“Hyperandrogenism” is a sanitised, impersonal term—Chand’s was a deeply personal fight for dignity, one in which her gender and, by extension, her achievments as an athelete were questioned.
Indian sprinter Dutee Chand’s is a singular story of struggle. Born in a poor family in one of India’s poorest states, surviving in athletics—much less making her mark—should have seemed impossible. But, Chand did much more than make her mark. She took on the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) over its hyperandrogenism rule. “Hyperandrogenism” is a sanitised, impersonal term—Chand’s was a deeply personal fight for dignity, one in which her gender and, by extension, her achievments as an athelete were questioned.
She emerged from it stronger, in her own words, although she had felt unfathomable vulnerability while the controversy was unfolding. That experience and the strength that it left her richer with is perhaps what has helped her now to come out as gay, looking forward to a life together with her soulmate, a girl from her village. Chand will be running into walls of opposition not just from the deeply conservative society of her home state but also her family—her mother has reportedly refused to accept Chand’s homosexuality.
Though homsexuality is no longer illegal in India, it is still taboo. This is why pushing acceptability of homosexuality and LGBTQI individuals in India will require more public figures to support LGBTQI rights—and if they are themselves part of the rainbow collective, all the more better.
In the last few years, a handful of people in public life, including business leaders, Bollywood figures, writers, etc, have come out of the closet. That has helped move the conversation along. Chand’s coming out is, however, unique because, though she has received fame and international exposure as an athlete, her growing up years—when most LGBTQI individuals have to grapple with painful questions pertaining to their sexuality—were spent in a milieu that is antagonistic to LGBTQI expression and rights. To have overcome that, and battled questions on gender, is what perhaps arms Chand with a nuanced understanding of the fears and anxieties of LGBTQI individuals from the economically weaker sections.
Chand’s coming out, therefore, must be celebrated. It will go a long way in making LGBTQI rights a part of the mainstream conversation and, eventually, help drive their acceptance.