There is never a single defining moment when you “Come out of the closet”. It’s a journey which starts with self-realization and self-exploration.
So, my story goes something like this, I always knew I was different. I could never conform to the typical stereotype of masculinity, which society rubs on our face without any qualms. In my school days, I was always a quiet chap who preferred reading Enid Blyton than playing soccer. I was more interested in languages and poetry. Art and craft attracted me more than a cricket match. So, from what I can re-collect, it was always an enigma which later translated into self-doubt as to why I do not relate with most guys. What makes me different?
As I grew older, that feeling of disconnect simply kept growing. Childhood can be unforgiving as bullying is something which comes pretty easy, especially when you are different. I became more and more of a loner. I diverted all my attention to just studies as a defense mechanism. Even though I did fairly well in academics, I was not really happy in the true sense. There was this perpetually increasing feeling of being an outcast. And this dates to a decade where there were no apps or social media to connect with people who were like me. So, there was sheer loneliness.
And then came adolescence which is an inner emotional upheaval by default. I found it very strange and confusing to see other boys of my school go all gaga and starry-eyed over girls. However, I never felt any attraction for girls. That time I was not aware that terms such as “homosexuality” or “gay” exist. But a new thing started happening then, which was not a quantum less than a nightmare, and that was the fact that I had started noticing a cute guy in my class. I would blush (which was a shocker then) whenever I had a conversation with him for class assignments. And this marked the onset of my self-exploration. I started researching about this behavior pattern with the limited resources I had then. There used to be no smartphones at that time. I remember going to cyber cafe to browse content related to this behavior and that’s how I became familiar with the nomenclature.
For obvious reasons, I could not find much positive content related to homosexuality in the Indian context. I got into self-denial mode and that initiated my dual life. So, I lived in two worlds. There was this heteronormative world where I had to act straight and then, there was the world I belonged to, but wanted to deny. It’s not easy to fake and it did take a toll on my mind and personality. The two worlds indeed intersected at times and that was nothing less than an “end-of-world” feeling.
Transition from school to college had its own blemishes to carve on my young mind. When you are at home, you are in a very protected sequestered environment. However, when you are in a hostel, things change. That’s the age of sexist jokes and jibes. Unfortunately, homosexuality is used the most for caricature. When you are in a setup which is completely homophobic and there are no similar voices around, it impacts your peace of mind. I was becoming vulnerable and insecure with each passing day. Though I was coming close to accepting my sexuality, the unbecoming need to always wear a facade was growing. Imagine the plight to fake smile at a joke which unintentionally demeans and derogates my identity. I was getting anxious and the angst was growing manyfold.
The inability to relate to your peers and the colossal weight of the “straight” facade to carry, drove me to a dark tunnel where there was not a single ray of light.
Though I was managing my studies well, I dripped into clinical depression and was into anti-depressants. Depression was a major blow to everything, but it did one positive thing. When you are at such a low point, you tend to loose all your inhibitions.
I came to terms with my sexuality and made peace with it. That was my coming out to myself.
At that time, there was this best friend of mine who was very supportive. He was the first person I came out to. He is my strongest straight ally. I really appreciate the fact that he never feared being tagged as gay because of his close friendship with me.
Time flew, and I completed my education and started my career with SAP. With passing time, I started exploring the community. I was pretty much satisfied with my career. On the personal front, I started meeting people from the community, with lots of reluctance and hesitation. With time, the topic of marriage started popping up at home. My parents wanted me to meet prospects, but I was very clear that I don’t want to live a fake dual life, nor I want to ruin a girl’s life just for the heck of society. When family pressure for marriage became too much, I came out to my parents. Obviously, it was a total shocker for them. My dad almost became insomniac and avoided any discussion initially. But my mom tried her best to understand me. During this tough time, there was this close friend of mine who acted like a shield. Even though we were in different cities, he ensured that he was with me at every moment. Without him, I would have never come out to my parents. He personifies friendship in the true sense. After initial struggles, my parents understood me and tried their best to make peace with it. It’s a new journey for them as well. I feel I am lucky to be blessed with such understanding parents. After parents, I started coming out to my close friends and colleagues. The leadership of my organization was very supportive and that was a big motivation. With acceptance coming my way, I felt better, and it boosted my confidence. As they say, it always takes some bad experiences to finally meet the love of your life. The same happened with me. I found my love in the most unexpected way. Since then, there was no looking back. With him, each moment is sheer celebration. He understands me the way no one ever can.
