Champion sprinter Dutee Chand made history recently when she announced that she is in a romantic relationship with another woman, whom she describes as her soulmate. As the first sportsperson in India to come out as queer, she has hopefully paved the way for more people – in a field that is rife with gender-related difficulties, including discrimination towards those whose hormones don’t conform to a binary – to not have to be secretive about their lives.
But when Chand next spoke on the matter, she revealed that she had only come out about her personal life because of one of her sisters had been blackmailing her to the tune of Rs25 lakhs, threatening to inform the media about her sexuality, as well as physically abusing her. It seemed like Chand would not have discussed her personal life without the blackmail holding her under duress. The decision to counter it through speaking out first resulted in certain invasions of privacy, including the exposure of her partner’s address, whom she had not identified so as to shield from her such attention.
I would argue that this revelation about blackmail and abuse has an almost equal amount of cultural importance as her speaking about her sexuality. Family dysfunction of all kinds are still mostly taboo topics, because the institution is regarded as sacrosanct. Among these, sibling abuse is one of the least discussed forms. It’s intensely painful to concede that one’s sibling or offspring is malevolent, so we tread on eggshells, making excuses.
Sibling abuse can be extremely insidious particularly in adulthood, because it takes advantage of the fragility of the elderly, who are unable to comprehend their roles in creating that toxicity. It plays on every twisted dynamic in existence for decades. It knows where all the buttons are. One of my dearest friends and I endured a nearly three-year separation because one of our siblings conspired to break us up, and not being able to recognise sibling toxicity as a real force made that possible. That is my own most minor example. As much as I wish to be as brave as Chand and speak my truth more fully – in the hope that it can hold a comforting mirror to what many experience – I just can’t.
Despite the harrowing circumstances in which Chand was forced to reveal her relationship, she has since commendably chosen to discuss it in happy and revolutionary ways. There are still very few openly queer public figures in India, and among them lesbians are even fewer. Significantly, Chand has spoken about the right to wed, taking a tentative next step toward complete societal acceptance since last year’s scrapping of the draconian Section 377.
By sharing about the love, support, companionship, romance and joy she has with her soulmate, Chand makes a triple triumph. She has set a meaningful precedent for queer visibility, spoken publicly about the taboo of family abuse and specifically about rarely-acknowledged sibling toxicity, and then shown how it is possible for those wounded by it to build new and beautiful bonds. Free of the institution, and full of all the things that it is supposed to – but doesn’t always – provide.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on May 30th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.