet people from all the country, spend time with Fulbright fellows and interacted with other foreigner that decide to leave home and to join others to immerge in the world of Yoga. I have made new friends, assisted birthdays and cultural celebrations making me feel at home. I enjoy spending time with my co-workers and love every single moment of my research.

In addition to get used to a culture with different ideas, opinions and a slight difference in vocabulary definitions, I also meet a person that have showed me how it is to be a minority in India, specially coming from a Middle East country. My new friend is a Gay man, a student and economically family dependent. Because of his culture and Muslim religion there is no one in his family or friends circle that knows his sexual preference. I have been around his friends for the past two weeks, and I can understand why he hides his sexual orientation. When meeting with his friends I heard the word faggot, homosexual, lesbian and transgender in four to five different languages. I have stopped myself from insulting people from the horrible things they said about my community, but I restricted myself from making any comments to protect my friend from rejection and confrontation between him and those around him. As someone that is outspoken, it has been energy consuming and even exhausting to seat and interact with people that in there on way are very intelligent for many topics, but ignorant when it comes to diversity.

After a week of sharing anecdotes and life stories, I noticed that our friendship became stronger. At that moment I decided to start asking questions about his religion, family and life style, but all related to homosexual topics. My first conversation was about how religion sees homosexuality in the Middle East. When asking this question, I notice he took his time, thought about his answer and started by saying that in “Gods eyes he was the devil”. His answer was so impacting that I thought that he believed his own answer. The existence of severe penalties, including death, for people found guilty of homosexual acts in many Muslim nations suggests that religious authorities in these countries may be particularly likely to interpret religious precepts as proscribing homosexuality (Helie, 2004). I assume that because of these penalties and religions believes people like my new friend have complications accepting who they are.

Not only it is has been a difficult situation for him to accept himself or try to talk to his family about his sexual preference, but even after moving to India it has been challenging to be open to his country friends. On November 3, 2018 my friend had a small get together to celebrate an Indian festival. That night we had a few intense conversations and one of the conversations was about gay men. Hearing a group of Middle Eat guys hating and diminishing gays made me desperate and disappointed. Desperate, because I couldn’t be myself and defend my community, and sad because I knew my friend was hurting. One of the reasons why I did not exchange ideas with the group was because I didn’t want my friend to be affected in any way. I had to stop for a few minutes walked away and remind myself that I have a home back in the US, but my friend was going to stay behind with people that probably will start rejecting him or harassing him because of having a physical or spiritual relationship with men. Even though, I am researching the LGBT community in Mysore I do understand that others are not in my same position, were I am free to be who I want to be. I understood that my new friend is part of that percentage were homosexuality still in the shadows of societal repression. The conversation ended with a racist comment by one of his friends saying: “Homosexuals are disgusting, and I will never want to be next to one”. When this comment was put out in the air, I looked at my friend and saw how the world around him was negatively impacting his life.

The next day we decided to meet at my friend place for lunch. We talk, eat and enjoyed each other’s company. After 2 hours of great conversation he try to apologies for his friends behavior, but before he even finished his sentence I stopped him and told him not to worry because he was not responsible for others ignorance and lack of education. Our conversations were so honest that my friend started feeling confident and comfortable talking about his life. The Arab family is the dominant social institution through which persons inherit their religion, social class, and identity. The family is often thought of as a patriarchal, hierarchical pyramid (as far as age and sex are concerned) and what befell one member is thought to bring honor or shame to the entire family (net industries,2018). As a Muslim Arab my friend cannot confront his family about his homosexuality. At the moment his parents are supporting him economically and if he comes out to his parents all help will be stop and they will send for him to go back to his country. Going back to his country will mean to probably go throw psychological treatments and possible treatment methods created to change a “gay person to straight”. Not only a transformation treatment will possibly be done, but he will probably be forced to marry a woman and fulfill his community and family cultural believes.

Besides understanding minority population challenges in India, there are other ethnic groups that face daily problems because of been different and specially coming from other parts of the world. In my friend case he is twice a minority, an Arab in India and a gay man living around two communities that reject homosexuality and face violence. It has been an exhausting two weekends mentally and emotionally. Having conversations with men that are not educated in homosexual topics makes me want to scream. At the same time encourages me to never stop awareness, special fight for minority rights all over the world. Believe it or not, I did like most of the conversations we had. They are intelligent people when it comes to topics not related to sexual orientation. I have learned that the world still needs to come together and fight for equal rights for all. Not only for the LGBTQIA community, but for those that have no voice.

