By Aryaa Gavai
The hero of the Iliad, the most fierce warrior in Homer's epic who had superhuman strength and courage and was supremely handsome – Achilles in another context by Patroclus is said to be a bottom! Let me cut to the chase, Homosexuality in humans and animals existed since the beginning of the time and there are several proofs to make this "theory" and fact and its high time that we have a conversation about it.
Let's start from the beginning, there are various examples of people from ancient Greece who were said to have as the historians say "a very close intimate friendship" meaning they were Gay. In ancient Athens, it was not despicable for men who were married to have affairs with other men. There are several books written by great philosophers and authors like Plato, Homer, Xenophon where they've mentioned homosexuality as a part of their culture. The most captivating one being the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Poems of Sappho from the island of Lesbos to her beloved goddess Aphrodite are one of the oldest fragments of literature depicting love amongst women. And this was all at least 2000 years ago.
It wasn't until very recently that homosexuality was criminalized and was seen as a sin in most of the countries in the world. That doesn't mean that these people didn't exist. In 1930 painter Lili Elbe born as Einar Wegener is rumoured to be the first woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery with the support of her partner Gerda Wegener. She died the following year from cardiac arrest as her immune system was weak after going through the risky procedure to transform her body to affirm her gender. Another very genius mind was the mind of Alan Turing, he was a mathematician, computer scientist and cryptanalyst who cracked the Enigma code during world war 2 saving thousands of lives. His codes and programs were also used to make modern-day computers. In 1952 Turing was prosecuted by the British government under "gross indecency" a criminal offence and outed for being gay. He accepted chemical castration as an alternative to prison. He committed suicide at the age of 41.
The rights of LGBTQIA+ people have been violated or in most cases doesn't exist at all. But what is also not so surprising is that they are also not treated as people. Human rights exist for a reason and the reason is not present most of the time when the people are from the LGBTQIA+ community. The stonewall riots led by Marsha P Johnson a black transgender woman in America gave rise to an uprising for the rights of the LGBT community thus changing the history of the queer community and American history. It was in response to a police raid that began early in the morning on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall inn where the police injured several queer people. Gay Americans faced an anti-legal system, police brutality and murders of several queer people especially transgender people which were dismissed as suicide or accident. After the Stonewall riots, many civil rights moments were started throughout the nation for gay rights. In 1970 the first gay pride march took place in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. From 1969 to 2020 America has come a long way from securing gay rights to making same-sex marriage legal.
India too has a rich homosexual culture in its past. Historical literary evidence indicates that homosexuality has been prevalent across the Indian subcontinent throughout history and that homosexuals were not necessarily considered inferior in any way until about the 18th century during British colonial rule. The ancient Indian text of Kamasutra dedicates a complete chapter on homosexual behaviour. The Arthashastra, an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft mentions a wide variety of sexual practices which, whether performed with a man or a woman, were sought to be punished with the lowest grade of fine. While homosexual intercourse was not sanctioned, it was treated as a very minor offence, and several kinds of heterosexual intercourse were punished more severely. India after its freedom changed several laws giving an independent status to minorities and tribes and several commissions to the poor but without changing the draconian law criminalising homosexuality up until 6th September 2018. Homophobia is prevalent in India. Public discussion on homosexuality in any form is rarely discussed. In recent years, however, the attitude has slightly changed towards homosexuality. There have been examples of queer characters in Indian cinema and media which have given a chance to discuss more and learn about them and their rights. The 1971 Hindi film 'Badnam Basti" was the first-ever Hindi film to showcase a same-sex relationship. In 2005 prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla in Gujarat publicly came out as gay and quickly caught media attention as being the first openly gay royal. In June 2008 India celebrated pride parade in the cities of Kolkata, Pondicherry, Indore, Bangalore and Delhi followed by Mumbai in August 2008, a win after celebrating its first pride parade in Kolkata,1999. In 2001 Mumbai based trans activist Gauri Sawant adopted Gayatri, in 2018 Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju the two lawyers who played a key role in abolishing sec 377 came out as a couple. In 2019, Dutee Chand, an Indian professional sprinter and national champion, declared about her same-sex relationship becoming India's first-ever openly lesbian athlete. In 2020 transgender people who are considered to be the third gender in India still fight for their rights and are time and again misgendered.
There are 195 countries and only 29 of them have the laws which guarantee the safety and privacy of the LGBTQIA+ community. Research has found that attempted suicide rates and suicidal ideation among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,(LGBT) youth are significantly higher than among the general population. LGBT youth have the highest rate of suicide attempts. The passage of laws that discriminate against LGBT people have shown to have significant negative impacts on the physical and mental health and well-being of LGBT youth; for example, depression and drug use among LGBT people have been shown to increase significantly after the passage of discriminatory laws. I can give many examples of people who were gay throughout their lives but history tried to erase their homosexuality like Leonardo da Vinci, Oscar Wilde – a damn good writer who was chemically castrated for being gay, Emily Dickinson – a poet, Virginia Woolf – author, Sarah Hezagi – an exiled Turkish gay activist who committed suicide in California from PTSD she suffered while she was jail in Turkey. The stonewall riot took place in 1969, the World Health Organization declassified same-sex attraction as a mental illness in 1992, India decriminalised being gay in a landmark judgement in 2018 whereas the history of India is rich with the mention of homosexual beings even before Leviticus was written which states that "thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination". Being a homosexual was even common in ancient Greece and Rome. It is a shame that the world lets people die by curing them of something as natural in nature as sunlight thinking that it's a phase.
Almost 5000 years of rich homosexual history and I truly can't decide which era is safer; 5000 years ago with all the patriarchy and politics and wars and sexual exploitation or today with all the patriarchy and politics and wars and sexual exploitation. Times have changed!
Aryaa Gavai is an Intern at The Colourboard. She is pursuing Bachelors in Mass Media from Mumbai.