This piece one of many in a regular series. 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. For more in this series click here, here, here and here.
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 6 more 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.
Some entries have been edited for length and clarity.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
I. Shraeyansh Rajpurohit, 18
At that time I didn’t expect much of a reaction, everyone that knew me was very much familiar with my extreme femininity, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal for them to grasp this reality but I was wrong, there were gossips about me all over the places and people were quite shocked which made me shocked.
Of course people did say many hateful things and manipulate my interview according to them, but I really didn’t wanted to know because that doesn’t matter what people think or talk about me behind my back, I don’t have to worry about the backlash until someone upfronts me about my reality and even if someone does, I’m not afraid because I have the answers. I’m always open to talk about my gender identity disphoria if someone is curious or don’t know about this, it’s not my problem if someone don’t want to get it.
No one said anything against my decision to transition to my face because I had my reasons, that no one could deny, and even if they do, they knew that I wasn’t going to change my mind. I was and always been very much confident about myself on that decision because that’s who I am.
I can’t speak for everyone but for me Coming Out was definitely the best decision I’ve ever made yet because I can live my life more authentically, and I’m not questioned as much as I used to when I was in closet.
I don’t think if I faced any problem BECAUSE of coming out rather people started to take me more seriously who used to humiliate me for my femininity, like it’s something to be laughed at or to be ashamed about.
My gender identity is of a female and I wish to have a body that I can relate to and I’m going to make that happen regardless of who thinks what.
And the people who accepts me and respects my struggles will always be in my heart.
To all haters, if you expect that calling me offensive names will hurt me then you’re terribly wrong because I really don’t have time to give a fuck about what other people think of me or what do they call. The words hurts as much as you let them.
I don’t have any place for negative and hatred in my life, all I believe in is LOVE
II. Ravi Narwal*
Acceptance is what finally pushes someone over a line—a line of anxiety, a line of desperation. You can’t move on from anything until you’ve accepted the way things are and the reality of the place where you find yourself. It was confusing at first to me. I didn’t really stare at the situation in its face. I found myself sinking when I first touched a person of the same gender with physical intimacy on my mind. Until then, the possibility had all but existed in my subconscious. It didn’t strike me as unusual. It didn’t strike me as impossible. But it was certainly unexpected. And despite the thorough confusion, to be honest, I enjoyed the things it made me feel. I decided to put a pin in it and deal with it when I had to.
I was 16 years of age, and it didn’t take long for the gravity of my experience to dawn on me. I panicked. There was a perpetual knot in my stomach. Day-to-day situations were hard to get through because of the emotional chaos in my mind. At some point, I told myself to calm down. I lay it all out in front of myself, and decided that I needed some help to process it all. So I told my best friend and my sister, individually. It is, to date, one of the biggest burdens that I’ve thrown off my shoulders.
I had done it. I had accepted that there was a problem. Acceptance is the first step to fixing a problem, so I thought I was on the right track. I could get the help I needed. I could fix this… Except, there was nothing that could be fixed; there was nothing to fix.
I don’t know if it was the limited access to mental health professionals in our country back in the early 2000s, or the fact that I wasn’t willing to take the next step towards ‘fixing my problem’. Whatever it was, I think at some level I knew that there wasn’t anything that I wanted to do. Learning something about yourself that you always knew is strangely exhilarating. On noticing the male form, I realised then that I had always admired it. I experimented, I gave in to urges that I don’t think I would succumb to today. But I did it then. And I made the choice to take each day as it would come. I knew I wouldn’t date a girl, or marry a woman. And at some point I would probably have to tell people. But I was in no rush.
I think it was important for me to ease in to it. A few years later, when I started college, I found some people I felt I could talk to. So I did. I told them everything. And they didn’t judge. It made me feel closer to them. It was then that I decided that everyone I felt close enough to could know. I felt like I had more people on my side.
Telling friends was easy. When I decided that I would tell my parents, it took me about a year to do it, but when I did, I couldn’t have been happier. I was prepared for anything—shock, disappointment, humiliation, anger. However, by this time, I knew who I was, and whatever the reaction would be, I knew I wasn’t going to make any apologies. As it turns out, there was no need to. Parents can be surprising.
Most people I’ve told are on my side. They love me and accept me for me. There was an odd friend, who insisted that I was mistaken about myself. And it was really his problem. I had accepted my reality.
Acceptance is what pushes you over the line. Today, I am over the line. And today, I am happy.