“This site/blog http://www.hectorpeguero.com is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.”

<a href=”http://family.jrank.org/pages/464/Ethnic-Variation-Ethnicity-Middle-Eastern-Families.html”>Ethnic Variation/Ethnicity – Middle Eastern Families</a>

Read more: Ethnic Variation/Ethnicity – Middle Eastern Families – Family, Family, and Arab – JRank Articles http://family.jrank.org/pages/464/Ethnic-Variation-Ethnicity-Middle-Eastern-Families.html#ixzz5WiwgmYaP

Hélie, A. (2004). Holy hatred. Reproductive health matters12(23), 120-124.

http://www.refugeelegalaidinformation.org/yemen-lgbti-resources

http://family.jrank.org/pages/464/Ethnic-Variation-Ethnicity-Middle-Eastern-Families.html

Normal or Abnormal: Is it an International Word?

How do people define the words “normal” and “abnormal”? Are these words used often, are they insulting or is it common in society to use these words? By the Oxford dictionary, the word normal is defined as Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected (Oxford University Press, 2018) and abnormal as deviating from what is normal or usual, typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying (Oxford University Press, 2018). Are these words defining the way we live by dividing families, friends and look down at other cultures because of how others think? Culturally, there are ways of doing different things that can be accepted or are disrespectful towards peoples believes. Time must also be taken into account, as to what is considered abnormal at one time in one culture may be normal another time, even in the same culture (McLeod, 2018). It all depends on how well society is educated; and how open people are to new concepts and ideas. Everyone is probably thinking, why is Hector writing about this topic? And the answer is because I have heard these words in many conversations while in India.

It has been almost two months since I arrived in Mysore. So far, I have celebrated my research and culture with much cheerfulness, travelled with other fellows and enjoyed Indian festivals with the local community. During many conversations with my affiliated organization’s staff and students, I noticed that the words “normal” and “abnormal” were used frequently. As a health organization, it is understandable that words like these are used for many purposes. As an American citizen, in my opinion, these words have been used in our culture to define differences in race, psychological disorders or even as an insult, creating a negative concept for those who use it. Depending on how I use the words normal and abnormal, I can easily be insulting or professionally enriched. But in India, in my opinion, these words are culturally a part of people’s English vocabulary, colloquially, to mean common and uncommon, without being derogatory or insulting.

2018-09-24 17.53.10

A week ago, I was having a conversation with an NGO’s (non-government organization) Indian fellow about my transgender project and how excited I was to start my focus groups. While talking to a post-Doctoral fellow, the words “abnormal” kept coming up while defining the transgender community that I am studying in Mysore. There was a moment where I had to stop the conversation and ask the fellow what was the definition of these two words for her. I remember her looking at me and laugh in a slightly embarrassing way and telling me that she knew why I was asking her such a question. At that point, it was very clear to me that she did not mean it disrespectfully. That is when my ears completely opened to listen to someone from a different culture and realize that we are definitely from two different worlds. At any one time, a type of behavior might be considered normal whereas another time the same behavior could be abnormal, depending on both context and situation (McLeod, 2018). From what I understood the words normal and abnormal are used to defined topics related to majorities and minorities in society. For example, in my case studying the transgender community because they are a minority group the word abnormal will be used. On the other hand, when people in India talk about straight people that are the majority, the word normal is used. It is not necessarily judging gender preference, but it is distinguishing a trend not in a negative way. I know it sounds like they are dividing minority populations from being a part of the society, but that is not the case. These are two words for people to understand what a topic is about and the context they are used in a conversation.

My discomfort with the words normal and abnormal comes from the words being socially used in America to denigrate and insult many communities. It has been a way of mortifying and making groups think that they are not equal. But even while describing us as abnormal, we have come so far to break chains of ignorance. However, in other parts of the world words are not used in the same context. Sometimes we must open our hearts to new concepts and understand that all over the world conversations will have different meanings. It is incredible how closed our minds can be when simple words are used in a sentence. I stopped a conversation I was having with a fellow just because I was getting uncomfortable about what I thought was the definition of two simple words. It’s incredible how closed minded we can be and jump into conclusions without even people finishing their thoughts. We, as people must remember that we all have different opinions and what can be described in one side of the world in one way, can be very different for others.

“This site/blog http://www.hectorpeguero.com is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.”