From the workplace perspective, SAP Diversity & Inclusion team is working actively to create awareness and sensitization around this topic. A lot of work is happening to ensure that SAP workplace is unbiased and does not discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. SAP is offering medical benefit for samesex partners. There is an Ally@SAP group which not only drives initiatives for the community but also acts like a support system wherever needed. The Ally Group provides a private space where people from the community can freely express themselves without their identity being revealed. SAP also has gender neutral restrooms to cater to the diverse gender identity. I am proud to be part of an organization like SAP whose core sentiment lies in the celebration of diversity. I am trying to do my bit for the community together with SAP Diversity & Inclusion team and I am sure that we will accomplish our vision of diversity and inclusion.
With the scrapping of Section 377, a new era has begun for my community. I am glad that India has finally embraced the rainbow with all its colors. I am optimistic about future that gay marriage would be legalized, and I would walk down the aisle with my partner in my own country. We wish that there would be adoption rights soon for gay couples. We both love kids and they would make our family complete. Let’s strive towards creating a better world where people like me would not have to go through tough times because of their sexual orientation.
Teenage kids generally have a hard time coming out to their parents. I came out to my teenage kids. I had come out to my parents almost 20 years earlier. My coming out story is a bit tortuous, not unlike those of many gay men of my generation.
Born in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu at the very end of the flower power 60s, I had my sexual awakening in the early 80s as a teen. I was in an all-boys school and my first sexual experience was a blow job at my home from a classmate who clearly knew what he was doing. Initially I wrote it off as just serving my sexual needs with what I could get. But then we kept meeting at each other’s homes when our parents were out. We would sit so close next to each other in class on those old fashioned benches so that as much of our bodies could touch each other. We even began to share items of clothing.
Don Johnson of ‘Miami Vice’ fame has the dubious honor of witnessing my first hand job orgasm from the cover of a magazine. It was the time when the world first started speaking of AIDS. I remember reading an article in Newsweek about the “gay epidemic” and being extremely worried if I was going to get it. Daytime fantasy was drawing pictures of naked muscle guys making out, while my dream was to marry a woman and have kids. Even then, I never thought of myself as a homosexual. But there was something bothering me in the back of my head.
So when I got the opportunity, I switched to a co-ed school after my 10th grade. I never talked to my parents about changing schools, I just announced it to them, when I got admitted. My dad was convinced I had moved schools for a girl. I was popular in high school both with the guys and the girls and I flirted with several of them. I was a topper in academics but that didn’t stop me from flirting with the younger lady teachers either. I was always obsessed with the male body, especially a muscled one. I was convinced that the male body is the most beautiful thing on earth, perhaps I still am. I would read everything about bodybuilding that I could lay my hands on. But in those days there were no proper gyms to go to. So I convinced my parents to buy me one of those pneumatic “Bull workers” and I trained in my bedroom.
Undergraduate Engineering College, PSG Tech in Coimbatore was when I started having proper girlfriends. These relationships filled my heart, but something still felt not quite right. One afternoon stands with guys continued. I’ve always been a romantic and sometimes I would fall madly in puppy love with some of them. One time, when I as in my final year of college, an hour of flirting lead to making love to a classmate of mine in his dorm room. He seemed completely into me and he spoke that evening about how we had lost all this time and how we could both have girlfriends as fronts, while we would be lovers. But the next morning at college he pretended that the previous night didn’t happen. This was the time I started to seriously question my sexuality but I still wasn’t sure. Isn’t a gay guy supposed to be effeminate and talk and walk funny? How could a masculine guy like me, be gay? And probably for that reason, my sexuality didn’t worry me. “Moi? I couldn’t be gay”.
