This piece is the first in 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.
India, along with 72 other countries, still criminalises same-sex love. And while the country’s LGBT community is no longer as invisible as it once was, there are still plenty of legal and social hurdles to overcome before we are anywhere close to the West in terms of equality.
But, change often starts with the individual before it permeates into society at large. So we decided to speak to a few LGBT Indians and got them to share their coming out stories. After all, that’s where it all starts—the moment when you say, ‘this is me, no more hiding.’
Nobody should be persecuted for being born a certain way, or for loving someone. We hope this series inspires other young Indians to find the courage it takes—and it takes a lot—to come out and love themselves for who they are. If you’d like to share your coming out story, scroll down to the bottom of the article for details.
I. Parmesh, 39 | Head, Godrej India Culture Lab, and author of Gay Bombay: Globalization Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India
There are many coming out stories in my case. Which ones do I share? How about this one: I came out to my mom in my mid-twenties when I had my first boyfriend. It was anti-climatic. Her response was, “So what would you like for dinner?” I said, “Didn’t you hear what I just said?” She deadpanned, “Yes, and we still need to eat.” It was really such a non-issue for her.
Or how about how I came out to my school friends? Most of who happen to be settled on the West Coast of USA. I went to L.A. and we had a big reunion. I decided to host the get-together at a gay bar called The Abbey. Most of my friends had no idea about me being gay, or about this particular bar being a gay one. One of them even wore a sari and had her husband wear a suit, since they thought it was a formal dinner. Of course, once they entered, and squeezed past the dancing go-go guys, and the fabulous divas elegantly perched at the bar, some of them might have had an inkling. So, when I did come out over the course of the dinner, one of my friends excused himself, and called his wife, saying, “You were right, you win.” They had had a bet earlier about whether I was gay or straight. His wife had said ‘gay’, and my friend had said, ‘straight but creative’. They were all very upset about why I had taken so long to come out to them. As my school friends, they expected to be the first to know.
II. Anonymous, 28 | Lawyer
The first time my mum found out about my sexuality was because she had been going through the drawers in my room, where she found a note I’d written to a girl I had a crush on. My first ever crush on a girl—and a note more cringeworthy and explicit than anything your mother should ever discover. Imagine all the secret things you never want your mother knowing you do, put them in a note, and then add the additional shock of finding out your daughter is a lesbian. That’s what my mother found.
I don’t know how long it took before she called me about it. I was on the other side of the world at university at the time. But when she did call, I was literally flung out on a friend’s bed with about ten friends—all gay, all hungover, all dissecting the finer points of the Gossip gig we’d been at the night before. My mum called, I smiled at the caller ID, picked up, and heard the words “Do you have something you need to tell me?” When she explained why she was asking, I screamed and threw my phone across the room.
In the years since that first coming out, my mum and I have danced around the topic. She likes to pretend I’ve never been gay, and gets angry when I gently try to remind her that it’s true. Things are getting better though. A month ago, mama told me that it was my life and I had to live it the way that made me happy. A week later she told me angrily that I was never to tell any of my family members. But, we really love each other, and that anger never lasts, no matter how she feels about my sexuality. I know that she’ll be at peace with it eventually.
III. Abhijeet, 22 | Art Student
Coming out is often framed as that one major, almost imperative event in every queer person’s life: a moment from which a person can start ‘being themselves’.
I knew I was different ever since I was young, and so did everybody else. And instead of pretending it wasn’t the case, I was always encouraged to embrace it. So after years of mixed feelings of shame and self-discovery, I was able to come to terms with the fact that my difference was something tangible, something that was experienced by other people too, and something that I could understand and celebrate. And that’s when I came out to my parents. I don’t know what I was expecting, but at 18, having mostly YOLO’d through life, I figured I might as well share what I discovered about myself with people I felt safe around.
And that’s where the story ends right? A nice little accepting family that totally understood and supported me, and now I am truly myself and can live my life out and proud and actively contribute to society, right? Well, only partially.
The coming out didn’t end there. Over the next few years, I slowly began to learn more about myself, and more about how I’ve been forced to present myself a certain way due to societal standards. I came out as gay. I came out as trans. I came out as gender-fluid. I understood that while acknowledging my identity with these terms doesn’t change me, it gives power to me to define my identity and affiliation—instead of it being assumed.
