(I)dentity – My Journey…

Anonymous

I am the second and youngest child to my loving parents, raised in a Malayali Catholic family in Northern India. I was a shy kid and my memories go back to my childhood days when I was 7 perhaps. My parents found their joy in me and they didn’t leave any stones unturned to bring me up soothingly. My sister was always protective of me and we grew playing our own invented games. Christmases and Easters were largely celebrated, and we shared other festivals as our own. We truly lived and cherished unity in a diverse lifestyle and culture. The biggest predictors of my family’s happiness wasn’t linked to money or luxury, instead it was our faith in each other, lessons on compassion and selfless commitment to human kind. To the outside observer, I was living the most contented life. I grew up with a sense of belonging and a feeling of something larger, yet there was something missing within me. This missing portion was nothing materialistic, rather it was an intimidating and scary feeling of being different from other boys. I was emotionally inclined towards boys and the feeling was not subtle. Yes, that’s right- I was “different” and I sensed it at a very tiny age.

I am guessing that my differences were evident. Thereby started series of bullying, discrimination and rejections. I was differentiated not just by my friends but sometimes their parents and mostly by adults. I was too little to term these feelings, but it made me unhappy. I remember, the small prayers that my mother taught me. I added mine into it and asked God a lot of innocent but tough questions. I prayed to help me become like other boys. There were many nights spent with bad dreams and dry tears when I wake up. Since I didn’t have a friend to share my feelings with, I bottled my thoughts and abhorred myself.

It is said that a child’s good or bad fortune starts from home. For me, it was a bad fortune. It was just after my 8th birthday and end of wintertime. My father was deputed for 15 days to another town by Indian Army, my mom was working her night shifts at the hospital and my sister was away on an outing. We called my cousin and his friend to come over for my well-being. They were 2nd year science students and respectable members in the family. My cousin was our role model and we adored him a lot. This dark night, during their stay at my home I was sexually molested by them. I didn’t know what they were exactly doing or why they were doing so, but I knew it was all wrong. I was shattered, my body was in pain that I had never known and my soul was filled with fear. I didn’t even know that I was raped, I was just eight years old to even articulate the incident. The breach of trust was awful. I couldn’t bear the experience beyond a point and ran to my sister’s room. I sat under her study table, still thinking, scared and shivering. I cried like a small baby, unknown of my next step. I locked the room and sat under the table that whole night. I was awake till the dawn next day. This incident shuddered my life-force, it further swelled my low esteem and it was hard to communicate with people. For days, I didn’t attend school and my sister was a close watcher. She saw me scared out of my wit. Her multiple attempts to get me talking about the incident made her realise that I didn’t know how to explain it. Finally she convinced me to write down my feelings on a piece of sheet and I found that was an easy way. It took me a while to write down my feelings, it was hard to explain in words. I wrote a long letter and gave it to my sister. I remember running out to our garden after handing the letter and waited for her. In about ten minutes she reached out to me in total shock. She didn’t know what to ask me, neither did I know what more to speak. She ran her fingers through my hair and pressed me closer to her. We both wept. My sister was even more hurt because our cousin was involved in the crime. In no time, she decided to confront my cousin. That evening, we both went to his home and she bravely probed him. He reluctantly agreed to the incident and my sister warned him. On our way back home, we didn’t speak a word but our thoughts were deep. My sister was still restless, and she decided to narrate the incident to our parents. We all went to the police station. Upon narrating the whole incident, the police officer said, “How can a male get raped? There is no such law and this is not a strong case- you will all run in circles and waste your money and energy”. They refused to even file a complaint. I believe this incident didn’t allow me to live my childhood, instead I emotionally and spiritually grew beyond my actual age. The questions pertaining to this incident still remains unanswered- “Why was I sexually abused and molested by my own relative at a tender age? “. Like any other vulnerable case, this one went under cover and we all chose not to speak about it. It was easy for us not to speak though, but has never been easy for me to forget that night till date. It is terrible that people don’t believe that even boys and men can get raped. I was and I am not alone in this world.

Moving on from my past and growing up, my sexual orientation became clearer to me.

On one side I was immensely getting attracted to other boys, other side I had conflicts between my Christian values and teachings that prohibits alternate sexuality. The mission to be more closer to God, led me to hate myself for being attracted to other boys.

