Femininity, Androgyny, and Masculinity: Lili

I had originally intended to write this after I saw the film The Danish Girl about a year and a half ago. It has taken me so long to gather the courage and conviction to write this, because it is not a review of the film, but a window into my own life story. You see… just like Lili, the protagonist of the film, I too have struggled with gender dysphoria, i.e. discomfort due to a mismatch between one’s internal gender identity and the sex assigned at birth. It means that just like her, I was assigned male at birth, but am now transitioning to live as a woman. The film, set in 1920s Europe, shows Lili’s social and then medical transition from male to female as a pioneering example, so it may seem that our similarities end here, but there are still some important parallels in our stories.

JUST LIKE LILI, I WAS ASSIGNED MALE AT BIRTH, BUT AM NOW TRANSITIONING TO LIVE AS A WOMAN.

Like Lili, I am married to a woman, in a relationship marked with mutual respect, playfully questioning societal norms, and most importantly an enduring love for each other beyond our identities. Like her, my true self was so deeply repressed and hidden for so long that I was barely even conscious of it, until I gradually discovered it in adulthood. Like her, I started my transition with small, tentative steps, and then moved with more certainty, gradually gaining confidence along the way. Like her, I have been out in public as my true self in places where I could afford to, mostly when I was around complete strangers or with those who knew about me.

However, being neither fully out nor fully closeted requires a constant balancing act between femininity, androgyny, and masculinity, in terms of clothing, physicality and behaviours, in order to be able to pass as female or male in different scenarios depending on the extent of my dysphoria, where I am going and who I might run into.

Gradually, though, it has stopped being a choice as I am more frequently perceived as female irrespective of what I wear and how I behave. It has been especially difficult in gendered spaces such as security queues and public restrooms when I began to realize that I was no longer credibly ‘passing’ as a man even if I dressed, behaved and sounded like one.

BEING NEITHER FULLY OUT NOR FULLY CLOSETED REQUIRES A CONSTANT BALANCING ACT BETWEEN FEMININITY, ANDROGYNY, AND MASCULINITY.

Like Lili, I have met or heard of several doctors, ranging from those who did not understand my situation or had outdated views on it, to those who have been extremely helpful. To be fair, my personal experience in this regard has been far nicer than is the norm, because I took my time, educated myself, searched for options, and ruled out the unhelpful ones. That’s not always possible for others like me, so far too often they might end up with horror stories.

Also, like Lili, and in fact like most women, I worry about my personal safety around strangers, especially when there is unwanted attention from men. Like her, I too have struggled with drawing the line beyond which such attention stops being validating and becomes dangerous.

However, our stories are not exactly the same. A century ago as shown in the film, the medical process for gender transition itself was experimental, gender roles were much more sharply defined in society, and cases like Lili’s were treated as tragic anomalies. On the other hand, my experience comes at a time when the understanding of gender itself is far more nuanced, when the protocol for medical transition is much more clearly established and standardized, and when awareness about our existence is greater than ever before.

ALSO, LIKE LILI, AND IN FACT LIKE MOST WOMEN, I WORRY ABOUT MY PERSONAL SAFETY AROUND STRANGERS.

There are also several more personal differences. For example, unlike Lili, I have no ambiguity about my sexuality. In fact, my identity as a queer woman is not only relevant to my relationship with my spouse, but it also affected my journey of understanding how my gender identity differed from my orientation. Unlike Lili, I do not consider my profession a reminder of my past life. In fact, I want to stay in my profession and preserve as much of my life as possible even through transition. Unlike her, I did not simply imitate other women in public as I started coming out, but just allowed my natural expression to appear after decades of repression. Like Lili and Gerda, the journey that my spouse and I have shared, especially after my ‘coming out’, has been one of tears and confusion and yet unstinting love and support for each other, but unlike them, it has also been interspersed with a lot of shared joy and beautiful experiences with each other just like before.

Of course, I understand that the film was just a fictionalized account of a more complex story, as the real Lili and Gerda lived for a much longer time together than is shown in the film. My objective in writing this, therefore, is not just to compare the film with my story, but to open a conversation into the complexity of gender transitioning even in this supposedly modern and progressive era. After all, I am not the only one in such a situation, even in India. There are many others like me.

Moreover, the issues mentioned above, such as self-awareness and self-acceptance, relationships, freely expressing oneself, personal safety, medical care, social awareness, professional opportunities, and media representations, all affect most queer people, not just those who are gender variant or questioning. When I question myself which gender I ‘pass’ as better and whether or not I may face trouble on any given day, it is an experience shared not just with other gender variant people, but also with others who express themselves in non-conforming ways, despite stares, comments, questions, threats or even worse.

