How can we help children who do not ‘fit in’ with their sexual orientations?
Coming out about your sexuality in school is a difficult task, addled with the fear of facing scorn, ridicule and rebuke. Schools are very rigid heteronormative spaces. And everything starting from uniforms to codes of conduct reinstate the strict rulebook of sexual expression. Children who are blatant aberrations are often shamed at every step both by teachers and their peers.
Non inclusive school structures
We have a system in our society where most parents of girls like to send their children to all-girls schools. The idea of co-education is still an unpopular idea with many traditional and conservative households, even in metropolitan cities. Added to that, school is the time of life when ‘fitting into’ the most coveted and desired group of students is the greatest social pressure for most. Boys and girls schools, both have different mechanisms how the hierarchy works. Thus, polarizing gender brackets and the respective codes of conduct even further. A very popular pop culture reference to this would be the movie ‘Mean Girls’ showing what goes into making the ‘most popular girl’ and ‘cool girl group’ in school
Androgynous ,gender non confirming children, who don’t identify with the straight-jacketed gender norms or find their biologically assigned bodies a cage with regard to the gender abstract they recognise and relate to, don’t have much space for themselves in closeted school structures.
The perpetual ‘object of stares’.
Till a few years back, gender non conforming, gay or lesbian children weren’t even allowed self-respect or dignity in schools. Starting from the way they like to do their hair to the way they wear their skirts or the way they sit and walk, all aspects of their existence are under thorough scrutiny. With the recent youth awareness movements about LGBTQ rights and legalisation of Article 377, teachers and students have become aware of how ridiculing a child based on sexuality is as much a crime as discriminating on one based on community or religion.The latter have been grounds that suave urban schools recognised the depravity of and are not much in the news for. But sexuality has remained murky waters even for the supposedly progressive lots.
Yet the gender non-confirming children are still very much the ‘others’ in school spaces. A big role to play in this is the uniforms schools assign to children. Pants for boys and skirts for girls or pants for all. It is a difficult concept to imagine boys wanting to wear skirts or girls having problem with the same. Indian school spaces are still not comfortable with boys who recite in effeminate tones of voice in poetry class or take up classical dance for extracurriculars or show physical affection as ways to bond ‘like girls do’. Nor are we comfortable with girls who are masculine in gait and posture or are clumsy and uncomfortable in skirts.
Structural changes needed
Today, principals perhaps do not conduct hush-hush meetings to discuss their wards’ ‘problems’ or counsellors don’t guide students along lines of conversion therapy, at least in elite urban institutions of repute( amidst a larger public lacking awareness sexuality is still a big challenge for non conforming students). However structural changes in uniforms and washrooms, awareness drives and presence of LGBTQ teachers are yet to enter the popular imagination of educators in schools. A gender inclusive environment with a sense of comfort and familiarity should perhaps be one of the most important markers for ranking schools in present times.