Young Indians From Small Towns & Villages Share Their Coming Out Stories - Homegrown

Young Indians From Small Towns & Villages Share Their Coming Out Stories

“All homosexuals have AIDS. This is what they say,” a young gay man from a small town in Gujarat tells me during Mumbai’s recent pride parade. “Why do you think I am here?” he continues. “We have no community support or no concept of a pride march back in small towns.”

Coming out and identifying as anything other than heterosexual is always a challenge, no matter where you live, but these challenges get more complicated in rural areas and small Indian towns that not only lack exposure but also still largely exist behind a giant smokescreen of prejudice, cultural shackles and religion-fuelled hypocrisy. Here, acceptance and support doesn’t come easy and most LGBTQ people are ousted from the society. All because they choose to be who they are. 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.

As you read this, there are probably hundreds (maybe even thousands) of LGBTQI 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 are searching for answers to the questions they’re too afraid to ask out loud. Most of these individuals are from rural areas and small towns where exposure remains limited, homophobia is prominent, rumours spread like wildfire and superstitions like ‘correctional sex’ are more than normal. While we in no way undermine the struggles of the urban LGBTQ, village and town-dwellers do have a harder time in not just coming out to their peers but also in accepting their identity themselves due to lack of exposure to others like them. Here, most adolescents spend hours in cyber cafes trying to understand their own sentiments, often feeling lonely as they are unable to find someone who might reciprocate their feelings, let alone understand them. Most find answers only when they move to bigger cities. Those who choose to stay back, may never find it at all, growing up to believe that there is something innately wrong with them.

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 LGBT individuals in the closet, but a deep sense of internal homophobia too.

However, before we can have people coming out of the closet, it’s important to realise that we have to bring the conversation out of the closet first. And the best way to do it is to talk about it. In this vein, we got five brave, young LGBT Indians from small towns and villages to share their coming out stories in the hope that somehow, somewhere, that one young LGBT 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.

Some entries have been edited for length and clarity.

I. Dakshin, 21,
Neyvelli, Tamil Nadu

Transman

“ I have no nostalgia attached to a place that denied me the right to be who I am.

I grew up in a place where sex between a man and a woman was considered a taboo, and sex between the same genders was considered a sin. If same-sex people were seen getting ‘too close’ their parents were called and told that their child was indulging in ‘inappropriate’ friendship. They would then be coerced into correctional sex (sex with an opposite gender relative) to fix them. So naturally, I was terrified when I discovered that I was attracted to women. I discovered this as a preteen when I kissed my best friend (who I eventually fell in love with later). I felt tremendously happy at that moment, but later my upbringing forced me to believe that it was unnatural.

At that time I thought I was a lesbian, but as soon as I attained puberty, I started feeling uncomfortable in my own body. I would see all the men around me and feel a certain sense of loss. I wished to be a boy. Thankfully, unlike most other teenagers in my town, my parents had always encouraged a reading habit. I was also given access to a lot of gadgets and technology, which I used at my perusal to explore my own sexuality and gender identity. Living in despair and confusion for years, it was in the 12th grade that I was able to come to terms with who I actually am. I opened up about it to my close friends about it and since I was a well-read kid and enjoyed certain popularity amongst my peers, they accepted me for the person I was.

I wasn’t aware of the term transgender at the time, I was able to pinpoint my identity to it only much later when I moved to Pune for graduation where discussions on such topics were no longer a taboo. There, away from the judgment of my town, I started living the way I wanted. I cut my hair and started dressing like a man, inching closer to my real self. Of course, my appearance and social media ‘wokeness’ on the topic was enough to alert my mother to my sexuality and identity and though she wasn’t the kind who would push me into correctional sex, she was a fierce advocate of forcing young female-bodied people like me to speak with men, just to get the so-called thrill and have the urge to reproduce. She would often say, “It is all in your head. These are all westernized thoughts that you have picked up through all these books and a city education.” I love my mother dearly and I know it would break her to find out the truth. She is as is unhappy, caught in a bad marriage. Plus like most other places, Neyvelli frowns upon parents who are supportive of their LGBTQ children.

Small towns have no awareness, at least mine doesn’t. The advent of social media has absolutely made no difference. It will only bring forth a change if people here follow such pages, which they don’t. Mainstream media is hesitant of picking it up. Moreover social media now also includes Whatsapp which I believe has only led to spreading misconceptions about our community through unsolicited and nonfactual forwards. Misconceptions like, ‘it is something that can be cured, ‘it is a phase’, ‘it is an abnormality,’ ‘you will get AIDS’ etc is something even advocated by doctors here.

Geographically, my town is a beautiful place to grow up in and I feel sad that it’s orthodoxy is something that did not allow an amicable environment for me to grow up in. I work in Bangalore now and enjoy no special bond with my hometown. There is no nostalgia attached to a place that denied me the right to be who I am. Though, I am grateful to have had the exposure to find my own identity unlike so many others in my town who where LGBTQ people have been abused by the ones they loved, when they were married off against their choice, once their parents found out about it. It is but natural. They fear being harassed and permanently being outcasted from the society.