Therefore I started behaving like other boys. In my early teens, I mixed up with other classmates and participated in all conversations that a regular teenager would do. I laughed and giggled on their jokes, spoke their language and adapted their lifestyle. But the harsh reality was that I was not happy pretending to be someone else. I knew in my bones that I am fitting into something that I am not made for. How much would I act, after all my classmates knew I wasn’t like them. They called me names, bullied, hit me on my head or back and even hid my school bag many times. I was never allowed to play games as none of them wanted me on their team. Mutely I used to sit near the music hall and watch them all playing football and cricket, while my legs swung. I don’t think there was a single grade that I didn’t face mistreatment. Each passing year I met a bunch of new boys who laughed at me and passed comments that I didn’t deserve. I gulped everything and paid less attention and it taught me to become more resilient and patient in life.

It was during recess one day- I saw a guy similar to my age and grade from another division, smiled at me from a distance. I smiled back. We crossed roads during later part of the day. He walked up to me and we spoke a bit. His name is Sanjay*. I realised in no time that Sanjay* is a person with mental disability. We became friends and for the first time in so many years, I found a friend. He had a huge smile on his face every time and held my hand when we ran through the corridor. But Sanjay’s* story was not different from mine. He hates school because of constant bullying faced due to his disability. A few stories that he narrated made me feel that I am listening to my own life episodes. We both were victims of different circumstances, yet so connected. It was our daily routine to share and quickly finish lunch and then play games for some time. One day as usual we both sat down at our regular spot to have lunch. It was different that day and both of us didn’t see it coming. A group of guys from our respective classes walk up to Sanjay* and ploughed their hands into his lunch box. Topping that, they laughed at him and ate his entire food. Sanjay* was ashamed and equally angry. With full strength he kicked one of the boys. Perhaps, this was the first time I saw another side of Sanjay*. This infuriated the gang and they started hitting on his head from all direction. Sanjay* couldn’t balance them all and ran in circles. The sight shook my soul and I ran into the mob to push them away from him. The boys in turn started hitting me and for the first time I got into a fist fight with them. I saw Sanjay* crying and this incident aggravated his ailment. He shouted and threw stones at the boys. I was still hitting a guy rolling on the ground while another guy from behind pulled my hair and swayed my head in the air. The scene turned out violent and the school admins were alerted. None of us were allowed to step back to our classrooms and Sanjay* was taken to the hospital. For the first time in my life, I was loud against mistreatment and injustice. I heard Sanjay’s* situation got worse because of the tremor and since then I never saw my friend. His parents enrolled him into another school. Today, I still wonder from where did I mustered the strength to fight the boys, why was I so furious towards discrimination? Had Sanjay not taken the first step to confront his tormenters, perhaps I wouldn’t have had recognized my inner strength that was hidden all these years. I am not trying to say that a physical fight displays the right manners of strength but it was definitely the first time in my life that I stood up against a wrong practise. I miss Sanjay but he taught me a grave lesson. There is no space for discrimination and no one should to be bullied. Everybody deserves respect and love- irrespective of built, disability, sexual choices, gender, background, caste, colour, ethnicity and creed.

During my college days I was still dealing with my inner conflicts around sexuality. While everybody were living their youth, I was busy learning more about sexualities and different forms of orientation in a human being. Between 19 and 23 years I read a lot of books- both mythology and science, met people from the various spaces of education dealing with sexuality, spoke to counsellors, parents and teachers. It was during this phase that I became knowledgeable about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transwoman, Transman, Intersex, Pansexual, Asexual and other dimensions of sexual identities. On my way I met many survivors who faced immense torture from society because of their sexual identities. I met folks who were disowned by their own families because they belonged to minority group of sexual identity or expression. Each story was unique.

I did a project on Transgender during my third year in graduation. I took up this project because of my growing inquisitiveness about the Trans world. I have only known them as a bunch of tough people who roam around public spaces asking money, sing songs during Indian weddings and pick fights. But I was curious to learn their history, lifestyle and the whole community in itself. The project duration was for three months. I visited them every week at different corners of the city where they lived. I must say this, by the end of three months I just had respect for them. They are ostracized by the main stream society and treated as untouchables. Then, they didn’t have rights to cast vote or have government identity cards. They couldn’t apply for any jobs and lived on mercy of others, begged on streets and earned perks via prostitution. They welcomed me to their small knitted community. I observed that’s a space where nobody would like to go and explore. There was something very startling that I noticed during my research. There were a few children in their homes, ageing 7 months to 13 years. I enquired about the children and they said,

“They are our children and we are parenting them”.