Going to the US for Graduate school in 1991, clarified things. Philadelphia was reasonably gay friendly even then and the University of Pennsylvania which I went to had a very liberal air about it. It was still the pre internet days but gay erotica and movies which didn’t exist In India shaped my imagination and struck a chord. Even in those pre Grindr days, hook ups like in gym toilets weren’t hard to come by and with them I realized more and more that I definitely preferred guys to girls. After a year, I finally found the balls to attend an LGBT club meet in my university (thinking back I wonder what took me so long) which lead me to my first gay bar experience. I woke up in someone else’s bed the next morning. Suddenly I had a circle of supportive gay friends, an adopted family who accepted my gay side. Gay bar visits became twice a week. I felt liberated.
And then I met my first boyfriend. He went to Law School and was the all American guy. I like men on the shorter side; I prefer their proportions. He was intelligent, articulate, funny and kind. It was love at first sight. We both lost the group of friends we came with and ended up at his home, which I never left for the next 9 months. He introduced me to his friends the next morning and I was immediately assimilated in. His parents lived in New England and they seemed to accept our relationship.
That’s when I decided to come out to my family. I started with my oldest brother, older by 9 years, but he just did not want to discuss it any further with me. When I visited India next, I told my mom and dad. They were obviously very surprised and totally ignorant of my “condition”, not knowing if it was just a phase or a permanent abnormality. But things never became dramatic like being asked to get out of the house. The only comment that is still etched into my skull was from my dad “You are going to be just passed on from man to man”. That disgusted me. I wasn’t the kind of guy who would be ‘passed on’. But I figured this is how most of the world would view a gay man – helpless, weak, and unmanly. None of which I could ever be, because nature had designed me to be confident, proud and even aggressive at times. At the end of that visit, when my parents came to see me off at the airport, my dad broke down. He truly believed it was probably the last time he would see me. He said he had one request: Not to live with my boyfriend in the same apartment. I couldn’t say no to him, seeing him in the state he was.
When I went back to Philadelphia, I told my boyfriend I was moving out. He was understandably very upset. He told me he had been warned about this by his Asian girlfriend – that for an Asian, the family can be very influential and be a deciding factor in determining an individual’s course of action. He was doubtful about the future of our“ relationship and wanted to break up. I was angry at being judged and I didn’t do much to reconcile the relationship. It was a pity and I’ve always felt bad about walking out on him, especially given all that he’d done for me.
Being alone, I had time to think about things. I asked myself if I was going to be happy as an openly gay man. I wanted a “normal” life – get married (to a guy would be preferable), have kids, be a successful entrepreneur, go out in nature that I loved and ride my motorcycle. There were no successful gay role models in the early 90s, even in the western world. No Tim Cook, no Ricky Martin, no Gareth Thomas. Same sex marriage was almost unthinkable those days, even in the US. I didn’t want to be a loser; I didn’t want to sacrifice my dreams just because of my sexuality. It didn’t seem worth it. I had no neutral person to advise me. So I decided to renounce that part of me and get married to a woman. A beautiful woman who I had known since Kindergarten.