Dakshin. Image Source: Dakshin
Dakshin. Image Source: Dakshin

II. Parikshit Shete, 26
Sangamner Village, Maharashtra

Gay

“If you don’t identify with your assigned sex or love a person of the same sex then you are a chakka.

I didn’t know what being gay meant. I was not even aware of that terminology.... I don’t think anybody in the village was. They put everything under one category - chakka. I was effeminate, but I knew I wasn’t like the Hijiras who adorned in sarees often visited during festivities. So naturally, I was very confused, unable to understand what was so different about me especially when my 14-year-old-self developed a crush on a guy. For the longest time I thought, I was the only person in the world who was this way. That was until the film Dostana released and a classmate pointed it out to me - “You are like them. You are gay.” I felt scared. I remember spending hours in temples asking god ‘Mujhe Aisa kyu banaya?’ (Why did you make me like this?)

This was a time when I was not very good with English. I usually travelled to cyber cafes googling my feelings, trying to understand what all of it meant. This is when I came across the term ‘homosexual’.
I felt relieved. Finally, I was able to pinpoint who I was. Finally, I knew there were thousands of others like me. That is when the process of self-acceptance truly began for me. But I realised that it was too risky to come out and express my sexual orientation in the village. So I kept it to myself and escaped my hometown at the first chance I got. I moved to Pune for my higher studies.

During the first month or so of living in a boys hostel, a fellow classmate approached me and asked, “Are you gay?” I don’t know why but I suddenly got scared and denied it. Even though I accepted myself the way I am and believed that I was in a more liberal space, I still felt nervous about coming out. I avoided that guy for a while until he himself came up to me and said, “Don’t worry, I am gay as well.” We spent the next few hours exchanging our experiences. It was the first time I had actually come out to anyone and the relief I felt at the moment was something I cannot put into words. After years of anxiety and confusion, I not only found a friend. I also found hope.

To further my awareness and be more involved with those my kind, I joined an organisation in Pune as an Aarogya Rakshak where I worked as an accountant, manager and a peer educator. While I was here, I understood more about the LGBTQ Community and also got to work towards their well being. When I went back to my village for vacations, I was more confident and aware. I was ready to come out, but the village wasn’t ready for such a shocking news. Having worked with the community in Pune, I was able to identify LGBTQ people in Sangamir. I started counselling them and found my first few friends in the village.

As far as my parents are concerned, they still do not know. They, like most other villagers think I am just effeminate because I grew up playing with my sisters. They still believe it is a phase that will pass, but I do not know how to break the reality to them, especially now that they have started nagging about marriage. I think it will break their heart but I also believe that at the end of the day they will accept me for who I am. Until then, I dread going back to my village for vacations. There, I have to pretend to be someone I am not.

Even today, there is absolutely no awareness in the villages- not even with the advent of social media. People still feel that if you don’t identify with your assigned sex or are into a person of the same sex, then you are essentially a chakka. The saddest part is that many gay men in the village are getting married to women, destroying not just their lives, but also their wife’s. Changing mindsets in villages and small towns is going to require tremendous effort. Awareness needs to be initiated at the grass route levels. This is where most of our population lives anyway. I wish to see a day where I can openly express my love to my partner and am not judged when seen holding hands with a guy.

Parikshit Shete. Image Source: Parikshit Shete
Parikshit Shete. Image Source: Parikshit Shete

III. Ridhi*, 26
Shamli, Uttar Pradesh

Lesbian

“I have no hopes and no expectations from it. I don’t see a change anytime soon...not in my lifetime.”

Growing up, I always believed I had a disease. I was a girl attracted to girls, but I did not know what to do about it. So, I stayed quiet and often joined my friends to gush over boys, just so that they never have a doubt. I enjoyed dressing up too, so I was able to keep it a secret for quite a while until it started suffocating me. I fell in love with a girl at my college and was heartbroken when she got married to a guy. I never had the guts to tell her. For a long time, I never even had the guts to admit it to myself and I slowly found myself losing my confidence and self -esteem. I did not have a computer at home and I wasn’t allowed to go out after college hours so I would often bunk classes and spend time at the college lab trying to understand how this could be cured. This is when I stumbled upon the word lesbian and was also introduced to online chat rooms. I developed a special bond with a girl there and it was her who made me realise that there was actually nothing wrong with me. I was a healthy, loving girl who was attracted to girls, that’s it. Though I came to accept myself, I knew the badlands, politically and communally charged lands of Shamli would never ever tolerate this - neither would my parents or friends who had grown up here. Thus I worked hard and secured a government job that landed me in Mumbai, where I attended my first pride march. I was ecstatic to be meeting an entire community of people like me. I was thrilled and relieved to have their support, to belong somewhere.

