Coming out and identifying as anything other than heterosexual is always a challenge, especially in a country like India that still criminalises same-sex love. And while the country’s LGBTQI 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 rest of the world that are championing and pushing for equality. But, while change often begins with one individual who decides to be brave and come out of the closet, the way it permeates to the rest of the society can often depend on the person at the receiving end – be it a parent, a sibling, a friend or even a random stranger. At a time when the conversation about the topic is in itself is still largely surrounded by a giant smokescreen of prejudice, cultural shackles and religion-fuelled hypocrisy, acceptance and support doesn’t come easy. It takes quite some time to break that barrier of social conditioning and generation gap to ease our peers into believing that there is nothing wrong about identifying as LGBTQI.
In May last year, for the first time ever, 10 parents of LGBTQI people came together in Mumbai to form Sweekar, a parent’s support group that shares experiences that are important to furthering public acceptance. The first meeting was set up by Solaris Pictures in support of its upcoming feature film, Evening Shadows, by Sridhar Rangayan that portrays family and friction between tradition and the contemporary, and how each generation has an aspiration, an idea about who they are and how we contradict each other. In an earlier interview with Homegrown, Rangayan discussed how people feel when someone comes out to them. He said, “When we come out to our parents, what happens is that we tend to push them in a closet, while we step out of our own. When a young LGBTQI person comes out to their near and dear ones, they feel liberated and free, but someone like a mother doesn’t have anybody to share this with.”
But this is also something that needs to happen. Diversity is a beautiful thing, and to make people feel excluded from something they have no control over is not only wrong but also ignorant—it speaks volumes about us as a society. This sentiment should primarily resonate with the near and dear ones of the LGBTQI so that it gives them the strength to face the rest of the world. Nobody should be persecuted for being born a certain way, or for loving someone. Moreover, nobody should be judged for being supportive and accepting of a non-heterosexual and gender-conforming people.
We hope this series inspires other Indians to find the courage it takes to accept those who come out to them and love them for who they are. If you’d like to share your ‘being come out to’ story, scroll down to the bottom of the article for details.
I. Vishesh Chopra, 25, Bangalore
Brother of 23-year-old Ashish Chopra who identifies as a gay man.
“Our parents always believed that things like these only happened in ‘other’ families.”
I was the first person my younger brother, Ashish came out to. I was 18 back then and had a fair idea about my brother’s sexual orientation. The Hrithik Roshan Posters in his room and the history of gay porn on his browser said it all, but I never confronted him outright even though I was quite neutral to the idea of him being gay. Then, one fine night it happened. We were talking about something personal when Ashish finally addressed it and said, “Bhaiya, I am gay.”
I wasn’t shocked. I told him that I knew all along and that he should have come out to me much earlier. I had gay friends as well, so I was never uncomfortable with the idea of it. I love my brother and I accept him as he is, but I will admit that I was initially scared for him. I was well aware of the kind of perception people held about the LGBTQI community. That is why I wasn’t very thrilled with the idea of Ashish participating in the Mr Gay World Pageant. However, he soon convinced me by reasoning as to what it would mean for him and his self-esteem. I was very happy when he was declared the first runner-up at the pageant.
Our parents are not very orthodox but they aren’t very progressive either. At the time, they weren’t exposed to the concept of LGBTQI and their rights, so naturally, Ashish was very hesitant about coming out to them. But I eased him into the idea, by telling him that sooner or later they will find out. They outright rebelled when Ashish came out to them. They thought something was wrong with him and persuaded him to go to a psychologist. This is where I feel like I played an active role. I started showing them documentaries and articles about the community to push them towards understanding that there was really nothing wrong with Ashu. It did take them a long time to finally accept him as he is. Dad is still a little put-off by the whole thing, but Mom has gotten quite used to it. Though she still finds it ‘vulgar’ when Ashish cross-dresses.
Ashu and I have always been close and although he did become a little distant before he officially came out to me, him being gay has never affected our relationship. Though I am not officially part of any ally groups, Ashish and all the other LGBTQI people out there have my unconditional support. I feel that the need of the hour is for the government to strongly create clear legal boundaries and take a firm stance against Section 377.
