This piece is part two of a series we’re hoping to run regularly. The objective? To sustain the conversation about LGBT rights and equality, while simultaneously giving India’s LGBT youth a platform to make their voices heard.
Coming out and identifying as anything other than heterosexual is always a challenge, no matter where you live. But it’s something that needs to happen. Diversity is a beautiful thing, and to make people feel excluded for something they have no control over is not only wrong, but also ignorant—it speaks volumes about us as a society. In these times of rising intolerance across various aspects of life in India, it’s important that we sustain the dialogue around diversity, and the spectrum of sexuality needs to be included in it regardless of how uncomfortable it makes some feel.
Globally, eight out of ten teenage suicides are LGBT youth: we’re at risk of losing an entire generation of beautiful, talented, individuals who feel alienated because they’re taught that being different is wrong. But it’s not—and it shouldn’t be. Most people are unaware that it’s not only external homophobia that keeps many LGBT individuals in the closet, but a deep sense of internal homophobia too.
As you read this, there are probably hundreds (maybe even thousands) of LGBT individuals in India sitting at their computers, Googling everything from ‘is it wrong to be gay’ to ‘how do I come out to my parents’. They’re searching for answers, answers to questions they’re too afraid to ask out loud.
But before we can have people coming out of the closet, it’s important to realise that we have to first bring the conversation out of the closet. And the best way to do it is to talk about it. So, we got 15 young, brave LGBT Indians to share their coming out stories in the hope that somehow, somewhere, that one young LGBT kid contemplating suicide sits up and realises that he (or she) is not alone and finds the courage to stand up and live life the only way it should be lived: out and proud.
If you’d like to share your coming out story for the next installment, scroll down to the bottom of the article for details.
I. Anisha | 27, Co-founder and Producer at a digital media company
The one thing I’ve always known is that I’m not straight. When I was young, I had crushes on boys as well as girls, but since I didn’t know what being bisexual or a lesbian meant, I thought this happened to everyone. As I grew up, I had confusing brushes with sexuality: my first kiss was with a woman, but my longest, most meaningful relationship was with a man. It took me a long time, lots of trial and error, and definitely pain—both to me and to others. Four years ago, I finally decided that it was time to accept something I’d suspected for a while, but had been too nervous to accept. I’d never said I was straight, but the word, ‘lesbian,’ was alien to me.
I began to read. I researched types of lesbians, from butch to femme, soft femme and lipstick lesbian. I had no idea where I fit. Then, I wrote down in a book: ‘Type: Myself (?)’ I read up on our icons, and watched The L Word (our rite of passage). I emailed Gaysi and asked them if there was a community, a place where I could go meet other women like me. Slowly but surely, I began to peek out from under my rock and began exploring the community.
For a long time, I said I’d never write a post like this. “It’s not important. Not everyone needs to know because this is not the main part of my identity.” I was wrong. It may not be the biggest part of me, but it is so important. At a time when I am classified as a criminal in the country I have spent almost my entire life in, one that I have loved without a fault—but one I am now slowly losing faith in—it is important. Where I come from is as much a part of me as who I choose to love, and it’s very difficult to face the reality that the two can’t coexist just yet.
Who I choose to love hasn’t changed anything about me. I still burst into Govinda songs and swear like a sailor. I drink beer and love to cook. I squish my cat and cry at anything LGBT-related on the Internet (especially that New Zealand Parliament video, it gets me every time).
The journey has been amazing, and if I had to condense it into one sentence, I’d say this: life doesn’t change. I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who don’t view my sexuality as the basis of our friendship. I am slowly, but surely, trying to come out to my family. I came out to my mum last year, and she took it much better than I’d ever expected. We’ve begun to integrate it into our everyday conversations, and these baby steps are some of the most overwhelming moments we’ve ever shared. I consider myself blessed to have had a relatively easy time of being someone who’s getting comfortable with being out, and proud. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me.
II. Anonymous | 22, International Relations and Economics student
I had a lot of girlfriends growing up (even more than my straight friends), but I knew something wasn’t entirely right. When I left India and went to Glasgow to study, it all started coming to the surface. I would lock myself up in my room and not leave for days at a time because I couldn’t handle this new level of self-awareness I was experiencing. I smoked a lot of pot and drank way too much alcohol just to keep my mind off it enough for me to be able to sleep again.
