This piece is part three of a series (read Part I and Part II) we’re hoping to run regularly. The objective? To sustain the conversation about LGBTQ rights and equality, while simultaneously giving India’s LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ individuals in the closet, but a deep sense of internal homophobia too.
As you read this, there are probably hundreds (maybe even thousands) of LGBTQ 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 11 brave LGBTQ Indians to share their coming out stories in the hope that somehow, somewhere, that one young LGBTQ 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. Lavanya | 23, journalist, actor and writer
Pansexual and gender-fluid
To be honest, I don’t really have a coming out story. There has been no drama, no adverse reactions, nothing. My first ever crush was on a boy who sat next to me in class. I was eight years old and it was something I couldn’t explain. Following that, I had crushes on several boys over the years, including Daniel Radcliffe. It was when I was 14, and in the 10th grade, that everything changed. I developed intense feelings for my friend, who I’ll call Peeves in this account. We sat together in every class. I would speak with her on the phone for hours on end. We attended tuition classes together. Whenever I wasn’t around her or with her, it bothered me, given that she was one of the people who made school bearable for me.
The funny thing was that I didn’t actually realise that these developing feelings were the romantic kind until a few years later. I took out time to look back at the 14 years at the hellhole I called a school, and it was then that I began to discover that when I develop feelings for someone, it’s their personalities that form the basis for attraction, and how they identify gender-wise had zero importance. After that, there was nothing holding me back.
Unfortunately, one downside of my sexuality is the inability to come out to my parents. My parents are conservative Tamil Brahmins who are unashamedly homophobic, and leave no opportunity to deride and mock people who identify as LGBTQ. In fact, my father expressed tremendous happiness when Section 377 was upheld.
I have never been ashamed of my sexuality, simply because I stood my ground and made it very clear that I am proud of it. To this day, people I meet and the friends I make have been nothing but supportive of it. I am also super lucky to now be in a relationship with someone who is bisexual, and while this wasn’t the basis for choosing to be with him, it certainly gives us a sense of comfort we haven’t had in our past relationships.
As for being gender-fluid, while I have always been somewhat of a tomboy, there are days when being a woman in this country catches up to me and I hate every bit of it. I identify as human, and I see everybody else as human too. The reality is that gender truly does not matter.
II. Abhyuday | 22, Master’s in Human Resources
Today if you ask me, I would say I don’t believe in the idea of coming out anymore. Straight people don’t need to come out as straight so why should gay people be any different? However it took me a lot of time to reach this position. Coming out is not a singular, independent activity in a queer person’s life. It is the start of a process of challenging the notions of others, of exploring new aspects in one’s own disposition and undergoing a gradual transformation from shame to pride.
Growing up in a boarding school affiliated to the military where ‘homo’ was the worst and most despicable abuse you could hurl at anyone, where the traditional norms of masculinity stand strong, complete with adolescent boys and oozing testosterone, high school for a gay boy isn’t exactly a joyride. I grew up constantly pretending to be someone else and it was terrible for my self-esteem. I truly came out after I started college at the University of Delhi. During my first semester I was crushing on a senior and I decided to take my chances and ask him out. Much to my surprise, he admired me for my guts. This incident also proved to be a blessing, as people who speculated about my sexuality behind my back came forward and embraced me for my courage. Since then, I don’t bother coming out to people. I just mention over conversation that I am gay—as though it’s another banal detail. The acceptance from acquaintances has worked wonders for my confidence. It’s a long way from all the self-hate I indulged in when I was closeted.
III. Alex | 27, Quality Specialist at a Media Firm
I live in Bengaluru. When I first reached the city, I thought I was bisexual. Soon, I met many LGBTQs and learnt more about the community from them and came to the conclusion that I’m queer, because I don’t believe in labels. Back in school and college I was called a ‘lady’ and ‘the guy who walks funnily’. I didn’t know why this was happening to me, but I remained strong and carried on.
As a person, I love to sing, dance and act—I love to entertain people. But I was conscious on stage and wasn’t letting myself go. I was playing safe. That’s when I started doing research on how to be an entertainer. I started watching movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Chachi 420, amongst others, and became an instant fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Using movies and reality shows, I fashioned a drag character for myself: a Malayalee woman from Kuttanad, Kerala—elegant and classy, but fierce and outspoken too. I even created an entire background story for her.
