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'We assume that heterosexuality is a norm and homosexuality is abnormality'

Thursday, January 04, 2018
Photographs by Azad Shrivastav

HARISH IYER, a writer, author, motivational speaker, a Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-and-Transgender (LGBT) activist, and a teacher, talks to MANJIRI CHITRE about government laws, sexual abuse, homosexuality and much more.

Sitting in a restaurant in Matunga in open air, with blue hair in a tiny pony tail, Harish Iyer, an all rounder in his field started talking about his early life and childhood. Being a South Indian guy who has lived most of his life in Matunga, started sharing his most dreaded and horrible life experience. “When I was seven, I was sexually abused. And I was raped from the age of 7 to 18 by a male relative of mine. I wouldn't say my childhood got completely shattered because when you are sexually abused, you either learn to cope with it or live a dual life. So I lived a dual life. I was living a life where I was getting raped, and also I life where I wasn't, and I never wanted these two parts of my life to meet together,” said Harish Iyer.

It is not easy to talk about sexual abuse, especially when the person has been a victim of it. Speaking about Sexual abuse, Iyer said, “I started opening up to my mother about the abuse when I was in 10th. So even when you don't remember things, there are moments. Like, you might not remember the song but there are moments when you'll just remember the lyrics. Those are the things that happen with child sex abuse, especially with those who survive a prolonged period of child sexual abuse. That's what used to happen with me. I basically went and told my mother that my uncle touches me here and there and I don't like it. So my mother said, 'don't go close to your uncle'. In her head, there was not even any possibility that a male child could get sexually abused. Because people didn't even know that male children need to be protected.”

Talking about college life, the LGBT activist was bullied throughout college. “I was bullied a lot in college. I had this one friend who knew about my abuse and went and told the whole college about it. For them, it was not about seeing it as an abuse, they saw it as sex. So they didn't know what relationship it was. And they would say 'he has slept with his uncle'. There were graffiti walls on which people abused me. So, that was more humiliating than the abuse itself. Because of all this,, I also tried committing suicide a couple of times and I survived.”

He adds, “But I think, bullying has made me stronger. I believe in 'What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger'. It did have a great impact. They teased the way I walked. After a while, it bothered me so much that it didn't bother me at all. So now, I'm still conscious about certain things, like I wouldn't walk ahead. I don't want people to watch me from behind. There are these fears that gradually I'm trying to get rid of.”

As they say, dog are a man's best friend – Iyer proved it right. He had a dog during the most difficult time of his life. “I had a dog named Jimmy. He was the first person I spoke my heart out to, and I wasn't judged back. Every time, I used to be raped, I would come home and start crying, and he would lick my tears. So Jimmy gave me courage," Iyer said lovingly. His current foundation – Jimmy Foundation is named after his dog.

Very few men have been open and vocal about sexual abuse happening to them. “I have spoke to around 2 lakh survivors. And there have been more male survivors than female. And it is just until last year that I have seen people opening up. Now we have quite a number who are opening up and coming out in the open. It's not that you just shove a mike on their face and they talk about it. It takes time," said the 38-year-old activist.

For survivors of child sex abuse, it's a life time of recovery. Because you tend to remember things in parts. It's like parts of the jigsaw puzzle putting itself together, he claimed.

Currently, there are many voices raising for the LGBT community. People are coming out and talking about it. Many of them are revealing their preferences in gender. Talking about the changing perception towards the LGBT community, Iyer said, “When I first spoke about my abuse, the first thing that I was asked was 'Are you gay because you were raped?' However, every woman has gone through some sort of sexual assault. It's so common that we don't even make an issue out of it. Has anyone ever come and asked any woman, 'Are you straight because you were abused by a man?' No. Because we have assumed in our heads that heterosexuality is a norm, and homosexuality is an abnormality. I'm gay because I'm gay. Not because I didn't have any other way.”

