The snickering jibes, judgmental stares and acceptance from a few; that pretty much sums up the life of a queer person in India. Homophobia runs deep here. And as Delhi walks for equality and freedom at the Queer pride parade today, let’s talk about an issue that has no rulebook . How does a queer person navigate the various complexities of a workplace in India?
Just like in other spheres of your life, it’s not easy to come ‘out’ as a homosexual/transgender at an Indian company especially if it’s your first one. Because you know what’s coming your way. You end up being the butt of straight colleagues’ jokes.
Sneha Malhotra (name changed upon request) who works in the food and beverage industry in Kolkata narrates her experience to ScoopWhoop News.
She says that people in the office talking behind her back is not unusual, it happens all the time. But she also mentions that that she has not faced discrimination upfront in the office space and has been quite lucky in this matter.
”My boss and her boss are quite comfortable with the fact that I am a lesbian. Even at my previous job, I told my boss about the same because I didn’t want him to hear it from someone else. I don’t walk around the office with a badge saying that ‘I am a lesbian’. But some of my work friends and colleagues who know that I am cohabiting with my partner are very supportive”, Malhotra tells ScoopWhoop News.
For starters, that is quite comforting to know that people are now opening up to a concept which didn’t even exist a while back. Acceptance is building up at least in urban India and in big corporate offices.
But while that’s just one case in point, there are several other instances where the opposite happens and Sneha makes us understand what the whole deal is about.
The ‘other’ zone
In various cases, when a person establishes that he/she is queer, jarring stereotypes make their way in the office space. Ignorance makes them believe that the queer ones function in a different way than the seemingly, socially accepted ‘normal’ beings. Even the so-called liberal ones ‘other’ zone them, but don’t bring it up in conversations because of the fear of offending them.
Malhotra explains to ScoopWhoop News, ”It’s not a big deal. A person is always fearful of the unknown or of what is not they consider to be the norm. They should realise gay people are as normal as straight.”
Becoming the office gossip?
While one’s sexuality might be no consequence to anyone in the office, it usually becomes the focal point of someone’s being. It’s all that others think about them when instead they should be talking about their work. It’s just plain bizarre that all the myriad aspects of a person’s personality are so conveniently overlooked and it’s just his/her sexuality which constitutes the topic of gossip in the office.
Sneha explains how all this is because of an innate curiosity and a healthy discussion about it is always welcome to create awareness and shun stereotypes about the community.
”Curiosity is a part of human nature. It’s a very natural habit. It would be very strange to me if people weren’t curious. Sometimes my friends and colleagues ask me how do you guys do it. It shouldn’t be just too invasive, that’s all. Also being queer is not the only thing that happens. There is a lot of shit going on in the world we live in and there are a lot of things to bother about other than being straight or gay. What I do in my bedroom is no one else’s business”.
Malhotra also says that all the jokes and talking-behind the back is also because of the queer people themselves who are defensive about it because of social stigma and the sense of guilt and that allows people to ridicule them.
”People who are gay in this country have a persecution complex and they are so emotionally and mentally conditioned to feel guilty of who they are and that’s what is projected onto the people around them”
To lie or not to lie
There are also many who fear that revealing sexuality could be a major stumbling block in career advancement and also could be used as a weapon by some to blackmail or manipulate them. Many homosexuals/transgenders remain cooped up in their cubicles because of the fear that revealing their sexuality at work will have negative consequences.
”I don’t discuss that part of my life at work. My colleagues ask me about my boyfriend and I say that I am single and that I broke up with my ex-boyfriend a while back. Initially when I didn’t mingle much with my colleagues and didn’t share details, some of them conveniently labelled me as a snob or stuck-up. So, then I started to make up things and had to lie all the time. It’s just too tiring”, 29-year-old Khyati Pandey (name changed), who works in a multinational company in Delhi told ScoopWhoop News.
So on the one hand, change is happening, but the fear and prejudice still remains and the insensitivity still flows. Many multinational companies based in India have, over the years, have tried to put in inclusive HR policies for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender(LGBT) community, in an effort to reduce workplace bullying and discomfiture.
Sure, it will take a lot of time for all the ‘othering’ to stop, but for now we can at least celebrate the fact that we have come a long way.