Bold and Beautiful

A conversation with Vikram Johann Sunil

Hey all! I am Vikram Johann Sunil.

I am 21 years old. My pronouns are they/them theirs. I studied at Bethany High School and went to Christ Junior College for Pre-university. I did my B.A. in Media Studies, English Literature and Psychology from Christ University. I graduated this year. I would like to get into modelling as that's something I'm quite passionate about. I'm in touch with a modelling agency. Hopefully, they will have more openings after the pandemic.

About my sexuality, I think I always knew that I was bisexual. Now I am out and proud.

When I was younger, I wasn't quite familiar with the term "bisexual", but I knew I was different. Every person can be attracted to any person. As a child, I remember asking my mum, "Why aren't those two men getting married?". She was like, "No, no. That doesn't happen." I was told that men can get married only to women. I was pretty confused as I couldn't understand the logic behind that statement.

I realized I was bisexual in ninth grade, but I didn't come out as I hadn't met anyone from the community. At that point, there was a lot of homophobia. In school, we weren't educated about the community. So, I knew there would obviously be a lot of backlash and judgement. I comfortably came out during the first year of my university.

It's an intrinsic knowledge that drives someone to this realization. The majority of the people are not queer because of the system. People have been told that it is wrong. This system has conditioned us to be either a man or a woman. If that system where you've been told that you should be attracted to the "opposite gender" did not exist, the world would be a much better place.

Coming to the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, every person has a gender and sexuality. These two are independent of each other.

Gender is who you perceive yourself to be, how you feel daily. Sexuality is who you are attracted to. Gender is on a spectrum.

I am a genderqueer, non-binary person. My gender can change. One day, I might feel one gender, and on a different day, I feel the other gender. Or I might not feel gender at all. My gender expression in terms of my clothing and how I express myself is fluid. That's just how I experience my gender. Everyone experiences gender differently. Gender is not related to the way you look. For example, you might "look like a woman" doesn't mean you are. It varies for every person. So, gender is mostly an intrinsic sense of who you are.

Many people have confusions about LGBTQIA.

L is for Lesbian. G is for Gay. B stands for bisexual and T for transgender. Q is Queer. I is for Intersex. A is for asexual. The "plus" is an essential component. It means there are other identities which might not be specified in the acronym, but is a part of the community.

Queer was used a slur back in the day. People have reclaimed it now. Some people are not comfortable using that term as it has a history of oppression.

If you do not know a person's pronoun, use gender-neutral pronouns like they, them, theirs etc. That way, you're not assuming a person gender. Usually, in meetings, it is a good practice to introduce yourself with your name and your pronouns. All people should do that. When you're asking someone for their pronoun, you shouldn't make the person feel uncomfortable, which is very important. Only ask when you have expressed your own pronouns. Be like, "my pronouns are "----" what are yours?"

My friends in college were always supportive and very accepting. I came out because I felt comfortable with my friends. Even the people in my class are knowledgeable and accepting.

While LGBTQIA+ adults say society is more accepting, just 19% say there is "a lot" of social acceptance today. Many say they have been victims of discrimination, such as being subject to slurs or jokes, or suffering rejection by a family member.

I can take jokes as long as they aren't transphobic or homophobic. Trans people are vilified in the media, and this has to stop. It hurts to see such content. It feels like going back to square one.

On September 6, 2018, India's Supreme Court ruled that consensual homosexual acts would no longer constitute a crime. The historic move reversed Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which was a legacy from British colonial rule. The change was welcome by Indian and global LGBTQIA+ communities as a step towards acceptance and equal rights, but almost two years after the passing of this law, what is the state of LGBTQ+ rights in India?

I've seen a lot of people wanting to leave the country. Well, that isn't a solution. You have to stay here and bring about the change. You can't keep running away. Then what's left here is just people who can't fight for themselves or those who do not have the privilege to go abroad. I guess it will get better, but right now it doesn't seem that way.

Change must begin from the root level, i.e. education.

Our education system must become more inclusive. The topic of LGBTQIA itself must be normalized. Sex education should make its way to our syllabus. Even among heterosexual people, sex is a taboo. Even men and women are expected to act in a particular manner. So even under the heterosexual majority, there is so much to be undone.

Family and friends play important roles in our lives.

My dad doesn't know yet coz I haven't told him. When I told my mum, she initially thought this was just a phase. But as time passed, she understood me better and got more accepting. She only cares for my safety. That's her main priority. One more factor that made her more accepting of me was the fact that she had bisexual friends in college. She knows about my sexuality and sometimes has slight problems when I do not dress stereotypical male. She accepts my gender but is slightly confused about my pronouns. Sometimes she uses "he" by mistake.

From school, our junior Gregory Philip was very accepting of me when we met in college. And my school friends like Shaheen and all are quite sweet to me.

On September 26 2019, I met someone from the community at a friend's birthday party. She informed me about this event happening at Humming Tree on queer rights, and that's how I found the community. Most of them were from this group called Queer Campists. It basically comprises of people from 18-30 years of age. Those who are below 18 aren't allowed in the group. We have a WhatsApp group, and before the lockdown, we used to meet up at Cubbon Park every Sunday. Meeting so many like-minded people has immensely helped me. It is basically a safe space for all queer people. There are some rules, trigger warnings, and we must respect each one's pronouns. So a lot of effort has been put by each one of us to make this a safe space. Majority of my friends belong to this group.

