– Rathna Mahesh, III B.A. English
Originally published in Metroplus on October 11
International Coming Out Day may not be celebrated here in India as it is in countries like USA or UK on 11th October, but that doesn’t stop people from talking about their journey out of the closet and into the frying pan known as the Indian society.
Talking to Vikram Sundarraman (Delfina), an LGBTQ activist at Nirangal was an eye opener. They (as Delfina prefers to be addressed) spoke about how people only think in binaries like male and female; even the term transgender is coined in relation to the male or female sex. Coming out is constructed as one particular event in a person’s life as if there exists a defining point of ‘coming out’, while in truth, it is actually a process of coming to terms with the concept of identity and sexual orientation.
“When I was in kindergarten, teachers made observations like he does not mingle or get along with other boys. From a very young age, I didn’t confirm to the idea of me being either masculine or feminine. I was trying to navigate through this but did not have the tools, words or terminology for it.”
This brings us to the question of why pronouns are gendered in the first place. Delfina says, “In Tamil, we have avan(him) or aval(her) and we also have the common avanga(them). Why do we need gendered pronouns for sexual orientation when we don’t have them for people with say, different hair or eye colours?”
Namithaa Jayasankar chooses to identify herself as pansexual and gender fluid. When asked if she always knew about her sexuality, she replied, that luckily, she had access to all the right resources she needed to figure out what she was going through. So the realisation wasn’t out of the blue, nor was it something that needed further exploration on her part.
“My parents, they know, to an extent. We have a don’t ask don’t tell policy.”
Talking about her own experience of coming out, she said “Some of the people I came out to unfriended me or avoided me. I wasn’t too affected. They saved me the trouble of having to unfriend them myself later, once they had done any emotional damage.”
She goes on further to say, “I am very headstrong and decided that people who wouldn’t associate with me because of my sexuality were people whom I had no desire to be associated with.”
Sridhar R (22) is a student of social work. His reasons for coming out, he said, were twofold. Firstly, he wanted people to understand him completely and secondly, he felt pressured by questions from peers about his lack of interest in relationships and girls, and coming out was a means of putting an end to those questions.
“The first question they always asked once I came out to them was about my sexual life. They reduced the scope of my identity to my sexual preference.”
He talked about how most people are hesitant to come out because they feel that it would affect their siblings’ prospect of a marriage and a place in ‘accepted’ society.
Another member of the community talked about how he came out as gay on social media once the ban on Section 377 was lifted. He claimed that many people on his Facebook friends list contacted him about their own stories and questions about coming out.
He states that while events such as pride parades are a step in the right direction, it is also a very westernised concept of portraying the LGBTQ community. As a society that publicly scorns yet secretly apes western culture, we ought to be portraying the LGBTQ community in a way that Indian society will relate to. This doesn’t mean, he explains, that we pander to society’s rigid edicts but instead, portraying the LGBTQ community to cater to Indian needs, like Indianising a Domino’s or McDonalds’ menu to suit the Indian palette would be prudent.
We need to remember that people who come out today inherit all the stigma placed on the LGBTQ community as a whole. They need a safe haven to come out to. It simply won’t do if the closet seems a better place to live in.