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Public Interview: Choice and Sexuality – I

Public Interview: A series of arrows of different colours pointing upwards

For this March issue, we decided to interview many people, not just one, and over 350 people responded! Here are the results of a ‘public interview’ that took the form of a survey, and two polls with two questions each, on Facebook and Instagram. Our attempt is to collate people’s thoughts, notions, and experiences surrounding the choices they make, and the choices that are accessible to them, with regards to their sexuality. The first five survey questions required simple Yes/No inputs. The last three survey questions were open-ended, allowing respondents to answer as they pleased. People have said many things and the whole interview piece would be too long for reading at a single sitting. So we are presenting this in two parts. In this, Part One, we share the results of the two polls on Facebook and Instagram, as well as the answers to the five Y/N questions in the survey. Part Two of this piece, presenting the responses to the three open-ended survey questions, will be shared in our mid-month issue.

The survey was launched on the 14th of last month, February, which was also TARSHI’s 23rd anniversary. By the 15th of February, over a hundred people had sent us their responses. We said that the respondents would remain anonymous, and so it is; what you read is our collation and a brief interpretation of the responses to this public interview. TARSHI began with a telephone helpline in 1996, and we are thrilled to find that we are able to connect with so many people today, across age groups and community and interest groups, and across platforms, on a range of themes that connect at different points with sexuality. So, on to what people are saying and thinking today!

The Polls

173 people responded across Facebook and Instagram to the two polls. This is what emerged:

Question 1: Is there anyone with whom you can talk comfortably about sexuality? (Y/N)

A total of 111 people responded to this question across Facebook and Instagram. 82% of these respondents answered with a ‘Yes’ and 18% with a ‘No’.

A large majority of these respondents feel they have a choice here, someone that they can speak comfortably to about sexuality, and a significant 18% feel they do not have anyone they can speak to, therefore, no choice in the matter. It would be interesting and important to explore the dimensions of these choices further, the age group of respondents, who they talk with, and the attitudes, awareness and knowledge levels of the persons they talk to. For those who have no one to talk to, a whole different set of issues exists.

 Question 2: Do you have multiple options and choices for expressing your sexuality? (Y/N)

A total of 62 people responded to this question across Facebook and Instagram. 57% of these respondents answered with a ‘Yes’ and 43% with a ‘No’.

We think that options and choices for expressing sexuality are a more complex matter than being able to talk to someone, comfortably, about sexuality, and that in itself is challenging. It is quite fascinating to see that almost 60% of the respondents felt they have multiple choices and options for expressing their sexuality. It would be interesting to identify the options for expression being referred to and how respondents understand sexuality. The poll question did not have the space to look at cross-cutting themes of importance, such as age, disability, and sexual and gender identity. Some of this territory was explored in the Survey.

The Survey

182 people responded using the Google Survey form.

A quick look at our respondents:-

  • 91 respondents are in their twenties. Of these, the large majority, 65 respondents, identified as female. 22 respondents identified as male.
  • 42 respondents are in their thirties. Of these, the large majority, 27 respondents, identified as female.2 respondents identified variously as gender fluid and gay male. 13 respondents identified as male.
  • 32 respondents are in their forties. Of these again, a vast majority, 26 respondents, identified as female.6 respondents identified as male.
  • 6 respondents are in their fifties, 3 female, 2 male, and 1 who responded with a ‘hmmm’ in the gender field.
  • 8 respondents, all identifying as female, were under twenty years of age.
  • 1 respondent, identifying as female, was 60 years old.
  • 2 respondents did not specify age.
  • A majority of respondents, 130 out of 182, identify as female.
  • 8 individuals, articulated their identity using language beyond the binary ‘male’, ‘female’, or ‘man’, ‘woman’.6 of these 8 respondents identified as gender fluid, cis woman, non-binary, gender non-conforming, cis male, and gay male, while one wrote ‘hmmm’ and the 6th left the field blank and did not state a gender identity. 4 of these 8 respondents are in their twenties and the others belong to older age groups.

Half the total number of respondents are in their twenties. While it is tempting to draw a number of different conclusions from these inputs relating to age and identity, the key takeaway appears to be, that mostly young people in their twenties and thirties, and most of them female, were willing and able to engage with questions around choice and sexuality, using the Internet and the Google form survey tool.  The number of respondents who spoke of their gender identity as anything but M/F, was very small, with most of that number, being in their twenties. This also makes the exceptions significant. The importance of engaging with people to discuss sexuality and rights across the older age groups, and on the ground, as opposed to the online space, is an important point to note.