Referrences:

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/normal

McLeod, S. A. (2018, August 05). Abnormal psychology. Retrieved https://www.simplypsychology.org/abnormal-psychology.html

Why are you NOT married?

I have arrived in Mysore and it has been an interesting few weeks getting used to the weather and culture. Even though I feel like I am at home, there are still some adjustments that I need to make to be a Mysorean. To begin my research and be able to travel it was imperative for me to register with the FRO (Foreigners Registration in India) for my residency. The registration process was exhausting, but now I am part of India legally even though is for 9 months. It is prideful to show a paper to the Mysore community and say that I live in the country legitimately. It sounds crazy, but when you come from the other side of the world it is remarkable to feel part of a different culture.  Besides completing government official forms, I also have been interacting with the organization that supports my research. The staff has been knowing me for the past year and they make me feel like I am part of their life’s. It is fascinating the many questions they have about my place of birth and why I research minority populations in their city. Another question they peculiarly have is Why am I not married? To be honest, most of the time my answers is because I am concentrated in my studies, but in reality, I just did not want to go over the whole explanation of me been Gay.

Marriage in India is all about the union of two families and how a man and a woman are part of a community. According to “Hindu” (Sanatan Dharma), the ceremony of marriage is a firm uniting of two souls such that after marriage the individual bodies remain as separate entities but the souls merge into one harmonious whole (Mehta, 2016). Even though there are two humans giving up their regular life’s, it is also their responsibility to care and love for their families. Thus most marriages are arranged by parents or relatives, even in the educated class. Children are expected to accept their parents’ decision with respect to marriage unconditionally, extra-marital relationships, separations, and remarriage have been looked down upon. For most people in India, marriage is a one-time event in life, which sanctified and glorified with much social approval (Sharma, I., Pandit, B., Pathak, A., & Sharma, R. 2013).

For 158 years section, 377 of the Indian Penal Code defines homosexuality as a crime, punishable by imprisonment (Agoramoorthy, G., & Minna, J. H., 2007) till a few weeks ago. Homosexuality is an interesting topic here in Mysore when discussing my project. The staff where I work seems open to many topics, but at the same time, homosexuality topics can be controversial. When I had my first meeting with the transgender Guru/president of their community I wanted to make sure that she knew that this project for me was very close to my heart and kind of personal. After thinking throughout the night and the morning of the meeting what to say for the transgender community to know how important this research for me was; I decided to have someone translate for me and tell the Guru that this was an exceptional project for me because I was Gay. I am still not sure if those that translated for me knew exactly what I meant, but I am pretty sure the Guru got my message by just the look in her eyes. I do remember her saying that she knew I was similar to her community and that she knew I was doing my research from my heart.

It was very interesting to know that the Guru knew that someone in the LGBTQIA community was supporting their community and possibly creating new resources like education for HIV. However, after informing the transgender Guru that I was gay things became weird and very quiet on my way back to the office. I believe that at that moment everyone was processing everything that I had said, and it was scandalous to know that I am Gay. The trip back to the office was silent and no one was talking, and believe me, Indian people know how to keep up with many conversations. For the rest of the day no one mentioned anything, and I felt a little uncomfortable; but one thing I have learned in India is not to take anything personal since cultures are very different all over the world. The next day after my meeting with the Hijada Guru the environment at the office felt more relax and not stressful. The people started conversations like nothing was said or even talked about. To be honest, this made me feel rights at home. Because even though we did not discuss anything related to my sexual orientation, their morning handshake felt like a huge hug letting me know that they will support me anytime.

Most of my readers will not understand my concerns about Mysore community acceptance process. Most of you will be telling me to not care about other opinions, but for me, it is all about educating and promoting kindness. It is not just about fighting for equal rights, it is creating a space with love and understanding. I am a foreigner and the person introducing myself to a new culture, new religions and people with different ideologies. I am the one that needs to understand that people have different opinions, but at the same time try to communicate in a way people can be educated to open new doors for those rejected in society. And like in the movie “The Greatest Showman”, I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me.

“This site/blog http://www.hectorpeguero.com is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.”

Agoramoorthy, G., & Minna, J. H. (2007). India’s homosexual discrimination and health consequences. Revista de saúde pública41(4), 657-660.

Sharma, I., Pandit, B., Pathak, A., & Sharma, R. (2013). Hinduism, marriage and mental illness. Indian journal of psychiatry55(Suppl 2), S243.