By Roshan Kokane
Graphics By Debasmita Das
Let me start, as I would start the first time I meet anyone, by introducing myself. I am a 23-year-old half-closeted gay man living in an India which is still largely homophobic. Well, that’s more than I would tell most people – because I wouldn’t mention I am gay right up top.
I write about sex for a living – which is to say I am a journalist who writes on topics related to sex and sexual health for various publications and blogs. You know how it is right, we tend to speak more about someone else’s sex life than our own. When I tell people what I do, some people think I write porn. Some people think I’m a pervert. I think I do my bit to dispel myths and taboos and make a healthier society. But a lot of what people think is to do with their discomfort with the idea of sex itself. Then you add sexuality which is anything but heterosexual coupledom and the discomfort triples.
Like most gay people who choose to come out of the closet, I’ve had my own journey of coming out to different people at different times. Personally speaking, coming out has not just been a process, it’s been a feeling. To me, it is an emotion, a thrill I seek and an adventure or transition I have learnt to embrace myself with and feel good about it. An LGBTQ+ person doesn’t have to come out of the closet – they can live their lives in secrecy and never let you all know what’s behind that face. Some straight people might never even understand why it’s a big deal but I think it is important given that everyone assumes by default that everyone is straight. I think it is important to come out and kill that dangerous assumption. For yourself, for your self-assurance and your self-worth, coming out matters, I believe. The feeling I would get every time I came out was exclusive. It was like I’d shown my true self to someone, my full self, my real life and my identity.
I also learned a lot about others during the process. Not everyone is empathetic towards your orientation. Not everyone is indifferent.
Ex-girlfriends think I am making it up to get rid of them. Haaai Allah! Jhoot kyu bolna! One girl actually thought that I am pretending to be gay just so to be around her. Extended family dismisses it as flu that will go away with time. Some close friends have the craziest reactions ever.
Those you’d expect the least to understand get by easily. I thought I had to go through a series of episodes with my parents for them to finally understand me but it was all very casual. Just a dinner table conversation and they said, “We already knew! We have raised you!” Not everyone is this lucky, mind you! I think my inspiration to come out to others started with a positive response from my parents.
The tough nuts in my life to crack were not my family but my friends. Weird, right? When I came out to the guys who I’d been flirting with all night with those cheesy lips and kisses smileys on WhatsApp ended up saying they hates ‘gays’. We hate your grammar dude! (ha ha)
Some friends tried to tell me with novelty that they knew others with similar interests just so I could hook up, while I tried to tell them that technology like Grindr is fast enough for hook ups and that I wasn’t seeking their assistance but acceptance.
The best reactions are from religious friends who blame my appetite for meat and affinity to the western world as the reason for my sexual orientation. These dear friends also give great conversion therapy solutions like marriage, watching porn, going vegetarian, meditation and converting my faith.
Some go a level further and question whether my family is gay (it’s not a religion, my religious friend). Others ask me whether my siblings are also born gay. Some ask how do I like it there? Others just have vivid pictures in their head and shocked expression on their face.
At a house party last year, my roommate invited his friends to celebrate a milestone he had achieved. He is a successful young entrepreneur and has been featured in a couple of magazines and news shows. So, his circle of friends is also very niche and entrepreneur-ish – read ‘cool’. Before we began drinking, I was clearing the table in the living room and chatting with the guests, all straight and male. One of them (a founder of multiple companies) whom I had met a couple of times earlier and been a little friendly with, suddenly, without any context, jokingly asked, “Hey! Are you gay?” That was my moment. Without any hesitation, I responded, “Yes, I am! Happy and gay both!” This was the first time I came out to people in a group, in a new city. I wasn’t whispering my coming out in the ears of friends. I was exposed here. Out and loud.
How did I feel? It felt like I finally let go of an alias and was telling everyone my real name. His question was definitely bothering and intrusive but he wasn’t the first one definitely. Many people in the past may have wondered and jokingly asked but I never answered. His directness might seem crude to some but somehow it led to a sense of empowerment and pride in me. My sudden outburst of honesty was a new and interesting experience to me too!
On a sharp winter night of October 2013, my close friends and I were in a train to Rajasthan. I was feeling very empty and alone. I’d been battling a crisis in my head for many years and I needed closure. I summed up the courage to finally let someone know. We were on our college trip and I summoned my best friend to the coach door. I stood patiently holding her shoulders. She almost thought I was going to ask her out. She was a bit nervous. When I finally confessed my sexuality to her, she smiled strangely and told me it was okay.