I had a little group of close friends at university. One of them, David, is Syrian. One day, he came out to all of us and told us that the reason he moved to Glasgow was because he had met this guy online and they had been in an online relationship for three years.
He told us about his orthodox family back in Syria, and how they would kill him if they found out—he still lies to them, to this day. In my head, things started turning around. I thought: If someone from his background can come to terms with it, why can’t I? One day during our exams, I was sleeping over at his place and I decided to come out to him. I was shaking the entire time.
He urged me to tell our other friends. I eventually told a girl from the group and the three of us went to a gay club called Polo to celebrate my coming out. It was awkward, but thrilling. Guys were hitting on me and I had no idea how to react because I was so nervous. Two months later, I realised I couldn’t live like this anymore—I couldn’t live a double life. So, I sat the rest of my friends down and told them.
Over that summer, I came back to Mumbai and told all my friends one by one. They thought I was joking: “You? Gay? Nah!”
I went back to university (this time in London) and began experimenting. One day I was Skyping with my mom and I told her that I needed to text her something—I didn’t have it in me to tell her over Skype. So I texted her and told her. She still thinks it’s a phase. Before she met my boyfriend this past summer, she asked me what his mom’s name is. When I said “Rosita,” she said: “If his mother’s name has Sita in it, I’m sure the boy will be nice.”
I never got along with my dad. One day I cracked and said, “You’re never around. I need to talk to you.” Within the week, he was in London. Over drinks, I told him. He said, “Life is only worth living if you’re happy. Don’t do anything you don’t want to.” My attitude towards him changed from that day. Earlier I thought he’d never understand because he was never around. My love for him increased ten-fold. I went back home over the summer and my brother was the only one left to tell. I took him to Pizzeria and told him—he was offended I didn’t tell him earlier.
I’ve only gotten an adverse reaction once: last week, actually. I was in Turkey with my cousins and my friends for a friend’s bachelor party. We went to a gay club—it was apparently the only happening place in Istanbul on a Monday night. My cousin got hit on by a man and said, “This place is so disgusting.” I asked him if he’s ever hit on a girl and she didn’t like it. He didn’t understand that it was the same. He started ranting. So I came out to him right then and there. I tore into him and said that there’s no point travelling the world and being educated if he’s going to be so close-minded. Two hours later he gave me a hug and a kiss, “I’m sorry, I hate the fact that I found out like this. There’s a lot that I need to learn and I’m supportive of whatever you do in life as long as you’re happy,” he said.
I’ve told a lot of people over the years. But the process never stops—you’re constantly coming out. But it changes. Now, it’s no longer about long conversations. Now it’s more like: “This is my boyfriend.”
III. Saahil | 22, Digital writer and Freelancer
As a student of Psychology, I was taught that researchers had found two contradicting views on homosexuality: the first argued that a person was born homosexual, since the hypothalamus of homosexuals is different from that of heterosexuals. The other (which was rather absurd, but I couldn’t argue) stated that sexual abuse was the sole reason behind homosexuality. Till date, I can’t say I’m sure which one is right.
I didn’t come out to anyone till I was 19, but I always knew I was different from other boys. During my childhood, I was rather feminine: I loved playing with the dupatta and putting on my mother’s makeup. My classmates would call me a chakka—if only someone could tell them that an effeminate man is different from a transgender. I could only relate to girls. I never participated in sports or any ‘boyish’ activities. “I am different, no one is like me,” was the constant self-talk I used to indulge in.
One night, when I was 12, I lay in bed after having pranked my youngest uncle with a flirty slip from Priyanka Chopra (my uncle and Priyanka had a history in high school). Soon after, I felt a hand running over my waist. “It’s just your imagination Saahil. Go to sleep,” I told myself. Then, I felt a bulge near my arse. My uncle turned me towards him and shoved my hand onto his junk. “Like it?” he asked unabashedly. I didn’t know what I was getting into—but I remember that it felt nice, initially. I started feeling his body—his moderately hairy, but sexy chest. I was only beginning to enjoy it when all hell broke loose. What followed was an hour filled with pain and pleads of mercy to him—and to God, to make it stop. But it didn’t, and it continued periodically till I was about 16. And it wasn’t just him. I also found myself at the receiving end of another, though more distant, uncle’s lust.