While my now ex-wife and I had been friends for a long time, marriage never occurred to us until her parents suggested it. It took a little time for me to see it possible to think of her as a partner rather than as a friend. When I did decide to get married to her, I wanted it for life. I am a monogamous guy by nature and I like to put everything into the relationship with my partner. And that’s how our married life started in the US. We were best of friends and lovers. We couldn’t be separated. We did everything together for 15 years. Life was a dream. We moved back to India. Two beautiful and intelligent kids followed. A beautiful home. We were the perfect couple in the eyes of society. I couldn’t imagine a life without her. I had no extra marital affairs, no one fighters. I was a doting and faithful husband. It’s not that I never longed to make love to a man. I dreamed of licking that portion of a guy’s neck that is just below his buzzed hairline, my favorite part of a man’s body or get a beard burn from kissing him. I would speak about it to my ex but it was all fun and games and she took it very sportingly. I was honest with her always. She knew about my past pretty much from day one. I kept my mind busy with my work and my hobbies. My mountaineering and skiing sojourns. My marathons around the world. The Ironman. Life went from one goal (business and personal) to another. We both couldn’t have been happier.
Things suddenly changed in my late 30s. I was in Singapore in a mall. I saw this younger guy come down an escalator. He must have seen me looking at him. He caught up with me and told me he was a tourist and asked me if I could help him find a pharmacy. I knew this was a ruse. My gay street smartness may have been a little rusty, but I know a male to male call when I see one. And he was a handsome Latino. I have something for Latinos since my Philadelphia days. Their passion is juicy and free flowing. They know how to arouse me with just the way they touch me even if it was with the tip of their little finger. It’s like I can speak to them with my eyes and skin, even if I didn’t know a word of their language. I invited him for a drink leading to a night together that made me feel like a new person. He had his flight the next day and we never saw each other again.
I am an outspokenly honest guy, and I told my ex (wife at that time) about the incident. Things between her and me went south from there. Not because I told her, but because the incident changed something in me. She could sense it in my physical relationship with her and this put stress on me in bed, throwing our relationship into a fast deteriorating cycle. After a couple of years, we asked ourselves if we were happy going about our lives like this. We had many years in front of us. We took time over coming to a decision and the decision was to go our own ways. To be honest, I never imagined a life outside of my marriage with her, even if I has sexual cravings outside of it. Neither did I intend on having affairs. Love goes beyond sex. What if I were married to a guy and all of a sudden he couldn’t have sex for some reason. Would I leave him for that? No, I wouldn’t. Would I have a sexual relationship with a third person? No, I wouldn’t. This is just how I’m wired. In other words, I wouldn’t have broken my marriage unilaterally. But when we both felt this was the way out, the path ahead was clear.
When we decided that our life from now was not meant to be together, we also set ourselves free to find other people. I met my partner and now fiance on a rainy November day in Madrid. And he being Latin, our eyes and skin spoke to each other from the first minute. We were very intensely physically attracted to each other and we spent a weekend of passion. Even though we both knew my flight was at the crack of dawn on Monday, we hoped that there would be more to us, than just a weekend of sex. I changed my travel plans and came back to see him. And that’s when the romance started. We found we wanted the same things in life, while at the same time our interests lay in different areas. He is an architect by qualification and very passionate and knowledgeable about music, literature and fashion, so much so that I feel like a country bumpkin when he starts talking about these subjects. In these five years we’ve never gotten bored of each other. I love to grow and evolve with time and see my partner do the same. And if the two people can accept and adopt to these changes as they continue to create memories together, it makes for an unbreakable partnership.
My ex-wife and I both felt that the only persons we needed to consider in our process of separation and be sensitive to were our kids. Definitely not society and not so much even our parents and siblings. We planned the timing of when best to tell our kids, making sure it didn’t affect their school lives. And so I came out to my kids in the presence of my then wife. The message literally was “I’m gay. Your mum and I are going to get divorced. And I have a boyfriend” . That’s like 3 bolts striking you out of the blue. And there’s no way to pad it. I just paused between each bolt, stupidly hoping a few seconds in-between could help. But the kids seemed to take it amazingly well. Luckily they were old enough and by then independent enough, having been in boarding school. It might not have affected their day to day life, as they lived in different countries but naturally one’s parents breaking up is definitely not a nice thing to happen to anyone. The only solace comes from the fact that it could be worse if the parents continued to live together and fight with each other every day, making home life a living hell. It’s not about if they will not be scarred either way, it’s about which wound is less deep. My daughter said she wanted to meet my boyfriend. My son asked me questions about him. And they both met him shortly after. I feel so blessed to have kids like them for accepting me unconditionally. It’s incredible, this new generation. I find myself learning values from my kids.