I was once asked, "Be it an application form or a public washroom, how do you feel when public places aren't embracing your presence?"

Since my passport says male, in all official documents, I have to tick 'male'. But if there was an opportunity to change, I definitely would. This has to change. It doesn't affect me much, because I do not have that level of body dysphoria where I cannot deal with wearing male clothes. But a lot of people have dysphoria. They can't wear male attire. It just makes them feel so dysphoric and uncomfortable with their body. It makes it very hard for them to access washrooms as well.

We had recently gone to this place called Chin-Lung. My friend, who was trans, was not allowed to use the female washroom. She had to go to the men's toilet. Which is more problematic because people stare at you with that look as to why is someone wearing these types of clothes in this washroom? It is very hard. So, whenever trans people go out, they have to be with the company. We always have to be accompanied by someone, or its too hard to deal with. Be it the looks, the whispers and sometimes even the assault. That's one reason why the community itself goes around in groups.

If the system changes, it will benefit not only the community but everyone. It is unfair to be chained in a free country.

The things that people usually google but refuse to ask it out loud are about what is bisexual, genderqueer, non-binary, etc. There are a lot of articles on the usage of pronouns. Topics which queer people are sensitive to, like transphobia, assaults and violations on the community or other triggering issues must be kept away from us. The community goes through it, so it is unfair to ask our opinion or explanation on such topics. Because we are the ones facing it. Majority of the time, it's not even our fault. The system is set up by heterosexual oppressive people, and because of that, all these assaults take place. That kind of research should be done by people who are not oppressed by the system. This shouldn't be the case just for the community, even for other oppressed people, like those facing assaults for belonging to a particular caste in India or those who are attacked for their skin tone. They shouldn't be made to do the work of telling you what's wrong.

One major thing we can emphasize is that it's not "western influence", even though the Pride started in America. Since English wasn't a part of our ancestry, any term from the English dictionary seems foreign. You really can't make classifications based on borders anymore as everything around us is from another country. That's how the world is functioning now. LGBTQIA is not western as trans, and gay people have always existed here. A lot of history might not have been written about them. And in the present times, even though there are accounts of gay people, no one talks about it. The people have always existed, maybe the terms came in later. This is a community because of oppression; otherwise, it would just be normal. Nobody would pass judgement or talk against it.

It's unscientific to call it a mental disorder. If you feel it is one, then you have no clue about mental illnesses. If you google about it, the first search itself says that there is more chance for gay people to be suicidal and depressed because of the oppression. They are just more prone to having a mental disorder because you call it a mental illness. They feel low because of conversion therapy and being forced to change themselves and live a certain way. This is an intrinsic part of you, you cannot change it. So that leads to mental disorder.

What I feel about "coming out" in our society is that it's actually not safe. For some people in India, it is safer to not come out. Even in our group, there are a lot of people who've come out or their parents have found out from different sources. They've been kicked out of their home. They then had to find a place to live and stuff. A few of us are privileged, if we come out, there will be some sort of support. A lot of us aren't this privileged. In families that do not accept the idea of LGBTQIA, it's not safe for someone to come out. But you can't hide away from reality. So for those who are from such families, it is advisable to come out when you are financially secure. When you are self-sufficient and not under any authority that questions your very existence, that is the right time to reveal yourself to the world.

In the future I wish every school, irrespective of its board, normalizes sex education and gender education. So that children grow up with all taboos being normalized and refrain from calling someone gay or trans as an insult. Marriage between queer people or living with your partner without being married should be formalized. Non-monogamy must be normalized too, especially keeping bisexual and queer people in mind. Being in a relationship with three or four people must be standardized, and they should be allowed to marry each other. Of course, it gets complicated when there are more than two people in a marriage, but that can be figured out. Owing to all the major decisions one has to take while signing a marriage contract, the process of divorce has become more tedious and challenging. For a lot of people, marriage is no longer about love, it has become some sort of an agreement.

Property laws and marriage laws must be made gender-neutral.

Moreover, we as parents must normalize talking about the community to our children. If things are the same, there are chances of queer people of being bullied or oppressed. You have to talk to your children about gender and sexuality, so they don't become bullies or get bullied. As parents, we must not induce stereotypical concepts into our children.

Stringent gender norms should be done away with.

Be it toys, clothes or even accessories, we must try and make it as gender-neutral as possible, so our children don't grow up with these stereotypes. If my child is born male, I won't force him to wear stereotypically male clothes. In my opinion, fashion is gender-neutral. So, I'll make sure my children get to wear what they want to wear. A lot of trans people has dysphoria because they've been forced into this one body which ultimately becomes a cage for them.

In an ideal world, where oppression against the community doesn't exist, you wouldn't have to talk about it as a separate topic.

Regarding what's next for me I'm taking a break year and looking for jobs. I might enrol in a college after this year. I would love to get into films and learn about video editing, cinematography, acting and modelling. If it kicks off for me, that would be something I would continue doing.

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