It is not even a queer issue alone, as gender norms regarding self-expression apply even to cisgender, heterosexual people, placing limits on all of us. When my spouse and I worry about any possible backlash to my transition, its impact on our lives together, and the continued legal status of our relationship, we know it is a question relevant to other queer couples too. More broadly, in fact, the question of what relationships should be socially accepted is relevant even to other couples who defy boundaries of caste, class, religion etc.

IT IS NOT EVEN A QUEER ISSUE ALONE, AS GENDER NORMS REGARDING SELF-EXPRESSION APPLY EVEN TO CISGENDER, HETEROSEXUAL PEOPLE, PLACING LIMITS ON ALL OF US.

We do not know all the answers, but we do know that there is a need to break the silence, to start conversations to show that we exist, that families like ours exist, even if all of us do not fit into neat little boxes with clear labels. After all, what makes someone a man or a woman? What makes someone queer or not? What makes a relationship queer or not? Is one’s identity or the validity of their love or their relationship completely determined by the individuals involved, or do others’ opinions matter? There are no easy answers, but hopefully, breaking the silence will help in figuring some of them out.

 

Re-blogged from feminisminindia

All picture are linked to their sources.

A gay man decided to make my safety, his priority.

‘So Lesbian, why don’t you say yes?’

‘Maybe the Lesbian is not interested!’

‘Oh this Lesbian only likes girls….’

Image representational

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!!

Verbal Bullying

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.”

 

Picture credits: Source linked to the images

Dreams do come true!

Sandeep Nair

Bangalore

The way I spoke, walked and behaved just seemed natural to me. I’d always been called names ever since primary school. It made me feel depressed and isolated from everyone else. It wasn’t until I was about 12 that I realised what that difference was. Everyone else started passing notes in class and giggling at me, they had their inside jokes, some about me too. I was left out again. Going to school was a torture because going to a place where I know I will have to hide from everyone and smile at people who insult me was getting harder. Being a teenager is hard for most people. But being gay, dark-skinned and having glasses didn’t exactly help matters either!
Not taking part in the sports groups so I could spend more time in the dance club and being the only boy in the school dance group, I suppose looking back now it was pretty obvious.

They say coming out to yourself is the hardest thing but I disagree. The hardest thing was to bury the feelings of shame and difference.

After the struggle in school and college and a failed first relationship, I actually started coming out to people when I was around 20, I told my sister first and then my cousins. I remember inviting my friends out one by one to tell them, and I built it up to be a big revelation in my head. In fact, they either knew of it or weren’t bothered anyway. It’s not like they didn’t acknowledge it, but they just weren’t that surprised!
This initial acceptance built in a lot of confidence in me. But, then things are different in the workplace. I did not come out anyone in the first 3 years of my career. Then, once I was comfortable talking about my then-boyfriend, I started sharing my feelings with my colleagues.

Again, they were not surprised and it did not matter to them. I stopped isolating myself because of the fear of being ridiculed again. To them, I was just another person with feelings, with a life and with a boyfriend.

I had not come out to anyone in my extended family and to be honest, I dint want to. There was this fear of being outed to my parents at the wrong time and then being disowned or forced to  get it “cured”; marriage etc. I had made it very clear to my parents that I will never get married since class 10. But, it took them 15 years to know that I was serious about that decision.
My parents had all of my extended family try to brainwash me, tell me the advantages of marrying at the right age to the right girl, the wishes my parents have for their only son etc. But, I stood my ground, firm and had only one answer – No, I am not interested in marriage. Coming out to my family was not an option at that point of my life.

When the pressure for marriage was mounting and I was suffering another heartbreak after a 7-year long relationship, I was posted to Shenzhen for a project from work. I did not want to go to China, but then the thought of running away from the family pressure seemed more important.

China was where my life changed. I fell in love again. I met the most handsome and loving man  – the man of my dreams. He introduced me to his family as his boyfriend. It was a very happy feeling to be accepted into a family. I knew that I had to come out to my family as well to introduce them to my ‘boyfriend’ and not my “special friend”.

And then on August 11 2014, I wrote an email to my parents coming out to them, told them about my journey so far, my struggles, my dream and finally my fear. My dad was super supportive and said that just like I could not tell him, he could never ask me. I am still his son and he loves me. My mother did not take it well, but after two days, she called me to say that I am never alone and that my parents will always be with me. Then, she asked me not to fall in love and not to do ‘dirty’ things.
I was thrilled, excited and more than ever alive. It was like I got wings and I am flying.

Then, after a few months, I returned to India with my boyfriend, introduced him to my parents and my loved ones in Bangalore. A year after that I married him legally in Portugal and then had a big fat Indian wedding in Bangalore.
A photo of our wedding on Facebook received a lot of wishes, which my extended family saw and my parents started getting calls to verify the authenticity of that news. My parents confirmed that I am married now to my boyfriend.
Now, we are welcomed by all as a married couple at all family functions and treated with respect and love. The ladies in my family said that they are happy that I did not fall for the society pressure and get married to a woman and ruin a lot of lives.