She focuses on issues that affect individualism, gender equality and feminism, and she chose these issues because they are prevalent in Indian society. After all, we live in a patriarchal society where anyone who shows signs of being feminine is pushed to the wall. I felt it wasn’t right.
Creating this drag character, named Mayamma, was the start of my coming out process. The first time I performed as Mayamma is when I broke down the closet door and came out as queer man. Truth be told, Mayamma brought me out of the closet. I have come out to the whole world as a queer artist and continue to entertain people.
I could easily play safe and continue to be in the closet. But, to be true to myself was the better way. My family members discouraged me, especially my mother, to perform drag. But I knew I had a purpose in the community. I wanted to show other people in the community that being yourself isn’t a crime.
I always believe in what RuPaul said: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
And, I believe it with all my heart.
IV. Hashvardhan | 19, Psychology/Anthropology Student
After studying for 10 years at a private school in India, I decided that it was time for me to change schools and move out of the country after the 10th grade. My last three years of schooling in Mumbai was something no one should ever have to go through. I always questioned my sexuality when I was younger, but I never really paid much attention to it. After the eighth grade, I began learning more about myself and who I really was as a person. At the same time, there was a lot of negativity at my school when it came to any LGBTQ issues. A lot of my friends would constantly make homophobic jokes and it became hard for me to accept myself when I couldn’t be in a positive environment.
Over the next two years, people began to guess I was gay and that’s when I started getting bullied. Some people whom I considered to be my friends seemed to be laughing along with everyone else, instead of standing by my side. A lot of teachers also passed homophobic remarks during classes. I only had support from the student counsellor and a group of friends that I had confided in. Instead of taking care of me, the school seemed to be breaking me down more and more—for them the quality of my grades was more important than my mental health. I was clinically depressed, and spent most of my days crying at home. I couldn’t get myself to study and my grades suffered.
Those three long years finally came to an end, and I managed to get into a private boarding school in America. That was my opportunity to start over and truly get to be myself without being judged for it. But, at the same time, a part of me felt like I was running away instead of really just leaving to start over. A part of me still ached because of all the hateful things that some people had said to me. But I had decided from the start that I would never stop being myself because of something they did not have the mental capacity to understand. Their cruelty was ignorant and petty, but it was true to who they were. And at that point in my life, I had to be true to myself.
I decided to post everything I went through during those three years on my Tumblr in July 2013. I guess that was my ‘official’ coming out. I was aware that those people were constantly stalking me on my social media, so I knew that they would eventually find it. And over time, a huge number of people from school had seen the post, including the entire faculty. That’s when I realised how much power each person has to create change. It felt so good to know that maybe there was some other kid in the same situation as me, who could then look at that post and realise that no matter how bad his/her situation is, things can change for the better.
Looking back at everything, I really do believe that things tend to fall into place somehow and that everything really does happen for a reason, no matter how cheesy it sounds. The two years I spent at boarding school made me feel a sense of peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. It put my faith back in people. I could feel a part of myself heal each day. It was exactly what I needed. I’ve met so many amazing people and learned so much from them. The growth I experienced as a person was immense. I honestly I never thought I’d feel the way I do now. I’m currently studying psychology at a university in New York, and for once, I feel like I’m actually exactly where I need to be in my life. For me, coming out was more than just being true to myself. It was my way of reclaiming what I had seemed to have lost over time: my strength.
V. Navin | 24, Writer/Stand-up Comedian
While I was out to many friends for close to five years, my first public outing came through the medium of stand-up comedy. I knew from the very beginning that I wasn’t going to sit by while the gay rights movement in India gained steam. I had read a lot about the years of persecution and injustice meted out to members of the LGBTQ community, but what struck me most was the ignorance that is prevalent amongst urban youth in India. So I did the next best thing I could do: I tackled the notions that surround homophobia and attempted to scrap those myths one by one. It was a scary thing to do. The first time I went up on stage at an open mic event, I was incredible aware of the fact that I was performing for a room full of strangers who could possibly boo me off stage. But that was not the case. From the moment I declared I was gay, there was an overwhelming response from each and every person in the room. I then proceeded to crack some of my terrible jokes. After the show was over, several established comedians came to me to acknowledge the fact that my voice could be an important one in the scene. Since then, I started adding more personal perspective to my material, and today, I am one out of a handful of openly gay Indian comedians.
