What does it mean to be a gay doctor in India?

Dr Sahil Kumar Nautiyal says that being gay and a doctor are both important parts of his identity, along with many other facets

Published - May 17, 2021 01:43 pm IST

Dr Sahil Kumar Nautiyal (right) and his partner Anshul Maithani

Dr Sahil Kumar Nautiyal (right) and his partner Anshul Maithani

From the 1950s, when Evelyn Hooker proved scientifically that homosexuality was not a mental illness, to now, with its decriminalisation in several countries, the LGBTQ community still faces stiff opposition from family, in society, and at the workplace. But it continues to fight for its rights — this time to legalise same-sex marriage.

Today, on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Dr Sahil Kumar Nautiyal, Senior Resident, Department of Pharmacology, Maulana Azad Medical College, talks about the implications of being a doctor who is gay. Also, the need to legalise same-sex marriage, and ways to help medical professionals towards more LGBTQ-friendly practices. He says he has never faced any discrimination in his current college, but in the past, he has seen passive-aggressive behaviour from men.

“Being both gay and a medical doctor, I can medically say that being gay perfectly aligns with a state of physical and mental well-being,” he says.

Why do you think — despite a significant acceptance in middle-class homes — people still fear accepting their sexuality? What can we do to change this?

Earlier, there were legal implications of coming out. For example, before the reading down of Section 377, my partner, Anshul Maithani, received a call from a cop who told him he would come to his office to arrest him on charges of being a homosexual.

For someone who is homosexual, the sense of belonging is often missing. Many of us go through various forms of bullying in the early years of our life. People are afraid of being close to us as if it is a disease they will catch. While there is increased awareness, and people have begun to accept homosexuality as a concept, accepting your child as gay is still difficult.

Homosexuals who wish to embrace their sexuality should not think of what people will think, or whether this would lead to people snapping relations with them. Accepting oneself is winning half the battle.

You and your partner run an Instagram page where you upload intimate pictures. Do you feel people are more against the public display of affection among homosexuals than being gay itself?

We started the page to extend a helping hand to other closeted gays, unable to accept their sexuality because of internal or external fears. After starting the page, a lot of students, friends, and even friends of friends have approached us.

Also, the openness might incite certain people, but homophobia is more about rigid societal structures, where the definition of ‘normal’ is firm and fixed, and any aberration to it is considered ‘abnormal’. Homophobia is a thought inculcated in our mindsets – if we question it, and try to decentre ‘straight’, we can get rid of it easily.

Scientists like Simon LaVey and Dean Hamer have hinted at the genetic basis of homosexuality. Does it matter whether being gay is determined by birth or shaped by experience and choice?

I don’t think so. Regardless of the etiology of becoming gay, the more important thing to focus on is what to do after you know you are gay. Introspection and self-awareness are two guiding factors. Choosing a life of fear, denial, pain, and frustration is illogical.

The Kinsey scale allows you to grade yourself — from 0 (heterosexual) to 6 (homosexual). Do labels restrict the expanding and evolving spectrum of desire?

The discrimination created by the labels was the reason the community was formed. As long as labels exist, the homosexual and heterosexual communities will see themselves as separate entities. Labels are also creating a lot of discrimination within the LGBTQ community as well.

I also feel that labelling oneself should be a personal choice. Label or no label changes nothing — before any labels, we are humans, with beating hearts, demanding to be loved and accepted.

The Huffington Post ’s Paul Raushenbush, himself gay, wrote, “If you are against [same-sex] marriage equality, you are anti-gay.” How do you think that legalising same-sex marriage will help the LGBT community?

While people of the same gender can stay together without a legal marital ceremony — and there is nothing wrong with it — a legal ceremony entitles both partners to certain civil rights such as nominating your spouse for insurance, opening a joint bank account, getting listed as an emergency contact, among other things. As I understand it, the fight is not for marriage per se , but for securing the associated civil rights.

Mental health professionals are not always LGBTQ-friendly. What do you think can be done to make them more open?

The LGBTQ community suffers from a higher rate of mental health disorders, depression, and suicides than non-LGBTQ people. Organising chat shows and debates, better media coverage of pride marches, increased visibility of LGBTQ people in print and electronic media are some of the many ways to sensitise doctors towards alternate sexualities.

How can LGBTQ concerns form a part of the medical syllabus?

Since students are more receptive to change, we should start with an active conversation. Including chapters on LGBTQ rights in the curriculum, organising lectures by activists, priming students towards the needs of such patients is the way to make LGBTQ concerns a part of the syllabus.

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