It was lonely to grow up and spend most of the 30 years of my life in the small city of Baroda. There were no role models to look up to and no support whatsoever. The social stigma was huge, and people feared being themselves.
I was under this huge pressure to become the ideal man. I was a single child, and if things went south, the guilt of not living up to my parents’ expectations could be huge.
To all such lost souls, dating websites became a relief. I connected with people from pan India. This was in a time when the Internet was not popular. Cybercafes demanded ₹20 to check emails.
Meeting lovers was risky as familiar faces could suddenly appear. However, my friends became my chosen family. We even went on a night rampage when the Delhi high court decriminalised Section 377 back in 2009!
I moved to Mumbai in 2015, for better career prospects. Its vibrant culture and diversity paved the way for me to learn and unlearn my social conditioning and internalised phobias.
Here, I gave auditions for and joined the rainbow voices choir. Music engineered a bond between everyone. I grew and formed close friendships. In 2017, we held our first concert in Mumbai. We were joined by Pink Voices (London’s longest-running LGBTQIA+ choir).
They invited us to the UK as well. We performed in London with an audience of 50,000 and huge media coverage!
It was ironic. A foreign nation celebrated me proudly, while I was shamed in my own nation.
On returning, I began contributing to the community. Section 377 had been recriminalized, and that compelled me to contribute more to bring the desired change.
I became involved with Queer Azaadi Mumbai and helped organise the Mumbai pride parade. I also co-founded Samavesh Chamber of Commerce, which works to create inclusive work spaces, especially in small organisations.
To all young queers, please be empathetic. Compassion without comprehension is pity, and compassion with comprehension is empathy.
The moment you start becoming more empathetic, life will be happier. Understand, learn, unlearn and grow.
Written by Ashish (he/him)