I am a woman and I like women. I knew I was into women even when I was just a little kid. Well.. Perhaps “knew” isn’t the right word but the emotions were definitely there. As a 5 year old I would get to watch Hollywood love scenes with my parents. Perhaps they thought I was too innocent to understand what was going on or that I was asleep. They didn’t know that I was a born insomniac just as I am a born lesbian. Later, I would visualize myself as the man, making love to the woman. Never once did I imagine it the other way around. Neither did the feelings of wanting a woman strike me as being abnormal. It was when I was 13 that I came to know about sexuality and the two kinds of sexuality (back then it was just two) through my Biology textbook. My grandfather bought a computer home one day and there was a dictionary app in it. The first word I looked up was homosexuality.
That was like the eureka moment of my life. I was like “Oh! So that’s what I am! That’s who I am!” And I was so excited to learn that there actually were people just like me in this world.
When I was checking out the definition of who I was on the computer, my little cousin happened to be with me. Herself 9 years younger than me, I didn’t think she would understand what exactly it was I was reading up about.
Perhaps it was karma that 15 years later she was the first person I was forced to come out to (because by then she had figured out herself I was probably gay). She asked me if I liked girls. I said yes. And that was it. She accepted me. Just like that. Without further questions. Without mockery. Without any feelings of confusion or disgust or sadness that I had turned out this way.
She was with me when I came out to my mom. The first thing my mom said was, “so that means you are a boy??!”. Well, since then I have tried to make her understand multiple times what it means to be lesbian, but to no avail. Even if she does understand, and would never force me to get married, she still never tells me so and continues to hope that I will “change” some day.
And perhaps someday, I will have the courage to come out to my dad. And hope for a happy ending to my story.
IV. Ashish Chopra
When I was in school in Nagpur, I was bullied a lot as I only used to play throwball with the girls and never played football with the boys.I first came out to my brother when I was 17. He told me that he already knew as I never cleared my browser history after watching gay porn. He decided that I should come out to my mom when I was 20 and in college. Though, I was against it as she had recently gotten out of a divorce, he decided to tell her. Initially, she was very against it.
I was asked various questions like “Do you have erectile dysfunction? What role do you play in bed? Because if you can fuck a guy, then you can fuck a girl as well. You’re in trouble if you get fucked though!” It’s almost been 3 years now. She has kinda accepted me but she still is always worried about “What will people say?”Every pride parade I attend here, I make sure I cross dress but my mom finds it very vulgar. In fact a few days ago she wrote me an e-mailed saying “I have blocked you on Facebook and Instagram because of your vulgar posts. All relatives here see these pictures which makes me feel ashamed.”
V. Rohit Shetty*
Born to a Marwadi business family, where digression from “Samajik” (societal) norms is frowned upon deeply, homosexuality is bound to be scandalous. The proficiency with which mothers play detective is only enhanced with the help of a snoopy sibling and if they sneakily check your phone, you’re in for trouble. They didn’t tell my father because they thought it would only add to the already mounting pressure from the business. I was tricked into visiting Delhi under the pretext of meeting a family friend and there I was introduced to a girl my mother wanted me to marry, (this was two years ago, I had just turned 22). It’s not uncommon for Marwadi folk to marry early so my dad didn’t suspect anything amiss when my mother pushed to get me engaged. She didn’t expect me to hold my ground and refuse the prospect.
My parents knew I hung around with a few gay friends and my dad asked me sarcastically “Na kyu bola, are you gay?” Little did he know that his son really was a homosexual. I responded with a “Yes!” It was the kind of conviction that’s tough on the outside but has the gooey insides of fear and insecurity. I could have said no and life would have moved on smooth as ever but I just thought it would be better if I let the cat out of the bag.
There were long conversations that happened at different intervals over the next few days. My parents sat at one end of the dining table and I at the other. I was asked if I was the king or the queen in the relationship (aka top or bottom), they were at ease when they got to know I preferred being the king. Because they saw some hope that I could be a real man once this phase passed. My mannerisms and dressing is not very “flamboyant” (the word they use to describe the stereotypical gay man) and they wondered if I was sure of what I was saying, because I didn’t walk or talk like “them.”
My dad managed to make it about himself and about how he has to bear the brunt of all our decisions; about how my newlywed sisters’ family would disown her if they got to know her brother was gay, about how I’d be ostracised and kicked out of the family business and not get my fair share from my cousins. My mother even suggested we visit a psychologist. I couldn’t hold back my laughter at how dramatic all this was getting.
Till these conversations took place, I assumed my family was progressive and liberal but it’s been two years and they haven’t spoken about, or acknowledged my sexuality, they still talk about my impending marriage and how they want to organise it on a cruise.
VI. Michael Netto*
A couple of days ago, my mother initiated the conversation of how I was feeling after all of our discussions of the past month. She started off by saying that she wants to hear everything that I have to say, without judging me or having a counter argument. There was a sense of remorse in this appeal. What do I truly feel about their reaction? She wanted to know it all. And this time, it had to be the truth. Not a sugar coated version that was made up to soften the blow.
