Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Queer Identity and Politics over Children

The introduction to Navtej Singh Johar and Others. vs Union Of India, arguably the most historic verdict in the pursuit of LGBTQI+ rights In India reads thus:

Non-acceptance of it (natural state) by any societal norm or notion and punishment by law on some obsolete idea and idealism affects the kernel of the identity of an individual. Destruction of individual identity would tantamount to crushing of intrinsic dignity that cumulatively encapsulates the values of privacy, choice, freedom of speech and other expressions. It can be viewed from another angle. An individual in exercise of his choice may feel that he/she should be left alone but no one, and we mean, no one, should impose solitude on him/her”. Calling upon the canonical works of John Mill and Shakespeare, the Court hacked down at the shackles of criminalisation of love as unsigned in the archaic notorious Article 377. On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court had declared the contentious article partially null and void.

A similar instance was to be set with the introduction of the progressive teachers training manual by the NCERT for the inclusion of non-binary and non-heteronormative categories in the fold of formal education. The manual, however, was taken down almost within a day of its official posting in the NCERT website owing to formal complaints and rectifications sought by the NCPCR or the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. This manual, “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap”, was a step in the right direction long overdue and long desired – a government approved manual that would sensitize teachers and educators to the needs and difficulties encountered in a highly heteronormative environment. However, the NCPCR’s letter against it, complaining that the manual was “conspiring to traumatise school students in name of gender sensitisation” is thoroughly baseless. Yet, the manual was taken down from the website.

While the manual’s removal and subsequent backlash was completely unwarranted it would be crucial to go over the contents that could have put a stop to systemic violence against non binary categories from the primary education level itself. Schools can be the perfect starting point for inclusivity and fighting the injustice against trans people.

Sex assigned at birth is now the gender inclusive term replacing the traditional hierarchical superitoty of biological classifiatioon of male and female as the only two observable sex categories. Instead of biological male or female, male/female assigned at birth (AMAB/AFAB respectively) is the correct nomenclature as this understanding finally allows for the realisation that the sex and gender are socially constructed ideals and not the set in stone biological edicts people make it out to be. Children are initiated into social roles from the time of birth- treating the infants differently on the basis of their assigned sex- blue for the male child and pink for the female child. The process of socialization is also conducted through the scope of this differential treatment. Gender awareness is one of the most crucial elements of development observed. The growing awareness of children leads to gender awareness. The child usually understands the difference between accepted male and female behaviour and in turn, crystallizes their location in the spectrum of gender identity. The concept of gender stability (i.e. I am a girl and will remain so my entire life- a point later contested in the aftermath of gender fluidity findings) also starts condensing by 4 years. This process of social conditioning into gender roles is implicitly embedded into social constructs from birth itself. The social learning theory of gender development drives dives into how the understanding of gender hood is nuanced and rewarded in society. Ascription to the expected norms gets praise or reinforced (rewarded) and this increases the repetition of gendered stereotyped behaviour. Children even begin to imitate the behaviour (for instance the dressing patterns) of the same sex adult parent and perceive similarities between themselves and the same sex parent. (through observational learning)

Cognitive development theory is another such psychological theory that floats how gender development is the consequence of cognitive maturity. We as individuals begin to perceive ourselves as a whole entity and develop a rudimentary sense of individuality termed the “I-self” emerges owing to the realisation that the individual can manipulate their surroundings- a sense of external reality comes forth. Children begin to categorize and realise they belong to one category and do not simply switch over to another one (gender stability). Another influential theory of social psychology of gender construction is the Gender Schema Theory which says children develop gender schemas (schemas being cognitive frameworks that reflect characteristics of society about gender stereotypes and the traditional role of men and women in society). The schemas usually develop when children pick on the adult language that uses gender connotations – teachers greeting the class with a “good morning boys and girls” or parents doling the age old Indian adage “ ladke rote nahi hai” (boys don’t cry) completely ignorant of the consequences and implicit roles of language in enforcing the patriarchal norms that ultimately harm an individual.

From these valid, proven theories of social psychology it can be understood very well how indoctrination in gendered identity is a largely social process – a larger ambit beyond the XX and XY chromosomes. Theories on queer identity formation also dictate how homosexuality is also very deeply a social experience. There is a lot of confusion among non binary children as their disparate self identity clashes with the heteronormative expectations. In the six stage proposal of the coming out model proposed by Vivienne Cass, the child may repress the homosexual feeling or “not normal” feelings and not explain identity further to avoid cognitive dissonance.

The guide in its short lifespan recommended measures like gender neutral uniforms and washrooms for focused on discouraging separate assembly rows for girls and boys and emphasised on building a more gender inclusive environment. It posted a list of terms that covered queer friendly inclusive language and explained terms in simpler meanings such as the concept of cisgender (identifying with the same gender one was assigned at birth). Its glossary included definitions such as gender fluidity, gender incongruence, gender dysphoria, gender affirmation, gender expression, gender conformity, gender variance, among others. Poonam Agarwal, a Gender Studies professor at NCERT commented in relation to the manual, “The inclusion of all children is part of our mandate as an institution, so we decided to prepare training material that would sensitise teachers and teacher educators about the lived experiences, achievements, struggles, and aspirations of transgender and gender-nonconforming children. To make this happen, it was important to partner with people who belong to these communities, and are in close contact with grass root-level realities.”

Somewhere over the rainbow/Bluebirds fly… Dreams really do come true-ooh-ooh. India may not as a whole be accepting towards the rainbow land but these changes instill hope for a day the pride shines forth.

– Bipasha Bhowmick

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