Homophobia is defined as a “dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people”. However, I think those seven words fail to describe what it is really like to identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community in Bangladesh. In our country, being queer means remaining hidden, trying one’s best so people do not guess, knowing that one’s family might disown them if one dares to live as oneself, knowing that one’s friends might not understand or accept them. Being queer in our country means living in fear and dread. Of one’s own family. Of the fact that one might not have a home to return to just because one is different. Just because one does not adhere to what societal conventions label “normal”. Being queer means being hated.
Now, imagine yourself in a queer person’s shoes. Imagine falling in love with someone of the same sex. Imagine being assigned male at birth but identifying as female. Imagine not wanting to have sex because it does not interest you. Imagine having the ability to fall in love with anyone, regardless of whatever gender identity they might have. Imaging these things to be an integral part of who you are as a person. Imagine being so in love with your same-sex partner that you cannot imagine a future without them.
Now, imagine telling the truth to your parents whom you also cannot imagine a future without. Imagine your parents shunning you. Not accepting who you are. Imagine being mentally abused for who you love. Imagine being bullied by your friends and peers because you act too masculine or feminine. Imagine one of your cousins spewing out hatefully, “It’s all because of gay people. We are nearing the end times because of them!” Imagine your father blaming the pandemic on the LGBTQ+ community, which you are a part of. Imagine your friends making insensitive jokes about who you identify as.
Maybe you are having a hard time imagining any of these scenarios because you are not queer and it does not concern you. I would like you to pick a part of your identity that you consider integral to yourself. It could be anything of your choosing. Now, imagine being abused, bullied, shunned, or disowned for this part of you that makes you yourself. Imagine living in a country where the police force will arrest you and abuse you just because you choose to live as yourself. Imagine feeling trapped and suffocated because you know that your own family and friends will never accept you. Imagine being depressed and anxious and terrified because you do not adhere to what society wants for you.
And, that is merely touching lightly on what homophobia does to people from the LGBTQ+ community. It is difficult for anyone to live without the support of loved ones and be denied support just because one chooses to be truthful about who they are is a burden that is painful to bear. So, I ask, why? Why do we think we have the right to hate or be judgmental? Why do we think we can decide who is “normal” and who is not? Who gave us the right to be cruel and abusive towards another human being?
How would you feel if the same amount of hatred was projected at you because you are heterosexual?
While it is true that queer people in Bangladesh are somewhat of a minority, they still exist. And, since they exist, it is the nation’s duty to grant them rights. It is humane to accept and be respectful. It is humane to make queer people feel included and welcomed; doesn’t it seem hypocritical to label ourselves a “hospitable nation” when we criminalise queerness? It is shameful for us as a society to stigmatise and disapprove of them.
I remember being introduced to the words “gay” and “lesbian” when I was eleven years old. At the time, I found it surprising that such people existed. That was a way to be. I was not made to hate or disapprove. My family, despite being homophobic, did not really think it important to enforce their views on me. So, I formed my own views. I watched Modern Family, and the gay couple in the show did not seem abnormal to me, nor did they seem abhorrent. What they looked like was a couple who loved each other and had a daughter whom they also loved. They looked like a family.
As Bangladeshi youth, we are always taught by our parents and teachers the value of not wasting time. We are told that not wasting time is a virtue. Because in the equation of “লেখাপড়া করে যে গাড়ি-ঘোড়া চড়ে সে”, not wasting time means educating ourselves as education leads to a better future, free from poverty. But, I ask myself, is poverty only bound to one’s financial situation? What about poverty of the mind? And what about the harmful and downright inhumane ways it affects many of the queer people in the country?
We are taught not to waste time, yet we are wasting it by hating senselessly. Despite striving to be academically and financially successful, we continue to overlook our mindsets which remain impoverished due to a lack of awareness and acceptance. I admit that support for the LGBTQ+ community may not come easily. It takes time to learn. But hatred is a beast. It consumes and results in disaster.
So, I ask you to not waste time by hating. I ask you to learn. I ask you to understand and empathise because we all know that kindness costs less than hatred.
Miftahul is a curly bigfoot who can be seen reading — whenever you spot her, that is. Occasionally, she writes.