It is not to say that I haven’t faced homophobia too. There have been times where people have been uncomfortable about me tackling the topic of gender identity and sexuality on stage—and in real life. Some of my closest friends decided to move away from me, while some of them quoted Bible passages to tell me how immoral I am. But if that was their best argument, then I am better off without them in my life. There is a strong need for more young gay men and women to accept their sexuality and step out of that ominous closet—because people who really love you will continue to do so, irrespective of who you are or who you love.
The next big challenge for me was to tell my family. I thought they had an idea, but I was wrong. When it came to confronting them, I couldn’t sum up the courage. My parents, being devout Catholics and traditional Indians, could probably explode at the news and maybe even ask me to move out, or so I thought. I actually ran away from home for a brief period because the tension was driving me nuts. But I was only hurting my folks and myself. So I came back, sat my mother down, and for the next one hour, told her everything she needed to know about being gay. She took a whole week to warm up to the fact, but she finally came around. And so did my father, and my siblings. To this day, my mother tries to understand more and more about LGBTQ culture and I don’t mind it at all because talking about it is the only way to move forward. There is only so much we can sweep under the rug, before it turns into a tripping hazard.
VI. Pooja | 20, BMM (Journalism)
Pansexual and gender-fluid
There was never a definitive time that I came out. I just never denied it once I could accept it myself. When I was 13, there was this girl I liked from school who was five years older than me (lets call her V). I wanted to meet her all the time, seeing her got me excited, and I couldn’t wait to tell her about everything that was happening in my life. Soon, it came time for V to leave school. For safety and to not arouse her suspicion I called her didi. That ended there. Soon, I went on to high school and in the ninth grade we learnt about reproduction. My school was an all-girls school, and my friends taught me all I knew about love back then. It sounded very similar to what I felt for V. Just that everything seemed to happen between a man and a woman. No one heard of a girl liking a girl. Every friend of mine dreamed of a man, and so I thought that was the thing I was to do. I tried to dream of men too. I started crushing on any guy I saw because I thought that was how I would get myself to understand how love feels. I had my first boyfriend, second, third. It went on. And there was nothing wrong, I felt. My first kiss was a guy. But I still thought of women—I appreciated them, I crushed on them, and I kept it all locked away. At the same time, I put on this skin of a person who made fun of people who acted out of the social order. Yes, I have teased people with calls of ‘lesbo’ and ‘SO gay’. It isn’t something I am proud of, but not something I’m afraid to admit either. It was just me trying to fight something I didn’t know the meaning of. But all too soon, I began tiring of my nonsensical behaviour and myself. I crawled back into a shell.
All this happened in the UAE, and then I came to India. Life took an about turn here, the people I started meeting were so much more accepting, and that I believe is by sheer luck. My understanding of love and sexuality deepened. I felt love for girls, guys, and more; it had nothing to do with how they were born physically. I found the guy I am in love with and am dating here, I also found women I fell in love with and who are my companions for life here. By the time my second year in India rolled around, I was accepting myself a whole lot more. I never really came out until recently when I sat my mom down and explained to her that I like both men and women and that dating a guy right now doesn’t make me straight and dating a girl tomorrow won’t ever make me lesbian. There have been times I feel I am pansexual. I am sure at times and I am not so sure at other times. But I keep mentioning dating and marrying women and everything as normally as others mention dating who they like to date. I try to normalise the existence of people like me as much as possible. I think somewhere there lies the solution.
At the same time I tried to explain to my friends, boyfriend and mother about my gender fluidity. It has always been a part of me and it wasn’t until very recently that I got a name for it. I have days when I wake up and feel like a guy and there are days I feel like a girl. It confused me greatly and put me in a dilemma because I just couldn’t find myself—but it’s changing.
At college I made a film for an Understanding Cinema project in which there was a five-second scene of me expressing my love to another girl. That was probably me coming out to my entire class—and not just the people I felt comfortable with. A lot of my female friends have stopped being my friends because they thought I might show interest in them. Some other people I have come out to are in denial, telling me it is a phase. People have told me to ‘just choose already’, while others have asked whether I would be ‘interested in threesomes’ or whether having one girlfriend and one boyfriend is possible since I can ‘have the best of both worlds’. For the rest of the world, anyone who’s asked me about my sexuality has received a very straight answer: I’m fluid as hell and I love it.
