I once said in discussion with some straight Hindus that I just want
to be able to “be myself”. I want to be able to worship and associate
with God’s devotees without worry or shame. One of them asked, “Well,
what do you mean?” My answer involves some context, so allow me to now
paint a picture of what being a queer Hindu is like.
What does it mean to be a queer Hindu?
It means that despite you knowing from a very young age that you were ‘different’- whether you liked the same sex, or both sexes, or you didn’t identify with the sex you were assigned at birth- none of that matters. Everyone will tell you that you’re just “confused” and you need to be shown that being a cisgender, straight person is the only way to live in our society.
It means living in fear. If your parents or grandparents find out that you’re queer, they could disown you, or try to change you. In India, you can be arrested for having same-sex sex, or be pressured into a mixed orientation marriage to ‘cure’ you. In the US, your employer can still legally fire you and your landlord can legally evict you, just because of your LGBT identity, in over half the states in the country. In addition, there will be constantly be debates over whether or not business owners should be allowed to refuse people like you service because of their religious beliefs, because they claim that their religion condemns your “lifestyle”. Politicians will tell you that you should be grateful that you’re even allowed to exist peacefully in this country, because in several countries around the world, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death, or by physical punishments which will likely leave you close to death.
When you go to the temple to worship and associate with other devotees, you will constantly be checking yourself. For example, when you try to befriend another devotee, or really any person you meet, you’re aware there is always a 50% chance that when this person finds out you identify as LGBT, they will feel the need to call you sinful and disgusting (or even worse), even if they know nothing else about you. You’re queer. That is enough to condemn you. You’re used to this, because this has been going on your whole life.
You will be constantly asked, “But how do you regulate your sex life?” as if that is the most pressing issue in your life. People will never be interested in protecting your civil rights, because they need to know whether or not you have gay sex. You will never be looked upon as a person; you will always be reduced to the sexual acts you have in the privacy of your own home. You will always be seen as sexual, never as spiritual.
You will be referred to as “garbage” by people who claim to love the same God you do, the same God who has said in the Bhagavad Gita that He hates no one, because He dwells in every being.
It means that straight swamis and pandits will claim to be the only bona-fide authorities on your life. They believe everyone is fallen, but you – as a LGBT person – are especially fallen. They have probably never met an LGBT person personally, but that doesn’t matter! They are the ones who hold the “truth”, and the “truth” is that homosexuality is simultaneously a ‘physical disease’, a ‘mental illness’, ‘against nature’, and a ‘Western perversion’. If you give them enough money though, they will happy to try and ‘cure’ you with Ayurvedic treatments, yoga poses, or by just locking you in a room with a person of the opposite sex.
If you’re transgender, it means you will be told by your guru that you need to “pick” one gender over another and transition post haste (no matter what your circumstances are) before you come and worship in the temple, because otherwise your presence will be “confusing” and “disturbing” to others. People who don’t even know you will tell their friends not to even look at you as you pass by in the street because, supposedly, the very sight of a trans* person will make them impure.
When you ask cis straight devotees to treat you and others like you with compassion and dignity, they will automatically shut down the conversation by telling you, “Well, we’re not this body. Nobody is really gay or straight, or male or female. Why do you talk about this queer stuff so much? It’s not even important. It’s a waste of time.”
The same people will then tell you that, while we are not the body and sexual orientation are, of course, irrelevant in spiritual life, two people of the same sex should not be allowed to marry and transgender people shouldn’t transition because that would be harming the body God gave them. They see no problem in holding this position.
When you speak out on behalf of queer Hindus, you will be told that you are “misrepresenting” your faith. Others will suggest that you need to be “silenced” (read: killed) because you “promote things that are against dharma“. When you provide scriptural evidence of references to queer people in various shastras- like the Mahabharata, Narada Smriti, Kama Sutra, and various Ayurvedic texts, you will be told those scriptures are “not real” or you’re “misinterpreting” them.
