The world would have us believe that everything is divided into black and white. Right and wrong. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” they say.
There’s just one problem with this concept – it leaves no room for the natural process of change which is, by definition, a grey area.
These are the three fundamentals of being an extreme conservative Indian. I lived a significant portion of my life believing that everything was black and white. Growing up in a conservative South Indian Christian family, my views on what was black and what was white were very specific. Homosexuality was against the Bible, dating before marriage was against our culture, sexuality was a shameful topic and girls were to dress modestly and be submissive.
However, my environment being that of the far more liberal South Africa, television was rife with gay people, dating Indians, sex education programming. And any time girls in skimpy outfits came onscreen, one of my parents would inevitably make the irony-drenched remark of “Poor girl, did they forget to put clothes on her?” It was confusing, being surrounded by the seemingly overly-tolerant culture of the society I was growing up in, and yet being told to conform to the restrictive traditions of another entirely.
As a result, by the time I reached adolescence, my views had evolved. But much in the way a broken bone heals incorrectly if set badly, these views had all the wrong undertones: Gay people could do what they liked – as long as they didn’t do it in front of me. Dating before marriage was fine – as long as both parties were of the same religion and meant to get married someday. Being open with your sexuality was fine – as long as you didn’t complain about being called a slut for it.
I had just dipped my toes into the pool of grey area – that scary no-man’s-land between black and white – and I was finding myself intimidated by the vastness of its indefinability. I tried to cling to “right” and “wrong” as infallible concepts, but the more I tried to tell myself to “hate the sin, not the sinner“, the more I found myself questioning the rationality behind what I had been told all my life. If being gay was a sinful choice, why would so many people choose to be gay when they know they would be mercilessly persecuted for it? What was the difference between the girl in a crop top, and the aunty in a sari with half her belly showing?
Slowly, I began to temper my blind faith in convention with doses of logic, the opinions of my peers, and reality checks. After ignoring everything that didn’t fit my taught ideals for the better part of a decade, I finally started opening my mind properly to other possibilities – to the shades of grey.
I discovered people who could be both morally sound and fully aware of their sexuality. I met gay and straight couples alike, and realised that nothing about a person’s orientation affected me (and that being present for PDA made me uncomfortable regardless of the couple’s orientation). People expanded beyond my 2D vision of their morality, and one day I found that I could no longer see in black and white.
My family began to see that I had grown completely apart from the ideas we had all once shared. The “Poor girl, did they forget to put clothes on her?”comment was abruptly parried with “What’s wrong with her clothes? It’s her body, she can dress however she wants.” I found myself in a two-hour long debate with relatives as to why I didn’t believe being gay was a choice or a sin. It was a far cry from the condemnatory attitude I had once aped.
It’s been a long and confusing journey, and it is nowhere near done confusing me. I am constantly surprised by new kinds of people, unexplored concepts and foreign ideals. But the world looks so much better when you’re not judging everybody around you for their very identities. This new state of mind would be unavailable to me if I had not been, at whatever point in my life, willing to open my mind to the possibility of an opinion other than my own. The fact of the matter is that change – growth – is only possible when you enter the grey.
In a nutshell, growing up strictly conservative is like sitting inside an open cage with a cloth over it. People tell you that the cage is all you’ll ever need, and that everything beyond the cloth is bad – and for a long time you let yourself believe them. But for those of you peeking out from under the cloth, trying to catch a glimpse: it’s scary, but it’s okay. It’ll be slow, and baffling, and sometimes you’ll feel ignorant; but I can promise that it’ll all be worth it in the end to look around at the world and realise that there is far more worth loving than hating. Let yourself explore concepts beyond the familiar. Allow new ideas and mind-sets to challenge and change you. You’ll thank yourself for it one day.