Acceptance of Lesbian Love: Too Much to Expect?

Source: South Asia Journal

Source: South Asia Journal

Acceptance of Lesbian Love: Too Much to Expect?
By Syeda Samara Mortada for AlalODulal.org

Seema is a twenty something year old girl who is not sexually attracted to the opposite sex. When she finally understood this “problem” patent in her, she decided to keep it to herself. Since then, Seema has found many like-minded people around her, but whatever happens between them remains behind shut doors. ‘Living in Bangladesh as a lesbian is like living in hell’, says Seema.

The news of two girls being arrested in Dhaka for falling in love and getting married has become the talk of the town. The younger girl, Shibronty Roy Puja, is a Hindu of 16, and Sanjida Akter, is a Muslim aged 21. Puja’s father filed a complaint which confirmed she was missing after which the police searched and finally found them in a house in Mohammadpur. While many sneer at this recent incident, it by far remains the only reported case of lesbian love being talked about, rather becoming news in mainstream media. The fact that Puja was underage seems to come up as a reason for their marriage to be unacceptable, and of Sanjida using her ‘vice’ ways to lure the underage girl (added to the fact of it being an interreligious marriage). But, had it been a heterosexual marriage, arranged by the parents, the age of the girl, even if she were a ten year old would not have been cause for opposing their marriage.

Bangladesh, being a dominant Muslim country with a very conservative attitude towards social digresses is possibly a pothole for members of LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) community. Lesbians (or Gays) have become synonymous to transgenders, more commonly known as hijras. That these are separate entities (even that transgenders are not the same as hijras) remains an alien concept to most. While members of such groups more often than not, come out in the open, they become objects of ridicule and jest if somehow spotted.

Societal Norms
Many seem to think of same-sex relationships to be an influence of western culture, much like live-in relationships. The fact that gay-ism has been in the root of our society since time immemorial does not register in the minds of such bigots.
Thus, while a lot of work is being done on gender equality, violence against women, and even transgenders, lesbians remain a neglected entity. There are no laws or legislations to protect such women who are termed as being a ‘minority’. According to AsiaNews.it, ‘In Bangladesh, people belonging to the LGBT community (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) range between 1.6 and 4.8 million. They are not recognized and receive no form of social, religious or legal support and are often victims of persecution’. Often, lesbians live their life without acknowledging this part of their identity; sometimes, overlooking it even when they do come to terms with reality.

The Law
According to Rainer Ebert and Mahmudul Hoque Moni, in a blog titled LGBT Community Calls for the Repeal of Section 377, published in bdnews24.com ‘The status of homosexuality as a social and religious taboo is also reflected in the Bangladeshi Criminal Code. Its Section 377, a legacy of British rule, refers to consensual oral and anal sex as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and subjects it to punishment up to imprisonment for life’. Effectively, this section makes homosexual intercourse illegal in Bangladesh’.

This does not go to say that there is a dearth of lesbians in the country. But social stigma and pressure make it extremely difficult, almost impossible for women to come out. Not that being gay is a walk through Ramna park, but gay men have an advantage simply because male bonding is common in our country as is male mobility which helps same sex male partners spend more time together unlike lesbians who are almost an unheard of and lesbianism a topic, that is in dearth of discussion. Under such circumstances (where it is safe to say that no research has been conducted on lesbian groups), it is possibly best to put lesbians and gays under a broader category and look at some of the work that has been done so far.

Works 
Starting out as an online group in 2002, an organization called Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) has become a central forum for gay and bisexual men in Bangladesh. BoB currently has more than 2000 registered members, including school students as well as Ph.D. holders. Their ages range between 16 and more than 50 years. BoB is run by around twenty young men and has increasingly become public in recent years. In November 2010, it conducted the second edition of a festival titled “Under the Rainbow”, in cooperation with the German Goethe- Institut in Dhaka. Under the slogan “accept diversity and end discrimination”, the five-day festival included movie screenings, art exhibitions and musical performances and brought together leading human rights activists from with the country and abroad.

Some movements in Islam, such as the US-based Al-Fatiha Foundation, accept and consider homosexuality as natural and work towards the acceptance of non-heterosexual love-relationships within the global Muslim community. Some argue that while the Quran speaks out against homosexual lust, it is silent on homosexual love.

On April 29, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni in a United Nations meeting in Geneva said “On LGBT rights… […] we recognize the need for protecting all vulnerable groups of our population, given their constitutional equal rights and freedoms. Moreover, we do not condone any discrimination or violence against any human being on any pretext”. After the media starting publishing articles based on her speech, a press release was issued from the government saying that Moni rejects calls from the international community to repeal Section 377 (which criminalizes sexuality against “the order of nature”) as it clashes with Bangladeshi societal and cultural values.