Sandeep & Ruben

The decision to come out is one that no person gets to make for another, and as a gay man it would be incredibly insensitive for me to ever suggest to someone that they should put themselves in harm’s way unless and until they decide they are prepared.

But, to my friends in the LGBT community, who are moving ever closer to the closet’s threshold and feeling you may be nearing that day of stepping fully into the light of complete revelation, I want to encourage you that you have people waiting to walk alongside you; people who believe in you, people who love you, people who will not vanish or fall away or cast judgment or be silent. You are not alone in your walk through this difficult journey.\

To families, friends, advocates and allies, continually and loudly speak your truth, because it matters. As you give voice to what you believe, to your support, you give others permission to as well, and as these voices multiply—change begins to happen. We are seeing it in our daily lives now. This is the result of goodness and compassion.

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.

I’m lucky to be me

I never felt like I was different, mostly because I never realized that the way I felt about girls was romantic. I knew in the back of my mind that what I felt for that one girl in class was more than strong friendship – something ‘special’. But I didn’t know what LGBT stood for, and felt sorry for Karan Johar when he was called ‘so gay’. As I grew up, however, I quickly had an intuition that maybe these feelings aren’t as acceptable in society as they were to me – I stopped telling my friends how pretty I thought that new girl was, how much I wanted to spend all my time with her. This awareness became stronger as I realized that I didn’t want to be L,G,B or T… the thought of me being gay would send this feeling of dread through me. By the time my class X boards rolled around, I was crushing on a girl in my class and actively denying it to myself.

Samyukta

Two years later, I could no longer deny that the feelings I had for women were undeniably romantic – although I still could not recognize it as something beautiful. I encouraged myself to look at boys, think of them romantically, and I spent hours surfing the web for ‘Am I gay?’ on my mother’s laptop, which I was supposed to be using for research on a chemistry project. I took numerous tests that confirmed that I was straight, bisexual, gay, somewhere in between. This, combined with the entrance test pressure, put this constant weight on every breath I took. One day, unable to take it anymore, I sent the same text to three of my friends – one, my best friend for about four years at the time, one being the girl I was crushing on at the time, and the third being a close guy friend (who I was trying to have feelings for).  All three of them were exceedingly supportive, but as they say, you’ve first got to come out to yourself. After a few more months, I realized the futility of my denial, and finally accepted myself as queer.

Onward from there, I have been extremely lucky, in that my friends have never considered this as an issue. The fact that this did not change how they saw me as a person, as a friend, as a teammate, gave me more confidence. By my fourth year in college, I was ‘accidentally’ coming out to friends (one of my friends saw me using a ‘gay dating app’ in a lab class, and was just about to google the app on the university computer when I had to tell him everything. He laughed). The day before I was leaving for my third year of college, my mother (once again!) asked me if I had a boyfriend as I sleepily stumbled to get my morning coffee. After my curt ‘no’, she asked if I had a girlfriend. This time wavering slightly, I once again said ‘no’. She then asked, ‘do you want a girlfriend?’, and my expression (how the hell did you know?!) said it all. She expressed a look of mild shock, and then told me to go downstairs and buy some milk, at which point I gratefully fled the scene. We don’t talk much about me being gay, but I did call her up later (when I was far away from the awkward situation) and told her that I was serious. She is careful not to mention ‘husband’, preferring ‘spouse’ or ‘partner’, when she speaks of my marriage. I’m thankful to have her. My sister never had a problem with it, hypothesizing that ‘all women are a little gay, I think…’

I feel deeply that we need to have more of a conversation about sexuality from early on. It would help out people who are realizing that they are not the default ‘heterosexual’, to avoid this unnecessary period of self-doubt and depression. I always wished that I had someone to talk to, who understood how I felt. After so many years, my sexuality seems so natural to me, that I forget sometimes that it is still socially unacceptable. It just seems ridiculous to me, that some people judge others based on who they fall in love with. It can be combated only if there is a conversation that reaches the most conservative ears. Sometimes, people think that LGBT people are some kind of mythical creatures, only occurring in dark, shady places. If more people realized that the folks in their office, in their daily routine may just be gay, and going through the struggles that a queer individual has to deal with in this country, social acceptance won’t be that difficult to achieve.  

 

And now that I experience the love of a woman, I couldn’t be happier  🙂 

I am not like other boys

Shivaji Bhattacharjee

Bangalore

Being a shy introvert boy it was not easy for me to deal with, or even understand my sexuality when I was a kid. But I always knew there is something different from my other school mates who used to have crushes on girls from the neighboring girls’ school. My mom was a working lady and I was a home boy, I always loved to do household work. Helping my mom arranging the house when she got back late from work, definitely made her happy. She used to hear from our neighbors that she was supposed to get a baby girl but by mistake it became a boy, but she never reacted to such comments.

