Above all else, to thine own self be true!

Sanjay Kumar

Having just returned from a few days in Auroville, the Matrimandir has become to me a symbol of my coming out, emerging from the earth as it were to shine my light in all its brilliance as authentically and sincerely as humanly possible. My story of coming out as a gay man, the first I reckon in my entire community of neighbourhood, church, school, university and social network of my birth and upbringing, is an on-going challenging and exciting journey of self discovery and discovery of what all my relationships are really made of. I have experienced how being open and proud of my truth has repercussions not just for me but also for all who know me, especially my family. It’s a coming out for all of us not just me!
My first realisations of being gay were very early on in life, well it was not so much being gay but being effeminate. By the age of 7, I was aware that I was different to other boys, I didn’t like the rough and tumble of the playground, I preferred the company of girls and also older women, being creative, participating in domestic things that are typically socially associated with the feminine, into intellectual and spiritual debate. I used to love dressing up in my mum’s saris when no one was home! For being effeminate and sensitive I was teased and bullied, verbally sometimes physically, both by boys and girls and adults alike! The taunting was not just in the school field, but also in church, the neighbourhood and sometimes even at home. “You should’ve been born a girl” was often shouted out, like as though that was a bad thing. I grew up with the very clear notion that it was unsafe and unacceptable to be truly me.

To be loved I had to be what everyone else wanted me to be, my mother included.

So guess what, I did my best to be ‘the good boy’ everyone adored and loved and did that very well indeed right into my twenties, becoming the ‘blue eyed boy’ and shouldered the aspirations of an entire community. I now realise being the good boy is not a unique phenomenon, Dr Alan Downs in his best seller, “The Velvet Rage” talks of it as ‘the good boy trap’ where a lot of gay boys fall into the trap of becoming high achievers, excelling in multiple fields, mostly to compensate for that very deep inner fear of feeling less than our straight counterparts and indeed the shame involved with being gay. The messages that I grew up with was that being gay was sinful, disgusting, dirty, unacceptable, against nature, God and society and that I was going to hell, apart from a host of other negative messages. No one is born with shame. Shame is a learnt emotion. A powerful emotion.

The realisation that I liked boys and not girls happened much later as I was a late developer. The paisa truly dropped when I was about 16 nearing 17, when I realised there was no other way, this is who I am, its intrinsic to me, I’m not wilfully choosing to be attracted to boys, I’ve never been attracted to girls so it wasn’t that I was giving up my attraction for them in preference for boys either. These realisations were very private, I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone with this. There were no teachers, elders or guides I felt I could go to, to talk about this. Using my own initiative I went to a psychiatrist who I found in the newspapers who said that he could perhaps help me become bisexual, and even at that young age I knew he was a quack. There were no affirming messages anywhere to be found. There was no loving arm to hold me. There was no reassurance from anywhere. So I went deeper into the trap of being the good boy and went into the Church to train as a pastor, hoping religion and faith would cure me! Fasting and prayer only made matters worse. The isolation and confusion worsened and there was no one I felt who would understand or support me in this struggle.

Quite by chance while in seminary, a senior told me that his organisation was going over the weekend to a certain park to ‘evangelise’ gay men who met there. Everything changed from that moment on for me. What? Who? When? Where? The fact that there were other people like me? And there is a place where I could go and meet them? I can’t tell you how fast my heart beat! The excitement overwhelming!

Off I went the following week sometime in March 1997 and sure enough for the first time ever, met other men, even to just hold their hand and look in their eyes was like heaven. Soon I came to attend Good As You an organisation set up then for support and advocacy for the queer community which became a weekly support for me on Thursdays. I would sneak out of seminary and drive a 60km round trip just for this support and I’m glad it is still there today doing some amazing work in providing support for those coming out, I was one of their first voluntary counsellors on the telephone switchboard service they started way back then.

I hadn’t yet come out. Being the good boy however had its uses and I was sent off to Cambridge, UK in 1998 to do an internship by the seminary I trained in and was faculty-designate. While in Cambridge, I had the opportunity to talk to the greatest minds and scholars of Christianity both from the conservative and liberal schools of thought to make my own mind up about what the Bible had to say about being gay. As for me I had to find a way of reconciliation between my faith and my sexuality to be able to accept myself and come out. When I realised in a very profound way that the Bible does not condemn me for who I am, and that Jesus himself had much love and compassion for those who were not straight (Matthew 19:11,12) for Jesus was very much on the side of the marginalised of society, the fringe, the condemned. So I was able to come out to myself helped very much by a dear friend of mine who is now the Chaplain of the LSE and Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. After much research again pretty much in hiding with little support as I was afraid I would be sent back home to India and disgraced if it came out into the open and was afraid of what impact it would have on my family.

