As Sri Lankans, we place less stress on the importance of personal space, possibly because of our collective culture and our emphasis on the importance of social ties. However, without understanding personal space and boundaries, we cannot tackle the myriad of problems that develop as a result of invading one’s privacy and disregarding their consent.
Respecting one’s personal space includes understanding that each individual has their own boundaries defined by them and possibly unique to them. Consent of any kind requires a deep understanding that everyone deserves to be respected, regardless of whether we may understand their experience or not.These values shape individuals through an early process called socialisation, and they begins at home.
Through socialisation, young children and teenagers are exposed to the social norms and values that are present in their society. These norms and values are often deeply internalised and shape the way we view aspects of our society, like gender, family, and, education. Some norms can be so deeply rooted that it may be difficult to tolerate anything that does not fit in the boxes that we have created. These are then reinforced by daily interactions with family and peers.
A prevalent reason for stigma and discrimination follows from the binary gender norms that exist in our society, these impose limitations on the types of behaviours that men, women or trans persons can perform. Women are expected to possess “feminine” qualities, and men, “masculine” qualities; a spill over of these qualities are seen as abnormal.
A woman with masculine qualities is seen as a threat, and a man with feminine qualities is seen as a deviation. Socially feminine traits are considered less, and a man displaying such behaviour is at risk for discrimination and abuse. Another harmful aspect of the stereotypical gender norms is the instigation of abuse and the tolerance of it with the failed impression of it being inherent to a “true man” or “real woman”. Men often take on a hyper masculine role which involves abusing women, and trans women, and often trans women misunderstand this for a validation of their gender.
"A prevalent reason for stigma and discrimination follows from the binary gender norms that exist in our society, these impose limitations on the types of behaviours that men, women or trans persons can perform. "
The suicide and attempted suicide rates among young LGBTIQ individuals remain dangerously high due to, school victimisation, harassment and social pressure to conform, resulting in the development of depression and other mental health problems that can be a life-long burden. Among the highly reported cases, Rahila, a transsexual woman, who has reported multiple suicide attempts, explained her abuse; she was sexually abused by her grandfather and her school-van driver at a young age. She also faced harassment in public transportation, when she tried to complain to the police multiple times her complaints were rejected. She faced workplace harassments and was abused by several other men during this time. Men and boys who are suspected of being feminine are called derogatory names and are treated differently.
Meanwhile, women who display masculine characteristics are deemed bossy and unattractive. This amounts to the sexism and homophobia that is evident in our society, who validated these values through institutions like schools, law enforcement, and healthcare services.
The prevalent harassments such as bullying in schools are not just instigated by fellow classmates but can often be done by teachers themselves. As a result, students can feel isolated and targeted by the school and their classmates, making it harder for them to receive an education and receive opportunities to excel.
"Men and boys who are suspected of being feminine are called derogatory names and are treated differently. Meanwhile, women who display masculine characteristics are deemed bossy and unattractive. "
These individuals find themselves trapped in situations that continue to keep them rooted in difficult positions. In such a reported case Mahesh, a trans man was repeatedly harassed by his teachers, humiliating him in public. The teachers went as far as getting his parents involved in changing his expression repeatedly. This behaviour led to poor attendance at school and low grades in key examinations. Vindya, a lesbian reported how her teachers humiliated her with her classmates when they found out her affections for another girl. Educators play key roles in shaping young minds of not just the LGBTIQ community but of the general public at large. Early lessons in understanding boundaries and compassion can provide lifelong principles that help with eliminating arbitrary harassment and enriching the well-being of all citizens.
Understanding consent and respecting boundaries can provide a safe and welcoming environment for everyone involved. Respecting boundaries needs to be taught at an early age when children are still learning the norms and values of society. We can teach young people to acknowledge healthy boundaries and respect personal space, thereby creating a society where no one feels uncomfortable to say no and can expect their decision to be respected. It would create a society where bullying of any form will not be tolerated and instead create a culture that is ingrained with values of acceptance and an understanding of the value of diversity. The consequences of this have a positive impact, not just on the LGBTIQ community, but across communities.
What is important to understand is that cultural norms are relative, they differ from culture to culture. But all cultures must cultivate universal respect for individual boundaries