VII. Sarthak | 22, Engineer
I still remember the first time I came out to my friends. It was a year and a half ago. I’d been contemplating it for a while, wondering if telling them would be a great idea, but the fear of not being accepted for who I am kept me from telling anyone anything. After much thought, I realised what the important thing was: accepting yourself, irrespective of what people think. That takes balls.
I gathered my close friends together and went for it. “Look guys, there’s something you should know,” I said. “I don’t know if this is going to change how you feel about me as a person or as a friend, but this is certainly something you have the right to know. I’m gay and I’m proud. I’ve put a lot of thought into this and you guys mean the world to me, which is why I’ve decided to share this with you. Please feel free to express yourselves.”
The pause that followed this was one of the most anxious moments I’ve ever faced. I told this to a group of eight people, and to my surprise, not a single one of them hesitated or acted strange. All of them embraced it—and me. Especially the girls. They were genuinely happy to see their friend sharing such an intimate detail about his life. I’ll never forget that day. It changed me and I haven’t stopped being myself after that, not even for one second.
Coming out for every LGBTQ person is empowering and liberating in it’s own way, and most of all, it’s crucial. It’s beautiful to see people you love, love you back for who you are and be happy about it.
VIII. Maanav | 34, Media Lawyer
I came out pretty late in life. It was in 2010 when the football world cup was on. I had been toying with the idea of doing it, but didn’t really know how to, or to whom, if that makes sense. I was nervous and apprehensive. But then it happened so naturally. It was with my best friend, over one of those late night phone conversations where one conversation led to another and then she just flat-out asked me if I was gay. There was silence on both ends of the telephone for what seemed like ages. Then I said: “Yes, I am.”
And that was that. The rest of the conversation is a blur. She was so happy for me—and it gave me strength to tell more people. I started with my sisters and then my closest friends, most over the phone, only because I couldn’t contain it within myself anymore. It was liberating and they made it so easy for me. The biggest test was my parents. I told mum first, on a Monday afternoon with my sister sitting next to me. Her first response was “I know.” I think mothers always know. She asked me if I was sure, and what she should do with all the jewellery she bought for my future wife. I told her to keep it or sell it.
I was most nervous telling my dad—as any Indian boy would probably be. It was a week after I told my mum and had to build up the courage to do it. When I finally did, he just looked at me and said, “You’re my son, I love you. Jai Mata Di.” He did not make a fuss, just followed it up with ”So what! Elton John is also gay, look how rich he is.” Laughter ensued.
I got lucky. It was so easy for me to come out to everyone. It is not this easy for others, but the internal struggle is probably the same. It took me a long time to accept myself as a gay man before I could expect anyone else to. I know it’s a cliché, but learning to love oneself and be comfortable in one’s own skin is the first step.
You need to come out to yourself first, before you are ready to tell the world. Also, people, especially parents, will pleasantly surprise you.
Today, I am a proud gay man and am happy to be this way, as it does make me different and special. My sexuality does not change or define me as a son, a brother, a friend or even a lawyer. It certainly does not make me a criminal, and I do hope the judiciary takes note that we are not a ‘minuscule minority’ but regular people who deserve the same basic human rights.
IX. Parakram | 21, Fashion stylist
I went to an all-boys boarding school in India. I was the first one in my class to have a girlfriend, which was in the seventh grade. But when we split in the ninth grade, I began to think about my life and began to realise I was gay. I was obviously worried. While growing up, I’ve faced bullying due to my personality, which was gentle and sort of feminine. What saved me was the fact that I was the first one out of all my classmates to have a girlfriend—and I will always thank and respect her for that.
But, I’ve had feelings for men since I can remember. And that’s what made me realise I was gay. I was in my final grade in boarding school, and by then, only four of my close friends knew (one girl and three boys) about me back then. It was very difficult for me to open up to them. I knew they would support me, but that didn’t do much to quell the anxiety one always feels before coming out to someone. They were the most supporting factor in getting me to open up, especially Astha, who always motivated me. She always gave me light when I needed it the most.