I slowly gained my confidence back and decided to come out to my best friend from Shamli. She didn’t seem too forthcoming with the idea but didn’t revolt against it either. One fine morning, I got a call from my mother who in tears told me that my best friend had told her that I was a lesbian. I was shocked and hurt and only found my words when my mother said she wanted me to come back home so she could take me to a psychiatrist, threatening to end her life if I did not. I calmly explained it to her that my friend was lying and that I was straight. After a lot of convincing, she believed me. To be honest, I did not know why I lied, but it seemed the right thing to do back then. I do feel guilty of having lied to her, but I am not ready to come out to her as of yet.

As of now, I avoid going back home as I have started being nagged for marriage. I love my parents and do want them to accept me as it is going to take a lot of work to make my parents understand what identifying as a lesbian means and give them the courage to fight the society. As far as awareness in my town is concerned, I have no hopes and no expectations from it. I don’t see a change anytime soon...not in my lifetime. I am just waiting to be financially independent so I can get my parents here to stay with me. Then slowly I will ease them into the idea.

IV. Maddy*, 23
Solapur, Maharashtra

Bisexual

“Rumours that I was gay, spread like wildfire in my town. Everybody seemed to know.”

I realised that I was bisexual in the second year of Engineering. I found it slightly weird that I was also attracted towards boys, so I tried hard to focus my attention only towards girls. That didn’t really help. Though I was vaguely aware of the term ‘bisexual’, I was not too sure of what it entailed. In the small town that I live, conversations like these are hushed if not ignored, so I went to my one source of uncensored, unbiased information - the internet.

I never really thought that there was something wrong with me. I knew being bisexual was just a part of my identity. It did not define me as a whole, still, I felt a little nervous coming out to someone about this. I also happened to be effeminate so bullying from students and even professors was something I had learned to deal with. There were rumours on campus about me being gay and they spread like wildfire in my small town, but I paid no heed to them. I knew who I was.

The first person who I actually came out to was my best friend. I didn’t feel like hiding things from her and even though nobody spoke about these issues so openly, I gathered the courage and asked her - “What do you think about LGBTQ people?” I was surprised when she said that she wholeheartedly supported them. That is when I finally confessed to her. She accepted for who I am. Slowly thereafter I managed to come out to my other friends as well. Nobody objected because they understood that this wasn’t by choice. If I had the choice to be who I wanted, I would have been a celebrity by now.

After being accepted by my friends I grew more comfortable in my skin and started reading up more on the LGBTQ Community. I started attending talks by Laxminarayan Tripathi to further my awareness. The kind of understanding about the LGBTQ community that exists in a small town like Solapur was pathetic and even though social media was playing an active role in spreading more awareness - living here and being myself has become a difficult task especially with so many rumours making rounds. Moreover, there is no community support here as well. I feel demotivated every time I hear things like, “a guy should only have a romantic relationship with a girl.” That is why I am desperately seeking to relocate to either Mumbai or Pune which I know would provide me with a more liberal space to be myself.

Maddy.* Image Source: Maddy*
Maddy.* Image Source: Maddy*

V. Aakash, 24
Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Gay

“Forget society, I knew my own family would struggle to accept me like I was struggling to accept it myself.”

When I was 16 years old, I had a girlfriend and I found it difficult to get intimate with her. I didn’t know what was wrong with me until I had oral sex with an older guy. That is when I knew I was gay. I was very scared. Though Aurangabad is relatively a larger town, people here aren’t as progressive. Forget society, I knew my own family and friends would struggle to accept me like I was struggling to accept it myself. So it became my secret. I felt as if something was wrong with me and often questioned God as to why I was made like this. Living in a small town, I found it hard to find boys who would openly reciprocate my romantic feelings towards them. Thus many times I felt lonely. It was only much later that I went abroad and fell in love with a French man who is now my partner.

For my further studies, I went to Taiwan which is where I truly came to accept myself. Here identifying as a gay man wasn’t considered a taboo. Here, I met more people from the LGBTQ Community and started understanding homosexuality more deeply. I finally realized that there was nothing wrong with me. When I returned home after completing my education, I felt more confident. Thus, I decided to come out to my friends. Most accepted me gracefully.

After coming back to India, I also noticed that awareness levels about LGBTQ people in Aurangabad had definitely risen but there still wasn’t any community to fight against Sec 377 or support our needs in the town. That is when I along with a few other friends started an initiative called the 7 Shades Of Love. We started organizing meet-ups in Cafes and other public places where we shared our experiences and discussed how we could rally community support. Unfortunately, this wasn’t taken progressively by other citizens of the city, so we had to discontinue our meetings.

As far as my parents are concerned, I have never really come out to them, but I do believe that they have a fair idea. It is a situation of don’t ask, don’t tell. I do believe though that it would have been easier for me to address it with them had we lived in a larger metro that does allow exposure and a space for conversations like these.

*Names have been changed to protect identity

If you would like to share your own journey and experience with us please write in to [email protected]

If you enjoyed reading this article, we suggest you read:

The Other Side Of Coming Out - 5 LGBTQ Allies Share Their Stories

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