It was 2012 when I had my first brush with the reality that someone can be “Gay”.
It was an ordinary weekend and my dear friend Ram finally agreed to meet over lunch. He can be quite difficult to get hold off over phone or otherwise so this meeting was a rare gift. During the course of conversation Ram told me about his sexual orientation.
And here was my reaction, on the inside –
2) But I kind of knew
3) Is he going to be fine? I hope he doesn’t get a lot of shit from people for this
4) Heck…what does this mean?
On the outside –
1) That is so courageous of you!
2) Good for you!
When I came back home that day and thought over it more, I was really awed by the amount of courage he had really shown in accepting himself and in coming out. So I dedicated the following post to him – http://ankit-rastogi.blogspot.in/2011/10/charge-of-light-brigade.html
All awesome up to the point, right? Well now starts the real story.
A couple of weeks later, I met Ram again for coffee. I do not know what we talked about but I know what I kept thinking – “what will other people think of me when they see us?”
You see, I wasn’t all that courageous.
Now I had up to this point always considered myself a very open minded person. But this meeting and what went through my mind challenged me to the very core. It disturbed me to the point that I thought about not meeting someone I had called a very dear friend and avoid him. It really wouldn’t have been that difficult given that you really need to make an appointment to meet him. You see my shallow thinking was at the verge of costing me my dear friend.
So I did what anyone would normally do in this situation. I decided I needed to know more about this new thing I’ve been introduced to. I remembered Ram mentioning some dating site, so i went ahead and joined it. And for two days I was bombarded with messages from other gay men. So, I did the next best thing and quit. This experience had me realize two things –
1) It didn’t matter
2) Our friendship was more important to me than my shallow thoughts and insecurities and hence I needed to get over them
Its 2018 and man I am glad I have Ram at my side. He has stood by me in every up and down in my life and I sure hope we continue to do so.
It really doesn’t matter, does it? Who you decide to love? It’s really difficult to find someone who you love and who can love you back, should we really begrudge someone that basic human right?
And really what does change about someone when they come out? Really nothing. What really does change is your assumption about them. They really just remain the same person they were before – just a little more courageous!
I’ll end it again with this blogpost, this time dedicated to all the people out there who have shown the courage to accept
It had been a year of bullying and harassment at the workplace and the jibes were only increasing with every passing day. There were days when I would just smile and ignore the conversation. Sometimes, I would laugh at the hilariousness of the situation. And on others, I would just seethe with anger.
It so happened that I joined an organization and became part of a large team led by millennials. The culture was fun and the team’s umbilical cords were thicker than ever. And then I met this colleague of mine, who happened to hail from the same state as me. All hell broke loose when he expressed his interest openly and I declined the offer. So over the next half year, the Team’s Leader, a CXO level profile, started taking jibes at my being single. He felt that we would make a great pair, this colleague of mine and me & as the team’s eldest leader, he was duty bound to ensure that we get together.
As the situation started to turn messy, I requested for a HR intervention and the relevant people got this message loud and clear. But my troubles were far from gone; this colleague of mine started invoking sympathy in team connects and offline conversations. Somehow I was always the object of attention in all chai parties. And why not….I was the one who had said no and he was heartbroken!!
At some point in time, he addressed me as a lesbian in a team meeting and the ‘joke’ lingered on. Thereafter my name was conveniently forgotten and I was only addressed with the L word by all the men who were common friends with both of us. So here I was, a young 29 year heterosexual woman, trying to make an honest living out of my day job but being tagged as a lesbian because I had rejected someone’s advances……….and then one day this person did the unthinkable.
On a bright Monday morning, we were all told that he would be leaving the organization for greener pastures. As we all congratulated him one by one, he expressed his interest to discuss the offer letter with me, in private. We walked into a conference room and I reviewed the terms and conditions earnestly. I was sharing some pointers with him when all of a sudden, he offered me a print out of his CTC sheet and said, “No man who will earn this much, will even take a second look at you. Would you like to reconsider saying yes to me?”
I looked outside from the glass door. My entire team was seated bang opposite to the conference room …and in that moment, I made my decision. I walked out with the CTC letter in my hand, clapped loudly for convening people to my desk and literally forced them to get off from their telecom conferences. My colleagues thought that I was falling ill but my blood shot eyes gave my intentions away. Brandishing the offer letter in the air, I asked my supervisor who was a very senior woman leader in the organization, “Will you give away your daughter’s hand in marriage to a man who calls her a Lesbian on one day and pushes his CTC letter on her face, the second day?”
Pin drop silence ensued because different teams co- occupying the space began to move in from their workstations. The conversation seemed very charged up and I was being loud enough for people to understand that I would not be cowered any more. My supervisor got the message and firmly asked my colleague to back off. After a few minutes, the team went back to their work and I walked back to my desk too.
A few weeks later, this colleague of mine, left the organization, after serving the notice period. And the team started getting back into the habit of addressing me with my name. But the incident left a deep mark on me. Proactively I switched gears and moved from a compliance role to being a D&I professional; as I could not stand being part of the same team anymore.