II. Pradeep Divgikar, 62, Mumbai
Father of Sushant Divgikar who identifies as a gay man.
“Unconditional love is non-negotiable”
My son Sushant is gay. I found out some 8-9 years back when my older son Karan came up to me and asked, “Dad are you aware that Sushant attends Gay parties?” I didn’t know how to react. I thought it was a case of sibling rivalry so I let it pass but it remained at the back of my head. I knew Sushant was trying to break into the world of glamour and initially the thought that it had something to do with it also crossed my mind. So one fine night, when I was at home with both my sons, I asked Sushant, “Son, is it a fact that you are gay?” Without batting an eyelid, he said, “Yes Dad.”
I believe he always knew that both my wife Bharti and I would accept him as he is, and well, he was right.
I just felt bad that I did not see it coming and didn’t address it earlier with him. I never realised it because when he was a teenager, there were lots of girls going in and out of the house. It was only much later that I realised that most gay men get along very well with women.
Earlier, our bond was strong and now it is even stronger. Both Bharti and I have extended our unconditional support to him. We didn’t pull him, rather eased him out of the closet. Today, Sushant is very much out there. He is a known personality, a singer, a performer, the voice of the LGBTQI community and at times I attend his gigs too. Nothing has changed. There is nothing criminal about being gay. It is not a fashion trend. It is not something you choose. It is who you are. Both my wife and I have always believed that.
Our peers in society did question us. Most of them still think it is something that can be cured, but I counselled them. I told them that all the LGBTQI community is asking of you is the right to be themselves. They aren’t rallying for reservations or asking for any special privileges. Still, some people felt uncomfortable, so we let them out of our lives.
My son Sushant is gay and I am happy. I always have his back, no matter what and I have been attending pride marches and am a member of the parent’s support group, Sweekar. I have a strong intuition that Section 377 will soon be scrapped or amended. Until it doesn’t, our doors are always open for any sort of counselling or conversation around this topic.
III. Patricia D’Souza, 19, Mumbai
Best friends with Sagar who identifies as bisexual.
“I can’t believe I did not see it coming even after being friends with him for so long.”
I have been friends with Sagar for the last 10 years or so and I never ever really thought he was into boys. He broke it to me when we were in the 12th standard. As we were taking our usual evening walk, he suddenly turned towards me and said, “Patricia, I need to confess something. I like boys.” I was shocked and wasn’t able to say anything for a few moments. Then I told him that it is okay, that he is my best friend and I accept him as he is.
I was scared for him and still am because he is a very emotional person. He gets attached to people very quickly. His friends and I have to be very careful with his secret as he still hasn’t come out to his parents. It is going to be a roller coaster ride of emotions, the day he does and I am going to be there for him.
Even though I wasn’t the first friend he came out to I had been unable to gauge his sexual orientation. I guess my own awareness about LGBTQI rights and the movement was limited but thanks to Sagar, I have come to learn quite a lot. Him being bisexual has changed nothing for us. We still are the best of friends who often gush over cute guys together.
IV. Vidya Phadnis, 74, Mumbai
Mother of Ameya Phadnis who identifies as a gay man.
“I thought he was into drugs.”
I found out about my son’s sexuality in 1998. He was around 25. Back then, there wasn’t much awareness about LGBTQI rights. So naturally, when I realised that there was something weirdly different about my son I thought he had taken to drugs. To confirm this, I started noticing the symptoms I had read in various books and magazines. Things like the amount of time he spent in the bathroom, his sleep patterns, social behaviour etc. Fortunately, I did not find anything that determined drug addiction. One fine night as I was lying beside him in the dark, I lightly tapped his shoulder as I wanted something. But my hands accidentally touched his face and I realised he was crying. He didn’t say much when I asked him what was wrong but it kept bothering me.