Honestly, I don’t know how, when and why the first night’s pain turned into pleasure. By the time I was 18, I had slept with my uncles more times than I could count, along with a couple of other men. I had also joined a gay networking site.
Enter college life: I was now in a city and in a college that was not only friendly towards our community, but almost a playground for our libido. I had an openly bisexual woman and a male cross-dresser classmate—and I give them due credit to having given me the confidence to face reality. In that first year, I began to realise who I was. In December 2011, I started dating my (girl) best friend, my first relationship of sorts. But things weren’t happening the way they should have. I wasn’t feeling what a straight man is supposed to feel. We split in a month. I couldn’t force something I wasn’t feeling. Today, I’m glad we broke up, or the cost for me to come out would have been too high to bear.
Many of us live our entire life without come to terms with ourselves. I’m glad I did. On the night of my first break up, I went and made out with a random man. He was ugly, but kind. But the way he embraced me, and the way I felt about it, made me certain of my sexuality—a mere kiss from a strange man was ringing more bells than cuddling with my girlfriend. From there on, there was no stopping: I logged on to gay networking sites and apps, but since that night, February 10, 2012, I have been open about my homosexuality. I have been more confident about myself. While I have realised that I can’t stop loving my gals, I also can’t stop crushing on (and banging) cute/hot/average/desperate/horny men.
Homosexuality is not a choice. I love being gay. I get an all-access to hot (I wish I could write beautiful) girls, a job at a fashion magazine—and an amazing sense of dressing backed by an immense amount of sensitivity and tolerance after what I’ve been through. I have reached le petite mort with over 50 men, had sex with about 20, dated about four and fallen in love with one (he was straight) but I am on a roll.
It has taken me a while. A lot of mornings when I have woken up on wet pillows or in the beds of barely known men, and plenty of sleepless nights and innumerable consolations on WhatsApp and Facebook messenger.
IV. Suraj | 21, BMM student
Was the thought of coming out really scary? Yes, It was. For 20 years of my life, I lived in darkness, subtly trying to hint who I really wanted to be; to be able to talk about guy problems with my straight friends, to cry and laugh about my relationships and that one-night stand. But for 20 years, I was numb. Society and religion made me believe that something was wrong with me.
Mumbai gave me the freedom to express my views, raise my opinions and take a step towards changing my life. No more lies. I didn’t want to lie to myself and I didn’t want to lie to my friends. One day, I called one of my close friends from college and told her everything. The relief I felt in my heart was unbelievable: at least one straight person knew, I thought.
My gay best friend, was always there for me, too. He once said: “Whatever happens, I’ll be right there next to you.” He even agreed to be my date to the college prom. And when the day finally came, I was scared—but he was there, just as he had promised. So we entered as a couple, and danced like nothing else in the world mattered. I was done living a lie. My college friends rushed to me, hugged me, some of them were shocked but supportive. I thank my best friend for being there. Without him, I would have never dared. He changed a lot in me. He gave me hope. He would know if he ever reads this. To him I say: thank you.
V. Anonymous | 20, Economics and Japanese Studies student
Most gay or LGBTI people have a certain template to the discovery of their sexuality. For many, it generally follows quite a specific path: denial, hesitance, discovery, self-acceptance, and then coming out.
I, unfortunately or fortunately, never went through the conventional coming out process. I was born in a conservative Maharashtrian family, one where my cousins and I were brought up as though sex didn’t exist. I remember being gay at the age of four. Of course, back then, I did not know what sexuality, love and sex were—let alone what the word ‘gay’ meant.
As I got older, I kept feeling this impenetrable bubble around me. Everyone was different from me, and I was different from everyone else. I could never relate to the change in behaviour between the boys and girls in my class around the seventh and eighth grades—I never had raging crushes and my pubescent phase was quite uneventful.
I was lucky enough to have travelled almost all over India and to about a dozen countries on three continents before turning 19 and I think meeting other LGBT people from different backgrounds really helped me understand Indian society’s opinions on the issue better.
