India + Kolkata

“Coming Out” and Culture

Gay / 23-29 / Indian / South Asian / Hindu

I was born and brought up in India, a country where gender and sexuality outside the straight and cis-gendered spectrum is widely considered an “abnormality” or “insanity.”

While I was growing up, I would often come across words like “chhakka” and “hijra,” which despite being translations for “eunuch,” would be widely used to describe anyone who belonged to the LGBT spectrum. In terms of verbal abuse, often leading to violence and deaths, these words are the perfect counterparts of “faggot.” Since my early childhood, I was taught that these people should be looked down upon and they deserve no respect whatsoever. Unlike the religious controversies on LGBT issues sparked up by Christianity or Islam, Hinduism has no reference to homosexuality or transsexuality as “sinful,” rather has direct mythological contexts to support the whole LGBT spectrum. Yet, ironically, such facts have always been overlooked and the entire LGBT spectrum was labeled as an “evil Western influence” on Indian society.

Growing up, I understood that these topics were not to be discussed; phallic interactions in high school amongst guys were to remain secrets, not to mention the abuse, humiliation and violence that awaited if the events were mistakenly revealed. I liked the touch of the guys, I loved to touch them, the inappropriateness of the touch appropriated through reciprocity and approval. And yet, I had a string of “girlfriends,” because apparently, you are not man enough if you don’t have a girl.

From the cultural context as well, we were not exposed to LGBT themes in contemporary literature, cinema, television or music. Towards the beginning of this millennium, however, things started changing a bit. One of the TV channels was supposed to play “The Da Vinci Code” one night, but Catholics protested and the channel decided to play something else. The Catholics were happy that their demands got fulfilled, but the TV channel went ahead to play “Brokeback Mountain” instead. It was the first time I understood that two men can love each other without the clichés of “effeminism”, drag or trans-culture.

To add to my surprise, in my senior year of high school, I found that people were fighting to legally have homosexuality decriminalized. I felt inspired. But I had a battle to fight— the first stage of coming out with the gradual acceptance of who I am, which took me years to overcome. The next stage was easier— coming out to friends. Some people said, “You are doomed. Nobody is ever going to accept you.” Some friends said, “I am so happy for you.” But there remained a string of questions I had to answer time and again to justify my sexuality, something which my straight friends never had to face, something which my bisexual friends chose to ignore. I was not saddened by this struggle anymore, because I was fortunate to meet my partner. We created a world of our own, a small world where everything else is immaterial or oblivious. However, things at home started getting intense— my parents started to question why I didn’t go out with girls and how I had just one “friend” in the entire world.

Unable to take the pressure anymore, I came out to my parents. My parents refrained from humiliating my partner, which avoided a lot of unwanted tension and violence. However, they insisted I go for psychotherapy “to undergo a change in sexual orientation.” I was lucky that the psychologist understood the seriousness of the problem and started presenting my parents with facts and examples.

My coming out story cannot overlook the cultural context and background because these are deeply embedded in our parents’ way of life; and it is ridiculous to say, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay,” and expect them to deal with it in a cool way. It is insensitive to think that my life is my life and let others deal with it, particularly in a world where everybody should matter for peace and unity. My coming out experience has taught me that acceptance can never be one way, we also need to understand the fundamental problems that prevent our parents from accepting.

My parents have accepted me and my partner. They don’t want us to stay in India anymore. They love us. We love them. And all of us want to spare each other of the possibility of humiliation and violence in a judgemental society. My coming out experience has been instrumental in setting up my goal for life— to accept and be accepted by a nation and culture where I don’t have to pretend to be straight nor wear a “gay” label. I want to lead a simple life with my partner, built upon love, where my embodiment of sexual identity will not affect anything.