Hiding such a big part of yourself can really make you feel alone and depressed. The feeling of having to hide this aspect of my life from my parents always frustrated me, especially since they’ve always been very rational and understanding. I made my decision to finally come out to them. My parents were in Nepal, which is where I live, and I was in school in India, which made it tougher for me to tell them considering the geographical distance. But I messaged them on Blackberry Messenger and told them that I was crying and wanted to tell them something important. After telling them, they called me and told me they were very proud of me and my decision to open up—and my grandparents called me right after, to tell me that they’re always there to support me.
It may have put pressure on them, since they come from an extremely cultural and political background, but they realised that too, and were extremely understanding and told me to do whatever made me happy. I was very grateful that they took it in a positive stride. Coming out to my parents was incredibly freeing. I don’t think anything else compares in terms of the level of liberation I felt after.
X. Anonymous, 32, IT professional
Looking in to my mother’s eyes and lying grew difficult as time went by. Everyday, she would show me pictures of girls and tell me how excited she was to plan her son’s wedding. The thought of hurting her was a good enough reason for me to keep my sexuality a secret. I was closeted for almost 27 years and I had never even met other gay men. I have a younger sister who means the world to me and I never wanted to do anything stupid that could jeopardise her future or hinder her marriage prospects.
My sister got married when I was 27 and after her marriage I decided to tell my parents about myself. I held their hands and told them that there was something that they deserved to know. My mother thought I was joking, but my dad asked if I was sure. There was silence for almost a minute. My mom was completely shattered and was weeping uncontrollably, but my father’s reaction surprised me. “I want my son to fall in love the way I did with your mother,” he said. “It’s a beautiful feeling and I want my son to experience it. It’s pure bliss to know that your wife is pregnant, and watch as her tummy grows for nine months. You actually relive your childhood when you have your own child. How is my son going to experience all this? When you grow old you will not socialise as much as you would when you’re young and you just want to be there next to that someone when you die or be there for her during her last breath.”
One thing I have come to realise is that parents need time to accept something like this. It’s okay for them to take a few years to digest and accept. It’s a progressive journey.
XI. Suresh | 33, Quality Manager
Ever since I came out to my close friends, I thought that I would be able to face the world with ease. But I hadn’t yet come out to my parents and I didn’t want them to find out through someone else. So I kept a low profile. I didn’t take part in social events and I didn’t participate in the pride march. I did date guys, but made sure I was discreet about it.
As I started getting older, I began thinking more and more about what life was going to be like if I continued in this way—having to hide everything I do and being unable to live the life I truly wanted to. And for my parents, seeing me settled was becoming a big concern. It didn’t help that my close friends started getting married one by one, only further prompting my parents to ask when I would be ready to get married. Like typical Indian parents, they began searching for girls.
I did try and hint that I wasn’t interested in getting married, but they thought I was scared of commitment. With God’s grace (this is one of those times where I feel God played a role—I’m mostly an atheist), some of the proposals that they received didn’t match my horoscope, and for others, my parents didn’t like the girls, their families, or their backgrounds for some reason. So I once again bought myself some time.
By the time I was 32, as that was the time the astrologer said is the right time for me to get married, my parents were frantically wanting me to settle down. Eventually, they found a girl who matched 40 percent with my horoscope. My parents began pressurising me. That’s when I decided it was time to come out.
I had decided long ago that I would never marry a person I don’t love or can’t get intimate with—that pretty much cut girls out of the equation completely. On the day I decided to come out to my parents, they were in my native place, deciding on the girl and calling me to come over and see her to finalise everything. I spoke to them over the phone and told them I wasn’t going to marry her because I’m gay. They were not able to digest the information or understand what I told them. They rushed back and for the next two months it was a seesaw ride at home, with a lot of emotional drama.
My parents haven’t still completely accepted me, but marriage is never discussed at home anymore. I was staying with them before I came out and I am still staying with them. It’s been almost two years since I came out. After I told my parents, I attended my first pride walk in Bangalore and the next day I came out to all my friends and colleagues on Facebook. I’ve never experienced such amazing acceptance from everyone. After that, I attended the Queer Film Festival and other programs and events in Bangalore. I’ve made some amazing friends in the LGBTQ community, and today, I can say that I’ve never been more proud of who I am. I feel free.
Compiled by Neville Bhandara
Want to submit your coming out story for Part IV? We’re more than happy to keep you anonymous, if you like. E-mail it to [email protected] with the subject line: ‘my coming out story’.