I have been fortunate to have friends that don’t care about my sexuality at all, and my relationships with my close friends never changed once I told them. But I prefer not telling most other people about it, because generally, once you tell someone you are LGBTI, suddenly you are ‘that gay guy’ and not ‘that guy’ anymore. I don’t like how your sexuality suddenly becomes all that you are, because it isn’t. I would like to see that change. Sadly, I am not out to my family yet, but I will be, soon. I think they’ll take it well. I’m looking forward to it.
VI. Naina | 16, student
I came out as gay when I was 14. But I knew I wasn’t being honest with myself, and later came out as transgender. I began experimenting with my clothes, hair and make up. It wasn’t exactly easy, but I had—and continue to have—a great support system, for the most part. Now, I’m three months into hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. Before, when I was struggling with my identity, I was continuously depressed. I was on anti-depressants and a cocktail of other medicines. I tried to commit suicide, twice. Thankfully neither attempt was successful. The first time, I swallowed a bunch of pills which knocked me out for over 16 hours, but that’s it. The second time was scarier. I would probably have been successful if my friend hadn’t called me up at that exact moment. We had a brief conversation and all she said was, “I love you.” That was the first time any of my friends had said that to me. After she hung up, I didn’t feel as lonely any more. I realised that I am loved as a person. I will never forget that moment. Now, it unnerves me to think how close I really came to ending it all—and how if I did, I would have robbed myself of everything I’m experiencing right now.
My school, New Delhi’s Vasant Valley, has been incredibly supportive. They even sent out a mass email to teachers, students and parents, which said, ‘There is a transgender girl in our school and we are supporting her one hundred percent. As far as we’re concerned, she’s just another student.’ In January 2015, my school asked me to speak to the students of grades nine through twelve—they thought it was important that I shared my story. A lot of people cried. After struggling with this for so long, it was so touching to see the level of empathy I was getting from so many of my peers. People were actually beginning to understand what I was going through. I even go to school in the girls’ uniform now.
My mom, too, is amazing. She’s my rock. We visited Mumbai together earlier this year—this was before I had started HRT. I had already come out as transgender nearly a year before, but my mom, though supportive, had never let me wear a dress. And I had been patient. I knew she needed time to come around completely—which is what I keep telling young transgender people who contact me: give it time, be patient. When we were in Mumbai, we went shopping, and for the first time ever, I tried on a dress. I was so happy. And I begged her to buy it for me. She agreed. Later that evening, we went out to dinner and she let me wear the dress.
It hasn’t all been easy, of course. Once, an eighth grade kid came up to me once and said that I should kill myself because transgender people don’t deserve to live. That was a big blow. It really, really hurt. I still don’t think I’ve completely recovered. This happened in May, before I had even started transitioning, and I wasn’t strong enough to take that kind of an attack. It really affected me. I even went through a phase where I frequented the temple. I thought maybe God could help me because no one else seemed able to. When I took a pandit into confidence and told him what was bothering me, he told me I was a demon and that my parents should kill me. I never went back after that.
I know there are many others who aren’t as lucky as me. The rate of attempted suicide amongst transgenders is 41 percent, that’s a ridiculous number. But, the ultimate goal is happiness. You have to really decide what makes you happy. Will you be content with not being yourself just so society will accept you? Or do you want to be true to yourself and create your own society? My friend Ananya once said, ‘Friends are the family you choose.’ And there are plenty of allies out there for the LGBTQI community, it’s just that we’re not as evolved and exposed as the West. It’s not as easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. There are many people who will accept you. And you will find them once you find yourself.
VII. Anuja | 30, Event Manager at Gaysi Family
Coming out to my parents was always something I considered important. I had built the story and scenario up in my head over the course of four years, and I kept setting deadlines for when it had to be done—deadlines that were clearly never met. Of course it didn’t happen in the way I had imagined or wished. Instead, it happened on a whim.
After a fun night with some Bombay dykes, I had arrived home at 2:30 am, which to all Indian parents is completely unacceptable. So at this absurd hour I was given a talking-to by my parents. Of course, I was frustrated that I wasn’t allowed control over my own life. What should have ended in just a talk became an argument between us and in a moment of complete frustration, I ended up coming out to them. Nothing good happens after 2 am right? Right.