So now I’m coming out as anti-racist, I’m coming out as body positive, I’m coming out as feminist, I’m coming out as Please Call Her Caitlyn.
And I don’t ever want to stop coming out.
IV. Anonymous, 24 | Graphic Designer
When I think about coming out, I think about coming out to my parents, because for as long as I can remember, that is all that mattered. Apart from that, I haven’t made any such announcements to the world.
Before telling my parents, I came out to a tight-knit group of friends, obsessing over who I told and making them swear on dramatic things—I didn’t want the news to reach my parents before I was ready. The relationship I shared with my parents was very open. I used to be proud as a teenager about the fact that I never hid anything from them, but this was the one thing I had kept from them.
I came out to them when I was 19, during my second year of college. It was an impulsive move. I was at home one night and decided to tell them. I sat them down and did it quickly before I could change my mind. They already had a vague idea. My dad guessed what I was about to say. There were tears, there was disappointment, but there were also reassurances. They reminded me that they loved me and that would never change. My dad, being a ‘manly man’, doesn’t talk about it much. Everyone has their own way of dealing I guess, but his disposition towards me has not changed one bit. He has always been proud. My mother took about a year to warm up to the idea, but once she did, she got fully involved, like mothers tend to do. She knows all about my relationship and the ups and downs it goes through.
I came out to everyone in my college without meaning to. Someone saw me kissing my boyfriend and the news kind of spread; but since my parents knew, I didn’t care. And I was lucky, because most of the people in my college just shrugged at the news and moved on.
Being gay isn’t a big deal when you’re in design school. My boyfriend and I were treated just like any other couple. That’s the reason I’ve never had too many gay friends, because I was never made to feel like an outsider amongst straight people. It’s been pretty much smooth sailing for me in the coming out department; I guess I’m one of the lucky few. Being gay is not something that I would actively tell people or hide from people. It has never been a big part of my identity. It’s like having a favourite colour. People don’t go about announcing it unless they are asked, right?
V. Siddhant More, 37 | Consultant
I was born a girl. I had a very healthy childhood like any other child but I was never comfortable wearing frocks and other clothes meant for girls. I was in the fifth standard when I started getting attracted to girls and I found that very weird. This went on and in the 10th standard I was sure I was a lesbian. That was the time I heard the terms ’gay’ and ‘lesbian’.
I had a very tough college life. It still gives me shivers when I think about how my friends had exposed me in college and my best friend on whom I had a crush falsely accused me of misbehaving with her.
After graduating, I started working and had a couple of relationships which failed miserably. I was not sure what I wanted in life. I cursed God for making me like this. There was so much negativity in me. I met my first lesbian friends in 2005 and then I realised that I was different from them. They were very comfortable with their bodies but I was not. There was no one to talk to so I kept everything to myself.
In 2008 I became friends with someone on Orkut who felt the same way I did and that was the time I was introduced to the word ‘transgender’. He was my first trans friend. I felt very happy since I had someone to talk to about my issues.
I came to know about transitioning from female to male by taking male hormones and by doing surgeries. My mom was ill for quite a long time and I was taking care of her so I decided that I will never transition as I did not want to make her feel uncomfortable.
In 2011, my mother passed away suddenly leaving a void in my life. I decided to take charge of my life. It took me one year to finally decide that I wanted to transition. The biggest challenge was coming out to everyone. Initially I was very scared and hesitant. I thought about it calmly and made a list of people to whom I would come out. I decided that I will come out to people who matter to me & who are close to me. My father, brother, my maternal aunts and cousins, to begin with. I decided to come out to them at intervals, according to my comfort.
I started male hormones in 2012, Immediately after that I came out to my maternal aunts who are very close to me. They were very calm and offered me their support whole heartedly.
After four months when changes started to show, I decided that come out to the CEO of my company. After listening to me, the first thing he said was, “Tell me how I can help you”. He also said that he didn’t understand what I was going through but he would support me in my decision if that made me happy. He said, “I have known you for the last 15 years and you have been a good employee, so it doesn’t matter if you are a female or male.”