They explained further that these kids were abandoned by the biological parents for various reasons- some were born with visible/invisible disability, mixed gender, out of illegal relationships, while others were abandoned just because they were female babies while the biological parents desired sons. With the help of their network, the Trans gender persons adopted these kids and are bringing them up as their own. The sight moved me within. Two Sundays later, in the church, it was my turn to give the youth message. I couldn’t hold up my emotions and started my speech saying, “I have always been on lookout of Jesus in the churches. I never found him here. For the first time in 23 years of my church life, I found Jesus in the corners of the Trans community. I found peace, true love and service amongst this abandoned section of the society”. By end of my speech, I felt the heat in the church. It was a daring act to pick a subject that main line traditional Christians do not like to touch upon. Many didn’t like the fact that I researched on Trans lives. I got a call from the parish’s office and I knew what was coming my way. In my meeting with the priest, a kind person, I was asked a lot of tough questions around the youth speech I gave. I was able to answer all of that, and none of these answers were fabricated. In our conversation, I came out to the priest about my own sexuality and he seemed to be upset about it. Even before I reached home after the meeting, I got an e-mail from the church requesting to step down from the youth council as I could be a potential bad influence to others and that I need counselling for some time. I was very upset reading that e-mail. I thought church is a place where all are accepted, just like Jesus accepted all. In my reply e-mail to the church, I thanked them for the decision they made and mentioned,

 

“By removing me from this church, you have done a huge favour. You have distanced me from this church, but pushed me closer to humanity and God”.

The quench for acceptance from others became less relevant, it was rather more significant for me to accept myself at the first place. I agreed that there is nothing greater in life than to be honest to oneself and I will be leading a life full of fabrications, unless I accept myself. It was not the society that hated me, rather it was I who didn’t love myself. I remember sitting down one day, and took a sheet to write down my blessings. I wrote down everything- my talents, achievements, good occasions, happy moments, good decisions, people who mattered to me and luxuries. To my amazement, my list of blessings went from one sheet to another. This activity had a deep impression on my mind and I said to myself, “What am I unhappy for? What am I crying about? Why didn’t I count my blessings? Why did I focus so much over grief?”  I accepted myself inside out, including my sexuality. I realised that nobody can understand my body other than me. This led me to come out proudly to my sister and slowly to my friends. Further I grasped that I don’t have to wear my sexuality on my sleeves. I don’t have to explain it to people anymore. How many heterosexuals walk and talk about their sexuality? No sane successful society is made up of only one kind of people. Societies are always open to diversities in religion, language, work, sexualities and ethnicity.

I realised in all its capacity that everybody is as normal as you and me.

I can’t accept others until I forgive all those people who harmed me in my growing years.

After 18 years, I wrote an e-mail to my cousin and his friend who raped me, forgiving them for what they did. I wrote another e-mail to a group of friends who bullied me in college. Life is a circle of deeds and which is why my old church called me early this year to do a talk on Transgenders and alternate sexualities. I accepted the offer and along with another group, panelled an awareness session. Additionally, I got a chance to volunteer for certain LGBT, gender, persons with disabilities and child abuse organizations in India.

Since then, my journey didn’t stop. My inspiration comes from lives of many people who were torn apart by the prejudiced main stream societies, yet they stood up and fought their own battle. Each of us have our own battles to fight. In this judgemental world, we can’t keep all happy. But what we can do is perhaps be true to ourselves and be tolerant to others. It’s always kind to appreciate others and accept them irrespective of their background. We need to be cognizant about the truth that there are people with alternate sexualities all around us- workplace and homes. Some are visible and many are invisible living discreet lives due to fear of discrimination. Do not think it’s a mental disorder or deliberate choices. Homosexuality or any other alternate sexuality is just another form of sexual orientation as Heterosexuality. Medical Science, ancient religion and new age studies have all approved of it. Your children, siblings, friends and neighbours need you to accept them, do not abandon anyone. There is no joy in unscrambling and being judgemental about someone’s body that you don’t own.

The three simple messages that I have for anyone would be:-

  • Be true to yourself and others. Honesty is a priceless treasure. Do not be afraid to speak the truth
  • Don’t give space for fear in your life. Be humble when you are wrong and voice out when you are right- both are acts of a fearless person
  • Love and kindness is more powerful than judgements. You may not know the other side of the story always, so stop discrimination

 

My all-time favourite is a gospel song that defines “love” so apt. It goes like this…

“Love is patient, caring. Love is kind. Love is felt most when it’s genuine

But I’ve had my share of love abuse, manipulated and its strength misused

And I can’t help but give you glory, when I think about my story

And I know you favoured me, because the world tried but couldn’t triumph over me. Yes they did try but couldn’t triumph over me…”

 

**All images are representative, original source linked to the images.

I am the same “Anish” that you know.

Anish Alex Mathew

From: Cochin, Kerala

Currently: Bangalore

alex

A letter to the parents.