Then, the very next day, she told her boyfriend about it, as if it were an event, not a confidence. I was furious. Her boyfriend meanwhile, took to staring at me every time we met after that. Awkward! He wasn’t the first ‘straight’ man who stared at me, of course. There have been, still are, many. Out of lust or jealousy, may be?
On that train, I also came out to a couple of other girlfriends I was close to. One of my friends, who also fit in my ‘bracket of difference’ (She was from the UAE and had a strong middle eastern accent) was actively listening to all my confessions from the upper berth. Being gay is not very different from being fat or being dark. The feeling at the crux of it is similar. People will shame you for whatever doesn’t fit some ideal norm they’ve built in their head. When I was done with all my confessions, she got down and just walked away without any reaction. Did she just ignore my only moment of attention? Was she awkward but trying to overcompensate with nonchalance?
At the beginning of my coming out journey (wow! I’ve already made it sound like tirth-yatra), I couldn’t come out easily to boys who were straight. It was quite embarrassing for the ‘man’ or the ‘bro’ in my stiff and rigid body to let another ‘bro’ know. “How could I?” I would think. “How could you?” they would think. So as queer as I got, I wrote blogs on Tumblr to let those lovelies know that I liked them. I shared all the posts on the internet, took part in online and offline conversations and also started actively making friends from the community for the first time. I would share the links of the blog with my straight male friends under the pretext of showing them my writing skills. They would completely ignore that and jump straight to the confrontation on the sexuality issue. Obviously, that was the goal. Some were shocked and some were smart. Some are still blocked! Hahahaha! Trust me, both were important, both were an experience.
I was bold and full of sass initially. I remember passionately asking a minister to legalise gay marriages at a conference where I got only 20 seconds to speak. Obviously, that also made it to my friends’ joke list. That’s another thing. Coming out will never put an end to the jokes these straight people make at chai and sutta corners. We go to these corners too! We never talk about you! That’s all those shady cis-stalls are made of. Judgement, prejudice and a feeling of incompetence. However, you feeling indifferent to all the jokes makes all the difference.
Finally, coming out to other gay yet closeted people is also another tragedy. Some of them are so confused and misinformed that it gets really funny. Sometimes I think they deliberately test you before officially offering you an acceptance hug. Some common but senseless doubts within the queer community are, “When did you realise? What made you realise? Have you ever tried the other way? Are you just this or that too? You don’t look like this? Are you married? When will you get married? Will you meet me after you get married? Will you make me meet your wife?” Dude! Stop your wild imagination there. Pleaseeeeeeeee! It is getting to a point that’s beyond our control.
How do you attempt to solve these queries? You just tell them, “Darling, I am equally queer and clueless as you. It has been this way or maybe I was born this way.”
Over the course of years, I have been called so many names (gay, gud, fag, chakka, homo, kinnar, man in a woman, madam, pussy, gudwe) that it’s actually helped me learn more about the gender and sexuality spectrum. And mind you, these words have come from people I thought I was close to!
There’s so much variety in our society that only those who love the difference of similarity (read queer, fluid and straight allies) feel the need to come together. That’s what makes it a community, right? You feel safe, familiar, social to each other who give you the space to be yourself and still understand and respect your choices. That I think holds if you are LGBT or even straight but queer in some personal choice.
I’ve also learnt that people are always jockeying for power and invariably looking for that one thing to pick on you about. In my case, it is my sexual orientation. Earlier, every time someone called me fag, it would break my heart. Now every time someone calls me anything, it swells my heart with pride. The world is the same, if not changed. But what matters is how you look at it.
As a kid, I felt so embarrassed about the difference between straight guys and me. I grew up in denial. I was constantly belittled by family or friends for being ‘soft’. Growing up, I realised denial is not a gay preserve. There’s denial in heterosexuality too. Among boys who gleam with a smile in their eyes when anyone comes out, cis-men who have a bulge (please don’t ask me where) around openly gay men, loverboys who’d fight with their girls and jealous homophobes who cannot be as confident. Being at home with your sexual self is a journey of coming out for every single person, in a way.
Coming out is not easy, both for the person coming out and to the person they are with, because we have been living with ignorance and misnomers that homosexuality is abnormal, wrong or a mental disorder. It is challenging, high on emotions and it does teach you a bit about the world around you. It’s almost like tripping on acid, okay not that bad, but somewhat that way. I am learning to get better at this, one incident at a time. Hope it’s easier with you too to accept, cherish and move on whatever you identify yourself with.
Roshan Kokane is a 23-year-old journalist from Mumbai. He loves to read, make new friends and travel. When he is not making friends or travelling, he is usually sleeping at home. You can reach out to him on Twitter at @roshankokane3