As I grew older, my parents started to notice that I am not like other boys, I didn’t go out and played cricket or football like other boys, instead stayed at home and played with cousin sisters and their dolls. My sisters used to love painting my nails, and I used to enjoy that, but dad used to get furious on them and me. I was my mom’s wardrobe manager (lol) used to decide what she will wear for office, help her to do saree, help her in shopping sarees; again all this never made my dad happy.

I remember I broke my hand once in class three, while trying to steal my
aunt’s lipstick kept in the upper cabin. It used to sadden them seeing me grow up differently, the same acts that used to make her smile when I was a kid, now angered her. And seeing my parents’ reaction I started to keep things more within me, I was scared to share how I felt. I still remember I had a crush on my cousin brother’s friend as a kid and then only once my closest cousin sister for the first time asked me are you Gay? I didn’t have a reply for her, I myself didn’t know then.

I am also a victim of abuse, forced sex when I was 14, and it lasted for three years till I was 16. It was my cousin brother, as I said before I was a shy and introvert kid, never knew whom to tell, how to tell. Few times my mom and grand mom saw marks on me they asked but I couldn’t open mouth in fear, I didn’t know then what was happening. At times I used to hate him and avoid him, other times I used to feel good and then hate myself for that. I was so confused in all those years, and being a kid of 90s things was not that open, no internet like now and didn’t know what really was going on. After few years I stopped talking to him, started avoiding him though we lived in same house.

Around age of 19 I left home for Bangalore for studies and from then I have always been in this city, and in these many years the connection between me and my family faded. I explored myself here more, became more independent in thoughts, understood my sexuality and was dealt with my first ever miserable relationship and break up. By this time my parents were thinking of my marriage. Up til now we never talked about my sexuality as I never felt that I needed to, as they were very far and we used to meet once or twice in a year, I never felt it was necessary.
By then I was already out to my closest college friends in Bangalore, that cousin sister who asked me long back if am I gay (I replied to her after so many years and she wasn’t surprise) and my few other cousin sisters whom I am close to. But it was not easy to tell things to my parents as I am the only child and I knew they had expectations from me. I was in huge mental pressure and took help from a counselor. When my parents were visiting me in Bangalore, I spoke to them about my sexuality and tried to explain to them about my attraction towards men.

I also explained the problems which we all will have to face, if I go for a forced marriage. They heard and were obviously disappointment, it was clear from their faces. Now they don’t talk about it anymore neither they force me for marriage (they never did even before). They keep reminding me that I’ll have to live alone in future, I guess that bothers them more than my sexuality.

 

shouldn’t the world fear a man who has nothing to lose?

Saiganesh Krishnamoorthy

Amsterdam

I hate the word ‘Lucky’. Especially when someone uses that word to define anything that has happened to me. I believe in destiny of course. But luck? Not a chance!  Despite all the curve-balls that life threw at me, if I’ve managed to sustain so far, it’s because of the faith I have in myself, the people around me and the one above. Do not defile hard work & skill with a word that denotes probability.

It is my journey and the situations that have prompted me to accept who I am and signaled me to be the change I wanted to see.

Childhood days: A phase of apathy

I was a good student (I hope). Math, languages and science fascinated me. Favorite of the teachers and unsurprisingly, good at creative stuff. Sketching, dancing, theater and what not! Anything but sports. I was passionate about dancing (Bharatanatyam) and saw that as a way of meditation even. Kids at school used to make fun of that, although it never bothered me. Somehow I found ways to avoid bullying at school, thanks to my quarrelsome nature. I knew how to bicker well and since I was good at a lot of other things, I used them as a shield against any sort of bullying. Silly, yes, but it worked brilliantly.

My family

Coming to my family, destiny did a number on me. Being the youngest child, I had to witness my parents succumb to illnesses. A mentally challenged brother and sick parents would not be an ideal combination for anyone. However, the love we had for one another seemed to help. And their only pleasure seemed to be hearing good things about me from their kith and kin. That was the little gift I could give them for all that they did despite their shortcomings. And so, I carried on, falling in love with girls (And no, they were not my ‘beards’), focusing on studies and extracurricular activities. I did idolize a few senior guys but assumed that to be similar to fans glorifying their heroes. Growing up in an orthodox neighborhood, it never hit me to even imagine otherwise.

College days: When the world comes crashing down

I lost my brother and father even before I could complete school and became the sole responsibility for looking after my (bed-ridden) mother. Naturally, I had to toughen up and handle it. But I couldn’t do it all alone. Regardless of all the tough act that I was displaying to others, I started aching from within. And I could no more hide the fact that I liked men. It was all new to me. I had an on-off thing with a guy then but it was a confused phase in my life. Growing up in a culture where heterosexual couples are the only things you see, hear and talk about, an alternate reality seemed improbable for me. Moreover, I was the only solace for my mother then. How crushing it’d be for her to deal with something that even I couldn’t understand.