Each of the first 5 survey questions, in sequence, are presented with their responses ahead. These questions required simple Y/N inputs.

  1. Do you have the freedom to wear what you want in order to express your sexuality?

Y – About 77%

N –About 22%

Almost all those who identified as men, except 4 individuals, answered ‘yes’ to this question. Respondents who identified as non-binary, gender fluid, and gay man, answered ‘no’. About 20 individuals identifying as female, in their twenties, that is approaching one-third of this group, answered ‘no’.

Clothing and choice of wear is an important part of daily life and routines. How we dress, what we project, as much as what we hide or underplay, are significant, if often overlooked, daily decisions. Clothing and appearance are often a significant part of the array of tools a person may choose from to express and experience their sexuality. It may be easily assumed that most of us spend most of each day wearing clothes, as opposed to not, and despite the commercial, celebrity and fashion focus on clothing, there is still a lot to reflect on when considering the matter of choices of wear, and sexuality

  1. Do most of your personal relationships provide you with choices to express your sexuality?

Y – About 74%

N – About 26%

The answers, yes and no, appear evenly distributed across age groups up to the forties. All 6 respondents in their fifties said ‘yes’. Those who articulated gender identity as gender fluid, cis woman, non-binary and gay male, each answered ‘no’. About three-fourths (35 out of the 48) of the respondents who said ‘no’ – identified as female. A significant number of respondents felt they did not have choices to express their sexuality in their personal relationships, and most of them were female. Sexuality is a core aspect of human life and individual identity. It is an evolving, fluid factor that changes at various points in time in the life of each person, influencing feeling, behaviour and the way we are in our relationships with others and with ourselves. To not have the choice to express one’s sexuality is at best uncomfortable, and at worst, deeply damaging of self, identity and relationships.

  1. Are issues of choice and sexuality respected, or even understood, in the context of marriage in India?

Y – About 14%

N – About 86%

This question received a huge ‘no’ from respondents. This is indicative of the need to step back and reflect on one of the most familiar expectations of individuals in our society, that they get married. In our society, ‘arranged’ marriages are the norm. This raises complicated questions about choice, sexuality, sex, reproduction and rights. After marriage, the couple is expected to produce at least one child, if not more. Quite apart from procreative sex, what about sex for enjoyment, or comfort, or intimacy, or any of the factors that motivate people to have sex? If 86% of our respondents feel that issues of sexuality are not respected or even understood in the context of marriage, that is telling indeed, and very sad.

  1. Would it embarrass you if an older person in your close circle were to speak up about their sexuality and related choices?

Y – About 20%

N – About 80%

That about 80% of the respondents said that they would not be embarrassed if an older person were to speak up about their sexuality and related choices is such an interesting result because there are many assumptions and stereotypes around older people and younger people and conversations across age groups about sexuality.

It is also worth reflecting on the fact that out of the approximately 35 or so respondents who said, ‘yes’, they would be embarrassed, the majority were women, and only 5 men were in this group.  It is beyond the scope of this piece to interpret this in any one way, as a number of possibilities exist for this large difference. One possibility could be social conditioning in a patriarchal context, so that the approach and attitude men adopt towards conversations about sexuality is more open, and the acceptance that men get as participants in conversations about sexuality is greater than the acceptance women get. Another possibility, somewhat related to the first, could also be that the word ‘embarrass’ in the phrasing of this question, as it is related to sexuality, may also be related to stereotypical notions of gender roles, with sexuality being considered an embarrassing subject for women and not so for men. This would be particularly operative in the context of older people speaking of their own sexuality. In a socio-cultural environment where older people are, theoretically, given a status of supremacy, younger people, particularly women, may never challenge or question them. In this situation where ‘respect for your elders’ is a mantra, second only to prayer, the boundaries of what is acceptable engagement between older and younger people are sharply drawn, limiting freedom and choices on both sides, more so, for women.

  1. Do you discuss any topics relating to choice and sexuality with your peers?

Y –87%

N –13%

8 respondents from about 24 who responded with a ‘no’ to this question were male. This is one-third of the group that said no. This may possibly be quite significant if one were proceeding with the assumption that men were more likely to discuss choice and sexuality with their peers, and women were less likely to do so. However, given that there were more female than male respondents, we are not drawing any conclusions here.

The great majority of respondents have said that they do discuss this subject with their peers, and this is across age groups and gender identity. While there is so much discussion about choice and sexuality amongst peers, more of it needs to emerge more safely, in spaces where issues of choice and sexuality impact the dignity and rights of the individual, at home, at work, in institutions of education and health, in discussions of law, administration and policy.

Part two of the interview.

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