Welcome back, comrades! This is the Side B to the cassette by an anthropology lecturer who agreed to teach me about the role of education in learning about the LGBTQ+. As a professor who has taught in different countries and states, Chandan Bose agreed to discuss his own journey of homosexuality and shed light about the more important sides to the conversation.
And as usual, here’s the story, right from the context.
Growing up gay in India in the 90s, you were just used to being stared at.
I would always be very conscious when I am entering a room, with my colleagues. I would either try to blend in, or I would try to exaggerate my behaviour.
If you are looking at me then look at me, let me take center stage.
Although, this really messes with your head over time.
Your body contains a showcase and it’s a performance that you constantly have to do. It is exhausting and in some ways, I am yet to recover from it. It is very subterranean. The constant disciplining, and awareness of my body, if my hands are in the right position, am I smiling too much, how am I looking, are my legs crossed or wide apart? All of these things exhaust you.
Listening to what Chandan, I felt a sense of familiarity. As a woman, I think this is normal for most women. Every time I step out of the house, I know I will grab attention and be bothered even if I don’t initiate an action. Being hyper-vigilant about one’s own self is clearly extends to everyone apart from straight men. Dear reader, would you agree?
Do you think a change in your career, a familial position or moving to a different country would alter your hyper-vigilance? I asked the professor, the same.
Have things changed for you as a teacher? Or have things become more complicated?
When I was teaching Uni in New Zealand, it was not complex at all. It has equal gay rights and all the progressive and liberal indicators. It was okay within the university space. In Manipal, MCH (Manipal Center for Humanities), was a place where some form of alterity was encouraged.
And the place I work at now, my priority is to get them familiar with me. And they do get familiar with you. It is an interesting exercise, but that’s the beauty of it all. I do know that I have to make an effort. It is a cross one has to carry. And that cross is not only carried by me, but also by women faculty in a technical institute. They have to make all attempts to be taken seriously.
Many faculty of the physical sciences tend to dress down. And they tend to wear somber colors because the moment you sexualize your identity, you are not taken seriously as a scientist. But now, that is changing where the faculty demographic is younger. So it is a matter of making an effort and that’s fine.
Unfair and fair is not a question you can be engaging with.
I really like my job, I enjoy the research I’m given the space to do, and I really like teaching. So I can make the effort for people to get used to me. This would happen in any context. Once they get used to you, it is fine.
I do use my privilege of being an upper-caste male, in this case. I do wear my jazzy shirts and wear my nose pin and I don’t think this will be easy for a woman faculty to do this. Depending on the nature of the institute and the state you are in, you have to know the boundaries of how to express yourself.
Even outside of MCH (Manipal Center of Humanities- where he taught earlier) I would have to behave myself. If I would have to go to the administration building, I would take off my nose pin. Although MCH was fine, outside the center, it wasn’t. Even where I teach now, it is the same. But I am able to be less restrained in my department and with my students.
Is it easier for teachers from the field of arts and humanities?
I have only interacted with lecturers from humanities since I am a humanities student myself. I wanted to understand if it was equally easy to create dialogue about diversity and inclusion when you are outside of the field. As students of humanities, we are taught about gender, sexuality, and more as a part of our course. So I wondered, if being teachers in the field of humanity makes it easy.
Chandan graciously educated me and I want to pass it on to you.
I have to say, for me it is easy, life has been easy. But I think it depends on the teacher and the teacher’s history. After school, I moved to Delhi University, then I did my Master’s in Anthropology in Delhi School of Economics which is where Anthropology of India was born and it had all elements of discourse and debates. And from there to JNU, after JNU, I worked in the design sector in Delhi, so I was always in spaces where I felt protected.
But it need not be the same for a person from the same department who has a different history.
I come from an English-speaking, privileged, middle-class family. So it is okay for me. But for someone else maybe not. To put it crudely, a queer person who’s a teaching faculty in social studies might not be okay with coming out at all. It depends on the specific experience a person has and background of class, caste, etc. I am very privileged that way. And I am able to do certain things, say certain things, and behave in certain ways because of my caste and class privilege. I definitely don’t think it can be a pan statement that teachers of Humanities have it easy. It depends on where they come from.
Link to the article: Teaching Underprivileged Kids about LGBTQ+
In this case, I feel like we have to first educate ourselves in actually to be able to listen, to see, and hear these different narratives. I think that is important. The task is for us to understand, by understand I don’t mean that one is supposed to empathise with it.
In many cases, what social sciences and ethnography teaches you is that you do miss out on the facts. You miss out on the vital connections the link one to the other. So that needs to be gauged. I certainly think speaking to these voices are important. It is not to understand why it happens, it is just to understand what is going on, what are these different networks that are being created with the middle-east and here. Of course, there would be narratives of poverty, doing this to sustain a house. How is the situation described from within? That needs to be asked.