I was stunned. Yes, I had not been feeling alright. Suppressed, because on the one hand, I thanked my family that they could not have taken the news in a better way. They did not throw me out of the house, nor was there any outright disapproval of having a meaningful discussion on the topic. They listened to all I had to say and tried to ask the right questions. Yet, I was seething with anger. I was torn between these two mind-sets and it was not helping my sanity.
Why? You may wonder. My family is an educated lot, with a fairly liberal set of views that are much ahead of the society that we live in. Then why was I faking a smile? Why didn’t I feel that I was loved and accepted just the way that I am? I cracked my head trying to figure out this dichotomy of emotions swirling inside of me. And then I figured it out. Although my family said that they “accept me” as I am, there were certain conditions, certain demands that I was expected to fulfil.
Here were my family’s first few responses:
“We understand you BUT why can’t you choose the ‘normal’ side of things?”
“We support you BUT we live in a society which expects us to follow norms”
“I am by your side BUT I will NOT try to understand your Queer identity, because that will motivate you to go towards the ‘wrong side’”
Do you see the turmoil now? The rage that this conditional acceptance brought in was unbearable.
Now, here I am, finally out to my family, finally accomplished the one thing that I had dreaded the most all my life, vulnerable in all senses and degrees of the word. Here I am, my past laid bare for my family to see, which included telling them about the time when I was suicidal. They now know the bullying I had to endure in school that crushed my self-belief. Here I am, in front of my family, narrating these harrowing accounts of me having made it through, despite every challenge, despite the lack of support from my own people.
And what do they tell me? That I am to be accepted only if I fulfil their lousy conditions. I stand out and proud before them and in stark contrast, my family shrinks and crawls with fear.It felt like climbing all the way to the top of mountain and being pushed over the ledge, the moment I scaled the steep, granite wall.
At this point, I do need to recognise my privilege once again. I was talking to my family about sexuality. My struggle was being heard patiently, albeit with a copious amounts of shock and disbelief, which often gave in to insensitive questions. But, I was being heard! “Do you even know how rare this is for an Indian family?” is the one thing that constantly ran through my head. It was also the same thing that infuriated me the most. This relative liberalism was a façade which was hiding the deep rooted conservatism.
My family was in denial of my Queer identity. To start with, my ‘emotional sensitivity’ was brought up. “You are just emotional you know. You feel strongly for the LGBTQ struggle and THAT’S WHY you feel the attraction towards the same sex too. You know, to show your support.” By the same logic, I should be a Tribal Dalit Muslim, who’s also a refugee. I am ‘emotional’ about all of these causes but I don’t turn into them right? After this initial set of arguments, I knew it was going to be impossible for them to notice the giant, trumpeting elephant in the room, in just one session. I was in for the long haul.
Eventually, my previous relationships with girls were thrown into the fray. “Did you face any sexual problems while you were dating that girl?” I am sure you can only imagine my discomfort, when my sex life was being dissected in a room full of people. But hey! I brought this upon myself right? Now, in the face of all my shameful non-conformity, let’s jump to the most uncomfortable of questions first shall we? Nonetheless, I painfully explained how their son could literally swing both ways. No-holds-barred. Explicit. Honest.
Now, there is trouble brewing in the fam-camp. All their weapons have been disarmed and no imminent strategy is in place to defeat the fat rainbow-unicorn prancing about in their son’s mind. Quick Captain, what do we do? Should we bring out our all-encompassing powerful weapon just yet? Annnnd, Launch! “But Beta, we have seen more in life than you have. These relationships don’t work. There is no sense of family.” I was expecting this argument and was glad that they at least took some time before resorting to it. Just moments ago, LGBTQ was too new for them to understand. But that does not stop them from jumping right to conclusions about what kind of relationships or families can be deemed legitimate.
This back and forth went on and on. I must admit that it was amusing to see my family hurtle towards facing their worst fears. And then, there was one final attempt to save themselves of the eventuality. Let’s call this attempt “Fake-teptance”. “Beta, we understand everything. You win. Homo love is all cool. It is science after all. But Beta, can’t you make a sacrifice for us? Can’t you choose an opposite sex partner for our comfort? After all, we are your family”. I kid you not, I could hear the clang of temple bells and the Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham song playing in the background, while the words were being spoken.
It was rather disturbing to watch my family pounce on me like that. It had barely been an hour since I told them the horrible things that I’ve had to go through in my journey until this very day, how I no longer want to be ashamed of my identity. All of this is forgotten conveniently. At no instance do I accuse them of not supporting me. How could they have known unless I told them? In spite of this, there is no acknowledgement of my past or my present for that matter. Their insecurities were running wild, trampling my pain, while racing ahead to ask, enquire, ensure if I would be willing to sacrifice one last time for the convenience of the family. I think a part of me died while witnessing this.
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