According to an opinion based article on bdnews24 by Shakhawat Hossain and Rainer Ebert, titled Bangladesh’s LGBT community and the UPR 2013, the government did agree to train law enforcers and judicial officers on human rights, also suggested by UN members during the Universal periodic Review (UPR examines the human rights condition of all UN members), but as mentioned above, neglected the UN’s suggestion to drop the penal code of Section 377. Thus, it is safe to say that while the government acknowledges the fact that LGBT rights need to be protected (as gathered from Moni’s speech), nothing worthwhile is/will be done about it because of the country’s ‘’conservative’ attitude on such matters. Now whether Moni’s speech in the meeting was simply delivered due to pressure from the other UN countries seems to be another debatable topic.

But it is safe to say that in the midst of political turmoil, such issues become drawn to dust and lie at the bottom of the government’s to-do list. ( Note: To know more on the different types of sexual orientation, and what each of them entails, read, Society and the freedom of choice in the personal sphere, by Rainer Ebert on http://www.theindependentbd.com)

In Conclusion
Yes, it is not enough; the work that has been done is inconclusive to say the least. It is de-motivating to think of the lack of concern to build a secure home for same-sex couples, amongst influential people: the government, court of law, and more importantly, society in general. Perhaps, educating the aforementioned groups on the existence of same-sex attraction can be a starting point.

Or maybe those two young girls already gave us the much needed start when they took on such a challenging venture. Which is why when the news of these two brave young girls was all over the media, I for one cheered for nothing more than their courage. The way they stood up for their love for one another, and more importantly for themselves deserves praise. Not that it did them any good, and God only knows what happened to them after they were arrested, (as the media did not think it was newsworthy to investigate what happened to them after that), but maybe it could open the mind gates of prejudiced people in our society who think of gay-dom do be an illness, an abnormality at best. Or maybe I am just being too much of an optimist.

I am a married heterosexual. not a member of the lesbian community. But I am a big fan of rights of all sorts: for men, women and even animals. I dream of a tomorrow where any living being will be allowed to live the life he/she desires for his/herself without being judged for their actions and without being called names. Yes ofcourse, there will be norms decided on by society. But those norms will not be inflicted on individuals; rather the option to choose which ones befit me best should be mine to decide.
Again, maybe I am being too much of an optimist!

12 thoughts on “Acceptance of Lesbian Love: Too Much to Expect?

  1. Very disturbing news. Society must look for remedy. There are stop sign on the road. Everybody has to stop at the red light period. This is a disease and they are remedy. Western society is suffering from these disease and instead of finding remedy they are just changing the establish civilization, Are we going back to repeat Noah’s arc or Moses destruction of human civilization? Society must answer this/

  2. Lol, if the situation was changed to a 22 year old man running of with a 16 year old Hindu Girl, the narrative would instead be all about “forced conversion”, “abduction of Hindus”, “love Jihad”, “the need for better laws to protect women from forced marriages” etc, and not “OMG how brave and cute.”

    I could also point out the numerous fallacies and plain wrong info in that independantbd article by professional white saviour Rainer Ebert..

    [Moderator’s Note: Personal attacks deleted. Please refer to our Editorial statement regarding comments: “We have a zero tolerance policy for comments that have personal attacks, or inflammatory statements”
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  3. I understand that this piece is trying to promote a certain type of secular progressive movement, however no faith institution or religious personnel from a faith community should be forced to conduct a marriage for a homosexual union. While the author mentions “US-based Al-Fatiha Foundation” as a standard in promoting and normalizing such unions within the muslim community in the USA, such unions or “Islamic” marriages carried out by the Al-Fatiha Foundation (if they do conduct such ceremonies at all) would not be considered legal by the majority of muslim leaders, or considered legal in their communities..

    US Islamic leader of Zaytuna Institute Hamza Yusuf Hanson has written something recently in this piece: http://sandala.org/blog/2013/05/08/tempest-in-a-teapot-islamophobia-meets-homophobia/

    “….
    Timothy Winters said that homosexuality is an aberration and not consistent with the natural functions of the body.

    The root of the problem here lies in not distinguishing between the same-sex attraction that many people, including obviously some Muslims, feel, and the actual act of sexual relations between two people of the same sex. As Dr. Winter explained in his answer, some people appear to be born with the tendency towards homosexuality, but “if they do not act upon this tendency, they are not sinning.

    Unfortunately, that distinction is not commonly drawn, and this troublesome conflation—and the rarely understood nuanced difference in our religious tradition—is increasingly causing problems for Muslims. Too many of us alienate many good Muslims when we fail to make this distinction and simply demonize them.