So began the two-hour conversation about my sexuality. They obviously had a lot of questions and concerns and it took me sometime to settle into the conversation. What began as frustration slowly turned to panic as I realised what I had just done, which, then, in an odd way, turned into confidence. I hadn’t planned it, but I wasn’t going to back out. There were the standard “How?” and “Why?” and “Have you seen someone about this?” While I did my best to answer my mother patiently, I was more stressed about my father, who hadn’t said a word the entire time. I wanted to know what was going on in his head, but I was too scared to ask.
The argument turned into a conversation where my parents patiently heard me out. And then, the most unexpected thing happened—my father walked me to my room when it was all over and hugged me and told me that though he didn’t understand, I was his daughter no matter what, and he loved me. So he would find a way to understand everything.
VIII. Anonymous | 23, art and design student
For the longest time, I switched between girls and boys. After a while, the number of girls began to reduce and the boys began to increase. I didn’t give it too much thought. Over time I just learned to accept that I could possibly be gay. I told my closest friends: some were surprised, some weren’t. There were moments of “Wow, really? I didn’t see that coming.”
After I moved to art school, I arrived almost as a nobody, joining school mid-way. I had a few flings with girls, and ended up going out with an exchange student who wasn’t flamboyant but was quite open about his sexuality. Tongues wagged, and eventually everyone was gossiping about whether I was gay or bisexual. “Ah, now the streak of blonde hair makes sense,” they’d say. People approached me at parties, and other social dos to confront me about it, as if the alcohol made it easier for them to talk to me about it. Some asked nicely, and I told them, “Yes, I’m seeing a boy.” Some I didn’t give a shit about so I told them to fuck off.
And then I had a situation in the summer, where I got physical with a special boy amidst a large group of soon-to-be colleagues and friends. From then there was no going back, and I felt good about it.
And soon, my parents will know as well—when I think the time is right.
IX. Sanya | 23, film and psychology student
I don’t have one single, definitive coming out story. The first time I came out was as a lesbian, at 16. I was in the middle of my first crush ever. When it hit me that I liked a girl, I ran around my room like a trapped rabbit. I paused only to flee to Wikipedia and AfterEllen for gay wisdom. Eventually, I came to identify with the L (the B and the T weren’t really doing it then) and started telling my close friends. Every time I told them, I was scared. I didn’t yet know how to hold these unfamiliar words in my mouth.
A while later, I was outed by my school’s ‘Gossip Girl’. This wasn’t some random gossipy, nosy kid. There was literally a Facebook ‘Gossip Girl’ profile that published their own gossip notes. This was not fun. Not fun at all. When the dust settled on the outing, I began to feel more empowered. There were fewer acts to keep consistent, and a lot less shame. I finally had some say in the perception of my identity—and a way in which to communicate some of it. Riding the high, I decided to come out to my parents. It was only a matter of time till the Pune Aunty Coalition delivered the unfortunate news to my mother anyway. It was dramatic, traumatic, loud, and scary, and my family is still working through it.
So, there was never really a moment where I popped joyfully out of the closet and sped into the gay sunset, twirling a bunch of rainbow ribbons. Coming out is still occasionally exhilarating, but often, simply tiring. I’m still detangling myself from a language that has very little wiggle room.
Identifying as a lesbian helped me find a way to assert some of my own power, to find some way to fight assumptions. However, I was so caught up in naming my difference for everyone else that it took a while to see that the very existence of these words trapped me within them. Maybe I’m not a lesbian just because I like girls. Forget lesbian, maybe I’m not a woman at all. I grew up playing cricket on a boys’ team and spoke Hindi using male matras. I was a boy in every imaginary game we played and it was okay, it was allowed. Then we got our periods, boyfriends happened and we stopped playing imaginary games. It wasn’t so alright anymore. So am I a man? No, I like boys, I like romantic comedies, I like hair, I like doing my nails, I like plenty of things we like to call ‘feminine’.
Now I’m coming out for that little boy Sanya that sat down despondently in a corner when gender trapped him. I’m coming out for the girl Sanya, who wants to wear the shiniest ghagra you’ve ever seen in your life. I will speak my identity over and over, so I have some control over what my body says to you.
But, I hope that one day there is no closet to come out of, no opposition to ‘normal’ that we need to obsessively categorise. Lesbian, bisexual, gay, boy, girl, these words all signify way too much, and limit us all. Maybe one day we will be able to stop enacting them, and just express with freedom.
