just a little more courageous!

Ankit Rastogi

Bangalore

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 –
1) Seriously!!!
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

The original poem The Charge of the Light Brigade

 

I am just the way he made me

 

My name is Ankit. I am a gay man, 25 years old living in Mumbai. I work for an educational institute “VIDYA” which works for under privileged children in urban slum communities.

I realized I was attracted to the same gender in my early teens but did not know what it actually meant or that it is actually a sexual orientation or that there is a community of LGBT people. As a fact I did not even know the difference between the male and female anatomy until I was in my 10th Grade.

During my summer holidays post 10th grade a few of my cousins were visiting us and one fine evening we were hanging out and I noticed a girl child peeing. I was confused and I questioned my cousin, why is it that she is squatting while peeing? We boys do it differently. Laughing out loud my cousins remarked that you are so silly and explained the difference to me. They also teased me that now that I know I would be more inclined to know a girl better perhaps start having attraction towards them.

The very next day I went back to my cousin and said whatever you explained to me yesterday is so true but somehow am not attracted to girls. I find myself attracted to boys. My cousins failed to understand me and mocked that I would always be a kid. I guess that was my very first coming out.

Years passed and it was in college when internet came to my rescue and gave me access to the information I needed. I googled about being gay and that there are others like me. I started searching for ways to find other people like me and chanced upon gaydia.com and it was such an overwhelming discovery. All this while I was caught up with various emotions and found it challenging to come to terms with my sexuality. I was even suicidal under depression as I kept worrying that there is something wrong with me that may be I am a eunuch (Hijra) and what a stigma this news would be to my parents and they may not accept me.

When I found gaydia.com my life changed. I came across so many other queer folks and through them I learnt a lot about LGBT community, our community! I got to know about Pride March in our country, through an organization named GayBombay.

In 2008 I attended my first GayBombay event which was a parent’s meet. The experience of this event was quite liberating. I got to know and meet parents/family of other queer folks and it gave me hope and confidence. The Pride March also liberated me in many ways, most importantly self-acceptance and that there is nothing wrong in being gay and that Pride March is a way we come out and celebrate being Queer. It has been quite a journey since then and today I am one of the organizers of Mumbai Gay Pride. I continued my journey with queer groups like GayBombay, Humsafar Trust etc. and actively engaged into activism and so far it’s been a great journey.

While at home my family knows about me being queer but I have never had the chance to sit down with them and come out to them in person. For my parents ignorance is bliss for now.

In 2013 when Supreme Court re-criminalized homosexuality as per section 377, I was interviewed by Zee news and was part of a debate. I guess that was my official coming out to the whole world through the medium of a television interview.

Later that evening I was in a discussion with Mr. Pallav Patankar (Program Head – Humsafar Trust) about how can we bring in the change in society. He said the interviews that you gave throughout the day is one way but is not the absolute or accurate way. If we want to bring change in the society we need to reach out to masses directly.

This triggered a new emotion in my and when I was returning home with a friend of mine that evening I felt the urge to at least take one step in the direction to bring that change. I stood up in a local train coach full of every day commuters and started a dialogue in Hindi – “Main ek samalaingik hu! Aaj Supreme court ne mere adhikar cheen liye hai” (I am a homosexual man and today my rights have been taken away from me). I got mixed responses, some people ignored me, some argued and questioned and some nodded in acceptance. While I realized it was a risk taken the greater learning was that when a group of people notice/experience something they talk/share the news. I realized that within that moment I was spreading the information to people from different walks of life, I was indirectly educating them that homosexuality is not an American concept and that even in that very coach in which so many Indians commute every day, anybody could a homosexual. That evening I mustered the courage to speak publicly and learnt that people need to learn more about us before they accept us.

I had found my inner calling and my purpose. I resigned from my job and visited Valsad in the state of Gujrat and held my very first public talk about homosexuality and LGBT people and my journey continues till today with over 500 public talks.