At the time, he had a friend who he was very close to. He often brought him home. I didn’t think much of it as the friend was married. But on my birthday, my son surprised me with a cake that had Ameya and his friend’s name on it. I thought that was a little odd as only really close family members or couples sent out such greetings together. That was the first time I ever had a doubt about his sexual orientation. He was successfully running an interior design company at the time so I called his business partner and she told me that, many times Ameya came for site visits with a guy. “I too think he is gay, aunty,” she muttered on the phone. I was taken aback. Honestly, I was shattered when I confronted Ameya about this. He finally confessed after denying it a lot of times. It broke my heart as one of my dreams was to see him happily married and settled down with a family.
This was a time before the internet era when being gay was even more of a taboo than it is now. My youngest sister was a doctor, so I called her up, worried. She advised me to take him to a popular psychiatrist in Panvel. I agreed and persuaded my son to come. He outright denied, but I said to him, “Please come for my sake. I just want to know what this really is. At least I will be in peace knowing I tried.” He finally gave in.
While we were on our way to Panvel, I was in the Ladies 1st Class Compartment in the Mumbai locals, standing by the rod at the entrance of the coach as the train zoomed past the city. Lost and depressed in thought, I felt like jumping off. What saved me was the thought of what would happen to Ameya, if I am gone? We met the psychiatrist and after talking to us both individually and together, he explained to us that at times, the behaviour could be acquired, but mostly it is innate. Nevertheless, he coerced Ameya into medication just for a trial basis. Ameya after much argument religiously took medicines for six months, but there wasn’t any change. The psychiatrist then said, “Accept him as he is now...enough of medicines.”
That is when the acceptance process truly began for me. I realized through all my futile efforts to ‘normalize’ him that there was nothing wrong with my son. I was the one who had been wrong, all along.
Ever since then, Ameya and I started talking more freely. Our bond grew stronger. I counselled his other gay friends as well. Now, I myself rally for the cause of LGBTQI rights through Sweekar, a parent’s support group. His distant family has also accepted him gracefully. I now only pray that he finds a suitable, loving partner for himself, who he can happily settle down with.
This happened 20 years ago and while awareness levels have risen amongst youngsters, the elder generation still holds negative perceptions about it. Moreover, the media has done a terrible job of representing the community which is what has been shaping vulgar opinions about them. That needs to be addressed first.
V. Shweta Ayyagari, 27, Bilaspur
Cousin of Shreyansh Sharma who identifies as gay and androgynous.
“The only kind of romantic relationship that exists in small towns is the one between a man and a woman.”
My brother first came out to me during a telephone conversation. He called me up one night sounding very tensed and murmured, “Didi, I am gay.” I wouldn’t say, I knew it all along but I did see it coming. As a child, my brother always enjoyed dressing up. Though I wasn’t aware of his sexual orientation, I knew he was different. He was effeminate and some family members thought that it was a hormonal problem. I knew it wasn’t, thus Shreyansh was baffled when I said, “It’s cool. You have the right to be who you are.”
Though my reaction was very calm and composed that night, the very next day I started furiously thinking about what it would mean for my brother. We lived in a small town where the mindset of the people isn’t very liberal and no matter how much one says that they don’t care about the society, at the end of the day it is them you have to live with. I asked Shreyansh to be mindful of the locality he went ‘cross-dressed’ to as the bitter truth remains that Indians don’t understand the concept of androgyny as of yet. You need to take safety into your own hands.
I stood by Shreyansh when he decided to come out to the family. Although my mother was very cool with it, his parents struggled to accept him. I then went and counselled his mother to warm her up to this idea. Though she took it very sportingly, she still seems a little put off. For them, the only kind of relationship that existed was the one between a man and a woman. This is the mentality of most small-towners.
Though the family is still warming up to the idea of Shreyansh being androgynous and gay, our relationship has certainly become very strong after the big moment. Now we have become those sisters who love dressing up, exchanging clothes and jewellery and going out to parties. Yes, people do stare at him and me when I am with him, but being a girl in India, I am pretty much used to being ogled at. We try our best to ignore them and go about having fun.
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