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Arriving At Awareness And Acceptance Of One’s Sexual Orientation During A Sex Crime

Protest and consent are two sides of a coin and in the absence of one, the other becomes a choice, albeit in the garb of coercion. For the LGBTQAI+ community then, is the ‘right to consent’ invariably denied?

Arriving At Awareness And Acceptance Of One’s Sexual Orientation During A Sex Crime
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Should a secret stay hidden forever? To gauge the severity of public response to an exposed secret is hard. In India, for instance, the #MeToo movement opened a cauldron of secrets to unravel the horrific reality of the rising cases of sexual harassment and violence. This Pride Month, let us try and understand what the popular hashtag stands for in the LGBTQIA+ community.

In an exclusive email interaction with Outlook, Jamil F. Khan, a critical diversity scholar, columnist and author tells us about their searing personal essay, titled Gay boys don’t cry when we’re raped: Queer shame and secrecy in the recently published anthology—Intimacy and Injury: In the wake of #MeToo in India and South Africa (edited by Nicky Falkof, Srila Roy, and Shilpa Phadke; Manchester University Press, May 2022). Khan discusses the multiple challenges and hardships members of the LGBTQIA+ community face in society, which is still, somehow, reluctant to go past the heteronormative script of power, desire, sex, and love. Within this cosmos of privileged heterosexuality, sex hierarchy and power relations, the universe of gay love, passion and compassion is caught in a web of limited choices, rather only two available options: 1) don’t protest and simply obey the orders of the powerful by sacrificing consent, and 2) seek pleasure from pain whether you like it or not.

The claustrophobia and suffocation stemming from being in a closet is double-edged. Both the acts of keeping the secret and facing those who know the secret are detrimental to the psychological well-being of the secret-owner. Coming out is as complicated as staying in the closet. In the reflection piece, Khan recounts the day of their rape as a nine-year-old child. It was a beautiful summer day. Khan writes, “On the day I was raped, the weather was wonderful. It was the height of summer in Cape Town, on the South African coast, and I had invited my friend around for a swim.” The brilliance of nature’s bounty and everything wondrous is brutally contrasted with what would eventually remain of the day.

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Pride March 300 people partook in the 8th annual Soweto Gay Pride Parade Photograph: Getty Images

The boy who raped the nine-year-old had taken Khan to a “concealed alleyway” secured by the “garage wall” of a house and the “neighbour’s boundary wall”. It is essential to take note of the way Khan uses the words “concealed”, “wall”, “boundary”, in a single sentence to describe a life event that should have ideally mimicked the vibrance of South African landscape—beautiful and memorable. It was memorable, alas, not pleasurable. Khan reveals in the book, “My shame had not come from the violation but from the sexual affirmation of my queerness.” Though violation and invasion became the medium by which sexual awareness was granted to the child, the sting of stigma came from the acceptance of sexual orientation. This was not how it ought to be but this was how it happened and it was perhaps the only possible way. The question of “entitlement to consent” too, therefore, seemed far-fetched.

Protest and consent are two sides of a coin and in the absence of one, the other becomes a choice, in the garb of coercion. For the queer then, is the ‘right to consent’ invariably denied?

Khan recounts in the book, “I did not make a sound. I didn’t say a word. It was nothing like what we are told rape is. Nobody fought, nobody cried, nothing was sore. In fact, it felt nice.” Now, here’s where the confusion is. How could it feel nice if it didn’t happen the way it was meant to be? Khan explains, “In a strange way, the lack of knowledge of consent was a protective factor. In my case, at the time, I believed myself to be in the presence of a friend. In fact, my bigger concern was the contravention of heterosexuality. Nevertheless, I interpreted it as being desired and desirable. I understood my role as a gateway for someone else’s pleasure and in doing so I felt useful. Even now, it is quite twisted to say, but I think it illustrates the extremely complicated nature of abuse and violation in the absence of the knowledge that we are all entitled to self-determination and choice. Not knowing that I could refuse or be asked for permission, allowed me to escape the panic of feeling violated.”

Protest and consent are two sides of a coin and in the absence of one, the other becomes a choice, albeit in the garb of coercion. For the LGBTQAI+ community then, is the ‘right to consent’ invariably denied? Khan replies, “When we look at the state of queer rights in the world, there have certainly been fewer victories than losses, due to a societal commitment to colonial heteropatriarchal frameworks. Under such conditions of repression, it is difficult to consider consent as an individual choice within the grasp of queer people. When we think about the conditions under which we exercise consent—invisibility, denial of our existence and our human rights, ostracisation, rejection, exclusion, ridicule—it is difficult to say that consent truly exists for many of us. As long as there has been oppression, there has been resistance.”

So, was the act of reflection and retrospection therapeutic? Did writing about it make the pain go away, we ask Khan. “I have not experienced it as therapeutic. Unfortunately, the only thing that will make it go away is for it to be undone. My objective is to contribute to an archive of knowledge and analysis that allows someone else to hopefully avoid such a situation, or at least to feel less alone, as they process their own trauma. I am deeply uncomfortable with the way I was taught to keep the abuse a secret and knowing how many queer people are still silenced by queerphobia. So, I decided to risk it, knowing that somehow, someone will benefit from me breaking my silence. There was definitely apprehension: before writing about this I had written a memoir, Khamr: The Makings of a Waterslams, which had a public reception in South Africa, and I chose to leave that story out of it because I was not ready for it to be widely known. But once I was ready, it definitely was driven out of me by necessity and empathy,” answers Khan, whose socio-political memoir won the best biography at the 2021 NIHSS Awards.

The #MeToo movement did show promise in bringing about real socio-political change, but there were pitfalls too. Khan points out that the dismissal of people’s experiences and lived realities cannot augur well for social justice. “Within any movement for social justice, there are people who will misuse the movement and distort its objectives for personal gain or political performance, but we must be more discerning about things. #MeToo is about believing victims of sexual assault and addressing the power that enables it—it is not a ‘gender war’ as some characterise it,” asserts Khan.

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The long shadow of shame and secrecy trailing queerness must be replaced by rays of acceptance, tolerance, and diversity. This will take some more time, thinks Khan. “We are fighting and unlearning centuries of colonial indoctrination that not only engineered queerphobia but racism, misogyny, ableism, and other anti-social systems. We are on a path where there is still much contestation about what the best thing to do is, but I am encouraged by the youth refusing to participate in old ways of being and charting new paths that value equality. We will get there, eventually. Hope is a valuable fuel in this struggle,” signs off Khan.

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(This appeared in the print edition as "Consent, Between Pleasure & Pain")

Ipshita Mitra is a freelance writer who just launched her debut collection of 21 verses titled Smudged Ink and Other Poems

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