Mom & me 🙂

But she disproved that idea by her sudden demise. My world officially crumbled. My life seemed to have lost its purpose. And simultaneously, a new life began to evolve in the garden city of India, with my paternal aunt (whom I greatly admired) and her family. It was all very confusing, to say the least, to lose everything at 22 and move to a new city, hoping to find peace. Bangalore understood my needs and seemed to wash away my sorrows. My family, consisting of my aunt, uncle and my (cousin) brother started cherishing me as their own and so was I. I also made lovely friends. Friends whom I could call at midnight and ask to meet without asking why. Bangalore understood my quirks and I didn’t feel odd for the first time in my life.

For some time, my relationship also went smooth. What started as a simple Facebook chat with this guy went on to become a lovely 3.5 years of companionship. We had our own idiosyncrasies, but our understanding of one another helped us work it out. But he wasn’t sure of whether he can be in it for a lifetime and soon made it clear that he’d have to marry a girl in the future. I hadn’t come out until then because of all this uncertainty and now it looked like that time may never come. I was sick of living dual lives, of constantly lying to my close ones, of having to portray someone I was not. Although theater is my passion, this drama seemed to be going on for ages now. I needed a breather.

It was then that my family decided to go on a 21-day long trip to Europe. What a way to change my mood from this break-up, I thought. Little did I know that I’d meet my soulmate there!

2014: The time has come

He was a part of the trip. Quiet, attentive, neatly dressed, well-spoken and extremely kind to everyone (even the most annoying aunties). There was this air of sophistication, humility and kindness about him. We were both with our families, closeted and had no idea that the other person was gay. Yet we ended up spending our nights talking about mysteries of the world, of ‘detached attachment’, of ‘Maya’. Little did we know that we were getting sucked into it as well.

He went back to Canada after the trip (where he lived) and we started having email conversations. It started very formal initially (‘Hope you landed safely! ‘Twas great meeting you!’), and soon reached a phase of signing the email with our names together. We even expressed our love for one another by email! ‘For heaven’s sake, this should be the next Nicholas Sparks’ novel’, my friends said. We had the same set of interests, finished one another’s sentences and literally completed each other. I began to finally believe that life will be happy after all since I’ve found the missing piece of the puzzle, the ‘One’. Months later, he decided to come out to his family and he did. My prior relationship, however, made me tread the path of caution. So I decided to come out when I go to study in Canada and after moving in with him. Life would have been so different had that happened. If only!

A week after his coming out, he suffered a fatal rupture of tumor in his lungs and passed away.

.

.

.

.

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That describes my state! I went blank. Everything went black. All the bold acting I had until then wore off. I cried day and night. I took his death as my liability. That I had lost my family too made me think that anyone I would ever love would face the same destiny. That I was cursed and damned for perpetuity.

I could have taken the extreme step. Pills, plastic bag – I could have come up with innovative ways to end my life in a painless fashion. But, I didn’t. I had promised my (late) mother that I would never succumb to suicidal thoughts and realized that I have to survive this. There’s nothing more to lose anyway. After all, shouldn’t the world fear a man who has nothing to lose?

So I decided to open about myself. Accept that this is who I am and only have those people in my life who’d accept me as such. I called everyone. My brother, close friends, colleagues. And I told them finally what I have been meaning to tell them for years – that I’m gay. People went through a wave of shock but they loved me no less than before. It also did take some time. It is not one of those coming out stories that can lead to a discussion. They could see that I was hurting. That it was true love for another soul, regardless of defined societal constructs. And they conceded that love is love after all.

Right now I’m in one the world’s most liberal cities, Amsterdam. In a company that lets me create inclusive programs for everyone. What a roller coaster ride has it been! Life will never be a bed of roses. But it’s not going to be all thorns either. A happy ending just needs a lot of hard work, both mentally and emotionally.

 

 

Image credits:

Heart band aid

Queer Canada Flag

The queer siblings

Rahul & Mohini

Bangalore

Excited he runs down to the first floor to meet her right next to the lift at the mall.

He: “third shelf, second row, dark grey hot pants”

She: “checked shirt on display in the men’s section”

They met at the billing counter, he asked showing the checked shirt “yehi wala na?”[This one right?]

She: “YES!”

She: “tere hot pants bill kara diye hain” [I have billed the hot pants for you]

 

Little did the world know that in a small town of Nagpur, growing up were two siblings much like any other brother & sister but with their own little secret!

They grew up as any other siblings yet their choices were very different. She hated her pleated hair & he hated his checked school trousers. She liked wearing jeans & shirt, while he was fascinated by his mother’s lipstick collection. When it came to toys, they were happy to exchange. It was a fair trade of a Barbie doll for the racing car.

