Tuesday, 3 April 2012

I'm Neither Christian Nor Gay, Just Humanist

By now, many of you would have read the article "I'm Christian, Unless You're Gay" that's doing the rounds of the Internet. You may even have read some of the responses to it.

I'm neither Christian nor gay, and my own journey towards forming a sympathetic view of homosexuality may hold learnings for other people, so let me post about it here. I guess my upbringing in India has been indirectly influenced by the prudery of centuries of foreign rule. Certainly the Kama Sutra and the stone carvings at the temples of Khajuraho and Konarak show that Hindu civilisation was not in itself prudish. But four centuries of Muslim rule and two centuries of rule by a largely Victorian Britain changed the character of Indian middle class society. I could hardly talk to my parents about sex when I was growing up, much less about homosexuality. It would have embarrassed all of us.

I need to thank the Indian soft porn magazine Debonair (that I used to read on the sly as a teenager and a young man) for its many articles by psychologists and others that convinced me that there was no shame in sex or masturbation, and that these were natural, even positive things. I learnt to believe that sexual activity in itself was not immoral. Harm to others was what was immoral. For example, the evil in rape is not in the sex but in the coercion. It's thanks to Debonair that I unshackled my mind from the stifling attitudes of middle-class Indian society. Freedom from sexual guilt right from my teenage years has been one of the blessings of my life.

My personal life is boringly conservative (and I like it that way) but my views are shockingly liberal :-).

[While this has only an indirect relationship to the topic of this post, my attitudes towards sex in general kept evolving as I grew older: In later years, I realised with a pleasant shock that porn was, ironically, probably the only movie genre that wasn't sexist, because it depicted men and women in completely equal terms. Today, I'm an unabashed supporter of pornography, specifically the category called Non-Violent Erotica (NVE). I realise that lots of people, especially women, consider pornography to be demeaning to women or something that incites violence against women. I haven't found that to be the case. Such opinions probably belong in the same category as "masturbation makes you blind" and need to be revisited with an open mind.]

Well, however liberal I became in my attitudes towards sex in general, on the topic of homosexuality, I still retained a knee-jerk response until fairly recently. It may be fair to say that I was personally repulsed by the idea. And my education in a scientific discipline like engineering made me question whether homosexuality was even natural! After all, gays couldn't reproduce, so that "proved" to me that homosexuality was an aberration from what was natural. I believed it was a disease or a mental condition that needed to be cured. However, I should point out that I never at any time thought of it as 'evil'. I just considered it unnatural, not a crime or a sin. No one was being harmed, after all. I believed homosexuality was no more a crime than (voluntary) prostitution and needed to be decriminalised.

My last reservations about the 'naturalness' of homosexuality fell away rather dramatically, and it happened not on a personal or emotional level, but at an intellectual level, since that was the level on which my position was based.

I read somewhere (I can't remember the source now, but here's a similar one) that between 7% and 10% of the individuals in any mammalian species are homosexual. All of a sudden, what had seemed unnatural to me became natural, and I realised I had no reason to consider gays abnormal anymore. Ever since I read Desmond Morris's book The Naked Ape, I had learnt to think of man as just another animal. [In fact, as an amusing exercise, I would look at people and try to see them as primates. I could see people as monkeys, with their eyes, ears, facial hair and even their expressions and mannerisms appearing very simian.] So suddenly, I realised I had no reason to consider human gays abnormal in any respect, because their existence was entirely consistent with the existence of gays in every other mammalian species. There was nothing to be "cured", after all. My liberal-humanist philosophy took over at that point, and that is how I became a supporter of gay rights.

It also helps that I am strongly anti-organised religion. So when I read about the Westboro Baptist Church and their slogans like "God hates fags", I know who the bad guys are.

This is an honest, warts-and-all account of my personal journey. Parts of the narrative may not appeal to all, but it's the truth. I guess a description of my position today could be "I'm humanist, unless you're religious". Just kidding ;-).
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