After I moved to Canada, I was really surprised at how many gays I met who claimed to be non-believer. It almost felt like being an atheist is a prerequisite to be gay.

The hundreds of gays I met back in India, hardly any if at all, were non-believers. Although I grew up among two non-believers in my family. My Dad’s brother and his wife. Their general attitude or reasoning behind being atheists were that, they were too learned and scientifically inclined to believe in God. Which was perfectly fine. Every human being has the right to choose what they want and don’t want to believe.

But here it is different. I generally get a very vague reasoning or nothing at all. “I don’t believe in God.” It starts and ends in that one sentence. That’s when it got me thinking, whether it has something to do with how the religion is taught.

Could the constant preaching in the church about homosexuality being an abomination, and how every gay man or woman would burn in hell, have anything to do with this?

In our religion, I have never been told or heard any discussion relating to sex or sexual behavior of humans. This could be because Indians think sex in general is taboo (gay or straight) and not something to be discussed in public. The priests and saints who we meet in our day to day life do not discuss sex. So we had no idea as kids that sex and religion were connected.  To us they were two totally different entities.  Till ofcourse, when homosexuality was decriminalized in 2009 and made headlines, that’s when religious honchos (muslims, christians and hindus) sat at the same side of the table and started their anti-gay campaign. Never before have they been united this way. We made it possible, (pun intended).

Another reason could be, how it is preached. There is a marked difference between how we learn whats right and whats wrong in our childhood through religion and how the west does, in my opinion.

The negative or the positive approach, which would have the same result in the end, anyway. Let me elaborate:

I can say: If you steal, you will burn in hell.

OR

I can say: If you never give in to temptation and stay honest, God will reward you.

As a child if I hear the first, I would feel, God is someone to be afraid of. HE is strict, and punishes you the harshest way possible for your mistakes. On the other hand, if I hear the 2nd version, I would see God as someone who rewards you for your good deeds, appreciates you and someone who is full of love and compassion. At the sametime it is understood that if I am not honest, I will not be rewarded. The way I see it, I would rather do something to get rewarded than not do something in fear of being punished. Although both would acquire the same result.

Lastly, in hindu mythology, there are so many references of gender queerness, that even someone who hasn’t read religious books in depth, knows, homosexuality, did not spring up out of the blue in the last century but has been there since the existence of the human race. A few that I can think of right now:

1) Shiva’s another avataar Ardha Narishwar (ardha= half, narishwar= woman and man)

 ” To Create the Universe, Lord Shiva separated his power (Shakti) from himself. Shiva represents the Masculine power, while Shakti the feminine. Since both masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) are part of him, shiva is known as Ardh-Nar-Nari-shwar (God who is half male and half female).” (SHIVALAYA: author VIVEK)

2) Shikhandi:  Born with female genital organs, Shikhandi was raised a son, taught warfare and statecraft. He was even given a wife. On his wedding night, the wife, was horrified to discover that her husband was actually a woman. and left him. A distraught Shikhandi went to the forest, holding himself responsible for the crisis, intent on killing himself. There he met a giant  who took pity on him and gave him his manhood for one night. With the giant’s manhood, Shikhandi made love to a concubine sent by his father-in-law and proved he was no woman. The wife was therefore forced to return. Now, it so happened, the king of the giants, was furious with what had happened and so cursed the giant that he would not get his manhood back so long as Shikhandi lived. As a result what was supposed to be with him for one night remained with him till death. So Shikhandi, born with a female body, acquired a giant’s manhood.

3) Vichitravirya: Another character in Mahabharata which means (queer masculinity).

4) Bhangashvana: A powerful king who was cursed by God to be a woman. As a man he had a wife and children and as a woman he had a husband and bore him children. Hence he was a man to his wife and a woman to his husband.

There are hoards of other references which I can tabulate, but this should do for now. This clearly indicates, although India as the rest of the world had a very pro-hetero patriarchal society, it did not condemn or sweep under the floor boards the existence of non-heterosexual, alternate sexuality.

Even with so many evidences, if Indians find it so difficult to accept homosexuality, I can imagine a religion which apparently explicitly says “Man should not sleep with mankind, as womankind”,  would be hard pressed to accept gays.

So maybe, growing up learning about these mythological characters, we sub-consciously know that we are not freak of nature. There were gays before us and there would be gays after us and finding the references in religious books, we don’t grow up being anti-God. When we struggle as youths to accept our alternate sexuality, we find solace in these characters. Something I guess, the west don’t have the luxury of doing.

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