The first person I came out to was my one and only older sibling, as I thought I would get a sympathetic ear. I was so wrong. I was in tears. I spoke to her over the phone while I was in Cambridge, only to be told that I was making a choice and that my choice was wrong, against God’s will and that I should never tell my parents as it would kill them and that she would never support this. That view hasn’t changed to this day. It tore me apart. I was unacceptable. For which I was often told, “You are always loved and accepted, its just THAT part of you which is unacceptable!” Is it a part of me or is sexuality a fundamental part of one’s psychological, sociological and sexual framework, of how one views and understands and lives out one’s place in the world? I had to know and understand. So I studied hard and became a psychotherapist and worked in the gay community providing individual and group therapy for the past 15 years. The Church was no longer an option for me as an out and proud gay man. I parted ways with the seminary which still today remains a sore wound it seems. The blue eyed boy had become the disappointment of an entire community, and a cause for gossip from school teachers to shop keepers. People who really didn’t know me much condemned me as a person of bad character! How being gay equated to bad character I would never know. In the Indian context one doesn’t have to explain the impact of such a “fall from grace” on friends and family.
So it was easier for me and them to be as far away from it all as possible. London became home to me for the next 17 years, where I was free to be me, explore who I was, make my mistakes, achieve my goals, have my relationships and break ups. There was not even one person in my network there who didn’t love me fully and wholeheartedly for being gay!

So the next stage was to tell my parents. I had kept saying no to the many proposals of marriage that were coming my way. While in Bangalore I too tried hard to conform and tried to have a girlfriend, and got it so wrong! Finally there was a marriage proposal in 2002 which came along that in the community seemed perfect in all respects! It had to be right, right?! I was in London and these conversations were happening in Bangalore! I was coming for the Easter vacations on holiday – great perfect time to be organising a wedding right? Wrong! I was dying inside! How was I going to say no to this proposal that from all angles and perspectives seemed right? Right except for one thing! That one thing! Suddenly that one thing became everything!

It was Maundy Thursday a special day in my calendar as on that day I was miraculously saved from death as a 3 year old child who had fallen off the roof of his house into a granite stone gutter, this miracle commemorated every year, that God had saved me for a special purpose! I sat my folks down around the dining table, my sister knew what was coming. I told my folks that I couldn’t marry. I could marry this girl or any girl for that matter. There were no words, suddenly no vocabulary sufficient to put the point across effectively. The words “I am gay” felt empty and meaningless. So I said, I’m not attracted to women, I can’t make women happy etc it was excruciating! Tears everywhere. Mum and Dad suggesting medical treatment thinking I was impotent. Slowly over the next few days the penny dropped for them too to a certain degree. Suddenly the conflict between love and faith became real. Tested for the first time in such a fundamental way. I must say I’m lucky to have the family I have for it is their love that binds us all together even though their understanding of the Bible seems to prevent them from accepting me for who I am. I’ve tried fighting and arguing my case over the years. 17 years later I have returned back from London and to find that much of what I ran away from is still very present. There’s much work to be done. What I am in control of is me accepting them for who they are, and love them even though they may not accept me, yet. My father on the other hand has indeed worked very hard in understanding. He has listened to all the debates on TV when way back in the mid 2000s the Delhi High Court had ruled against section 377. He made a scrap book of all the newspaper articles on the subject, saying “son, all the arguments you give, they are also saying.” Bless him. He and I have since become friends. I know he understands. He shows it in his own way and that is enough for me.


In 2005 I met my partner. I had a wonderful long relationship with him a dear handsome Swedish man my first ever real relationship. After almost 4 years of being together we visited India together and met the whole family of course not explicitly. My parents came to London to stay with us twice. On the second visit we decided to have a civil union, my family were very opposed to it and would not approve even though they all loved my partner. We went ahead anyway, the family did not attend. We thought we’d give the family a year to think about it and so we had a big wedding in Stockholm a year later but sadly the family decided not to participate and I was told not to tell anyone about it either, so I had no representation from my Indian side at my wedding. Sadly when we separated a few years later, that process too was without much support for they did not know how to I reckon, and didn’t accept or validate that relationship fully in the first place.

Slowly over the years others in my family have come to understand and support albeit privately. Other childhood friends from school, college and even church community have shown support and acceptance which is truly wonderful. Things are changing for the better. When people realise that the Queer community is actually PRO-community in so many wonderful ways, and when we are allowed to freely be who we truly are as equals, society will see what an immense blessing we can be in our homes, communities and in the work place, we tend to bring a certain quality of joy, colour and life.
Yes it is lonely being the minority of one in such a vast sea of community. However, as in the words of Polonius to his son Laertes in Hamlet “Above all else to thine own self be true” this is worth all of the hardship. To live one’s own life, not the expected life of the community. To shine one’s own light, to know, love and live out one’s own truth. What value can you put on that?

To those still thinking of coming out, I would say as a friend once told me, “If it is truth you have to suffer for, then that suffering is worth more than anything else in the world.” I would say work on your love with your family, trust your love, love conquers all. Where there is love, there is victory. What my sister feared would happen, “don’t tell them, it will kill them,” is what I too believed and feared would happen, it never did. In fact, our relationship is more real that it ever was, its not easy or smooth sailing by any means but at least it is authentic. Where there is love there is no fear.

SANJAY KUMAR,

Bsc.M.A.PgDip

Psychotherapist

(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.