This past Sunday, Sam and I went with Maya and Indira to a private screening of the documentary “I am.” I highly recommend this movie, even if you do not have a particular interest in LGBTI issues, because the storytelling is extraordinarily powerful. The movie was made by Sonali Gulati, an Indian lesbian filmmaker, who returned to Delhi eleven years after her mother passed away to pack up the family house, but also to tell the coming out story of gays and lesbians in India around the time that Section 377, the Indian law that criminalizes sodomy, was being read down by the Delhi High Court.[youtube k98AoIh4Z6Q Trailer for “I am” on YouTube]
While coming to terms with the fact that she never came out to her own mother, Sonali interviews gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, and often their mothers, to hear the diversity of perspectives and experiences of coming out to family. One thing that struck me in the movie was how different these coming out experiences were from the experiences of the people that Parma works with. Working with Parma, we had been told that the idea of coming out doesn’t really exist in India, and the best that most non-heterosexual/gender non-conforming people can hope for is that their families will just ignore the issue. However, the stories of the people in the documentary were mainly positive. Even if a family’s reaction wasn’t immediately supportive, most of the stories ended with the families coming to accept the individuals and their sexual orientation.
While the documentary showed that coming out in India is not always a negative experience, I think this is largely due to the fact that the individuals interviewed were mostly from a middle-to-upper class, urban environment. In general, most people that we meet through Parma are from rural or tribal areas and have either run away from home or been pushed out, usually after they made their identity explicit by having a female partner. This has made one of our Advocacy Project responsibilities incredibly complex and complicated. Because of previous experiences of or threats of violence, most of the transgender individuals that Parma works with are not comfortable “coming out” to their families and close friends, much less to the world at large via the internet. Therefore, gathering “personal profiles” of the people that we work with is not simply a matter of determining who has a powerful story to tell (they all do), but finding a way to let them tell a story in a way that makes them comfortable, hiding their identity visually and possibly even changing their name. Even then, many of the transgender people are not comfortable sharing their story with strangers, period.
Sharing these stories is incredibly important – hearing them has helped us to understand the roadblocks, discrimination, and mistreatment that they have endured because of the gender identity in a way that we would not have been able to otherwise, so we are working hard to find a way to share these stories with a broader audience. Over the past week or so, we have been brainstorming with Maya and Indira to generate a list of people who are more “out” and who may be more comfortable sharing their stories, and we hope to get their consent and possibly begin the process at their next group meeting.
Posted By Meredith Williams
Posted Jun 29th, 2011