The Editor of Pink Pages talks about the effects of coming out, on himself and the world.
I must have been twelve when I first encountered the word “gay” in a Times of India report about gay rights in USA. I looked up the dictionary and suddenly a lot many things started making sense: my irresistible urge to get an eyeful of a senior jock in school in his gym clothes, my lack of interest in the girls of the Convent school that lured the ogling eyes of my classmates in our all-boys’ school bus, or the fact that I liked Aamir Khan over Juhi Chawla in Hum Hain Raheen Pyar Ke. So while I was glad that my identity crisis was finally resolved (I started foraging libraries for books and encyclopaedias that had any content on homosexuality), I was increasingly despondent by the same knowledge that made me realize that India was no happy place to be gay. The fact that I was in a small town like Bhopal did not help matters either.
Leaving my government township and the city itself became a matter of great priority for me. I wanted to escape home, which perplexed my parents who thought until then that an introverted, largely asocial kid like me would be happier in his hometown. So, when it came to choosing an engineering college for my graduation, I was more than cheerful to enrol for the government college at nearby Indore – an otherwise conservative city where I nonetheless felt liberated enough as an adventurous testosterone-pumped nineteen year old to make out with boys in hostel beds and football fields. I fell in and out of love, and even tried my hands at a relationship for a while.
Coming out to a band of close friends in college helped matters. Their unbothered camaraderie let me ignore the bullies who guffawed after passing lewd comments on what they imagined I did in bed. Telling parents was a different matter altogether – I was as surprised by their open acceptance and support as my father was about my sexuality (Mother said she always suspected).
On the morning of 2 July 2009, I was woken up by a thrilled message from a straight friend asking me to turn the television news on. The NDTV reporter outside the Delhi High Court merrily announced the “historic moment” of decriminalization even as she was surrounded by elated gay activists who hugged and shed tears of joy. I was 22 and for the first time in my life felt proud to be both Indian and gay at the same time. The beautifully worded judgement placed our movement in the context of the nation that Nehru and Ambedkar dreamt of when they gave us our Constitution; finally I had the legitimacy I was looking for to challenge every precept of public life that treated us like second class citizens. That is why I did not hesitate to write to my CEO in the major IT company I worked for, asking him to initiate policies for fair treatment of LGBT employees. That is why I did not hesitate to walk readily at the gay Pride marches of Bangalore and Mumbai. That is why I decided never to go back into the closet again – no matter what the circumstances are.
We all have multiple identities in our lives: I’m Indian by nationality, Bengali by language, Hindu by culture, Agnostic by belief. But growing up gay in a deeply homophobic and patriarchal society has had a subtle percussion – both in positive and negative ways – on who I am today. The negative impacts are obvious – the world’s largest democracy still denies me several basic rights of citizenship, and coming out is still an ongoing challenge (I am yet to break the news to my grandmother). But the positive aspects were for years hidden even from me.
There was a time when I felt I’d rather kill myself than tell anyone I’m attracted to men, but it is only now that I realize that had I not been gay, I would have missed out on experiences and people that have suitably shaped me into the person that I am. For instance, had I not been gay, I would not have been half as strong as I am today. Had I not been gay, I would not have been as sensitive to the issues of other minorities and oppressed sections of our society. Had I not been gay, I would never have realized the value of true friendship. Had I not been gay, I may never have appreciated the unconditional love that only a parent can offer. Had I not been gay, I would not have met a lot of people who have brought so much love and belongingness to my life. Had I not been gay, I would not have realized that something which is a source of great distress and fear can also metamorphose into a source of contentment and solace.
In an ideal world, my being gay would have been as inconsequential as my being Bengali or Agnostic is. In an ideal world it should not matter if you love men or women or both. Perhaps our children can grow up in a world like that.
Udayan Dhar is Editor at Pink Pages, India’s National Gay & Lesbian magazine, and as part of NGO Mingle engages with corporations on how to create inclusive workplaces for LGBT employees.