“Why Can’t We Say ‘Opposite’ #Gender?” – A Workshop by Vinay Chandran That Broke Through Stereotypes about #Sexuality and Sexual Identity

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Vinay Chandran is a well-established counselor and gay rights activist/writer with a reputation for dealing with issues relating to gender and sexuality in a sensitive and academically astute manner.

In June 2017, Vinay was at the Radio Active offices to conduct a bunch of workshops on Desire, Disgust and Disapproval in Gender and Sexuality Counseling: A Life Skills Approach. The sessions were open to final year BA students from Jain University. In a heteronormative society where ‘alternate’ sexuality is often viewed with disgust, it becomes very important to be aware of and be open to such suppressed realities. The objective of the workshop was to sensitize the students about the complexity and depth of the concept of sexuality.

The first session began with setting a foundation to understand gender and sexuality. This implied unlearning a few stereotypes and, hence, breaking biases. There are more than 25 types of transgender identities. Vinay spelt out small but significant nuances in the terms – transvestite, transsexual, transgender, queer, intersex, gender fluid and so on.

Biological and social perspectives which mark the difference between sex and gender (respectively) were spoken about. A person need not always identify oneself with the same gender as one’s biology. The cultural and religious significance of transgender identities was also discussed. Hijra, Ali, Aravani, Kinner, Kothi and so on are some such identities. He also talked about gender reassignment surgery and ethical issues surrounding it. Most importantly, he spoke about being non-judgemental and empathetic in a conversation about sexuality and gender. “If you want to know about a person’s gender or sexual identity, ask them what THEY identify themselves to be. Do not assume,” Vinay said. He also shared his experiences with people he helped over the years. Questions from the students were answered elaborately and convincingly.

The second session began with an activity. Five to six students were made to form a circle with one student at the centre. Everyone was asked to shoot questions one after the other to the person at the centre. The latter had to answer each of those questions as fast as possible. At the end of the activity, she was asked to tell everyone how she felt answering the questions. “I felt overwhelmed. I couldn’t register the questions and it felt confusing,” she confessed. “What if the questions were about your sexuality? How would you feel?” asked Vinay. “Violated,” she responded.

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This activity was to demonstrate the importance of showing respect for any person in a conversation. He effectively conveyed to the students that we must avoid questioning someone about their personal details. We just have to wait until they feel comfortable enough to share it with us. He also spoke about the immense responsibility that comes with knowing someone’s deepest insecurities and secrets. Nothing seconds confidentiality and trust.

He also answered questions like, “What is called a heterosexual relationship?”, “Why can’t we say ‘opposite’ gender?”, “Are gender roles stereotypes or archetypes?” and “Are heterosexuals the minority in real?”

He explained the different aspects of sexual orientation – identity, behaviour, preference, and psycho-social. Sexual orientation and different views to it – normal, natural, cultural and moral – were discussed at length. He then spoke about the feminist perspective to therapy, which says, “YOU have the answers to your problems. The counselor is only your support.” It is also about acknowledging power structures and the privileges that come with it. He ended the session with food for thought, “What are the causes of homosexuality?”

Both the sessions were enjoyable mainly because of the amount of information they provided. Students were able to talk and question freely. The workshop helped add a broader understanding of gender and sexuality because of the biases it managed to disintegrate.

 

Written by Vybhavi Adiga.

 

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