X. Anonymous | 24, freelance video producer
Sexuality has always been a bit confusing for me to pen down, but here goes nothing: I think people like labels. It’s easier to present yourself and tell people what you are looking for. From a very young age, I remember liking girls (quite a bit) and I thought that’s how it would go from then on. But that’s not how the universe/my genetic makeup/my mother’s womb/incidents in my adolescence planned it. I remember feeling very conflicted when I realised that I had a liking towards the same sex.
I remember later periods where I felt completely heterosexual because I liked a few women—so I thought maybe my boy crushes were a phase and I’d eventually get out of it. Then I remember leaving my hometown and going out into the world. There were times where I felt a different variation of everything from asexuality to bisexuality. I remember talking about it to friends and family, and to them, it just sounded like I was coming out as gay. I remember coming back and being intimate with a girl and most people thought I was confused or it was a phase I was going through.
I’ve researched so much on scales and periodic tables that better define sexual orientation in human beings—and I love the shades in between black and white.
I have learned during this period and I’ve started to feel a little more at ease. I even came up with an analogy between sexual orientation and science. Some love the rigid, raw and cosmic nature of physics. Some love the beauty, earthy and intricate nature of biology.
If we as a society just let people love physics and/or biology we may soon realise that people may want to be pioneers in their own eclectic field. After all, nuclear and nanorobotic medicines are a mix of both, aren’t they? Of course it’s different levels of both and that’s why I don’t really like using the word ‘bisexual’, I prefer ‘queer’. I feel like maybe if I come to a conclusion about my own sexual orientation and understand it fully, I can then use a word or a line to describe it. Until then, maybe my sexual orientation should be called anonymous as well.
XI. Mandy | 21, event planner
The first time I had ever kissed a girl was when I was 16. We were at this party and she suddenly jumped me. It was so sudden, but I didn’t pull back—I discovered that I was actually enjoying it while it happened. I felt weird for a second, but that passed. I couldn’t stop thinking about it even months later.
I felt like I had to validate that feeling and figure out what was going on with me. So I began experimenting. By the time I was 18 or 19, I knew I was bisexual. But for me, it’s so different with guys and girls. People tend to confuse being bisexual with being confused. That’s a really huge problem. Why is it so hard to believe that someone may like both? Why is it necessary to choose one? I tend to get attracted to people, it doesn’t matter if it’s a girl or a guy—if we click, we click. I’m attracted to the person because of the way he or she is, not because of what’s under their clothes. I’m pretty much out to everyone. I don’t implicitly say that I’m bisexual—it’s not a conversation starter. But I’m very comfortable disclosing it. If someone asks, I’ll be honest. I don’t treat it as a big deal, and I expect others not to as well. It’s just a part of my identity—I’m so much more than just my sexual orientation. In the same way, I expect it to be a non-topic for people around me, too.
I think it’s pretty funny that the first question guys ask me when they find out I’m bisexual is: “Have you ever been in a threesome with a girl? What was it like?” That’s such a turn off. Meanwhile, 75 percent of straight girls I’ve encountered have changed their mannerisms once they’ve found out. They’re more on guard…more cautious. One thing I find very problematic is when straight girls loosely say “Oh, I’m bi too.” When they’re not, they’re just curious. Girls are more open about their sexuality, but it can be confusing sometimes. I’ve been at the receiving end of quite a few girls who claimed they were single and bisexual, only to get angry phone calls from their boyfriends afterwards. That wasn’t pretty.
I’ve had people tell me how it’s just a phase and how I’ll get past it. To them, I would always say: if it’s a phase, it’s sure been going on a hell of a long time. They don’t say anything after that. It’s not a phase. I know who I am and I’m very comfortable being bisexual. Coming out as taught me who my real friends are—they’re the ones who said nothing’s going to change, and it didn’t.
XII. Anonymous | 37, freelancer
Internally, I always knew I wasn’t straight. I constantly fought and repressed the feelings I had for women. What made my sexuality even more confusing was the fact that I was also physically attracted to men. As I grew older, my internal homophobia and shame became even more pronounced. All that pent up emotion became a hard ball in my chest and throat. It affected other aspects of my life, making me angry and aggressive and somewhat bitter. Why was I so scared and ashamed? My sister, brother-in-law, cousin, and best friend were the only ones that knew about my sexual orientation and accepted who I was. So why couldn’t I accept it myself? I finally realized that I just wanted to be happy and free to love whom I wanted to. I was exhausted by the double life I was leading and it was taking a huge toll on my mental and physical health.