 

Rahul:

I knew I was different & realized that I am gay but what thrilled me even more is, there is someone else in the family who is also different.

As we grew up we never talked about it with each other. We studied in a coed school and we made our own set of friends. If not studying I’d mostly spend time either sketching and playing with my GI Joe figures or dressing up my sisters Barbie dolls with dresses made out of crepe paper and glitter. By the 9th grade I fell in love with boy who I befriended and long before we knew, we were dating. I would sneak him into the house in the middle of the night & my sister knew about it but she kept my secret.

One fine afternoon I walked past her bedroom’s ajar door to find her embraced in a cozy hug with her girlfriend. That day I learnt her little secret which stayed a secret much like mine with her.

Then on started a journey of two siblings who knew they were different from the world & same as each other.

I would help pass her love letter to her girlfriend & she would cover up for me if I was out late spending time with my boyfriend.

Whenever I had a heartbreak she would be the only one knowing what I am going through, and when she had a break up I was there for her.

Mohini:

I was in my 7th standard, while playing a truth & dare game this girl in my class gave a peck on my cheeks, and that created a flutter in my stomach. A girl kissed me & I liked it.

In my 10th class my secret crush said that I have a really long nose and she would like to rub her nose against mine. “Mann mein laddu phuta” [butterflies in my stomach] but I said no to her. She bet that she would do that within a week & that secretly thrilled me. Then that fine morning in the class when it was just the two of us, she came close face to face and rubbed her nose against mine; I was on cloud nine.

These little incidents affirmed my interest and my attraction to girls and it felt the most natural to me.

PC: Maddy

We used to come cross each other while going to school and exchange smiles. One fine day I was introduced to her through a common friend. We bonded as we started talking and this was the first time I realized that our feelings were mutual. It was lethal attraction. She frequented my home and we would spend the summer afternoons together, lost in love 🙂

But soon I realized that I was not the only one love-struck under this roof, my brother also had a “special” friend. While my girlfriend came home during the day, my brother would sneak his boyfriend in the night.

I was happy to know my brother is just like me.

Years passed and with each passing year our bond grew stronger, we knew about each other but we never talked about it. We both made our career choices, she moved to Singapore with her girlfriend and I moved to Bangalore exploring new opportunities and of course love. This was the time when we both were happily in love with our partners.

Rahul: I would visit her as often as I could. She was and still is the closest to me in our family. During my visits, I would feel the urge to talk to her about both us siblings being queer. It was time we acknowledged that we are different from most of the other siblings. I wanted to re-define our bond as siblings and acknowledge new reasons to belong and am glad I did.

We introduced our partners to each other and it was a liberating and overwhelming experience. We grew closer and re-bonded at a different level as modern queer family.

PC: Maddy

Our parents knew about us being queer and are very understanding and accepting although they took some time to adjust to our world. We both came out individually at our own pace.

While our mom being a hopeless romantic she had always believed that love conquers all. For a woman who eloped to get married to the love of her life, for her love has no gender.  Our Dad on the other end accepts us the way we are but keeps reminding us to be ready for the future where they won’t be around to us.

I am deaf, gay and proud!

Anonymous

I was born as a child who could hear perfectly. When I was an infant, I had high fever that damaged the inner ear so I became profound deaf. My parents did not give up hope. They encouraged me to be like any other child, communicating with the world where we live. My mother found a good school in Bombay where they teach deaf children through lip reading and provide speech therapy . I shifted to Mumbai for the same and started living  my maternal grandparents. It was very heart wrenching for them to part with me especially at young age. I was just 2 years of age when I moved to Mumbai. My aaji (grandmother ) left her job and took care of me with love. My grandparents pampered me, loved me, disciplined me. They taught me the value of culture, tradition and life. I am so lucky to have such grandparents.

Being deaf was hard for me. I had to face the society everyday but was lucky that I had a lot of friends who could hear and acted like my interpreter. During 80’s and 90’s, when I grew up, there were no english subtitles on TV at all – nowadays, it is there only on English movies. My mother never lost hope, she always would interpret for me in the theatre and I would understand using lip reading. At that time, I never learnt sign language. So we all used to communicate using lip reading yet there were times, I felt left out – I could not understand what was being said. Though I did not blame my family, relatives. It was unfair to expect them to look at my face, all the time for lip reading. That I understand but yet I was angry. I did not like to miss out.

During school and college, my parents always paid for a private tutor and they taught me one to one. Hence I was totally focused on my studies. My father often pushes me to communicate or talk to bus conductor, hawkers, to anyone in public! Most of the time, they did not understand and laughed at me for my funny voice. I was very embarrassed and very angry at my father for not rescuing me. But now I understood why he did, he did so on purpose to boost my ability, confidence to face anyone anywhere. For that I am very grateful to father as well as my mother.

