miércoles, 25 de mayo de 2011

Disabled, gay, and as normal as you

Published: Sunday, Jan 30, 2011, 1:10 IST

By Uttarika Kumaran Place: Mumbai Agency: dnaindia.com
On Saturday, at the Queer Azadi March in Mumbai, thousands from the Indian LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community poured onto the streets to show the city once again — lest it forgets — that they exist. But 37-year-old Dinesh Gupta opted out. “I doubt I’d have been able to walk that far or for that long,” he says.

Dinesh was born with a genetic disorder called osteogensis imperfecta, which causes bones to break easily, often with little or no apparent cause. His first fracture was when he was two-months old, and by the time he was 13 Dinesh had suffered 14 fractures on various bones below his waist. One of these fractures left him disabled. But once he reached puberty and his bones matured, the fractures stopped.

Only, something else happened. Dinesh began to feel a distinct attraction towards men and realised he was gay. “The same hormonal changes that halted the fractures also aided my sexual development. In a way, I’ve always felt I am alive because I’m gay.”

seguir leyendo... Shared historyHistorically, both the gay and the disability rights movements have stemmed from a common resistance to what is considered ‘normal’ in society. By challenging the acceptance of heterosexuality as the norm, people with alternate sexualities often claim to be ‘socially disabled’. Disability rights activists too have struggled to overturn barriers that give preference to a particular social construction of the body.

At times, the two movements have crossed paths. In 1983 in Minnesota, US, Karen Thompson began an eight-year-long battle to gain access to her live-in partner Sharon Kowalski who was disabled after a car accident and remanded to the guardianship of her parents who denied Thompson visitation rights. With support from the gay and disabled communities, Thompson finally acquired legal guardianship of her partner in 1991.

In India, the concerns of the gay and disabled movements have been independent of each other. Popular culture too has seen very few and narrowly explored meeting points. In 1964, the Hindi film Dosti, directed by Satyen Bose, portrayed the friendship between two boys rejected by society — one blind and the other a cripple, and has since been appropriated in queer readings of Hindi cinema as a metaphor for homosexual repression, but nothing more.

It was another Hindi film in 2008, Dostana that threw homosexuality into the limelight and convinced Dinesh to come out. The media lapped up his story, but neglected to ask a crucial question — does being disabled colour his experience as a gay man?

Bare truthsBeing practically bed-ridden while growing up, it took years before Dinesh could confront his sexuality. Studying at home, he completed his graduation and later underwent a surgery that greatly improved his mobility. It was at 26, when he started to venture outdoors on his own that he began to meet men and slowly gain confidence.

Despite the relative openness regarding alternative sexual behaviour in Indian society after the 2009 High Court ruling, there has been a stony silence about sexual practices among the physically disabled. In a society where beauty is held in utmost regard, the physically disabled are at an immediate disadvantage. Priti Prabhughate, research director, Humsafar Trust, says, “Even among able-bodied people in the gay community, self-esteem over body image seems to be an issue. For the disabled gay person, it can be doubly difficult.”

Dinesh says matter-of-factly, “I’ve never had a gay partner. Some are bisexual. Many claim to be straight and say they choose to be with me for a short while out of pity. Even if that’s true, I’m okay with it because I do have physical needs.” Dinesh maintains that he would prefer an able-bodied partner over a disabled one.

Invisible men“I would like to reach out and tell my story so that more people like me know they’re not alone. I applied to get on Sach Ka Samna but they didn’t select me. Then I wanted to be on Raaz Pichle Janam Ka. I’m still waiting to hear from them,” says Dinesh.

In March 2006, while still in the closet about his sexuality, Dinesh read about Manvendra Singh Gohil, the prince from Gujarat whose coming out made headlines across the world. In August the same year, Dinesh attended his first community programme at Humsafar Trust, a networking and advocacy group serving the needs of the MSM (males who have sex with males) and transgender communities in Mumbai. He says, “I felt immediately accepted. I heard their stories. I wasn’t aware there were so many like us out there.” Yet, five years on, Dinesh has yet to meet another gay man with a disability like his.

Unlike the emergence of gay icons and the concept of ‘gay pride’ that have given the queer movement media visibility, the disability rights movement has failed to generate the same curiosity.

“Forget media visibility, Mumbai is among the most disability-unfriendly cities,” says Rohini Ramkrishnan, researcher at the Disability Research and Design Foundation, “How often do you see a physically disabled person comfortably using the train or bus? Right now, it’s like they don’t exist. We just put them in rehab centres and pretend they’re not there.”

United, we stand
“Disability points to an obvious bodily impairment which influences every aspect of one’s interaction with society. The experience of homosexuality is not as disabling on an everyday basis,” explains Srilatha Juvva, associate professor, Centre for Disability Studies and Action, TISS.

Other disability experts feel that the immense cost of making structural adjustments — such as installing ramps in public places — has resulted in their rights being ignored, including rights pertaining to sexual health. “I feel that the government’s HIV efforts don’t consider how a physically disabled person has sex. How then will you tell him/her to be safe?” asks Prabhughate of the Hunsafar Trust.

One of the main reasons for the success of the queer movement has been the alliance of sexuality and gender-identity based communities under one umbrella-term called LGBT. A similar model in the disability rights field, especially in the wake of the framing of the UNCRPD & Disability Act 2010, seems the need of the hour.

In the meantime, ask Dinesh whether he identifies with his gay identity or his disabled one, he replies, “I’m proud to say I’m gay.” Some day, he might be proud to say he’s disabled too.

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