INSIGHT – QUEERNESS & SEX WORK
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, there are higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, and substance abuse among the queer population. A recent research report establishes a correlation between being a victim of cyberbullying and suffering from anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. It can be assumed that the absence of cyber-security plays a part in bringing about a plethora of mental health problems faced by trans and queer women.
Bangladesh’s rapid modernisation has led to greater internet presence — the number of social media users increased by 25% within 2020-2021. However, hate speech and cyberbullying have robbed the trans and queer communities of opportunities to reap the internet and social media usage benefits.
Every time an individual chooses to communicate through a text message, email, comment, or timeline post, the various neurological requirements to feel empathy are absent from the exchange. The reason behind this is simply the fact that social media has a tendency to dehumanise the people who are writing these posts and reduce them to nothing but a mere social media profile.
When faced with just an electronic screen, it is inadvertently difficult to climb into another’s shoes and discern their perspective. This dehumanising aspect results in avoiding accountability for cruel acts online. Unfortunately, gender diverse people and queer women, whose gender identities and sexual orientations do not conform to someone’s predetermined notions of “normalcy”, find themselves victims to cyberbullying at exorbitantly higher rates than others.
Moreover, the outlets covering reports regarding these marginalised communities are met with intense vitriol in the public comment sections. Such incidents are an effective tool to intimidate those who do not conform to societal norms into silence. For fear of precedent humiliation and mental detriment that follows victims of cyber-bullying, most of these women focus less on self-expression on the internet and more on surviving the whole ordeal. Even though the internet and social media are just tools, the marginalised women seem to suffer the consequences of handing over the tool to an apathetic crowd. Social media, brimming with an absence of empathy coupled with a lack of accountability conceals the members of this crowd in a cloak of fear and shame instead of bringing visibility.
Freedom of speech is a luxury that marginalised communities often cannot afford. The absence of cyber-security, paired with tone-deaf attempts at visibility, puts their mental health and overall well-being at risk. In 2021, when the North South University Debate Club put up a post declaring solidarity with the queer community for Pride month, it immediately received an immense amount of backlash from conservative netizens. The internet crowd got themselves into a frenzy, going even as far as sending death threats to the members of the club; so the post was taken down.
Attempts like these fall under “performative allyship” which do more damage/harm than good. Posts with empty promises of solidarity do the queer community no good. In an internet space filled with radical extremists, these posts garner the wrong kind of attention. Moreover, when these posts are ultimately taken down after receiving backlash, it gives a sense of validation to the extremists, affirming their belief that they have every right to vehemently oppose the very existence of a community they deem unacceptable. This, in turn, means the actual queer activists have to go to further lengths to cloak their activities in secrecy. Thus, contents stemming from straight intentions inevitably end up silencing the marginalised voices.
These marginalised women stand at an intersection of injustices. In a patriarchal society like ours, genderdiverse people and queer women get discriminated against on multiple grounds. Many of them face misogynistic treatment on a daily basis. On top of that, they are ridiculed and belittled for deviating from the heteronormative idea of identity. Hate groups like “Feminism is Cancer (FIC)” not only put out misogynistic content but openly bully queer women. They invalidate and belittle gender-diverse people’s struggles on a regular basis.
Whenever non-profit organisations such as TransEnd put out informative posts regarding gender diverse issues, they are publicly mocked. Such vitriol against gender diverse people leaves a lasting impact since it can trigger gender dysphoria. Trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) add to that, with their statements that make trans women feel unwelcome. The sense of not belonging fuels gender dysphoria.
Moreover, demonising and fetishising queer relationships taint the perception of those who are questioning their sexual or gender identity. Such incidents on the internet have a major hand in giving birth to internalised homophobia and transphobia among impressionable young women.
The absence of cyber security makes life in the age of the internet a lot harder for marginalised women. It not only takes a toll on their mental well-being, but the effects can also manifest into higher rates of substance abuse. With problems like depression, anxiety, and dysmorphia stemming from the lack of security in cyberspace, it is high time to take steps to mitigate these issues.
Policing comment sections over the internet would never be an effective solution for stopping cyberbullying. Instead, it would be imposing on the constitution-assigned freedom of speech. Rather, educating the citizens by providing them with better resources will be a step in the right direction for the government. It is important to note that none of the cyber security laws in Bangladesh have specific sections that protect the gender diverse community in cyberspace.
The Digital Security Act 2018, which is the latest addition to the cyber laws in Bangladesh, focuses on preventing discrimination based on religion over the internet, yet it falls flat when it comes to giving the least amount of protection to the gender diverse community.
To make effective security laws, the Law Ministry must acknowledge the injustices against the marginalised communities occurring over the internet. An immediate amendment of the Acts dealing with cyber security is a necessity when it comes to ensuring security on the internet for the gender diverse populace.
The writer is a part of TDA Editorial Team.