He also supported me by giving me a loan for my surgery. It was not easy coming out. Because people generally know about gays and lesbians but they don’t know about transgenders—and those who do think that transgender means hijras. And that’s what my CEO initially thought, too.
Two months after that I came out to my father. I am not close to my father and we hardly communicate. It was a great challenge for me to explain things to him because I was very uncomfortable. I had great difficulty in explaining that though I have the body of a female, I feel and think like a man. And to end this conflict between my body and soul, I need to transition. My father did not understand much of it but he was ok with the transition on one condition: I should not get married. I agreed, hoping that one day he will be fine with me getting married. I also came out to my school friends and they were very supportive.
I did my surgery in the end of 2013. Now I am in the process of changing my documents. Lawyers from Lawyers Collective have helped me with a very effective affidavit. With this, I have been able to change my election card to my new male identity.
Transitioning is not an easy process. You need to form a very strong support system which consists of your relatives and friends. People who love you and care for you will always support you no matter what.
VI. Justine, 25 | Co-owner of an Accessories Brand
I was seeing a girl five years ago but not many people knew. I mean, I wasn’t hiding it, but it just never came up in conversation. Only those closest to me knew, like my best friends and my sister.
Then my mom found out. I was showing her a picture on my phone when my girlfriend at the time called me. She had stored her name on my phone as ‘my beloved wife’ and my mom saw that flash across the screen. When she asked me to explain, I covered up and told her it was a joke. Later, I got on the phone with my girlfriend and told her what happened with my mom. I didn’t see the point in pretending anymore. Five minutes later, my mom came back to my room so I just told her that I was seeing a woman. We spoke about it for a while and she asked all the usual questions.
My mom is a born-again Christian. That night, she prayed over me—and I let her. The next morning, when she tried again, I said “Please don’t. Take your time but don’t do this to me. I don’t believe in it and it’s not going to change anything.”
She didn’t try again. A month later, she had accepted it. My dad noticed something was wrong and confronted my mother about it. When she told him, he said: “So what? It’s ok. I already know so many gay people. I work with them. Why couldn’t you tell me?”
Now, I’m seeing someone else and my family adores her. They’re very happy for us. She’s a part of the family.
VII. Aniruddha, 26 | Writer
I never knew coming out could be so exhilarating or so ridiculously refreshing – every time I came out to a close friend or a cousin, I felt this giant burst of adrenaline rush – it was this strand of happiness that stayed, leaving an imprint for years to come. But coming out to the world is a completely different thing. What would people say? Would they be angry? Upset? Uncomfortable? Why did I have to tell people anyway? I’d already come out to everyone who seemed to matter seven years ago, so why did I have to do it all over again? And then Humans of Bombay happened. Any arbitrary turning somewhere and I would be elsewhere. I would be different, and I wouldn’t be me. While I waited for a friend to come pick me up, this lovely person comes and taps me on my shoulder asking me whether she could profile me. She asked me about my life, and my dreams and my regrets, of which I only had one.
To say I was apprehensive would be an understatement, because it’s terrifying. That night, over large cups of green tea and nervous cold sweats, I told my parents. And you know what? They were okay. Unsettlingly so, but still okay. But that’s the beauty of first steps—they had questions, but they were concerns, not doubts.
“Are you sure?”
“When did you know?”
“What if it is a phase?”
“So you’ll never marry a woman?”
“What do we do about all the jewellery we planned to give your wife when you got married?” ( that one would be my mother.) The questions trailed on and on, until—
“Most importantly, are you okay? Why didn’t you just tell us before?”
It’s been liberating ever since. The love poured out through messages, phone calls, texts and emails, bursting at the seams with little red notifications.
The past month has been an emotional roller coaster—but with only highs and no lows—the love that has come my way can’t be measured in styrofoam boxes or glass bottles—it is unbound and free.
Here’s hoping to times when coming out is not a celebration, but a part of day-to-day life, like saying you like chocolate ice cream or deciding that you don’t want to be an architect anymore. My coming out hasn’t changed who I am as a person – I still wear the same clothes, love the same flavour of ice-cream, joke about the same things, and I still hate pigeons as much as I did a month ago. But how do I feel?
I feel free.
