Time Control! That's Why Young People Don't Answer The Phone

Young people no longer answer the phone if they haven't been warned that the call is coming. Employees working remotely insist on organizing their schedules as they see fit. Women want to put an end to men dictating the tempo of their relationship.

A woman protests against COVID restrictions in Schwerin, Germany, in April 2021.
A woman protests against COVID restrictions in Schwerin, Germany, in April 2021.
Jacques Attali

PARIS — Do we know how to see big transformations coming in the changes we see in the smallest of habits?

Do we realize, for example, that young people all around the world almost never listen to a live radio station anymore: They listen, at a time of their own choosing, to podcasts or songs; they no longer watch television — except for live sports —opting instead to watch only the videos, music videos, shows or movies available on streaming platforms. In each case, the people have more more control over their access to the various media.

In the same way, communicating with others is also much more manageable than it used to be. Many people, especially among the youth, no longer answer the phone if they have not been notified for the call ahead of time. They would rather read texts, whenever they want, even if only to make an appointment to talk to each other; hence the increasing trend of countless text messaging systems (texts, WhatsApp, Telegram) or video messaging (Skype, Zoom, Teams).

And it is more important that it seems: it probably means that a section of the youth has understood that time is the most sacred resource and that one of the greatest struggles of our time is to choose those with whom we want to share it; and when we want to share it. It foreshadows a society in which we will no longer let ourselves be invaded by others, in which we will keep control of our time as much as possible. We will resist the acceleration of time and information, and will choose at what pace we want to live, where we will no longer wait for the other with impatience. And vice versa: it will be a society in which we will no longer invade the time of others.

And isn't this one of the most beautiful definitions of love: to love someone is to happily let oneself be invaded by him, or her.

But there are still many with whom we don't have the power to refuse to answer to: those who have hierarchical power over us, the only ones whose calls we must answer. We could even say that the very definition of a boss is the privilege to invade others' time: economic leaders, administrative leaders, political leaders, police leaders, but other types of leaders, whose calls we have recently learned to listen to.

The desire to control one's own time is about to grow even stronger.

The challenge today is to cut free from those obligations, to reduce the number of leaders to whom we must obey. At work, more and more people are rejecting the alienation based on the seizing of one's time and the right of a boss to set schedules and force accountability at any moment. Working remotely favors this liberation of time, by making it easier not to answer to one's boss right away. Moreover, a growing number of young people refuse, when they can, to even join a company; they prefer to work on their own and take the risk of failure rather than having to submit their time to the passing fancies of a hierarchy.

In the same way as in love, or what seems to be love, many more people refuse to let others control their time; it has even become one of the major tenets of the new feminist movement to refuse letting men control women's time as much as their bodies.

And this is not over yet. The desire to control one's own time is about to grow even stronger, and across new aspects of our lives. Will it always be liberating? Are we really creating a society of individuals who are free because they are masters of their time? Or, on the contrary, a society of independent juxtaposed egoists, undisciplined loners?

Or even more than that: Can we even imagine "being a society" if we do not accept to give others access to a part of our own time? What do we lose if we refuse what constitutes the essential of life, that is to say, a simple conversation?

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!