    Our scholars clearly made these distinctions in the books of Islamic jurisprudence and use the term ma’bun to refer to someone with same-sex tendencies. Imam Dasuqi says that if such a person leads the prayer, his prayer is valid. In fact, the actual text he was commenting on addresses who can or cannot lead the prayer. Quoting Mukhtasir Khalil, Dasuqi writes, “It is discouraged [but not prohibited] for a eunuch (khasi) or homosexual (ma’bun) to be a regular prayer leader.” In his commentary on this, Dasuqi, who died in 1815, explains:
    It is disliked [but still valid] for a ma’bun to be an assigned leader of the obligatory prayers as well as for communal supererogatory prayers, but not tarawih, or travelers’ prayers, or as someone who leads them on occasion. And the intended meaning of ma’bun is a male who is effeminate in his speech, similar to a woman’s speech, or someone who desires rectal intercourse but doesn’t practice it, or someone who has practiced it but since repented yet, nonetheless, has set tongues wagging.
    …”

    • “no faith institution or religious personnel from a faith community should be forced to conduct a marriage for a homosexual union.”

      Sure. And similarly no one should stop the institution that does conduct that.

      Moreover, whether it is natural or an aberration is irrelevant. One is free to choose it as long as it is not a crime. It neither picks one’s pocket nor breaks one’s leg.

  4. Thank you for this article. Like you, I dream of a tomorrow where everyone will be allowed to live the life he/she desires for his/herself without being judged for their actions and without being called names. Unlike you, this dream is for me and my girlfriend, as well.

  5. Its all nice and wonderful to think “I dream of a tomorrow where everyone will be allowed to live the life he/she desires for his/herself without being judged for their actions”, but should a society not be associated with the limits of behaviour, particularly with marital activities ? If everyone is allowed to “live the life they desire”, then should society remove all limits on say marrying age limits, pornography, display of nudity, obscenity, foul language etc ??

    Should society remove the limits on other crimes also, where some people are attracted to savage, violent and anti-social activities because they should “be allowed to live the life he/she desires”?

    USA and other countries may be meddling with gay-marriage for example, but even USA does not know the long-term consequence of such permissiveness in the other non-involved members of society. What effect does it have for instance on the psyche of adopted children who are brought-up in a single-sex family ? And what effect will it have on all families if “everyone will be allowed to live the life he/she desires for his/herself”?

    It maybe nice and “secular” to liberate society with such ‘freedom’ today, but Islam and “civilized society” did not discourage such activities for no reason – there was a long and declining period of social degradation before such behaviour was shunned and straightened, when religion and civilization decided such behaviour was not quite right. Should society be allowed to return to such social and public degradation again ? Who will set the limits ?

    • That’s a very important question. What should be the limits? For this we can resort to the golden rule: everything is permitted as long as it does not aggress on a person’s life or property. Isn’t it all that we want? Because if that is ensured then our lives and property will only grow, such is the tendency of human beings. All the rest of the rules that we derive are some shortsighted efforts to achieve that. As long as the golden rule is maintained, no degradation of society or civilization can ever occur.

      • “everything is permitted as long as it does not aggress on a person’s life or property” maybe fine if you only look at the physical aspects of such actions; but what about the social, emotional, moral, cultural and psychosomatic consequesnces on society at large, due to that broad rule, which will actually cause devastating effects on a nation and it’s moral fabric.

        As an example, say we liberalised ALL gay behaviour today per the broad rule of “everything is permitted as long as it does not aggress on a person’s life or property”, then just like “gay bars” in UK/USA, you could end up with Gay Cadet Colleges, boarding schools, Lesbian Eden Colleges, etc with a wide array of such institutions, villages, neighborhoods, housing, sports clubs etc, nationwide — which maybe fine for the lifestyle of some people. But consider the effect it will have on the moral and cultural state of the nation as a whole.

        No property or life maybe lost – but huge damage to the nations psyche and progress may be done. History has number of examples where societies declined before disappearing, due to such decadence and degradation of moral structures. Be sure to caution our nation, before copying other potential societies who are about to collapse.

  6. @kgazi

    Note that I said – “if that is ensured then our lives and property will only grow, such is the tendency of human beings.” To me a moral society is which grows life and property without violence. Morality is not an epiphenomenon. It eventually is grounded to material. So, if such a society is immoral, it logically implies that life and property does not grow there. I don’t see how you can accept my premise that a voluntary society will grow life and property and still claim that there can be something morally wrong there. Perhaps I don’t see the moral problem here from your point of view. However, I see a grave moral hazard when a person has peacefully and willingly chosen a particular sexual lifestyle, but a group of people, to whom that lifestyle is ‘unacceptable’, is using force and violence to stop him. What can be morally more devastating than a society where peaceful voluntary activities are thwarted with violence?

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