Out of the closet

Out of the closet

With myriad reasons to love and express and profess why should I bucketize myself in the societal mould that crawls far slower than the flight of human emotions. Be it my job preference, partner preference, personal time preference, each is a coming out of sorts while we hold back our vulnerabilities to conform to a social image.

In the wake of the renewed focus on section 377 and the viability of it, we take the opportunity to talk to a few members of the LGBTQ+ community and hear from them on the importance of 'coming out'.

A lot has been said about the right age to marry, the right age to study, the right time and the right place down to the tee with the right place to live in, the right place to eat and the right place to shop. With a thousand different vocations, a thousand different religions and regions to wander in and a thousand different culinary tastes and gourmets to savour, why must I conform to an ear marked few. Why must anyone conform especially when the point of contention is your basic identity?

Coming out is an important feat of self expression but it is ridden with multitude of ayes and nays.

Yashwinder, a Program Manager at The Humsafar Trust, while emphasising the importance of coming out, lays bare the threats that it brandishes and the personal release that it promises. 'The problems for LGBTQ community are deep seated because it has been declared illegal and the society finds it difficult to alienate it from the socio-cultural and religious thread.' Yash, relates his experience of the pre-millennials era which was acutely less exposed to information due to lack of internet and general awareness. He found himself groping with his reality and in denial of it as he couldn't find the basic vocabulary to express himself – gay, lesbian, transgender or queer was not common parlance in those times. It was not something anyone talked of let alone explored the nuances of.

The war I waged: Won or lost

Yash pretended, like many in that age of ignorance, to be heterosexual, he denied himself to gain societal acceptance – a society that very nonchalantly pulls wool over its eyes. Yash, further bemoans the fate of women from the LGBT community who fare far worse in our patriarchal society where everything is twice as unfair for the fairer sex.

There are several levels of stigma. First and foremost being oneself, the struggle that most of the community members have to wage for years and years and sometimes for the rest of their lives as they are unable to overcome the fear of societal alienation or ridicule or bullying at all institutes of society.

Another level of stigma is the time, which is not a parameter of concern for the non-homosexuals. It is long journey and the coming out is not incidental; it is a constant unending clamour.

The next level of stigma is the unlimited and uninhibited levels of discrimination in almost 90% of the workplaces and hence lesser or non-existent employment opportunity.

Yash went about the process of 'coming out' in the prescribed manner, educating and sensitizing his family to his orientation by secondary means of procrastinating the hook-up time or matrimony by convincing them of his yearning for higher education. His ploy worked, it bought him time to acclimatize his family to the reality. Yash started working for the NAZ foundation post his studies, he fiercely advocated for gay rights on the news channels at the time of 2009 verdict on section 377 which his family witnessed. The uncustomary stalling of marriage and the continuous association with LGBT groups now fell into place and Yash's family grew to accept the fact with more forbearance.

It's not an overnight journey

Gautam Yadav, Program Officer with The Humsafar Trust, stresses that coming out is a process that everyone needs to follow for favorable results. It is essential to come out so that you can be rid of the mental and emotional turmoil that one has to undergo. You deserve to be rid of the agony, anxiety and depression that overwhelms you, but you cannot fling a surprise on your unsuspecting family. You have to prepare them, 'it's not an overnight journey that you make alone, your entire family travels with you', says Gautam.

'I tried to gauge the comprehension levels of my family, my father, mother and sister to understand who would be the best candidate to receive a revelation of such enormity and finally I confided in my father. I had two very different opinions in my family; while my father understood me, my mother and sister advised me to see a doctor. The truth is, everyone needs time. It takes an individual about 13-14 years or longer to discover oneself, we need to grant some time to our families and other circles as well', empathizes Gautam.

I loved purple, I still do

Yadavendra Singh, however, was not as lucky as Yash. Having grown up in Kanpur he fought the bias for long and had to pay a heavy price for coming out, severance of all ties with the family, emotionally and financially. Yadavendra Singh, who works with Pahal Foundation, reflects that coming out is a life-long process and the continuous subjection to people's boundless inquisitiveness can be very stressful.

'I was an adolescent when my friends and cousins expressed their desires about the opposite sex and I mused upon my lack of interest in the opposite gender. I often got teased with comments like 'jenana' and my choice of colours was ridiculed too and my lack of passion for cricket was mocked too.'

'You survive that to be pestered for marriage when you come of age, that is when most of us are pressurized into coming out. This is when I confessed to my family and surprisingly a matter of monumental importance to me was inconsequently brushed aside. I was advised to study further and once I completed my post-graduation the pressure to marry came mounting back. But study I did, I studied several texts and literature to discover myself. Yahoo chat rooms had made their presence by then and I added to my knowledge on the subject. I built a social circle that I could be myself with.'

'But coming out was inevitable in the face of constant match making by my parents and all hell broke loose for me when I did. I was referred to a psychiatrist. It was exceptionally traumatic for me as I was accused of tainting the family reputation. Subsequently I suffered alienation from family and family fortune, unrestored to this day, and it has been a decade'.

I felt like a culprit

Rishu, a core team member with Harmless Hugs, says, 'one cannot live in isolation so I felt the need to come out to my family and wanted their acceptance'. Rishu offered to accept any tests or treatment, psychological or astrological studies that his family wanted him to undergo to convince them that it is a completely normal state of being. Rishu is relatively fortunate that he chose to come out just recently, in the wake of court proceedings as it is a most opportune time for his family to learn about LGBT and the irrationality of section 377.

Rishu was under pressure to marry when he staged his coming out. He is closest to his mother and was emotionally wrought to witness his mother breakdown in the face of his disclosure. His family tried to reason with him as if he were being irrational and wayward. It wasn't easy for him either because he was accused of inflicting an improbable agony on his family.

