Immediately after the Supreme Court ruling on Dec 11, 2013, I came out publicly to my friends on Facebook. Nothing has changed since then, and nothing will. A lot of people have been sending messages of support, and calling me brave but I don’t understand. I’ve done this before many times (albeit not publicly) and I haven’t been very nervous except during my first few disclosures and when I told my Dad.
Hear it from someone who’s lived through self doubt and confusion throughout his teenage years: coming out, you could think, is the most stressful event in the life of any gay teenager, but wait: there’s more. If you’re gay, you’re probably going through moments where you feel depressed, unsure of how everything is going to turn out, living life fearing social rejection and isolation, and an adolescence filled with insecurities. Believe me when I say it: you’re not alone. I went through the whole of school without discussing my sexuality with anyone – when there isn’t a way or place to vent, it’s far more stressful than you think.
When I first came out to my best friend in second year, he was confused as well. It was definitely not the first time he was hearing about gay people and same sex emotions, but he was certainly confused. He told me to shrug it off and marry a girl – the typical course of life for any straight Indian man. But I was sure that that wasn’t the right thing to do because I surely knew a partnership between me and a woman would never work, and I told him I just can’t marry a girl just like he can never imagine spending the rest of his life with a gay partner. He understood pretty well, and we’ve never debated about the whole issue of shutting up and leading a typical straight life again.
I’ve come out to over 20 friends since then and I came out to my Dad in the third year of college. I don’t know why I have this huge urge to come out to everyone I know – either it makes me connected to them on a whole new level since I can have free-wheeling conversations on what I like and who I like, or it bursts my stress off temporarily. But I should tell you – it was a fun ride for me. People have asked me really weird questions, really funny and sometimes insightful ones – things I do not have an answer to, and probably never will. But it’s okay. Everything has been good so far.
Coming out to Dad was particularly difficult – I knew he wasn’t conservative, I knew he was well-read but it sure was difficult for him when I told him on his face that I cannot marry a girl. Of course, he was in disbelief and suggested medical treatment but when I was sure of my sexual orientation, and when I told him I’ll never become heterosexual for the same reasons he cannot become homosexual, he really understood.
As a gay teenager, I’ve done crazy things and I’ve done stupid things. I’ve felt suicidal, depressed, I’ve spent days and weeks going from the super-productive person I used to be, to a lazy dimwit who never gets up from bed. You’re probably going through the same thing too or worse (there’s no comparison really – you can’t compare hard with harder – there’s no such thing – to each, his own). But I’ve got a bunch of things to tell you.
First, accept: When you love who you are, you can start loving others. When you accept who you are, you are half-way into dealing with this relatively cruel world. When you’ve clearly told yourself about what matters to you and what doesn’t, you can toss off homophobic comments without internalising them for hatred. The way to do this is to connect with people who are similar to you, and the internet fits right in there. You know where to look – there’s Facebook, there are a dozen apps and there are sites dedicated to you help you out. When you find gay people across the world leading ordinary and extraordinary lives like your own, you’ll quickly come to terms with who you really are.
Second, educate yourself: The reality is that people are going to ask you a ton of questions. Here’s a sample conversation I had with a friend after I came out on Facebook: “Dude, do you have a partner?”. No. “How do you know you’re gay?”. I responded: “Do you have a wife? How do you know you’re straight?”. Another collegemate of mine sent me a message on WhatsApp: “Dude. Respect. But I can’t come to terms with the fact that being gay can also be natural”.
It’s funny – but most people aren’t used to something weird or different from their own. You just have to give them the benefit of the doubt, and tell them what it really means to be gay. A lot of them will understand. You might as well have an FAQ of sorts – the fifth time I came out to a friend, I had a list of questions he’d ask and I was telling him everything he needed to know even before he asked me.
Third, come out only if you really want to: I wouldn’t say you should come out. Sometimes, coming out can be dangerous. Sometimes, coming out wouldn’t make any difference. Just follow your heart – if you think you should tell people, go ahead and do it. Expect the worst, and be prepared for it. In my case, I lucked out because I found the right friends, went to a decent college, etc. Your situation could totally be different and you’ll just know to treat it the right way.
Fourth: Life is tough. Sometimes, you’ll have to accept it. And it goes on. You’re going to go through innumerable moments of self doubt. Questions like ‘why me?’, ‘am I the only one going through this?’, ‘the world isn’t going to accept me anyway, let me just die’, ‘this is so weird. I must have done something wrong to have been gay’ will pop up before you fully accept yourself. Don’t harm your body no matter how suicidal you are. Surround yourself with people who love you and you’ll feel the need to live again.
I read this in the ‘It Gets Better’ book (you should get it too – it’s filled with stories from LGBT people across all walks of life) and I’ve taken it to heart: it doesn’t get better. You’ll just get stronger. Yes, really. When you feel really terrible, go meet a counsellor – but meet the right one. There are counsellors who specifically advise LGBT people, and I needn’t tell you – there’s your smartphone, there’s Google Search and Maps to figure things out.
Fifth: It’s important you tell your parents. I can’t stress this enough. But when you tell them is totally up to you. I told my Dad when I was in college. You could tell them later, but disclosing your sexuality in college or school has unique advantages: they’ll be prepared to answer unsolicited questions on your marriage, and will actually have a lot of time to understand their own son or daughter. You may be very self-smart, but you really have to give them the time to understand you. Don’t compare your liberal friends with your parents – you need a completely different yardstick. Give them years to come to terms with your sexuality.
[P.S If you’d like to read Shankar’s Coming Out Post on Facebook, click through here]