Redefine the benefits of education.
It has to be rethought. What does education promise the individual, and how do people interpret these promises for themselves? Willy-nilly, education promises, but education does not deliver. So you usually don’t have access to education and even you do have access to education, how that transfers into providing a secure future is also very precarious.
The Strange Case of Hyderabad
Hyderabad is a good example. Hyderabad does not have an active LGBTQ+ voice at all. The answer to why it doesn’t is related to the way the political economy of the city has evolved. Hyderabad has only been evolving as a city since the late 80s and 90s. Infrastructurally, there has been a lot of growth in industries. And there has been a lot of migration into the city. But because of the way in which it was incorporated into the union of India, as it was one the parts of India that were not colonised, and the attention to Hyderabad was completely zero.
In the 60s, 70s, 80s liberalisation kicked in.
There has been a gap in its Infrastructure and social infrastructure. When I came to Hyderabad, I was very surprised. This place has everything you need and is one of the most cosmopolitan cities I have lived in. And yet it does not have an LGBTQ+ scene and it does not have a contemporary art scene. A lot has to do with the way the economic history of the city and the political situation in which the city has evolved.
I recently attended a queer event. It was themed around corporate responsibility towards queer communities. I know for a fact that the queer community in the public sphere of Hyderabad does not have a voice. But now because of Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Amazon, and other MNCs, and because they are mostly American based, even before section 377 was repealed, these companies had CSR for LGBTQ+ people. It is a part of the entire drive towards inclusion and diversity. It was not for people to come out as homosexual but just to articulate what they need to do to make the workplace a safe space. But many employees end up coming out to the HRs of the company. So the MNC offices now have become a safe space for people to be gay than outside the office. Which I find very interesting.
How does one understand work now? Work has become a place where you express yourself.
Every place and locality, one needs to be familiar with the structure of communication.
It’s about how people interact with one another. Locality and debates on LGBTQ+ identity. It depends on the mapping of space and structure of communication. You can only educate teachers from these spaces about LGBTQ+ if we learn about these spaces first. I feel like we only know 10% of what the place has to tell us. And also understand what are the ways in which any kind of alterity is negotiated within that community. It’s a question of thoroughly engaging with the place.
Can we then say teaching has certain constraints?
Chandan cleared that teaching did not create any constraints to his being. But rather, it was the other way around.
The constraint has something to do with me as a person and how I have been shaped by my experiences. It is very hard for me to be assertive. I’ve grown up being apologetic about myself. So assertive is one thing that I cannot be. But this is not because of teaching. Teaching in India is about that, to be assertive. I tend to be more friendly. And this across situations, and not just teaching. In the current institute, last semester I taught about Virtual Realities and had diverse student demography. A variety of students from all over India. Most students are not used to seeing lecturers coming in shorts or dancing while teaching. This is another one of the crosses that gay people bear. They moderate their behaviour, not for themselves, but to make the other person comfortable.
I didn’t want the students who come from smaller towns of India to react.
I wouldn’t say constraint, but this is something to be aware of. This extends to the women faculty as well. They have to maintain a certain decorum, they have to wear certain things, they can’t sit or stand in a certain way before the students.
It is also about getting used to. The best part of humans is that they get used to things.
No matter how much I control myself while teaching, my body will go back to reacting naturally to a situation. But after a point, they get used to it. So the constraints also lie within us. Any form of engagement requires mapping. I don’t think it is limited to being gay.
The teachers don’t have to play to role-model anymore.
At least in most of the urban educational institutions, and bigger universities. It is more of a client-service provider relationship. That’s what I can see across the board. How the education system has helped us change, and how the nature of pedagogy has changed. The question becomes interesting if you are discussing smaller towns. I think it depends on the teacher, in social or physical sciences, It is a dialogue that I am able to initiate because of my privilege. Probably they don’t have that privilege. The only way to disseminate the information is by going there, engaging in the conversation, and understanding how teachers are expected to be irrespective of their orientation, caste, or identity. And how these expectations affect the larger discourse.
Teaching is not just lecturing
it is being a part of the department and engagement with your colleagues. The thing about being a liberal is that is very easy to put on the act. I cannot disassociate me being a teacher from me being a part of my department, or being with my colleagues. I have other problems that are not necessarily directly connected to my sexuality, but rather in an intricate manner. With the client-service provider relationship, faculty is more susceptible to scrutiny, what they teach has to make students employable or get a scholarship. So it’s not about being able to express my identity, it’s about being able to teach any kind of thought-process or critique. It doesn’t take away anything. The struggles are different.
Let me leave you with Chandan’s words about the whole affair.
Oppression hits you in the bones. No law can change that. You can only keep learning to forget that trauma.