Being a queer Hindu means you will always be compared to pedophiles and people who commit bestiality. You will be referred to as being “worse than animals”, because, supposedly, even animals don’t engage in homosexual behavior (despite copious amounts of evidence to the contrary).
Cisgender straight people will never be interested in hearing what you have to say about LGBT people being harassed, thrown out of their homes, blackmailed, physically assaulted, or even murdered. They won’t address these things because that would mean recognizing LGBT people as actual people with dignity, and that isn’t permissible. They remain blissfully unaware that when they talk trash queer people, they could just as easily be talking about their own children, parents, co-workers, bosses, or friends. They don’t care to know that LGBT youth continue to kill themselves because of the discrimination they receive from friends, family, and their faith communities.
Furthermore, cisgender straight people will not understand why you feel the need to proclaim your sexuality in the streets every year. “I don’t have a straight pride parade,” they tell you. They don’t realize that pride parades are revolutionary; pride parades are a declaration to the world that you are proud to continue to exist in a society that is actively trying to kill you by silencing you, erasing you, persecuting you, beating you into a pulp, or throwing you out into the street.
Now, you must understand, you can never be angry about your treatment- because the minute you’re angry and challenge someone on their homophobia or transphobia, they will tell you that your ego needs to be checked, that you shouldn’t be so angry and/or you’re committing aparadha (a great sin!) by “offending” another devotee; but other devotees can say whatever they like about you because you’re a ‘sinner’, and you should accept this treatment with humility.
Lastly, you will always have to prove yourself. If you’re a queer brahmin, then you’re a bogus brahmin. If your guru accepts LGBT people, he/she is a bogus guru. No matter how much faith you have in God, no matter how strictly you follow shastra, no matter how much devotion you have to your guru’s instructions and teachings, none of these things will matter- because all of that will be checked against whether or not you are a cisgender, heterosexual person, and if you don’t fit that criteria, then you are automatically the worst of all people, engrossed in materialism, wholly responsible for the degradation of society and the decline of the family. They will tell you that you don’t love God and you have no spiritual qualities, but see no irony or hypocrisy in choosing to judging you over something you didn’t choose.
So when I say, “I just want to be myself”, I mean this: I want to worship and exist in devotional spaces without being called a ‘sinner’ (which is problematic language to begin with) or ‘disgusting’ over something I have no control of. I don’t want to worry about befriending people who could potentially be homophobic and then dealing with the backlash that comes with coming out to them. I don’t want to spend more time explaining to supposed devotees of God why calling people like me “demonic” is wrong. I’m tired of having to observe and participate in debates over whether or not I should be treated like a human being, because goddamnit, I am a human being and I just want to be myself, without fear.
My name is Yagnaram, but friends call me Yagna, Yaggy, and Yag.
I’m a young, inquisitive queer Sri Vaishnava, and more broadly, a Hindu. I write primarily on Sri Vaishnava theology, but also on Hinduism in general, as well as LGBT issues and social justice topics.
I was born, raised, and still live in Philadelphia, PA, USA. I’m Latino (specifically, of Puerto Rican heritage) and I was raised in a Roman Catholic household. I began practicing Hinduism after reading Bhagavad Gita for the first time. It’s been about 7 years or so since then. I took formal initiation into the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya in January 2015 and received the name Yagnaram Ramanuja Dasan.
As noted above, I identify as a cisgender, queer (or gay) male. While as a Hindu I believe that we are ultimately not these bodies, it doesn’t change the fact that in the material world, people like myself are unfortunately subject to discrimination, violence, and stigma, both in religious and secular spaces. That is why I started LGBT Hindu Satsang in 2013, to build a space for people like myself to gather, worship, and grow spiritually. Since then, we have blossomed into an international community with chapters in two countries. I currently lead the Philadelphia chapter of our organization.
Aside from writing, going to class, and organizing events for the Satsang, I enjoy amassing large quantities of books, strong coffee, traveling, and photography.