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25 Feb 2024, Edition - 3148, Sunday

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“LGBT is not rare, but people admitting it is rare”; psychiatrists talk of LGBT in small towns

Susmitha Suresh


Societal pressure, family, shame and fear force these people to stay in the shadows and lead an uncomfortable life in small towns unlike in big cities where there they have formed communities and have specific hangouts to socialise amongst themselves. Indian society has accepted transgenders more than the LTGTQ community.

Coimbatore: In smaller towns and cities, like Coimbatore, where everyone knows everyone else, LGBT persons find it extremely difficult to live a life of their own unlike in big cities and metropolis that offer greater anonymity.

Society is also yet to come around to accepting the reality about LGBT community in small towns as even the mention of the word transgender in any language is a taboo.

“Once, a boy around 20 from a well to do family, barged inside and told me, Doc, I’m gay. My mother is sitting outside. Please tell her I can’t change,” recalled Dr G Raghunathaman, Professor & Head of dept of Psychiatry, PSG Institute of Medical Sciences & Research, adding that “such bold clients were very rare.”

Barring such very odd and rare cases, stories of openly gay people in small towns and cities are rare.

But this kind of openness is rare as societal pressures and fear of shaming the family play on the minds of the LGBT community and they lead their own secret, painful lives and yearn for a life in cities like a Delhi or a Mumbai where there are specific hangouts for the community that are by now well known and acknowledged by the society in general as well.

Fear, shame and societal pressures are the reason why the number of transgender people coming out in the open in a city like Coimbatore is now, reasoned city’s leading psychiatrist Dr Parandhaman Sethupathi, Medical Director & Consultant Psychiatrist, Royal Care Hospital. “Not more than a mere 10 per cent of all the LGBT community here are open about it,” he told Covai Post in an exclusive chat on the issue. “It (the predilection) is found more so in western countries. It is found less in highly culture-bound countries like Africa, India and the like,” he said adding “in Tier 1 cities, there is anonymity and this can help them lead a comfortable life. “

There are many reasons why Indians are afraid to come out with their situation. “The power equation, societal pressures, money etc do not allow openness,” said Dr D Srinivasan, Psychiatrist, Covai Medical Center.

“LGBT is not rare, but clients admitting it to psychiatrists is rare”, said Dr Raghunathaman. He said a many heterosexual (straight), but confused people, come to him. “But real LGBT people are more hesitant due to stigma, unawareness. Most of them want to change,” Dr Raghuthaman said.

Citing an example, he said, “a family from lower income strata came to me and pleaded to persuade their boy to return home from the Koothandavar temple, where he had gone to live as a transgender and moved in with the community. He wanted to live as a woman and the family wanted him to be convinced otherwise.”

Another boy of 17 became friends with a transgender. His family was afraid he too would become one and wanted him to come back. But to no avail.

It is clear the people in general are aware of LGBT community but consider it as something abnormal. In a high culture bound society, even a visit to the psychiatrist is seen as a taboo, an aberration.

Most people seem to seek help only to get back to normalcy.

“If the patient is comfortable with how they are we leave them. If they want to come out it (of being LGBT) we help them”, said Dr Srinivasan. He added that he had helped change the sexual orientation and identity of many of his patients to help them lead a “comfortable life”.

Dr V Umamaheswari, a psychiatrist based in Coimbatore said that it would be impossible to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. “They don’t understand that it’s a biological thing. They do come for a cure, but they don’t get it.”

“Not many openly admit about LGBT people in Coimbatore”, added Dr Srinivasan but said societal acceptance was better for transgenders.

“Transgenders are legally accepted even though they are much lesser in number compared to homosexual and bisexual people”.

Even in Coimbatore, though communities for transgenders exist, most people are unaware if a similar community exists for homosexuals and bisexuals.

Dr Parandaman said that the mentality of parents seems to be the same, no matter whether they were in Metros or other tier 2 cities like Coimbatore. “Society plays a huge part in accepting as well. A lot of people choose to not marry, they prefer to be alone, they feel like an outcast.”

Because of which they are more prone to depression and anxiety.

“There is definitely social oppression. They are socially discriminated”, said Dr Umamaheswari, “They don’t have a chance to vent. They have pent up emotions. They can even develop suicidal thoughts,” she said.

Dr Srinivasan also said that 85 per cent of LGBT have not come out. But in general things are improving for the LGBT community as their situation is being accepted now better than 10 years ago.

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