To talk more about my experience giving these talks I learnt tier 3 cities/smaller towns are more receptive to such talks/discussions than tier 2 & 1. I have had both good and bad experiences. I was also jailed when I boarded a passenger train from Jhunagargh to Somnath to hold one such talk. I was released with a warning to not repeat the act in passenger trains without permissions; that too speaking against Supreme Court. Being bullied was also part of this journey and one such incident to recall was when I was visiting a small town a little further from Bikaner and was staying in a budget guesthouse. I was bullied by a few men there who somehow noticed that I am gay and was eve teased by a group of men. The came down to the guesthouse & started making vulgar comments “aajao teri pyaas bujhata hun, mard chahiye tujhe” [You like men, come let us quench your thirst]. I was scared to death, I sat in the farthest corner of the room praying for this to pass away.  I was petrified to even move & somehow dozed off sitting there. This incident did scare me but I never gave up, I believed in my role as an activist and that people in India must be educated about our community and rights.

Personally, I am quite rooted to my culture and my religion. I believe in Hinduism and especially in Vaishnavism. I also read a lot but somehow I could never find any story speak of homosexuality but what I noticed is Hinduism never discriminated against anything or anybody in particularly. I find my strength is Krishna, I am just the way he made me!

 

Bhai Dooj

Unmesh Potdar

 

“Happy Diwali! Happy Bhau-beej!” chimed sister right from the bungalow gate. Mother ran down the steps as usual to shower kisses on her grandchildren. It was Diwali 2015; day of bhai dooj: when both my sisters will come down to Satara to celebrate the festival.

Day went well, exchanging gifts, jokes and family gossips. Once that quota was over, father turned towards his favorite subject: His son’s marriage.

“I am not forcing you to do anything”, he hissed. “I am just curious to know your plans for future. Look around in our colony. Most boys of your age have at least 1 kid now. Your mother and I have to answer people, you know!” By now, I had lost appetite even though there was a plate full of my favourite Chakalis and Khoya Karanjis in front of me. “Let’s have a discussion.” He said. This is his favourite line because in such discussions he’s the only one who gets to talk.

I have not thought about marriage yet, Baba.” I tried sounding disinterested as possible – “You know I am not stable career wise. Let’s take possession of our Pune flat first, let me buy a car and have some savings, then I can think about it. Jaldi Kya Hai?”

I knew I had pressed Play button on a record player. I am so used to this- He starts off by saying how I never listen to him, How I am not serious about my future, How he’s always tried to be my friend more than a father but I always cling on to my mother’s Pallu; etc etc etc. I prefer to keep mum. Else it’s WW III on the dining table.

20 minutes of him going on and on about the same topic, there was a moment when I lost my patience. “I don’t wanna get married”; I barked. “Look around! You think marriage is the ultimate goal of life? Sorry to disappoint you but I don’t think that way. I don’t believe in the institution of marriage. So henceforth don’t ask me anything about getting married.”

I could see his flushed face. “What the hell are you talking about? Did you learn these things in the UK? What now…. you want to be in a Live-in relationship or what? I may even agree to that! Who’s the girl? Is there one? Tell me! I am talking to you!! Tell me!!!”

He had always mocked me and mother with a phrase- ‘Mounam Sarvam Sadhanam’. (Silence can convey everything) I chose the same path. Being quiet. He kept staring at my face with a demanding look. I was still biting my nails. “FINE!!!!”; he suddenly bursts like a volcano, “Don’t tell me anything! I don’t want to be part of this conversation anymore. Talk to your mother and sisters like you always do. I am out of here!”

We heard the car engine growl. Before mother can even utter a word, he was out of the bunglow gate.

“What is the matter, Unu?” She turned towards me. I can sense her concern in that kind voice. “Why are you saying all this? Has anyone said anything to you? See, we all have to get married one day. We need someone to look after us in our old age. Spouse, babies, grandchildren: they give meaning to our life. What’s causing you this fear towards marriage? Why this hatred towards girls?”