At the age of 35, I broke down and told my parents what I had been ashamed of and been hiding from them for so long. They finally understood where a lot of my behaviour was stemming from. Their answer was simple. They just wanted me to be happy. It was such a massive relief for me.
The process of coming to terms with my sexuality is still in progress. The biggest step was coming out to myself. I have to keep rewiring parts of my brain that slip into heteronormative thinking because of all the years spent occupying that space, both mentally and physically. Accepting myself has made me more open, less judgmental, more of a feminist and a little more empathetic to people who don’t fit into neat little slots.
The internet is a wonderful place to find a community—and helped a lot when I was trying to understand who I was. Many hours of talking with my best friend, my cousin and my therapist have really helped me to accept and understand my sexuality. I have slowly become more comfortable in my own skin. I’m so grateful to be surrounded by family and friends who love and accept me for who I am. I sometimes feel I should have come out sooner. But then I gently remind myself that, however slow and arduous, this is my journey. Better late than never.
To all the people out there who think being anything other than ‘straight’ isn’t ok, I quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: ‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’
XIII. Shreyas | 21, aspiring chef and entrepreneur
One night, in high school, I suddenly felt that I couldn’t handle not being myself around my friends anymore. I decided to put up a ‘coming out’ post on Facebook. Most of my friends took it really well and I felt light and happy. Some didn’t, which helped me figure who my real friends were.
Family is a different story: I accidentally came out to my sister a few months later while using her phone to BBM a cute guy. She saw the text, came up to me and asked, “Is this a guy?” I sheepishly admitted it was. She grinned at me and told me that it didn’t matter, she still loved me.
I came out to my mum when she was visiting me in college. She saw a box of condoms in the vanity unit. Feeding off the thrill of that discovery, I introduced her to my boyfriend. They didn’t talk at all the first time they met, but my mum was surprisingly nice to him the next time he met her. After he left, she said, “He’s your friend after all,” and just smiled. That felt really nice.
I actually just came out to my extended family. A few weeks ago, one of my cousin sisters texted me and said that she heard I’m gay. I told her I am and she said: “Thank god! I finally have someone I can check out hot guys with.” Another cousin and his wife texted me and told me that it was really bold of me to come out. His wife was actually a bit peeved, and said: “We’ve had so many drinks together and you never told me?”
XIV. Anonymous | 20, computer science student
Two things have stayed consistent since I was young —I’ve always been fascinated by other girls, and I’ve always been deeply afraid of what other people think. I’ve always found several of my passions ‘boyish’, and then been deeply embarrassed of being that way. I have memories of times when I was so embarrassed at the checkout counter holding my Hot Wheels set, that I, an only child, would loudly announce ridiculous things like “My brother will like this, no?” to my mother, lest anyone think I was boyish enough to buy that for myself.
I’ve always attributed my attraction to women to just having a ‘girl crush’. (Maybe I’m staring at this picture of Behati Prinsloo because I really, really want hair like hers.) But if I’d dug deep, I would have known it was more than that. I knew I found women attractive, but never did I entertain the idea of actually allowing myself to love a girl.
I dated several boys through my teenage years—I was attracted to only one of them and always questioned why I dated the remainder. I felt like I was trying to fit into a neat, heterosexual box and trying to find the ‘right’ guy as I slowly began to forget what attraction even felt like.
In the middle of this, a girl asked me out. I was so far into my heterosexual conviction, that I didn’t even let myself feel anything towards her. In retrospect, she was beautiful and everything I wanted in a girl but all I thought at the time was that she was joking. Pfft, how could she like me? How could I date a girl? That’s crazy, I thought.
After turning 20, having already been on the fulfilling end of several drunk girls wanting to kiss a girl to scratch it off their bucket list, I realised that my attraction to women was real. This mask I had on was ridiculous. As a serial over-thinker, I was swamped with questions: Am I really attracted to girls too? Should I be trying to look butch? If i’m a lesbian, I obviously have to abandon all things girly. How can I be attracted to guys too? No one’s going to take me seriously.
