So recently the government shut down yet another attempt to decriminalize homosexuality in Sri Lanka.
To wit, the bill proposed that people should not be discriminated upon based on their gender, and the old farts panicked. We got the usual excuse that this is a Buddhist country, and this was culturally inappropriate.
This is, unfortunately, rational, if not perfectly logical. Consider the country that we live in:
- Short skirts are frowned upon
- Women working and not marrying before 25 is practically a source of family shame
- We have enough trouble making multiple religions work, let alone multiple genders
- All major religious bodies are still strongly conservative and anti-homosexuality
As a human being, I agree that this doesn’t make the slightest shred of sense. As long as there’s no rape involved, what two people do in bed is really none of my business. By all means do the wall if it pleases you. As a Buddhist, born into a family of rather conservative Buddhists, it makes even less sense. Buddhism says absolutely nothing about sexual orientation. These morals are not Buddhist at all, but Christian ones inherited from British colonizers.
“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.”
For some reason, England eventually agreed that short skirts were okay and gay people were not going to hell; we didn’t. If anything, a ban on homosexuality is a regression: the ancient Greeks were okay with it, the Romans were perfectly fine with it. Even in Sanskrit literature we have terms such as ubhaya, napumsaka, or shanda — a reference to “Third Gender”, unless I’m completely off the mark here; and that makes us look positively medieval.
Unfortunately this logic only works in Colombo. At the end of the day, we are a very liberal lot: we have the advantage of being exposed to multiple points of view, multiple perspectives, and are generally able to say look, the Greeks did it, why haven’t we progressed?
Colombo is a tiny bubble, a bubble within a bubble, perhaps ten thousand people operating within a larger framework of conservative people. The rest of the country holds starkly different morals. People here have spent their entire lives knowing that being gay is evil; that belief has only been enforced by religious systems.
If any success is to be won here it can only proceed in stages. First must come equal rights for women. That makes sense because, like it or not, women are working, generating a sizeable chunk of the economy, and no force of old men in Parliament can stop this; the working-woman stigma was dealt with in the early 2000s.
Next we probably need a tangent; we need to dissociate religion from the control it has over who we marry and why. Religion is one the great sticky social constructs of humanity. It binds people together: useful for forming coherent communities, terribly unhelpful for social change. In this case, I feel it’s one of the big sticklers holding us back.
Historically, this seems to be the pattern of acceptance that other countries faced with this issue have followed. Once all this is done comes the acceptance of homosexuality.
Hopefully on the heels of this will come the acceptance of other gender identifications. I don’t ever see the 58 gender types being accepted. Maximising the number of options you get on an ‘About me’ page is vastly different from implementing it in a social context. For example, a man identifying as a woman walking into a woman’s bathroom would still intense discomfort; a man identifying as an Apache helicopter would, and probably should be certified insane.
But there is absolutely no reason why a reasonable reduction of these types, plus biological permutations of gender, and sex changes, cannot work perfectly within legal frameworks. The most efficient solution is to map out, statistically, the most common variants of gender/sex and cater to them; say the top 5. It’s a reductionist approach, but can lay the start of something until we work out the rest of it.
Realistically, this battle of ideas is not going to be won overnight. It will take years.
In reality the average Sri Lankan – who does not know or care about these movements – is the idealogical equivalent of those folks from the Westboro Baptist Church.
Any attempt to topple a strong idealogical standpoint overnight will only result in violent reprisal. It doesn’t really matter if we consider it right or wrong or a matter of fundamental human rights. Ideas aren’t like on-off switches; they diffuse into people like ink into water. Remember that when Obama decriminalized gay marriage, he was doing so in response to decades of sustained equal rights activism; movements that have been going on since the sixties.
In the meantime, cheers to all the folks who are actively pushing for this issue. It may seem futile, but five to ten years from now, their efforts are going to be the pebbles that set the avalanche rolling.
(Note: I am neither homosexual nor of any other non-heterosexual orientation, so one might argue that being straight and male affects my thinking here. However, if we are to accept other genders and orientations as rational human beings, then we must also drop straightness and maleness as grounds for a flaw in reasoning).