Post my transition into the new team, within the same organization, I had the opportunity to share my experience with another team member who was anchoring the LGBT+ charter for us. We had a very detailed conversation and his first response is still etched in my memory, “So why did you allow it to happen? Why did you never object?” And from there on, this member of the LGBT+ community who was out in the organization, became my biggest pillar of support. He made it a point to counsel some of old team members and reassured me that I would be very safe in the new team. Had it not been for him, I would have always lived with fear that the ghost of that incident would continue to torment me, if those common friends decided to revisit the agenda, some day.
As I reach the end of sharing my story of becoming a LGBT+ Ally, I can’t help but reflect on how important this conversation is at the workplace and in the societies that we live in. As allies, it is our responsibility and duty to stand up for diverse minorities who may not be able to voice their concerns. It is only by mitigating exclusion, can we create a world that is meaningfully inclusive for everyone.
It has been many moons since that incident and in all my roles, I have ensured that the LGBT+ conversations are elevated in the D&I charter. To the community members who are closeted and the ones who are not, to the allies who are ridiculed for supporting the charter and bullied by stigma of association, to Workplaces that uphold the values of Inclusion, I quote Jean de La Fontaine, “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”
The first time I had a dialogue with a gay man was possibly in the mid-90’s. He was quite a celebrity, having written books and been featured frequently on TV. On several occasions, he had more than mildly hinted at his orientation. During our conversation, I, quite naively, asked him why he primarily identified as homosexual, why not his nationality, his gender or even his career. His reply has stayed with me, decades later.
“I want to be known for what I am not allowed to be.”
Being Indian, being male or female, being a bureaucrat or a writer – society really doesn’t care. Try belonging to a minority, just try it for a day, he recommended. Not just any minority, but one that is actively disdained. Put yourself in the shoes of a trans-gender, for example– who is met with hate simply for existing. Where in the main stream do you find them? Do you see them in schools and colleges, getting equal opportunities for education? Do you see them in health care units, being treated for coughs and colds, like anybody else? Are they employed in offices or any jobs, for that matter, where they are treated with dignity? When they are so negatively targeted, there will be push back and they will flaunt what you taunt – that is why their identity will be trans gender first and all else second.
When your family rejects you – for reasons as mundane as “what will people say” or as illogical as “you are going through a phase and want attention” or as isolating as “God will not forgive you and you are going to Hell” – the comfort of staying in the closet is as appealing as it is stultifying.
I am not an unusually sensitive person, nor am I intuitively kind. Practical as the day is long, I have cynically viewed the human condition without syrupy sentiment – deal with it, these are the cards you were handed.
Till I met a fabulous young person.
Intelligent. Wise beyond his years. Hard working. Inspiring. And lonely.
Sociable with a wide circle of friends, he stays firmly in the closet even though his friends love him so dearly. He contemplates a future with no partner, no children and depresses himself further. Isolated by a self- imposed silence, his coming out to me was, I think, more because I confronted him with what I could perceive. Over the decade of our friendship, I have watched him grow increasingly self-sufficient, not because he doesn’t need help, but fears becoming dependent on it. He has introduced me to scores more of similarly closeted individuals – so many young people who should have been able to be cherished by their families, friends, and colleagues but who are bound by their fearful code of silence, to speak only in “safe” places.
I am so grateful for being at the receiving end of so much love and trust. My young friend has, over these years of friendship allowed me the joy of “motherhood”! I have no children of my own, but as I become a confidante and host to these many young souls who can come out to me with no fear and know that they will never be judged, I am now their adopted Mum!
Being there for them, when they need advice, or when they need to rant; to eat a home-cooked meal or to hold a hand, I am privileged to be the one they turn to.
I am not just an ally. I am an out-and -proud Mum!
Its not the first time they are chasing me down, hands full of stones.
It wont be the last I am pelted at and called names.
My house has been burnt before and I have sat in its ashes. Equally burnt and devastated. I have gathered that powder, mixed it with my blood, forming an ink thick enough to write fire slogans and rainbow poems.
And I’m prepared to do it all over, until the day…
When a mother no longer flinches at the idea of her boy bringing home a boyfriend.
When a girl is not raped in the name of curing her homosexuality. There’s no cure, because there’s no disease.
When queer people of my county are no longer treated as second grade citizens on the roads, in the metros and in the places they once called “home” and can feel safe again.
When they wake up to the truth that there is never any honour in a killing.
When transgenders are respected also on the days other than weddings and baby showers.
When human rights also means rights of LGBTQ.
When hijda, chhakka and kinnar aren’t ġaalis, and aren’t the meat our “just” society feeds on to feel full of righteousness.
When of course there is no need for anyone to write poems like these.
But until then
I have enough blood in my veins. Enough strength to sit in ashes. Enough heart to make an ink thick enough to write fire slogans and rainbow poems.
– Amy Singh
(Scenes from the pride walk and poem to stand in solidarity with some really happy, funny, queer and zinda dil humans)