We had been really good friends for years. This one day, out of the blue, he calls, “Can we go out for lunch? I need to tell you something.” I replied without any thought, “Yes.” He looked visibly nervous that day. What followed was at least twenty minutes of random talk. When I finally lost my mind out of curiosity, I came forward from my seat with a clenched fist, and demanded, “Dude, will you tell me what’s the matter?”
He took a pause and said, “I need to tell you something. Please hear me out and promise that this won’t affect our friendship.” This could mean a thousand things or nothing at all. I said, “Nothing will affect our friendship, I promise. Tell me.” And he said those three words.
“I am gay.”
I heard those three words, took a second of pause and said, “Okay, great (pause, smile)… But, why would you think this would affect our friendship?”
A smile broke out on his face and the nervousness instantly vanished.
“What? What did you expect me to say to you when you’d say you are gay? Something like ‘dur ho jao meri nazron se (get out of my sight)’?”
“Yaar. I just didn’t want to lose you.”
“When did you first come to know?”
“It’s been around one-and-a-half years. I so wanted to tell you but could not.”
It felt like a dagger in my chest. Had I not been a good friend? Why did he have to hide it from me? I must have made him uncomfortable in some way.
“Did I ever make you feel that I would be disapproving of this?”
“You have been one of the nicest friends. And I have wanted to tell you all this while because you’d be such a support! But I remember this day we went to Zen and you had casually joked about someone around, ‘I think he’s gay.’ It’s silly, I know. It was casual and not even shaming but I didn’t want to lose you for this.”
“Oh. When was this?”
“Around two years back. This was the time I was starting to face my sexuality.”
My head almost touched the ground. My hands were on my face. I was ashamed of myself. I couldn’t believe that such a ‘small’ thing could have such a big impact on someone. Just for that, my friend had gone through the struggle of dealing with this without me by his side.
It’s been years since this incident. Since then, I’ve had so many friends coming out to me. I’ve consciously resisted making even casual remarks about sensitive things. It still happens, but I try. And I’ve tried my best to be the most supportive, to not freak out, to not gossip or spread rumours. ‘Coming out’ sounds like a weird phrase, to begin with. Why does someone even have to come out? That’s something only the person who has had to suppress their sexuality will understand. For heterosexuals, it would help to imagine, what would it feel like to be told that what they are feeling for the opposite sex is unnatural?
We make very quick judgements about gender and sexuality. If a guy is a little effeminate, we label them as ‘gay’ (as if being gay is a bad thing). While they might really just be effeminate and not gay. If a girl appears to be a tomboy, we label them as ‘lesbian’. While they might really just be a tomboy. And what if they are gay or lesbian? As long as it’s consensual, any act that they engage in with their partners is entirely natural.
Most people also confuse gender with sexual orientation. Gender is ‘male’, ‘female’, and so on. Sexual orientation is ‘heterosexual’, ‘homosexual’, ‘asexual’, etc. Facebook has introduced an option to select from 63 genders. It’s understood that this is quite confusing. But we live in a world that’s increasingly becoming complex, yet we are not ready to accept the people who are coming out. There are people who are gender-fluid: a gender-fluid individual does not see themselves as male or female but may identify as either depending on their mood and context. There are people who are gender non-conforming: a gender non-conforming person, either by nature or by choice, does not conform to gender-based expectations of society. This identity goes along with a lot of the ones above. You can learn more here.
The list is unlimited. It’s a sign of a really strong bond if someone comes out to you. It means that you made someone feel comfortable enough for them to tell you such an intimate detail about their life. Yes, sexual orientation and gender are complex matters. But just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it is wrong. You don’t know how to fly a spaceship, but does that make it wrong? So don’t screw it up.
A version of this post was originally published on the author’s blog.