Next came our parents. My ex decided to tell her parents by herself and I met them a few days later. It was a huge jolt for them but they dealt with it a civilized way with no drama. There were no desperate attempts to try and keep us together like some parents would have. They seemed to know that it would be futile. But I could sense a need in them to ‘avenge’ their daughter. While things went fine with my ex at the time we planned our separation and divorce, I guess the gravity of what happened took a while to hit her. It turned out to be more painful and emotional than we thought it would.
I stopped being close to my parents from the time I came out to them in my early 20s. I didn’t keep them informed about everything. Just that we were separated. I only told them I was getting divorced on the day we filed for it. My first reaction from my mum was “I hope you are not going to marry your boyfriend”. In the meantime, I had moved to Bangalore where I started my new Business, ZAGO an Urban Lifestyle Beverages Company and set up home with my boyfriend who would spend a couple of months with me at a time, living between Bangalore and Madrid. After a few months my mother called me in Bangalore and said she felt bad about losing me and that as my mother her love for me is unconditional. She said “I love you and therefore I love your boyfriend too”. She met with him and they hit it off. She told him, “You know what. I like you. And I think you can take care of my difficult son”. Ever since she’s been in touch with him. My 90 year old dad needed his own time. In the beginning it was “Why would I want to meet someone who destroyed our family”. And then it was “Sorry I was too harsh in my choice of words”. And finally it was “You know I really like how you’ve gone about things and I respect you for that”. My dad and I never hug. But I hugged him that day. And he hugged me back tighter.
One of my brothers on the other hand has been totally unaccepting “Well I know you are gay and stuff, but do you need to live with a guy” to “You are ruining your children’s lives”. My other brother seems a little more accepting and has visited me and my boyfriend’s home a few times. I have to say my coming out has had my family, my parents and my siblings taking a lot of shit from society. People would make caustic remarks. They stopped calling them. Stopped sending them New Year greetings that they had done for years. They lost a lot of ‘friends’ too. But they never took it out on me and I truly respect and admire them for that.
My boyfriend was born in Cuba. Most of his family moved to Miami. He decided he preferred Spain and moved there when he was in his early 20s. I was the first boyfriend he introduced to his parents. And today his whole family including his sisters, their husbands, the grand kids and the great grand kids (his sisters are much older to him!) accept the Indian as one of them in their very Cuban family.
Once I came out to my family, I only chose to tell a very few close friends of mine. I wanted it to just trickle down to the others in a gradual process through word of mouth and through my social media posts. Some of them couldn’t catch the not so subtle posts. One of them even asked me “So who is this guy who is there in so many of your posts as if he were your spouse!” But with my friends, it’s been overall positive. They are all mostly in their 40s and 30s. My school friends, my college mates, my Motorcycle buddies many of them have been accepting and several of them have told me how much they admire what I’ve done. I have more ‘true’ friends now than before, people who I know will be there for me through thick and thin. These new friendships or the old ones that have been rejuvenated since my coming out more than make up for all ‘fake’ ones that I lost. And I’m out at work too. It does help that it’s my own Company! The only people I feel let down by is the Coimbatore society most of whom to this day treat me like a social pariah.
