Even though India is a conservative society when it comes to gender equality and age-old prejudices exist against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans genders also called the LGBT group, there is a slow change taking place. I was pleasantly surprised to read in an article written by an Indian doctor in a psychiatry journal that argues:
‘Human sexuality is complex and diverse. As with all complex behaviors and personality characteristics, biological and environmental influences combine to produce particular sexual orientation and identity. We need to focus on people’s humanity rather than on their sexual orientation.’
Having spent my entire schooling years in co-education schools and in a relatively conservative environment, I have never seen young adolescents openly grapple with the kind of dilemmas that Nitori, Tatstsuki and Chibi face in the Wandering Son. However, in gender-specific residential schools where girls and boys are segregated, lesbian and homosexual behavior is prevalent, but frowned upon and looked at as a behavioral aberration that needs counselling and not empathy or understanding.
Gender labels have been associated since early man with child-bearing capacity and as man evolved, to a certain extent with physical and behavioral traits – ‘come on, don’t cry like a girl’ or ‘brace up boy! Behave like a man.’ As societies have developed, so have attitudes to gender depending on whether the flavor has been conservative or liberal.
Religion across the world have generally frowned upon questioning gender and considered it a sin to move away from existing templates of marriage and relationships. In many societies, particularly Islamic ones, homosexuality is punishable by law.
Moving away from personal experiences, I found Wandering Son to be a story like none that I have read. It is a brave and gentle attempt at highlighting a less-discussed aspect of growing up, but wonder whether it is right to get kids to grapple with such issues so early in their lives. Will it cloud what should otherwise be a period of learning without fear? It is with these apprehensions that I feel that Nitori and Tatstsuki are rather young to be questioning their gender identity.