I always knew that I am gay as long as I remember. I thought it was abnormal to stare at men. I wanted to confide to someone but being deaf it was not easy. I came to know about GayBombay meeting online. At first, I was scared to go there to meet strangers. There is always a communication barrier. I really could not ask any of my hearing straight friends to join me.. no way! One day, I gathered some courage and went to meeting in Bandra, Bombay where I met Ashok Ravi, Dr. Ramchandra, Umang Seth etc. Suddenly I felt so comfortable to be in the group. They did not seem bothered with the fact that I was deaf. I started talking to them and surprisingly they understood what I said. I was really happy. Then there was this guy who said that my smile was beautiful. That compliment made my day. I was on cloud nine. I was happy being gay and realized that I was like anyone else.
Yet, I could not reveal my identity to my parents or anyone in family. I was very scared. I left India and went to Canada to pursue Chef training where I was exposed to gay culture there. It was beautiful. I could not believe that they had gay bar, gay disco etc. Also I met so many queer people with disability that changed my life and I felt the confidence to tell my parents.
It was also during that time that my parents asked me to get married. I refused a few times but I started feeling pressurized.  So I decided to come out of closet. I came to India to talk to them.  My maushi  (aunty) recieved me at the airport. While going to her house, she said that she has come to know about me. I was taken aback and asked what did she mean.  She said that she knew that I was gay a long time ago and it was okay. I cried and hugged her tight. Then she suggested that I should not tell my mother about being gay as it may not be easy for her.

However, I did not feel like holding myself and came to Kerala to confront mother and sister. When I told them, my mother was really shocked and cried while my sister calmly supported me. My mother shouted me and asked me to promise that I would not tell my father as it might kill him with shock. I heeded and kept my promise. My mother was not ready to accept me so I went back to Canada and we both did not talk for two years. Meanwhile, she emailed me asking me not to come to near my nephew. I was furious and I blasted her that told her not to consider me as her son. That left her shocked. After a few months, my mother apologized for what she had done.  I told her that I still loved her and she said that she said that she still  loves me a lot. Much more than before!!!! She accepted me for who I am! But sadly, my father does not know about me and one day I hope to tell him.

Today, I am very proud that I am deaf and gay. I always look out for people who are similar to me. I tend to give them confidence and tell them my story. I do not want them to follow my path exactly but hope that my story gives them confidence to go beyond their boundaries.

 

Reblogged from : https://disabilitydiariesblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/29/taking-pride-deaf-and-gay/

I will not marry

Suresh Ramdas

Bangalore

To Myself:

I figured out that I was different from the other boys during schooling days.  I was fighting these feelings that I had for guys. Scared that these feelings don’t come out in the open. This confusion continued all the way to college. But it was during my 2nd year of graduation I realized who I really was. I realized that my attraction towards boys was real, until then I thought it was a phase.

Thanks to internet, I was able to figure that I wasn’t the only one in this world who was having an attraction for guys. I met some guys from chat (17 years back it was called mirc chat). I explored my sexuality quite well during those years. I even tried dating girls to see if all this is a scam in my head. Even after all this, I was still not remotely thinking of saying that I AM GAY. Then one evening during my conversations with one of the guys over coffee is when I felt that I was gay. Later walking back to my hostel room, I said that to myself, “I AM GAY”. I felt good about myself. Never understood the impact of saying that then, but I so strongly feel that now and am glad that I said that to myself.

 

Coming Out to My Best Friends:

college friend

During my second year of college, I got introduced to a guy who was full of fun, loves bikes and a traveler. During the initial days, we used to hang around, chill out after college and have a good time. One day, something happened for which I was there when he needed someone to support him and ever since we have been best buddies.

After I got comfortable with myself, I wanted to let him know. I was not sure how he will react. I was scared of losing this amazing friendship. I battled this around a lot in my head and finally decided to come out to him. After our classes got over, we met at our regular hang out place and asked him to drop me to my hostel room. While we were on the way, my heartbeats never sped that fast.  I told him that I have very important and personal thing to say. He kept a straight face thinking that it’s a new crush of mine at college that I wanted to tell him. (I faked having crushes on girls during college so that my friends think I’m straight).

