You walk into a room full of fifty strangers, with newly-minted IDs hanging from their necks. They are your fellow interns here. Sit quietly, an inviting smile upon your face, as you attempt to make polite conversation.
Soon, the convener of the internship program enters. He proceeds to ask the students to begin a round of introductions.
An alarm bell goes off in your head.
Do I say anything?
I really want to say something. If I don’t mention it, who will?
Somebody has to queer this place up.
Your turn to speak comes, accompanied by the (by now sporadic) piercings of social anxiety.
“I’m Shikhar.” Some generic details. And then you say, stammering, “I’m particularly interested in the rights of sexual and gender minorities, queer rights.”
You sit down.
Is the silence regular silence? Is it awkward silence?
You’re having a smoke with your fellow interns. The weather is pleasant, and after a long day of work, you’re starting to feel relaxed.
A certain person then asks, “So Shikhar, do you have a bandi [girl] in Ambedkar [University]?”
“Did you have a girlfriend in college?”
It’s the next day, and you’re sitting at a table having lunch. With you are about seven persons, discussing what you choose to call the ‘straight-boy talk’, which is code for compulsory heterosexuality and a certain quality of ownership and entitlement whenever matters sexual come up. Incidentally, all the persons are presumably cis-straight-men.
You heard laughter as you joined their table, and you look around enquiringly to engage with the topic at hand.
“So I was just telling them, [points to another person] this guy is a virgin.”
A round of laughter.
More discussion on sex and virginity. You are uneasy, and you eat quietly, quickly because you’re hungry, but you can also anticipate the retinue of questions which will soon crop up.
Then it happens.
“So Shikhar, man, don’t tell me you are a virgin!”
You tell them you are not.
The faces light up, and they start to lean in, ready to consume the stories of (hetero)-sexual conquests.
You are too tired, and too reluctant to do then what you know you should do. So you stand up with your tray and say, “I have to go guys, see you upstairs.”
Tea is being served. It’s evening, and everyone is comfortably chatting with each other.
You are asked, this time in a group of mostly cis-women, whether you are in a relationship.
“No I’m not. I was in one, but we broke up.”
They ask why.
“We grew apart, I realized I didn’t like him anymore.”
The smallest pause, as recognition dawns, then everything returns to normal.
Smiling, she asks if you’re interested in anybody.
You continue with a grin, “so there is this one guy, he is pursuing his….”
A few days afterwards, you’re walking with a friend to the canteen.
“It’s so brave of you, to come out as gay. And you told us when we barely knew each other too.”
You hesitate. You realize you have to say it.
“Uh, yeah. I think representation is really important, so people have someone to identify with. But one thing, I’m not gay.”
“Yeah. I’m not gay, I identify as queer, and more particularly as androphile.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I am attracted to men, but it doesn’t imply that I am a man myself. Because, uhh, I don’t identify as a man.”
“I think I’m agender. Because I’ve never felt comfortable with the concept of gender at all, I don’t think it’s for me.”
“That’s the first time I’m hearing of it, and it’s so interesting. So nice!”
There, you tell yourself, you have done it.
You’ve come out, and you’ve come out again.