“Aie, sit down” I muttered. “You want to know if I am scared to get married? Do you think I have hatred towards women? I’ll tell you something that I have struggled for 28 years of my life. Don’t think that this has dawned upon me overnight. I have given it serious thoughts since last 3 years and only because of that I can gather enough courage to tell you that I don’t have any feelings for women. I have feelings for men.”

I am sure if anyone had dropped a pin, we would have heard its sound. I was just cold and numb. Cold and numb with sweaty palms. Most awkward 5 minutes of our lives.

“Have you considered visiting a counsellor…….”, sister tried to mumble but I cut her off. “I have done the counsellor as well as psychiatrist bit, Tai. As I said, I have given this enough time to gather courage to speak in front of you. I am not saying accept this right now. I have taken years to accept myself. Take your time. But this is me.”

Silence just grew deeper as the night progressed. I tucked myself in the bed yet my ears were stressing themselves to catch traces of whispers outside my room.

Next day was the real struggle. I think it sank into everyone what exactly happened yesterday. I knew: an open dialogue is much needed and that’s what I did.

“Put yourself in that girl’s shoes.” I had told my sisters. “Every girl wants and deserves a perfect husband. Do you think I’ll be able to satisfy her emotionally? You both are married. What if you discover that your husbands are Gay? How will you feel? And who gave me rights to toy with a girl’s emotions?” They gave me a startled stare. “I agree to what you are saying, Unmesh” elder sister spoke. “But what is the future of this? This isn’t legal in India. You know what sort of narrow minded city our parents live in. How are you planning to deal with this?”

I had to explain to them that though it is bit difficult to find a stable partner, but there’s always hope. How we are fighting our battle for our rights and how family is the first place where we get immense support.

“We are always there to support you but you understand that we have our families too. Focus on your career and find yourself someone to take care of you. For god’s sake, don’t die like Parween Babi.”

Talking to mother was extremely emotional for me. I am attached to her deeply since childhood and I always felt like I am cheating on her by hiding this big secret of mine. I knew that behind her disappointed face she was trying to hide her worry for me. More than the society, she was worried for me, haunted by the common question: Humare Baad Tumhara Kya Hoga?

Father had his own doubts about what is homosexuality and I’d never blame him as he belongs to a city which takes immense pride in defining masculinity and femininity: Kolhapur. “I know you watch blue films”, he said in hushed voice, making sure mother isn’t around. “I have seen those CD’s in your room. Dont you feel aroused looking at those women? Khada nahi hota?” “Hota hai”, my tone was cold as ice. “But looking at the man in porn, not because of the woman.”

And then there was silence.

Since then three more bhaidoojs have come and gone. I think they’ve made peace with the fact that I am not going to marry ever, with a girl at least. I still think they are struggling to understanding homosexuality. I am glad that I took a step to take that huge burden off my chest. They are still worried about my future, but at least they are happy, because I am happy.

A Miss or a Messy Miss

  “Had it not been a miss by God, I would have been born as Miss”

Why is this a mess? Because the incongruity between mind and body generates a huge amount of stress and its energy sapping (cannot be compensated by Glucon :D). To compound it, there’s a hell of process to go through to be what I really am. There’s a fear of outcome of process; what if it turns out different than what brain has perceived because hormones have already played the unintended part, so, how much it could be corrected. To further compound it, there is massive societal pressure; many people tend to fear us or make fun of us. To compound it even more, I like my job, what will happen to it.

So, there’s no easy way out, except the technology shown in Mr. India or ability possessed by Raven (X-Men). After battling these thoughts for so many years, the stress absorbing black hole (brain) is bursting with this negative energy, so, finally I have reached a stage where thoughts have turned suicidal. Although I am seeking counselling to manage them; I have no idea who will go first, so, a snippet of how it has been till now.

Childhood
————–
As is common with kids who have Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID), there’s somehow a belief from this early age, that there’s something which is not right. Unfortunately, there’s no name which pops up what to name “not right”. This is more so, if you are not a millennial, since the internet was not there, not much content on television except Ramayan/Vikram Betaal/Shaanti. Oh! By the way, I liked Mandira Bedi in Shaanti too much.