'I felt like a culprit in the witness box with my entire family, the people I was closest to, presiding on judgment over me', Rishu recalls. 'My mobile phones were taken away but I didn't give up, I was there son, nothing could be more important and nothing could alter that'. 'I decided to tutor them on the very basics of the community, started with the terminology, literally spelling it out for them'. Being a law literate helped Rishu take his father over the multiple litigations to repeal section 377. Rishu is taking his family through a crash course on LGBT and it is a role reversal of sorts for him as he is enduring their tantrums, their emotional outbursts and the melodrama that is almost inseparable with most Indian households. Rishu appreciates that they too have a tough challenge ahead of them, coming out to the society they know about their son's sexuality.

To be or not to be

We, as a country, as a race, make existence and survival unfathomable for every diversity which we witness. As a society that claims to be secular we are an extreme paradox to the preached. The decriminalization of section 377 might not be a distant truth but our acceptance and celebration of diversity is still a distant dream if we continuously hesitate to embrace the colours and creations of nature just as we relish the raptures of a rainbow.

Yash exposes the various threats of coming out; existence of section 377 ceremoniously declares homosexuality to be illegal which paves way to several other vices like unemployment, family alienation, discrimination, detention at police stations and abuse. It ensures financial distress and emotional alienation by stripping one of his family and friends support. Yash expressed his basic need to come out as he thrives on his transparency but maintains it's a very personal opinion as sometimes circumstances don't permit individuals to make these revelations.

'My advice to all would be to have an independent footing before coming out, to be financial independent so that your survival is not threatened should you not receive the support you were looking for', says Gautam.

There are of course several detrimental effects of not expressing your individuality as well; almost all respondents expressed unfavorable consequences of not coming out as the lack of awareness that the individual deals with due to lack of interaction, the continuous low self esteem not limited to self debasement but amounting to suicidal tendencies. You could also end up being married, but to a heterosexual partner that would most definitely lead to an ugly divorce.

Yadavendra Singh added that coming out causes alienation from one's family and crumbling of all support systems, the constant bullying and taunting can be very detrimental emotionally and mentally. The lack of professional help and counselors further aggravates the survival struggle.

Manoj Benjwal has been working with the The Humsafar Trust since 2017 and has been advocating for LGBT rights. In the small town of Dehradun, he confided in his brother as an adolescent and the advice he got was to live as he pleases but act within the defined societal realms so as not to disrepute his parents who were less likely to come to terms with his sexual preference. 'My parents never confronted me about this but my mother tends to worry about my future, about the lack of a companion or a progeny maybe.'

Coming out can be liberating if you have the social acceptance and family support. The contrary, not coming out, 'can lead to depression and mental agony leading to other disorders', says Manoj, 'which in turn can lead to addiction to unseemly calming agents like substance abuse, alcohol dependence and smoking'.

100-crore loan waived off

'I felt as if the government had waived off my 100-crore loan, it lifted an immense weight off my shoulders', says Rishu about his coming out. I felt feather light, calm in the head and heart. I didn't have to live a lie anymore. His moment of relief came when a Vedic doctor told his parents that being gay is not a disease and as such cannot be cured.

There's a cost attached to it too, Rishu can sense the insecurity that shrouds his family, it's almost 'as if I am an alien'. They become more inquisitive too which can be rather embarrassing at times in the face of awkward questions. It brings back a sense of guilt for having exposed your family to something seemingly unbelievably true.

It's not the apex authority's problem alone

The reason why section 377 has survived so long in these modern times is the complete apathy of the heterosexual majority that gloated in its indifference. As a society we need to embrace the differences around us, our workplaces need to be more community friendly and our people more rational, more tolerant. We need to accept the biological existence of LGBT and shun the decadent religious and cultural myths attached to it.

Mutual respect, suggests Yadavendra Singh, is the key to attaining equilibrium in any society on any front. Equal right is the basic need of every citizen and the acceptance of individuals has to be unconditional and non-judgmental. It doesn't help to weigh all issues on the scales of religious dogmas. It would most definitely help to educate and sensitize society to the LGBT community at all institutes of life, be it family, offices or schools.

'Coming out' is an admission by choice but 'choice' is the denied element for the LGBT community.The reassessment of section 377 has been pending for more than a decade now, the appeals against it ensured that it is now a dinner-table discussion in most homes. That's a step ahead but are we doing enough as a society to help this minority group? Maybe not!

Suicidal rate is relatively high in the LGBT community. There are trust violation issues as when one confides in another, the other spreads the word around. It is betrayal that they have programmed themselves to deal with but it is a betrayal nevertheless. And then there is extensive discrimination, 'my sexual orientation does not decide my professional capability, I want a fair evaluation and not a judgmental disregard of my abilities', appeals Gautam.

In a landmark decision in 2014, the Supreme Court of India declared transgender people to be the 'third' gender and granted them fundamental rights equivalent to the other two genders and advocated for reservations for them in educational institutes and jobs. However, 'is there provision for job in the public or private sector for the transgenders?' asks Manoj. As such, the society has to prepare and provide proactively for these changes in law and advance to a more liberal culture. Manoj also suggested that sex education in schools should not be limited to puberty and hormonal changes amongst the heterosexual community but also the homosexuals so young people can discover themselves and be rid of the guilt and confusion that they burden their troubled souls with.

Yash articulates that the beauty of this world lies in its colours and hence we only need to remove our biased lens and extend the visual courtesy to all elements integrated into this world.

There's not always safety in numbers, majority can sometimes crowd you too much, can dwarf your existence and that is something we are witnessing when it comes to LGBT for 'does a heterosexual have to come out and say 'I am straight'?

Vandana Verma

Vandana Verma

Experimenting with life and presenting it as I see it.

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