Hi Appa and Amma,

Just wanted to let you know this letter is from my heart and I mean it a lot.

Earlier part of my life

During my childhood, I used to be very playful and wonder why I am not getting any “girlfriends”. I came to a conclusion that, I might have not reached the right stage. I used to remember Amma saying that this was the age to study and not wonder and about “girlfriends”. I realized that she is right; I should concentrate more studies which I did. But, I had these confused attractions. I used to feel attracted towards women as well as men (I have bolded it because you should realize what I am attracted to).

Being a good Christian boy, I used to keep saying it is a sin and keep repressing myself by saying that it’s just a phase. It continued all the way to college. I used to be attracted to both the sexes. But, I was still confused. I didn’t know who to talk to because it was such a taboo to talk about. I tried to get a girlfriend and vice versa happened. However, I failed miserably.

I was confused in Hyderabad also. I went after girls at my workplace. None of them were interested or they took me for a ride.

Bangalore days

When I came to Bangalore, I realized that I am a bisexual man. Yes, I love to be with men as well as women. I know it will come as a shock to you. Can you think for a moment? Why do I feel attracted to both sexes at same time? I realized that, I should educate you rather you being ignorant and plain stubborn to listen to my views. Please don’t think it has a disease or a sin. This is how I am and nothing is going to change it.

In Bangalore, I met various kinds of people who educated me about my sexuality. Did you know that bisexual people are not accepted in the community itself? Just because of the assumption that we might cheat upon our partners. Initially, I thought I was gay and that was the point of time, when you both had doubts about me. But, whenever, I was approached by a woman or a girl. I had this sense of attraction towards them. So, I came to conclusion that I am a bisexual man. Period!

The Bible, Marriage and Church

Now, you may say that, I have strayed away from God or say this is unnatural. But, this is who I am! Nothing is going to change me. You can get me married off to a random girl. Remember, you are putting that girl’s life at stake. If in case, it doesn’t turn out well, you guys will regret it and not me. This is because I have already foreseen the future.  I wanted to ask you a question – Why is there hatred in this world towards LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community? Even the church that preaches of love hates them. Why? It is because of the hypocrisy in this various churches and world that made me realize God lives in me and I pray to him only. He knows me. He made me. If he hated me, do you think I would be in this world? I pray for people who scream slogans saying “God hates fags” because they don’t know what God is thinking about His children. He has created them with His very own hands.

Facebook drama

All those drama regarding FB, where I was sharing stuff about LGBT rights. I was trying to fight for people like me. We deserve freedom as well.

Amma – I didn’t expect Ankita to tell you last time. I trusted her and shared with her about my sexuality. She broke my trust basically because of insecure feelings towards me. That’s the reason, why I don’t share anything with her now.  I expected you to be supportive instead of quoting from the Bible. I know the Bible and read it millions of times. You will still think that I am not doing prayers properly and etc. etc. When I am not in peace with myself, how can I have peace around me? I still pray. Please stop worrying about that. I still believe in God. Just don’t believe in churches anymore.

Appa – If you had any doubts about me, you should have directly raised your concern with me. Not push Amma to make calls to me and question me. Do you realize it is actually a mental torture?  I always realized why you don’t show me the extra warmth like how you show Ankita.

Mayamma

As a performer, I just tried her out because I wasn’t making it anywhere by being Alex Mathew.  When, I became her, people appreciated me and said I have guts to do it. I am doing drag because I feel I am doing different from others. I prefer to be a man on streets and be a woman on stage just to entertain people.  I have got many opportunities to be part of photoshoots, be part of plays and so many performances.

Amma? I am really sorry; I have lost trust in Ankita completely. I was beginning to share with her. But, she showed her true colors again. Last night, the way you called me up was just unnecessary.

Fabulous parents

You both haven’t failed miserably as parents. There hasn’t been a day I thank God that I have lovely parents.  You should try and understand my point of view. Why am I like this? Please learn more about my sexuality and not be ignorant about it. And, please don’t blame each other by raising fingers. I am the same “Anish” that you know. Just that, my sexual attraction is a bit different and I hope you understand that.

And, if you are wondering about what you say to others etc. Please! I don’t live for others anymore. They are just relatives to me and their opinions shouldn’t concern you either.

I had to say this to both of you because I can’t live in a world where everything is rosy and I feel like a caged bird.

On top of all, I am writing this as a letter because I couldn’t see an opportunity to talk to both of you. Maybe because you are facing issues with other family members and I didn’t want to burden you with this problem. But, you need to stop being ignorant and accept me the way I am. That’s all I am asking for.

I still love you as my parents. And, I hope you still do the same to me.

Love,

Anish