After Section 377 was struck down in 2018, the Indian queer (LGBTQ+) community flourished and was finally able to be free and be themselves. However, this has also led to an increase in violence and abuse towards queer individuals from the family as well as friends and even partners.
Homophobia and transphobia run rampant in Indian culture, and we have a long way to go. This can create a culture of fear and insecurity for anyone who feels they do not fit into the cis-heterosexual image, and this prolonged stress can lead to internalized homophobia. Internalized homophobia can lead to clinical depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, unprotected sex, abuse, and PTSD.
This situation can be helped by queer-affirming therapists. Despite popular belief, queer-affirming therapists aren’t necessarily part of the community themselves but are well-integrated and knowledgeable about the struggles specific to queer communities and individuals. They can also help you find queer support groups in your country and city.
We interview one such queer-affirming therapist, Ananya Saikia, for Pride Month. She shares her thoughts on some of the biggest problems faced by Indian queer individuals. A Harvard graduate, Ananya hopes to normalize the existence of queer-affirming therapists in India and the value they bring to the queer community.
Q: What is the biggest setback for queer folx in India with regard to access to therapy?
A: Starting from the general lack of education and awareness about human sexuality, high levels of social stigma to the lack of availability of guidance on mental healthcare resources specifically designed to their needs are some of the greatest setbacks for queer folx in India.
Q: What is the major difference, for the client, between a queer-affirming therapist such as yourself and one who may be supportive if you come out to them?
A: The major differences between a queer-affirming therapist and one who may be supportive if you come out to them lie in the ways in which the former embraces, affirms, and validates your sexual identity, advocates for your needs, keeps the little things in mind (eg. usage of right gender pronouns), personalizes the respective psychotherapeutic experiences for you, and empowers you to thrive psychologically despite the harsh externalities of this world.
Q: How would one go about searching for queer-affirming therapists in India?
A: Though there is no right way in searching for the right fitted therapist, one can look for help through various means right from a general Google search to networking amongst loved ones to media platforms and social media groups. Currently, Pink List India is doing a great job as one of the best resources for queer folx in search of a queer-affirming therapist across major cities of India.
Q: Abuse is rampant in queer lives – from family, friends, and even potential partners. How would you recommend queer folx practice self-care during troubling times? Additionally, are there any organizations or groups that can provide them with safety and resources if the situation escalates?
A: Fighting back abuse can be hard, but not impossible, whether it is in the queer community or otherwise. Reaching out for help is the first step – whether to family, friends, counselors, therapists, or in worst-case scenarios, to law enforcement agencies.
Secondly, abuse must not be tolerated at any cost. In most cases, victims choose to struggle for a long time until dramatic tipping points are reached. Hence, early signs need to be recognized, and red flags must be brought into notice rather than being undermined.
Emotional avoidance of our difficult feelings must be avoided, and we must take time to feel all our feelings rather than continuously struggle to sugarcoat difficult emotions and experiences, thereby forcing ourselves to feel good in unhelpful ways.
Q: Conversion therapy is still legal in India and practiced very openly by a lot of therapists. What would your advice be to someone who has been pressured to go through the same? Is there a way to blacklist such therapists and warn the community?
A: If you have been forced to get into conversion therapy, I will sincerely request you to discontinue it immediately.
Although there are no regulated ways to blacklist such practitioners, one can always spread the word amongst members of the queer community through family and friends in order to create awareness.
Q: Do you find that certain mental health issues or specific problems are more common among queer clients compared to cis-heterosexual clients?
A: In my experiences, there aren’t any psychological struggles specific to the queer community.
However, some common issues are generalized social anxiety, rampant feelings of loneliness and isolation, and struggles with self-acceptance along with difficult interpersonal relationships.
Q: Any last words for a queer or questioning individual reading this article?
A: Practice a lot of sincere self-compassion towards self-acceptance of your sexual identity and be proud of who you are. And always take time to reach out for help and support and nourish others in your community.