“We need more voices. I know there have been voices out there for the LGBT community now. Ashok Rao Kavi has spoken about it at a time when we couldn't even imagine. So has followed a legacy of people. And I'm not going to be ashamed,” he added.

Coming to homophobes, Iyer said wittily, “I think many of them are closet homosexuals themselves. It's the best of retaliating something. It's like a Karan Johar film, each one of us watches the film. And it is ironical that I'm taking Karan Johar's reference here. So each one of us goes and watches his film, we cry when Shah Rukh Khan dies in Kal Ho Na Ho, and then we come back and say that it was so bad. Because we want to appear cool. I think that's what the homophobes do.”

Harish Iyer alongwith his students

According to the activist, living a life truly and unabashedly is the truest form of activism and that is what makes him proud being a part of the community.
Talking about relationships and him coming out as gay, Iyer said, “I had a relationship with a woman, without any physical relationship. Then I went to Singapore, and I had sex with a commercial worker. It was a one night stand and it didn't stand at all. That's when I thought that I will not live a lie. So I told my mother about it. But of course, she took a secret from me. But eventually, I came out in the open.”

He further claimed that he has a boyfriend now and he wishes to get married in the most unusual way. “I look forward to having married in a completely different and unusual way. I want a Dalit Muslim Lesbian woman Priest in an all Vegan potluck wedding where we invite people to serve and not to eat,” he said laughing.

Speaking about pride marches all over the world and the need for it, Harish Iyer said, “I think the reason for pride marches is that we need to celebrate our diversity, and our diversity will be celebrated only when each minority gets their own pride March. People sometimes think that what is the need for these people to have a pride March, and why can't they just be homosexuals in a closet. I would ask each one of them to not have 'baraats' and marriages on the streets, because then they are spreading heterosexuality culture everywhere. And all these are heterosexual pride marches.”

He further questioned, “And just as we go to their weddings and celebrate heterosexuality, why don't they come to our pride marches and celebrate homosexuality?”

Harish Iyer is a part of the pride concert organizing team. He claimed that there are going to be people from all around the world. And there will be a queer gay choir. There's going to be a flash mob like every year where the LGBT community will be going to sensitize people. Apart from it, there is going to be a gay badminton tournament as well as a cricket tournament which will be played by LBT women.

When asked about the present government helping for the welfare of the LGBT community, and the current 377 law, he said, “I think they are giving us an impression that they are doing something for us, but they're not. Sushma Swaraj has been very clear when the surrogacy judgement had come, she very categorically said that gay people won't get it because it's against Indian ethos. I think prejudice is against Indian ethos. I think Sushma Swaraj's thought is against Indian ethos. India is a pluralistic country which accepts people from all the genders and all the community. Such thoughts are slave of Victorian era."

He further said, “So, this is me being nationalist and telling the government who claims to be nationalist that you're not a nationalist if you don't throw section 377 out. Only that now they have softened the stance that we won't go to jail but it should be illegal. The thing is, what adults do in private with consent with each other should not be anyone's problem or concern.”

Harish Iyer, is basically termed as a social media savvy. Talking about social media and LGBT people, “I think everyone wants a gay best friend. And they are very accepting of LGBT people, as long as the LGBT person is not from their family. It's like gays are pretty cool but if tomorrow my son is gay, it's a huge issue and the 'log Kya kahenge' thing pops up. It is only the present generation who has started speaking it's mind and has started speaking about it and social media plays a great role in it.”

Iyer is an all rounder in his profession. But what he loves doing the most is teaching. He teaches media and advertising in colleges. Along with it, he claims that his students are his best friends and they have accepted him as they are. “I am a gay professor. My students have accepted me. But did they have reluctance? Yes, they did have reluctance in the beginning. So, I had to come out and tell them that it's okay. And I told them that I'm gay and I accept you, even if you don't accept me. I do Facebook lives for all my classes. And I try to include inclusive education as a part of curriculum. I'm a writer, an author, a motivational speaker, but most importantly something that's very dear to me is that I'm a teacher.”

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