How I Realized I Was Gay And Why I'm Fighting 377 - By An IIT Grad

Published: May 23, 2018 11:46 IST
I was blessed not with riches, nor with citizenship of a first-world country. I had instead a mother who protected me from the vagaries of patriarchy. Single-handedly, that shaped my sister and my lives. Our childhood room may not have had sunlight, but our mother taught us to count backwards under the stars. Her love and silent rebellion meant that we were equal amongst us: deadlines, chores and expectations. I was allowed to freely play with my sister and her friends, and my sister was allowed to come home late owing to drama club. It was in this utopia that I realized I was gay when I was 10 or 11.

The realization that I was attracted to men was not very difficult to swallow. Perceptive as only a child can be, I knew there must be other people like me, but had no way of knowing of them. We did not have a computer and "gay" even as a slur had not yet caught on as yet in our school yet. All I knew was that I was different and may not ever marry anyone but it never haunted me.

Eventually, the computer came, Google came. I quickly came to know of "Hijra", stonewall riots, queer, cross-dressing, Ardhanareshwar and what not. The internet made my world explode. I opened Orkut, set my sexual orientation as "gay" and waited.

Nothing happened. People noticed, true. A friend stopped talking to me. A friend of a sister asked me if I was gay and said it is ok when I got defensive. But nobody else said anything. Not my sister, not my school friends, not my online friends (they were a rage in my childhood). I was perplexed because I was ready for a storm, not for the silence. But I was happy and I moved on.

It came back to bite me a year later. A classmate and I were making fun of each other and when it escalated, he called me gay. I was stunned, but the Gandhian I am, I brushed him off and moved on but it remained a weapon in his armour. He started calling me gay at every opportunity he got and other classmates joined in. I was not used to bullying. I have prided myself on standing up for myself. I could not take it to the administrators. I could not take it to my family. I did not want fisticuffs. I was not given to self-loathing, I simply had no tools to stop it. So all I could do was grin and bear it and take refuge in the fact that my friends in class did not join them. While I was still pondering my options, something happened that changed my life. Some classmates took my arm, wrote "G.A.Y." on it with marker and laughed. I could not take the humiliation. I cried all the way to the water cooler and sobbed like the tap in front of me while rubbing the marker off my arm. Other students saw me there and laughed too. I cannot ever forget that day.

It was then that I decided that my "meekness is not weakness" policy was not working. Human cruelty takes as much space as we provide it. There is not much else to the story: I slapped the next guy who goaded me and the bullying stopped from the very next day, providing me with a lesson for life.

Two years later, when I started to come out, I did it by practising in front of the mirror because I had never uttered the word "gay" above a whisper. But when I came out for the first time, I could not get past the lump in my throat. I could only do it in writing. The lump has gotten smaller with time, but it never goes away. My first moment of activism was when I told my undergraduate class that I am gay in my farewell speech. I have since come out to my sister, she merely responded with, "I know". I have started an LGBT support group in IIT Roorkee. I have come to empathize with Hijras and give them smiles along with money. I have hung a rainbow LGBT flag in my cubicle. Yet, after all this, the split second before saying I am gay never goes away.

When I was hired while still on my IIT campus for a job after my post-graduation, I was walking near Shivaji Stadium at 10 pm with my mother. She chatted away happily while I was forming the words "I am gay". I was about to give her a new set of worries to live with just when she thought that she could hang up her boots to retire. When I did tell her, her response was surprisingly muted. She asked a lot of questions: Was I molested as a child? Did it happen because she let me play with girls? Could I stay away from "unke jaise log"? Had I ever had sex? I was prepared for this. When she told me to keep away from other gay people (never saying the word "gay"), I was able to reason with her that the "others" she talked about dirtily included me. When we visited a counsellor a week later, on my insistence, she was palpably relieved afterwards. Now she is no more, but I will forever live with the comfort that she knew who I was and we all made peace with it. Let this be a tribute to her and her upbringing - she who not only taught me to be fearless but also loved me unconditionally.

(Anurag Kalia founded "Qagaar", the LGBT support group at IIT Roorkee, and is currently employed as a software engineer in Bengaluru.)

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