VIII. Ria, 24 | Entrepreneur, Model and Co-owner of an Accessories Brand
I came to Mumbai for an internship and I was dating a boy when I moved here. Growing up, I never realised that I could be attracted to women. So when it actually happened, it took me by surprise.
I met this girl. And realised I had feelings for her. So I decided to tell my mom before anything happened—my mom and I are really close. That I was feeling these things. It all went down during a Skype call. She knew I had broken up with my boyfriend, so she asked me if I was seeing someone new. I told her I was spending a lot of time with this girl and that it was really nice. I told her how we met and how I enjoyed spending time with her and that I was bisexual and she just said ok.
When I went back to visit home, I took my mom and stepdad out for dinner. We talked. I told them about my girlfriend and what made me realise I had feelings for her. They understood that it’s just the same as any other relationship—just with someone of the same gender.
When they visited Mumbai, they met her. And they loved her too. My stepdad actually took me aside to tell me that my mother was really happy for me and my relationship. She just needed to see it to fully get it. Once she did, my girlfriend became part of the family.
IX. Farhad, 30 | Digital/Social Media Consultant
Coming out (if I can call it that) to my brother was the easiest. The Internet was new, and with it came unlimited access to gay porn. This was at a time where I didn’t even know that everything you surfed was accessible in the web history section. He straight up asked me one day why I watched ‘that’ kind of porn and I just said I liked it more than regular porn. He smiled and didn’t bring it up again till I started having boyfriends—and then he just knew. He didn’t give a shit as long as I was happy.
When I was around 18, the year I thought I might not be gay but maybe bisexual, I had a girlfriend (sort of) and I remember her being my dad’s favourite of all the girls I brought home. He accidentally walked in on us while we were kissing and apologised profusely before leaving us alone. On the same day, I woke up for a night shift to find this straight boy—whom I was sort of fooling around with on the side—sitting in my room. He had come over to hang out only to discover I was fast asleep. So he just sat around waiting for me to wake up. When I did, I got up from my bed and went straight for a kiss and my dad somehow managed to walk in on me again! I could see the confusion on his face, but it disappeared in half a minute. He smiled, apologised again and quietly left the room. I’ll never forget that smile because I knew in that moment he had worked it out on his own. He never ever brought it up again. I did wonder if he was doing the classic blocked-it-out-of-memory routine. But after all these years, I know he accepted me in that one minute because he’d always take extra effort to know if I’m doing ok in my relationships, even if some of them happened to be with boys.
I think dealing with my sexuality was the hardest on my mom. Mainly because seeing me oscillate between boys and girls confused the shit out of her. She’d get happy each time a girl was involved because that meant I’d probably get married some day and there’d be Parsi kids as a result. I guess she made peace with it eventually and now just assumes that I could either date a boy or a girl at any point in life. We never really sat down and had ‘the talk’. But my past two relationships have been pretty long, and both with boys, and she has been nothing but supportive in her own way to show that she gets the point.
Technically I didn’t have a sit-them-down-and-talk-about-it kind of coming out story. But things just happened to fall into place and iron themselves out. I guess living your life the way you want to, not being answerable to anyone, and not caring about how people will react was key in helping me come out in my own way.
X. Anonymous, 26 | Management Consultant
I had just come out to G for the first time. Of course, G was someone I had a massive crush on. It was a big leap for me. He gently turned me down. In spite of G’s rejection (we’re still in touch after all these years, even if we live on different continents), I was exhilarated. This was the first time I had intentionally come out to someone.
Riding on that high, I returned home and skyped with my dad for our weekly catch-up. We talked about class, work, travel and family—general things you would discuss with your parents when you live away from home. As we wrapped up our conversation, my dad suddenly mentioned that he came across my name online as a part of my university’s Outlist, an annual declaration signed by faculty, staff and students in support of LGBT rights and equality on campus and beyond. He asked me why my name was up there.
Yes, he was looking me up on Google from time to time. No, he wasn’t stalking me. I panicked, nonetheless. I claimed that I was doing it to support my friend N, which seemed to have satisfied him for a second. In a split second, however, that changed. I was still running on full steam from the first coming out incident earlier that evening, and decided that I would continue it.
