Interviewee : Shri
What do you identify as (gay, bi, transgendered, queer – use any terms you like here)?
I am Gay. Without the slightest doubt, I am a Kinsey No: 6. But I would like to identify myself as Queer, I like the inclusiveness of the term.
When did you first start to define your identity as such?
Not soon enough, unfortunately. I grew up in a South Indian town and had no clue about homosexuality. When I was 12-13, I realized I was attracted to people of the same-sex. I was already being bullied in school for not being masculine enough and when I realized my attraction, I was devastated. I thought I was the only person in the entire world who had same-sex attraction. I thought I was abnormal, a deviant that the world didn’t need. I was hoping and praying, my same-sex attraction would eventually fade away and I would become “normal” like other boys. I had told myself that if my attraction didn’t change by the time I was in college, there would be no hope and I would kill myself. It didn’t change! I actually tried two times to kill myself and it didn’t work.
At that time, the Internet was becoming popular in India. I met a guy online, his name is Narendra. He is from Tamil Nadu originally, but was living in the U.S at that time. He was attracted to men as well. He is the one who introduced me to the term “Gay”. He had gone through what I was going through and he immediately took me under his wing. He is the kindest soul I ever met in my life. He was comfortable with his sexuality, he had come out to his parents and said no to a heterosexual marriage etc., so I was very inspired. Eventually I made more friends and joined MovenPick (a Chennai based LGBT group). With their help, I became comfortable in my own skin and came out of the closet. Long story short, I was in my early twenties when I identified myself as Gay and Queer.
Have you experienced first-hand trans/homophobia? If yes, how did you deal with it?
When I was a kid I was bullied in school every day! I was even called names by a few in my family. I had no idea why everyone was making fun of me and had no one to talk to, so it was extremely difficult. Fortunately, since I came out to myself and to the people I care about, there have not been any bad experiences.
When did you first out yourself?
5 years ago.
Was it unplanned or was there careful planning involved?
Oh, it was planned. I rehearsed my coming out to my family for years. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell my family that I am gay. I was afraid of rejection. I was also worried that the news would devastate my parents. I was procrastinating, waiting for the “right” time.
Who did you come out to & why did you come out to that person?
I was refusing to get married, which worried my sister. I was also tired and frustrated being in the closet, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to be true to myself and honest with my family. I came out to my sister first and then to my parents. Narendra and another friend Mukesh were extremely supportive during my coming out process. I was in the UK and my parents were visiting my sister who lived in the US. I sent them an email because I couldn’t do it over phone. (You can read my email and my parents reply here)
How did that person react?
At that moment, they were very supportive. My parents told me that no matter what, they love me and would support me. I was expecting the worst, so it felt really great. I felt like a new born that day!
Did your coming out change anything about your relationship with them?
Hmm. Yes, my relationship with my family has definitely changed. My parents and sister were supportive when I came out, because they thought, being gay meant I would stay single for the rest of my life, that I wouldn’t get married to a woman and that was about it. Of course they were disappointed but they were okay with it. Soon I began to talk about my sexuality, the bullying I went through in school, my gay friends and, more importantly, my relationship. These things freaked them out, it became too real for them and they couldn’t handle it. For the past five years, we have had a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in our family. I have suffered all my life, staying in the closet, hiding who I am. I cant do that anymore, so I said no to the policy. As of today, I don’t have a relationship with my family. I still hope my folks will come around or at least meet me in the middle someday.
Have you ever been outed without your consent? If yes, how did you deal with it?
Yes, once. When I came out to my sister in confidence, she told her husband without asking me. I was single at that time and she was newly married. I was extremely pissed when she gave me that “this is what married couples do” crap. Now that I am in a relationship, I understand how difficult it is to keep secrets from your partner, but still I would try to maintain secrecy if required.
How did the people you were outed to deal with it?
Fortunately my sister’s husband did not have a strong reaction.
Do you think being gaysi makes it harder to come out & that if you weren’t part of such a traditional & conservative culture you would have an easier time with your sexuality/identity?
Yes absolutely. In India it is all about culture and traditions (even though most of us don’t know what they really mean). It is always about “what others will think.” It is about conforming to the standards and not being different and not to being the topic of discussion. We would do anything, including compromising our own personal happiness, to conform to the society. My parents tell me, “We understand you are different, but we can’t approve or support you, because what would others think? What would they say? If being gay was considered normal, we would definitely support you.”
If you are different and don’t conform to the majority, that is when you expect your family and friends to support you. You need them by your side in fighting bias and discrimination. And here my family wants me to convince the rest of the world and then ask for their support. I don’t know how to respond to this argument!
Would you recommend that people stay in the closet or come out?
I would definitely urge people to come out. If you are independent, it is time. In my experience, there is no “right” time. The wait is not worth it, it makes it even more complicated. The sooner you come out, the better it is for you and your family.
One Bollywood actor/actress you would love to see coming out as gaysi?
I had a huge crush on Salman Khan when I was a teenager. I have a feeling that he is queer. I would love to see him come out. He inspired many desi boys to go the gym , may be he would also inspire desi folks to come out.
If you could magically go back to being non-queer, would you do it? Why or Why not?
Yes and No
I was born in an upper middle class, upper caste family (I don’t believe in the caste system, BTW). Men in my circle, have absolutely no idea about being a minority, suffering from discrimination, etc. They have no compassion whatsoever. It disgusts me! If I wasn’t queer, may be I would have been one of them. Who knows? Being queer, being a minority, has taught me to appreciate other people, celebrate diversity and stand up for the vulnerable. I love it and don’t regret it at all.
On the other hand, I don’t know what it is to be heterosexual. For that experience I wouldn’t mind being one. I would still like to be part of some minority group though.
Your favourite queer-themed movie?
Latter days, Big Eden, Brokeback Mountain & My Brother Nikhil
Your favourite queer-themed book?
This is embarrassing. I write but I don’t read at all.
Your experience with Writer’s Bloc?
Writer’s Bloc is a wonderful and much needed initiative for the Indian queer community. It is a win-win for both the writers and the readers. As a regional writer, I can now reach a bigger audience and that is HUGE. And for readers, Writer’s Bloc gives them access to writings that they could never have read, if it weren’t translated. I have tons of non-Tamilian friends who are so thrilled that they can read my work now.
But the real heroes of this project are the translators. It is very fascinating to read the flavor the translators bring to the original, with the limitation that they have to be faithful to the original. I have contributed four stories so far, that have been translated by Nadhiya Mali, Srini Swaminathan, Niruj Mohan and Sumant Srivathsan. All of them did a brilliant job, and I am hoping to read their original works soon, they are great writers. And we don’t agree all the time (the writer and the translator) and that is the most interesting part of the project.