I come from a privileged position in society with a certain economic independence. I feel thankful for my position as well as for the countless people who have fought for LGBT rights that allow me to lead the openly gay life I lead now. I want to give back in some way and this is an ongoing exercise. I used social media as a PR and communication tool. Firstly to come out to friends and acquaintances in a more efficient way and not to put them in an embarrassing position, not knowing how to react when I announce to them, my sexuality. Secondly, to show them how gay people lead their lives and that they share the same challenges and joys like straight people. Thirdly to give other closeted gay people hope that there are viable options to living depressed or committing suicide. And lastly to communicate to the people back in Coimbatore that I did not ‘run away’ from their town and that I am a proud openly gay man, living life on my terms.Even if my posts help one person’s life, I would be satisfied.
As I write this, the Indian Supreme Court has ruled for decriminalizing “unnatural “sex in the IPC 377. I went about the whole day of 6th of September, 2018 with a lump in my throat. Like any life changing event, today’s Supreme Court verdict takes time to sink in. After years of being the subject of ignorance and ridicule, it’s gratifying to be not just given dignity but also compassion for what LGBT people in this country have gone through. When you have suffered long, you become numb but when a loving hand comforts you, you just breakdown. The Supreme Court has not just been a Bearer of Justice. It has been my mother, father, sibling and friend all rolled into one, by not just accepting me but even understanding my pain. The day my country accepted me (at least legally) was every bit as emotional as the day my mother accepted who I am.
One could wonder what this ruling does for the Urban Queer in India who has been going about her love life fairly unhindered. I think the legality that the Supreme Court’s ruling gives to the community also validates that we are not a bunch of perverted freaks with a mental disorder and the we deserve the same rights as other citizens. The ruling sends a strong message to people like my brother who think it’s wrong for me to live with a guy, to my “friends” from Coimbatore and those of my parents’ who turned their backs on us, to Bollywood, to school bullies, to work colleagues, to the rural masses and even to our political parties. It has planted the seed of change in their heads that we hope will eventually reach their hearts as well. It has signaled that they need to update their “values”. I can now kiss my man at the airport and tell business colleagues what I did with him over the weekend (minus the naughty bits). And such “normalization” of our lives will hopefully help the society at large to understand us better.
The most important words that have influenced my life were those of my daughter’s Head Master at her High School Graduation. They have helped shape my life since. He said
“In life you will face situations occasionally where you have to choose between two paths. One will appear to be the easy path to follow and the other will seem to be the right path to take. Always choose the right path because that’s eventually going to be the path to happiness.”
When I had an opportunity to choose which path to take in my early 20s, I took the easy path. But when I was given the opportunity again later in life, I decided to take the right path. I could have taken the easy path again and still been a sexually promiscuous and closeted ‘straight’ husband but I chose to take the right path and come out.
My life though has been turned upside down, since. It’s been harder, lacking the comforts and security I was used to, but I don’t miss them anymore. The sacrifices have been more than worth it. Many times I felt all alone on this transformational journey that’s almost taken a decade. Until a couple of years ago, things were often times very dark and depressing. There was no one I could talk too. My boyfriend who had spent most of his adult life in Spain was having his own issues dealing with India and its unique culture, for the time that he spent in the sub-continent. The geographic distance that was there between us at the other times was a test of the strength of our relationship. Depression and suicidal tendencies are common among gay people until they get comfortable about themselves and have a support group of friends and family around them. There have been several occasions when I felt that I was done with the world and perhaps even that the world would be a better place for my family without me. I did my research and figured out the best way to go. But I had a passionate dream of how I wanted to forge my new life and I wasn’t going to give up the struggle for this dream so easily. I took one day at a time, purged the negativity from my system and just focused on my dream. My boyfriend and I stood for each other through thick and thin throughout the whole process of transforming our lives. He accepted the baggage I came with. I couldn’t have made it without him. And I knew I was taking the right path, however hard it seemed.
Today, I can sleep well with a clean conscience, holding my man. There is no better luxury in life than a good night’s sleep.
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.
It had been a year of bullying and harassment at the workplace and the jibes were only increasing with every passing day. There were days when I would just smile and ignore the conversation. Sometimes, I would laugh at the hilariousness of the situation. And on others, I would just seethe with anger.