In the most convoluted way possible, I managed to tell my dad that I wasn’t only signing the Outlist for N, but for myself as well. He got the message. He asked whether he could tell my mother, to which I replied that he should. The call ended with him telling me that I was to stay safe and no matter what, they both loved me.
God, I was lucky.
XI. Taksh | 20, BMM student
So the way I came out to my mom was very strange. Growing up, she’s been nothing but liberal and loving. So one day, I said, “Mom, I think I don’t like girls. I think I like guys.”
Now this is back in the 10th grade, and Om Shanti Om was doing the rounds on TV. Without skipping a beat, she replied, “Okay all of that is fine, but move your head, you’re blocking the view. Shah Rukh is on TV! We’ll talk about it in the break.”
By doing so, she showed me how she took this in her stride, took this as just another inconsequential thing about her son that was to be loved equally. She showed me how she accepted me, and adored me just as fiercely—just not as fiercely as Shah Rukh, though!
XII. Abhinav, 20 | BMS student
Coming out is not a one-time thing. It’s a recurring process that you have to go through. With yourself, with your friends, with your family and sometimes even with strangers you barely know. Growing up being bullied is not rare for a boy who is queer, especially when you don’t understand why you’re being bullied.
What’s so different about me? Am I doing something wrong? Why can’t I just have it easy like the other boys? These questions stab at you because you just don’t understand what’s wrong—initially. Coming out for me has been an intensive, three-stage process: denial, repression and acceptance.
You know what’s different about you, but you deny it to yourself, thinking all the while: this can’t happen to me, this is unnatural. It’s unnatural because you’ve grown up in a hetero-normative environment where you aren’t exposed to it, in mainstream media, or in person.
Then you go through the stage of repression. You try to cull any feelings you have towards the same sex—sexual, platonic or otherwise. It’s unacceptable and I must make myself like girls, you think. You force yourself to date a girl, you try to get involved with her, and you are trying everything to make it work. But, inherently you know it’s not right. It doesn’t feel right.
And then comes acceptance. You get tired of living a lie and begin to accept yourself for what you truly are. It can come by way of accepting oneself or by someone’s support in helping you deal with it, and finally coming out to yourself. And that is when you finally feel liberated and free. The fear is still in your heart. The fear of how your friends will react, of how your family will react, will they still accept you? Will you be an outcast?
But one thing is for sure, this is what you inherently and truly are—and always will be. It’s not a choice. It was never a choice. It’s a part of you. I took my time. I told my girlfriend of four years first, and she, who is now my best friend, was the most supportive friend I could’ve possibly had. Then came my closest friends, which included a few guy friends as well, who I never thought would accept this part of me. But they did, and it only brought us closer.
And then I moved away from home to a whole new city. Confused if I should come out in this free space my college provided or not, I took my time to habituate and grow as a person. It was never an agenda for me but slowly I let myself be liberated and one by one, I came out to everyone and they all accepted me for the person I am today.
The only thing left for me to do is to come out to my family. And one day, when I make that happen, I will be fully liberated.
XIII. Namrata, 30 | Works in a Family-owned Business
There has always been something that has drawn me towards women. Long before I knew the words associated with it, I understood what it felt like. I spent my adolescence going through the same insecurities and heartbreaks as everybody else and I wore my identity with pride, without shying away from it.
My home was the only place where I had to hide a part of me. Like in most conservative families, there came a time where my parents started looking out for suitors to take my hand in marriage. Just when I had run out of excuses to ‘reject’ yet another candidate, my parents decided to get to know me a little better.
They not only sat me down to have ‘the talk’ and listened to what I have to say, but they hired detectives. Eventually, the cat was out of the bag and the truth was out—I was in love with a girl; I would always love women and one day I would like to marry a woman. What followed was months of mayhem. My parents tried to ‘convert’ me with comforting words, threats to my safety and that of my then-girlfriend, emotional blackmail and multiple therapy sessions. There was also an instance where I was sent abroad on a holiday only to have my passport taken away from me, while the cops were sent to my girlfriend’s house to threaten her. Being stranded in a foreign country, I had to rely on my best friend here in Mumbai to help me sort out the situation.