So, before too much negative thoughts start making sense, I have been recently diagnosed by a psychiatrist with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I then starting co-relating my quite fearful thoughts up till now. I think it’s because of this, I never came out to my parents, fearing exceptionally bad things could happen. Now, as if other stresses were not enough for me, there’s another thing messing in the black hole, which is not allowing me to make my decisions as quickly as I would want. In this case, so many years.

I was a thin frame not growing more than 4’6″ till my 10th standard. So, with a tiny frame, I was not physically prepared to respond to being bullied. There were many instances which I could easily remember, out of which here is one. It may not sound a big thing as it is, but seeing from kid perspective getting ridiculed for a small thing as choice of color is torture. When discussing about things, other kids used to ask the favorite color, so, obviously favorite color was blue, although I liked blue, there were other colors too which I couldn’t name them because I have seen kids being ridiculed just for this stuff.

A good few centimeters later, where I could wear non-infant clothes, there was instance, when my mom was making a skirt for my cousin and she used to check its size on me. I was happy with it, now you can imagine why. Obviously, someone has to make fun of me, so, it were the siblings. I was not born thick skinned, so, although I was happy wearing the skirt, I chose to resist the temptation because I didn’t want to take this bullying from siblings. Then, a few more centimeters later, I was given my elder sister’s jean which I obviously liked as the fit was good, and then had to return it to her since I was not ready for the name-calling. My mom thought that I don’t like jeans and never got me any jeans over next few years. There were many other things too but, I will move onto some more centimeters ahead.

Coming out – Myself/Mom
———————————–
When I was around 11 years old, there came a time which initially seemed a phase to me. I just wanted to be a girl and, I had no clue why, and there was more stress building up. My mom’s a homemaker, and I had seen all the stuff which she used to do. Although I wanted to try it out to learn that, but, I was too afraid to come out because I thought my education will be stopped and I’ll be forced to sit at home. So, I decided to just go on, and study well. I started struggling a lot with studies over next years but somehow I made something out of me. On the same centimeters count, one day the GID stress subsided a bit and I was bit relaxed thinking, it’s a phase and it’s gone. However, it wasn’t a phase, the feeling came again may be within 6 months or so, which never got ever, and probably be over when I am brain dead.

It was my 12th standard when I came out to my Mom. I had no thoughts about how my mom would react, but I was like not prepared for anything. She asked me if it’s about some girl or some stuff I am unable to recall. I pleaded my mother not to tell papa, because my anxiety had me thinking that papa will blame my mom, so, I wanted to block this information from him. Although I knew, papa is quite good, even then I had some more fearful thoughts. So, few inches later, I got into engineering college, and GID stress was growing, still hiding behind anxiety thinking that it’s the right way to go at least for now.
A consolation is that I have worked for quite a number of companies which would otherwise have been out of my reach. These are really big companies, so, anxiety took many things – but gave me quite a lot too.

Career
———
I completed my Engineering and got a job. The only company I feared was Infosys because of its dress code. I never wanted to part of it, because I knew I couldn’t survive in it. At least casual clothing was a bit of breather in that stranglehold. I will not reveal the company which I worked for in the first. The next company I switched too, I started dressing androgynously and was already getting the eyebrows raised. It’s common to be ultra-self-conscious when starting out like that. Finally, I decided to tell papa, but again couldn’t do so because of some more scary thoughts.

I feared I could be administered testosterone shots because I had already gone through some text that it is due to hormonal imbalance in pregnancy and I feared that if he will stumble on it, I am gone. I had also read about people getting electric shocks for this. To me being alive with this stress was okay than being through that torture.

Now
——
Now, most of my family knows who I am, and obviously they are not liking it. In past few months, I have been trying to cope up with all this stress as I have been doing since so long, but the black hole of stress is spinning out of control. I am quite emotional and because of my commitments I have already made in my life I have come to a crossroads. Although, all the commitments have been very transparent, and thankfully I don’t have the guilt of hiding anything, but still.

So life goes on, and lets see what’s in store next.