After a deep breath, I told him I was gay. He was indeed surprised as I could see that on his face and he didn’t speak. Then something in my head told me to tell him that it’s ok for him to not be my friend after this and I will respect that. I

Suresh with his bestie

also told him that it was really nice knowing you and please keep this with him. I rattled all of this and didn’t wait for him to respond. I just left for my room. The coming days I avoided to have a conversation with him. After classes I just went back to my room. After 3 days, I remember, he barged into my room. He then said which I still remember very clearly, I don’t care who you like, but never ever again say that we will not be friends. I was clearly taken aback. He seemed hurt and sad by the fact that I told him to end the friendship. He explained to me as well, that everyone have their choices, like some guys like skinny girls or girls who have more flesh or girls with long hair or big boobs and all. We don’t break friendships with people who like different things. What if you like a guy? I’m fine with that. Those last words just melted me and I fell in love with him for accepting me who I am. He later hugged me and held me for a while longer than usual. That hug was the hug of acceptance, love, respect and everlasting friendship.

colleagues

My colleagues at work with whom I joined and we became friends. During my working days, I was pretty much gay during the weekends and in weekdays, I constantly made sure that I hid my gayness thinking it shouldn’t affect my career. I was living a dual life which was frustrating but was very much required. It so happened that even my colleagues who became my friends didn’t know about this. They used to crack gay jokes during dinner or over drinks and I couldn’t tell them anything, just had to laugh along outwards but inwards was feeling very bad. This hiding continued for a couple of years and then one day I decided that during the New Year’s Eve of 2006 I will let my friends know. When the day arrived, I was still thinking should I tell or not. But after a stiff drink of vodka, I got the courage to tell them. An hour after midnight, I broke the news to them letting them know that I was gay. In this group of friends, 2 were girls and when I told them they smiled, while the 2 guys were a bit surprised and upset. This kind of got me worried. The girls were all thrilled and very happy for me. They mentioned that they always knew that something was different about me which they were absolutely fine with that. They were also very proud that I took such a bold step to be who I am and live my life. When I spoke to the guys, one of them mentioned that he was very upset that I didn’t tell him who I really was. I was shocked. Then he went on to say that I didn’t consider anyone to be my best friend and that’s why I didn’t share this information all this while. All this time they considered me to be their best friend as they shared all their secrets (good, bad and ugly). They felt bad about it, but when I explained to them, they understood why I was quiet about it. After that we celebrated New Year’s again and this time it was for me. A lot of hugging and kissing on my cheeks happened. It was one of my best new year’s in a really long time.

Coming Out to My Parents:

This I think would be the most difficult but the most required stories to tell. By the time I came out to my parents, I was very comfortable with my sexuality, but didn’t have the heart to tell my parents that I was gay. Around 4 years before coming out, my parents had started seeing girls for me thinking it will take time to find the right match for me. During those days, I used to tell my mom that I don’t want to get married. They thought that I didn’t want to get married as I didn’t want to be a responsible guy. My close friends started getting married and this added more pressure to my parents to get me married sooner. But another interesting part during the match making was that my horoscope was not matching with the girls. Due to this I was even more convinced that I wouldn’t need to tell them as I won’t get married. Mentioned this to mom that even god didn’t want me to get married and hence all this is happening. They said that there is a girl in someplace in this earth who is born and waiting for you. I secretly hoping for it to be a guy. I was seeing my parents getting worried about this whole thing. I spoke to my girlfriends who were married, asking their opinion, if it will be right to get married to a girl for my parent’s sake just in case they find a girl. Those were some of the most interesting and heart to heart conversations I’ve had with a girl about everything about a marriage. I then made a very firm decision that I will never get married to a girl and spoil her life for the sake of parents or family or relatives or society.  I also asked my guy friends. They said if you can get married to a girl then go for it as you don’t need to make your parents feel sad and bad. What if something happens to them and you will feel guilty all your life. This also made sense. Making parents proud was one of the key elements that is being instilled in our lives from a very young age. So again I was going through a lot of turmoil which was affecting all aspects of my life. But the fact of cheating a girl is not the right thing to do was always in the back of my mind. Then finally the day that I dreaded came, when my parents told me that they have found a girl whose horoscope matched with mine. They were relieved that their second son’s marriage will happen soon. I was too stunned and shocked to hear that. Later that day I thought and thought of every possible situation that I could think of, the good, the bad and the ugliest.

Suresh with his parents

Then I made my choice and the next day, I called my parents into my room and told them I will not marry. When they asked me why, I said, I’m gay. My dad was like, what’s gay? My heart sank even more thinking how naive my parents are and it will take a long time for them to even understand who I truly and. The next couple of hours were really difficult, as I had to explain to them about many things. Emotions were all over. Parents were angry, sobbing, upset and shocked. All this while, I maintained my composure but at times cried as I couldn’t see my parents cry because of me. I had also decided not to give in to their emotional blackmail, instead tried reverse psychology. I told them, they taught me to be truthful and honest which I’m being honest now. I told them that I will not be happy if I get married to a girl as I can’t love a girl. I even said, if they want me to get married which will make them happy, I will get married. But I won’t be happy one bit in that. That shocked them even more as they said they wanted me to be happy. A lot of a conversations happened for which my parents didn’t have an answer as they were all valid and logical questions. During all this drama (that’s what I think of it as now), I felt relieved, and a heavy weight let off, unburdening of something. I felt light, very happy and proud that I could tell all of this to my parents. I was screaming inside with joy and happiness.