The continuous family pressure and mental harassment by the cops who had been paid off eventually took a toll on our relationship and we decided to go our separate ways. That’s when I realised that there was nothing to fear or anyone to fear for anymore. Finally, after more than a year of trying to convince my parents that my sexual orientation was not a ‘disease’, a ‘choice’, or an ‘influence’, I had to get a little more aggressive. I threatened to talk to the media and to leave my home to lead a separate life. That’s when my parents conceded on two conditions: First, I could only work for the family business, which, by extension, meant I could no longer work with my best friend organising LGBT events. Second, no girls would be allowed in the house.
Over the last five years, there has been a slow yet steady progress in the right direction. From vehemently opposing my sexual preference, my parents have grown to develop a ‘we shall not ask and you shall not tell’ attitude. My younger sister who I came out to way before my parents has been by my side throughout. Her irrevocable support and the acceptance I have received from all the people around me have added immensely to my strength to fight this battle—although I don’t expect things to change drastically with my family.
XIV. Rohan, 24 | Senior Apparel Design Manager
I remember the day I was told to no longer ask for dolls as a gift for my birthday as I was growing older, and for some reason, that meant I had to ‘man-up’. That’s the day I decided I would rather ‘human-up’ and fight this harsh world by making them do the same.
I hear many coming out stories and how difficult and challenging it is. I have had friends who have gone through a bumpy ride and I could only imagine what that must be like. The younger of two sons, I grew up in a liberal, social and outspoken family that came from Baroda.
It was somewhere in my early teens when I officially broke it to my family, not so much by words but rather by my gestures and mannerisms. Mothers always know it and fathers choose to pretend they don’t. By doing something that came so naturally to me I didn’t realize the damage that I made and affected somebody else in the family. This person was my brother who was the only person I wrote a coming out letter to—he was in New York pursuing a new start to his life. Little did I know that this e-mail was just going to push him back into the closet, which he had finally gathered the courage to unlock, if not open—I had no idea that he was gay too!
This changed things for him and he went through a phase of depression and self-doubt until he couldn’t take it and came out to all of us. That was when our folks flipped over the thought of two gay sons, when they were maybe coming to terms with having one. Having said that, it took my mom a month to back her two sons and say it aloud that she is a proud mother of two queer sons. My dad, after countless heated discussions, has come down to make adjustments (not peace) to the same fact. The sense of satisfaction I gained from my mom’s total acceptance is what’s missing in my relationship with my dad. But I’m still hopeful to get it one day since he really does make the effort to understand—even if he doesn’t eventually—rather than dismissing it completely and disowning us.
XV. Avil, 33 | Manager at a Global Media Monitoring Company
In hindsight, as a friend had suggested, I should have thrown a coming out party. I could have made an actual closet and jumped out of it. It would have also extended the opportunity to others to come out of their own closets as bigots, homophobes and duplicitous people.
Ani DiFranco said, “When I was four years old, they tried to test my I.Q. They showed me a picture of three oranges and a pear. They asked me, which one is different? It does not belong; they taught me different is wrong.” Early on in my life I knew I was different, however, I wasn’t convinced that I was wrong.
I kept telling myself that my sexual orientation is my business and I need not share it with the world. That changed when I met my partner. I fell in love and was consumed by it. I was the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life and wanted to share that happiness with my friends.
I meticulously planned how I would come out: who do I speak with first? Who needed to be spoken to one-on-one? Which set of friends could be spoken to in groups? It was interesting; my schedule of coming out was being based on my assumption of how they would react. Over a few weeks, I spoke to most of my close friends and told them about my partner—sexual orientation being implicit. Some friends chose to be indifferent, some conversations turned into arguments but many ended in warm hugs. Some were upset that I had lied to them, by keeping that part of my life a secret. I hoped they understood that it was the kind of ‘lie’ by which I cheated myself, not them. I wish I wasn’t as apologetic or defensive in some of those discussions, and in some, I wish I wasn’t as aggressive. Most friends were happy for me, some were circumspect about my partner and some others distanced themselves from me—especially around people.
It’s been over three years now that I’ve been with my partner. I think my friends are now closer to him than me. Like I said at the very outset, I should have thrown a coming out party!
Want to share your coming out story? We’re more than happy to keep you anonymous, if you like. E-mail it to us at [email protected] with the subject line: ‘My Coming Out Story’.
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