Coming out is never easy for anyone no matter how liberal or progressive their family is. It takes time, patience and overcoming a lot of obstacles. Everyone has a different coming out story. And this is mine.
I grew up in the city of Amritsar, which is pretty progressive for its small size. There was a good exposure to the metropolitan cities as well as the western world. Despite this, it wasn’t easy growing up with my feelings, though.
At a very early age, I knew there was something different about me. The first memory I can recall is the black and white movie “Tarzan”. I was fascinated by his body in a loincloth. I would imagine being around him, even when I didn’t know what it meant. It was thanks to my elder cousin, that I discovered who I really am. He and I started exploring our bodies when I was about 8 years old. It would happen while we were playing games. It didn’t shock me or make me feel guilty. Instead, it showed me a hidden side of myself.
I had other points of realisation too. Since both my parents were avid readers, I had access to all the reading material I needed. Reading the agony aunt column in magazines was my favourite pastime. It made me feel less alone to know that there were people asking questions which I was asking (“I like boys, is there something wrong with me?”), that there were situations I could relate to (“I feel like I’m the only one in my city who feels this way”).
The first time I read the word ‘homosexual’ was in one of these columns, which made me ask my sister about it. When she didn’t give me a satisfactory answer, I opened the dictionary to find out the exact meaning of the word, and I began to understand that I’m not the only gay person in the village.
I didn’t see myself leading two separate lives, nor could I pretend to act differently than how I am, and I did not want to live in the fear of anyone finding out about ‘my secret’. So I came out to my mother at the age of 18. I had always thought she would be the first to know since I believed that if anyone would be able to understand, it would be her.
It was stressful. Sitting in front of her felt like an eternity, but then I finally blurted it out to her, and her acceptance took me by surprise. She told me that according to her upbringing ‘being gay’ was not seen as ‘natural’. At the same time, she said she had taught me right from wrong and knew whatever path I chose in life would be the best. My mother told me that she would always love and support me.
I found the same support in school. When I came out to two of my friends, they became my protectors from other classmates who used to bully or tease me for being different. My seniors used to pick on me, saying things like “Oh, he walks like a girl”, “He talks like a girl”, “He must be gay!”
I was called names – sometimes even derogatory remarks were passed on to me in our vernacular language, but I always had this thing about standing up for myself and not succumbing to the pressure.
School proved to be a hard time, and the bullying had a negative impact on me. It turned me into an introvert, and I tried to kill myself two times. Once with a failed attempt at slitting my wrist and once by sleeping pills. At the time, I didn’t know the exact reasons for taking such drastic steps; all I wanted then was freedom.
Being an introvert helped a lot though since I used to spend a lot of my time reading, and getting lost in different worlds and alternate realities that were sometimes full of knowledge. That’s how I gained a lot of confidence. I didn’t want to be stuck in my situation, I didn’t want to lead a miserable life and I didn’t want to be bullied. I walked up to the principal and told him about the bullying and the name calling. Fortunately, the school responded positively. The perpetrators were punished and I was told to inform the school if it ever happened again.
After I came out, things were different but not easy. People would not make friends with me. Similarly, when I was older, being out at work in Amritsar set me up for office politics – colleagues would look at me differently, they would behave with me differently – as if all I wanted to do was take everyone to bed! But that didn’t stop me from living my life on my terms and that’s how I’ve been living till date.
I refuse to live according to the hetero-normative mindset where a man is supposed to get married to a woman and their sole purpose of existence is to procreate, no matter how they feel inside. I choose to live life my way. This mindset has enabled me to face a number of challenges with confidence. I didn’t reach where I have in my career easily, I worked a lot of different jobs in different sectors starting from a call centre to a dental college and finally reaching my destination in the fashion industry, which I believe is more inclusive of sexuality.
I’m weirdly optimistic about situations. Though my friends tell me I’m hopeless, I refuse to believe in the negative. No one is alone. Thankfully in this day and age, we have a better reach through social media and dating apps. Don’t stop reaching out. Don’t stop believing in yourself.
I never lost hope for a better life, and I still believe things will get better, that this is not the end.