Opening the Closet, Inch by Inch

Image Source: 377 Global Day of Rage on Tumblr. Click image for more pictures.

“We are human beings too, after all!”

I was in Mumbai on an internship recently, and had the opportunity of making an acquaintance with a friend of a co-intern. Let’s call him Sunny Leone to protect his identity. It was a beautiful winter’s evening in Mumbai, and as cold as winter could get in a usually hot and humid town (the temperature was around 13 degree celsius that January morning), and we were watching the sunset from Marine Drive. The sea lapped the concrete rocks lying by the side of the road, and it felt peaceful to lazily stand around and chat, sipping chai and taking turns at staring at the sunset and watching the wannabe participants of the Mumbai marathon. It was at one of these lazy minutes that a very attractive young woman (whom only Yo Yo Honey Singh would call a “bomb”) jogged past us, in her sports shoes, jeans hotpants and gray t-shirt. As any straight man would do, my co-intern looked her way, and gave her the casual up-down, pausing for a moment to remark at how it would be more attractive if the sweat mark on her collar had percolated further down into her t-shirt. Sunny said, “Meh!” and turned back to stare at the ocean. “What, are you gay?” remarked my co-intern, and that matter ended there.

It was the next morning during a painfully slow office-hour that my co-intern blurted out, “Bro, Sunny is gay!” What had transpired the previous evening had pushed Sunny to come out to my co-intern, and only to his dismay. My co-intern started off on his homophobic tirade, only to be shocked more with my own revelation of being a bisexual. This led me to consider what it means to come out of the closet, and why it is necessary for sexual minorities to do so.

On a personal level, there are internal conflicts involving religious beliefs, upbringing, and internalized homophobia in addition to feelings of fear and isolation. Also, there are potential negative social, legal, and economic consequences such as disputes with family and peers, job discrimination, financial losses, violence, blackmail, legal actions, restrictions on having or adopting children, criminalization, or in some countries even capital punishment. It is meant to include becoming aware of and acknowledging one’s gender identity. This preliminary stage, which involves soul-searching or a personal epiphany, constitutes the start of self-acceptance. Every coming out story is the person trying to come to terms with who they are and their sexual orientation.

An interesting coming-out story that I’ve heard represents these same emotions: Bubba was in 9th or 10th grade when he first noticed that he had an interest in both men and women. He mentioned this interest to his friend Aryan Raman, who dared him to “prove it” by kissing him. Bubba, without hesitation, did so; alas, that was the beginning of his misfortunes, for he was isolated and ostracised by his own classmates and “friends” for the remaining years he had in that reputed school! Every member of this minority, I think, goes through similar feelings and situations, and it is only by opening the closet and reaching out to others like themselves that a certain sense of security is achieved.

I think you’re kidding yourself if you think that being a sexual minority doesn’t affect your work or social life at all. Say you’re a gay male (like Sunny), hanging out with some hetero men and a very good looking girl walks past. Obviously they’re going to look and make comments. Do you go along with the crowd, or do you say you’re not interested and “make a big deal” about it? In most social circles I get around in, the issue of GAY comes up at some point, and in particular, more so recently because of Kaushal (the Supreme Court judgment of December 2013, which followed as an appeal from the Delhi High Court’s judgment in Naz Foundation’s case).

The problem, in short, is that there are a lot of straight people who don’t like sexuality rubbed in their face. There are a lot of gay people (a term which I am now using generically) who don’t like sexuality rubbed in their face either. However, there are a lot more straight people who love talking about sex and sexuality, and rubbing their own onto pretty much anything/anyone. Heterosexuality is so ridiculously overt, it is everywhere, that a lot of gay people feel the need to come out. Who you love, and what gender you prefer does come up in day-to-day life, even at work.

I was enrolled into National Law University, Delhi, in 2010. It has been four years since my arrival here, and I am soon due to graduate. I remember clearly one of the things that I did as a freshman at this University: I made a list of boys that I thought were attractive. Naz Foundation’s case was my allowance for a long period of time. It gave me hope for the future, because it came at a bad time, and because it allowed me to express myself in the University. Some of my (now) dearest friends asked me why I would even contemplate such a list. My reply was that I was bisexual, a reply that was received with a significant amount of shock. My peers would tease me for a while after that, asking me if I had anyone else to add to my list; it was when I was tired of this teasing that I withdrew my previous stand of being a bisexual, and stated that I was pulling people’s legs, and declared that I was heterosexual. For a long time, I wondered why I did that.

It was in my second year that a very close friend of mine (let’s call him Baddy Taj) revealed himself as gay to me. I was taken aback, but the story of his revelation is another interesting incident that I think, is appropriate to share. I was his roommate at that point of time, sharing it with another friend. Luckily for Baddy and me, the third roommate was playing football. Baddy said, “There is something that I want to tell you. Come into the room, and lock the door, I don’t want Mane-hair to walk in on us.” I did as he asked, and he told me. We spent a while discussing his new-found sexual orientation; I admired his courage to step-up and tell me. Then he asked me, “Why do you insist that you are heterosexual, when you came out in the first year?”  I reflected on his question, but never gave him a straight (no pun intended!) answer.

It was in my sixth semester that I finally mustered the courage to be open about my sexuality: I shot out an email to the entire University, and I got a lot of positive and negative replies. Some professors even came up to me and congratulated me for being courageous. But I wondered, where does that courage come from? There is no GPS that can locate the source of that courage; it was in that semester that a young doctor from Yale had started teaching us, and she and I had several conversations about sexuality. We even had classes on the issue of gay jokes. I was involved in drafting the Anti-Sexual Harassment Code for the University, and was a strong proponent for a clause that established power-relations, because I was a victim (both in my first year, and later on, in the fourth year) of homophobia; I was angry against my peers who cracked gay jokes; I was inspired by Baddy who was progressively becoming more open; maybe all of that added up to the courage.

But being an openly bisexual person (as far as the University is concerned, because my family still remains in the dark, for the large part) the courage requisite to come out to a biased society is burdened by a flip-side. When my peers, seniors and juniors tell me that it’s okay to be gay, I cannot help but wonder if what they say is true. Would they allow me to interact with their children, introduce me to their partners, or encourage their children to be open about their sexuality?

I would like to give the rest of society the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think hiding that part of yourself as if there’s something wrong with it, helps attitudes in society at all. The more people who come out and are proud of who they are, helps normalise it for the rest of us. A lot of gay people have a massive chip on their shoulder: especially in India, they may come from highly religious or conservative families, and they have always been told that “gay=wrong=evil=going to hell”. It is in essence, a question of self-acceptance and letting the world, and other people who are different know that there is nothing wrong in being who you are (we are, in the end, human beings after all).

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