I am a confident and out gay man who spent nearly 20 long years in the closet. I can't go back in the closet and act as if I like women. Sometimes I feel I am more of a professional actor than a veteran theatre artist by acting for decades in a role imposed on me by society. I no more want to express my gender like a stereotypical macho heterosexual man; instead, I choose fashionable and colorful clothes and makeup to express my feminine side, a side I identify as Tania. Tony and Tania are two sides of the same coin, two gender expressions of one soul. But I must also add - all gay men are not feminine, some are very masculine and we can find lots of examples among international celebrities and sports stars in the last decade.
My company, like almost all big corporates, has a Queer Support Group under the Diversity and Inclusion HR team to prevent any kind of discrimination against employees like me. Even though I enjoy a lot of freedom and support, I still feel the pain of not being able to have a monogamous partner in my life. I can't stay with him and make our relationship public because the implication will be that we we are engaging in sex which is against Section 377. There may not be any proof, but someone can still file a false complaint against us and if the police wants to make our lives difficult with unwanted questioning and attempts to collect evidence, they can do that too.
I was not always confident and courageous. Through school, modelling and then the corporate world, I have faced sexual harassment and discrimination and insults. I kept quiet, I felt helpless and then put on a brave face but the silent suffering was difficult.
During my school days, it was teasing and name-calling that I endured once in a while for being feminine. I was aware that I was attracted to men though I tried to date women in my school and college days to "normalize". In college, I really butched up and improved my acting skills to look macho. But I was abused physically one night, though I managed to fight off the abuser. But the pain and shivering of that night took many days to heal. I had nobody to tell, I didn't know any counsellor or NGO with whom I could share my pain. Who would believe that a man can also be assaulted? I was even not aware of terms like "homosexuality" or "orientation" as no one was talking about such things around me. Instead, the words I knew were "gay" and "porn".
Once I secured a job with TCS Mumbai, I shifted to a metro for the first time. I found a website - gaybombay.org - and mustered some courage to go and meet them which was a life-changing decision. I met gay activists, started dating a few people and tried my hand at modelling.
Neither the life of a struggling male model nor a fresher in the software industry is easy. There were many instances of unwelcomed sexual approaches. One person went so public against me on social media after I rebuffed him that it felt like an acid attack on my personality and identity and confidence. At 23, it was too much to handle. I thought because of this Section 377 law, I would be jailed or harassed by the cops if I came out.
That incident literally shook me and I left Mumbai city and got a job in Bangalore. I decided I will not date any more men and cut all connections with the queer community for seven long years. I made myself believe that my orientation was a mistake. I went to church regularly and was taught that those who support queers are liars and sinners. I was advised by priests to confess my sins and start a new life. I slowly realized I was not happy and I was ruining and scarring others' lives too. Once I came out to my family, friends, colleagues and neighbours, they slowly started accepting me. I am extremely lucky to have a lot of wonderful people around me who embraced and accepted my true identity. I decided to give voice to my community in whatever way I can.
So I talk publicly and to the press about my orientation to express my solidarity towards my community, but I go back to my room crying for my parents who are also suffering due to their concern for me. I hope one day, they will be brave enough to feel peace upon seeing me at the side of my future husband. I was starting my Permanent Residence (PR) work for migration to Canada like many other queer friends with the hope of living without prejudice there. But the news about revisiting Section 377 gives me the hope that perhaps I won't have to leave my parents and go abroad and later regret for choosing my life over my parents' happiness. If the law is changed, I can stay back in India with my parents and find a suitable boy and settle down with him.
I want an equal life without fear of discrimination and harassment.
(Tony Christopher, 33, works as Senior Technology Lead with Infosys Limited and is part of the Queer Professional Network, an independent group of professionals who work for the social welfare and rights of queer professionals in the corporate environment.)
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