I deeply admire all the people who know their feelings and accept themselves. It can be the toughest thing to do, and I know so many people out there who are struggling just to come out to themselves. This is the story of me coming out to myself, and it’s still in progress. I have told a few close friends, who were great and accepting, but I felt the most significant clarity, stomach butterflies and a total paradigm shift the first time I told myself that I could love a girl.
As someone whose 10th grade sex ed talk conducted by the principal of her reputed school, largely consisted of “Gay sex makes no sense, how does it even work?”, I know that it’s difficult to shrug off the misinformation and terror that heteronormative society has established so concretely. But I now also know that it will get easier. Fundamentally, we all have the freedom to love ourselves—and any gender we prefer.
XV. Kunal | 21, film-production student
I remember being pretty open about my preference as a child. My cousins used to play a game with my younger brother and me. They used to open newspapers and ask us who we’d marry. Back then, the newspapers were full of Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Rani Mukherjee. My cousins were always confused why I chose Shah Rukh Khan over Rani Mukherjee or Kajol. They thought I never understood the game. In retrospect, I realise that they never really understood that, well, Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai, especially when I looked at Shah Rukh Khan.
Fast-forward to 2005 and my love for Shah Rukh Khan was still going strong. Around that time, all the boys in school started to obsess over the physiological changes the girls were going through. It was so weird for me. I felt like I didn’t belong. Around this time, there was a murder that happened in Delhi, following a gay party. All the news channels were going crazy because, ‘OMG, men dancing with men! THE HORROR.’ Oh by the way, that gay party happened on the terrace of my family’s building. We had given the terrace out to a really nice guy from Denmark. He was so polite. After the incident, he had to leave India—and my family was hooked to the news.
Things started to make sense to me. I began to realise that ‘liking men’ was a bad thing, it was something everyone looked down upon—especially my family. It was devastating. Fast-forward to 2010 and I had convinced myself that I was straight. I changed schools, but even all the kids in my new class thought I was gay—even though I did nothing and spoke to no one. I wasn’t myself in those days.
One day, we had to give a speech on any topic of our choice in front of the students. There was a guy, who thought it’d be a great idea to rant about homosexuality and how ‘men doing it in the poo-poo’ disgusted him. He went along the usual ‘it’s not natural’ route—though he was quick to point out that he was ‘cool’ with lesbians.. His speech really angered me. I interrupted him with a tirade of my own. My principal was impressed. She saw the chance and went for it. She asked me: “Why are you so angry?”
“It’s because I’m gay!” I said. (Though I don’t think I’m gay, anymore. I might be bisexual. Who knows! Who cares!)
All the other students were shocked but not really surprised. I had come out to everyone but my family. It felt awesome. I felt relieved.But then, came the announced sequel: ‘Kunal and the time when his parents found out what he’s up to.’ And it’s still going on. Long story short, my parents weren’t pleased. At first, I thought my life’s story was written by Tina Fey, a simple romantic-comedy that does social commentary and ends on a good note, with everyone being friends. But what I’ve started to realise is that though that’s true, H. P. Lovecraft somehow rewrote some of the details according to his taste while Fey was asleep.
It’s been painful. I’ve told my parents about myself and I’ve made everything clear to them—I have nothing to hide. My own Facebook profile is public for them to see. I have a YouTube channel called Obnoxious Indians, where I post funny videos with my friends chronicling our lives—especially mine. I’ve told them about it too. It’s all going well, as long as I don’t have the conversation again with my parents. Not that I’m afraid of having it, it’s just that I don’t want to make things difficult for myself or them, by shoving something in their face that they’re clearly not comfortable with. But I know they’ll come around. They’ll understand me more, mostly because I have known them for 21 years, and I know that they love me and because I love them too. I’m willing to be patient with them. Everyone else loves me for who I am as a person. It’s just a matter of time for my parents to see that, too. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s always plan B: Move on and choose one’s own family.
In the end, neither Fey nor Lovecraft is in control of my life. If I don’t like something, I will change it or I will get away from it. It’s necessary to adapt so one can keep going on. If you ask me, I’m really looking forward to what happens next. I’m a timid looking guy, really. I don’t have much going on for me in life, but I still manage to turn things around in my favour.
That’s the thing about evolution—even amoebas can do it.