It so happened that I joined an organization and became part of a large team led by millennials. The culture was fun and the team’s umbilical cords were thicker than ever. And then I met this colleague of mine, who happened to hail from the same state as me. All hell broke loose when he expressed his interest openly and I declined the offer. So over the next half year, the Team’s Leader, a CXO level profile, started taking jibes at my being single. He felt that we would make a great pair, this colleague of mine and me & as the team’s eldest leader, he was duty bound to ensure that we get together.
As the situation started to turn messy, I requested for a HR intervention and the relevant people got this message loud and clear. But my troubles were far from gone; this colleague of mine started invoking sympathy in team connects and offline conversations. Somehow I was always the object of attention in all chai parties. And why not….I was the one who had said no and he was heartbroken!!
At some point in time, he addressed me as a lesbian in a team meeting and the ‘joke’ lingered on. Thereafter my name was conveniently forgotten and I was only addressed with the L word by all the men who were common friends with both of us. So here I was, a young 29 year heterosexual woman, trying to make an honest living out of my day job but being tagged as a lesbian because I had rejected someone’s advances……….and then one day this person did the unthinkable.
On a bright Monday morning, we were all told that he would be leaving the organization for greener pastures. As we all congratulated him one by one, he expressed his interest to discuss the offer letter with me, in private. We walked into a conference room and I reviewed the terms and conditions earnestly. I was sharing some pointers with him when all of a sudden, he offered me a print out of his CTC sheet and said, “No man who will earn this much, will even take a second look at you. Would you like to reconsider saying yes to me?”
I looked outside from the glass door. My entire team was seated bang opposite to the conference room …and in that moment, I made my decision. I walked out with the CTC letter in my hand, clapped loudly for convening people to my desk and literally forced them to get off from their telecom conferences. My colleagues thought that I was falling ill but my blood shot eyes gave my intentions away. Brandishing the offer letter in the air, I asked my supervisor who was a very senior woman leader in the organization, “Will you give away your daughter’s hand in marriage to a man who calls her a Lesbian on one day and pushes his CTC letter on her face, the second day?”
Pin drop silence ensued because different teams co- occupying the space began to move in from their workstations. The conversation seemed very charged up and I was being loud enough for people to understand that I would not be cowered any more. My supervisor got the message and firmly asked my colleague to back off. After a few minutes, the team went back to their work and I walked back to my desk too.
A few weeks later, this colleague of mine, left the organization, after serving the notice period. And the team started getting back into the habit of addressing me with my name. But the incident left a deep mark on me. Proactively I switched gears and moved from a compliance role to being a D&I professional; as I could not stand being part of the same team anymore.
Post my transition into the new team, within the same organization, I had the opportunity to share my experience with another team member who was anchoring the LGBT+ charter for us. We had a very detailed conversation and his first response is still etched in my memory, “So why did you allow it to happen? Why did you never object?” And from there on, this member of the LGBT+ community who was out in the organization, became my biggest pillar of support. He made it a point to counsel some of old team members and reassured me that I would be very safe in the new team. Had it not been for him, I would have always lived with fear that the ghost of that incident would continue to torment me, if those common friends decided to revisit the agenda, some day.
As I reach the end of sharing my story of becoming a LGBT+ Ally, I can’t help but reflect on how important this conversation is at the workplace and in the societies that we live in. As allies, it is our responsibility and duty to stand up for diverse minorities who may not be able to voice their concerns. It is only by mitigating exclusion, can we create a world that is meaningfully inclusive for everyone.
It has been many moons since that incident and in all my roles, I have ensured that the LGBT+ conversations are elevated in the D&I charter. To the community members who are closeted and the ones who are not, to the allies who are ridiculed for supporting the charter and bullied by stigma of association, to Workplaces that uphold the values of Inclusion, I quote Jean de La Fontaine, “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”
The 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.
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.
“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 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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: “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.
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.
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.
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.
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.