Here we bring to you another wonderful individual from the Queer Community – Vinodh Philip.
Vinodh is a real trooper and an all round fun guy. You may have also seen him grooving in our recent ‘Happy in Gaysi land’ video ! In his own words, he shares with us his thoughts on coming out, the corporate world and religion – through a uniquely queer lens.
What do you identify as (gay, bi, transgendered, queer – use any terms you like here)?
I am gay! – homosexual male human – genus: homo species: sapien.
When did you first start to define your identity as such?
Much later in life, but after I walked out of the ‘closet’ into the broad sunshine with a nice shiny bright rainbow full of promises, there was no looking back! I was about 25 or 26, I guess.
Have you experienced first-hand trans/homophobia? If yes, how did you deal with it?
In Personal Life:
I used to be scared and deny it if I was confronted with the question, “Are you gay?”. When someone is in the closet and due to the religious conditioning that one goes through, asking them a direct question itself, can be traumatic. You feel the fear of being ostracized. But now, after feeling comfy in my own skin, I wish people did ask me a ‘straight’ question and I’d not deny it. Sadly, not many do!
In Professional Life:
Nothing openly homophobic, however, I think that as much as Corporate India has no issues with gays, they’re not ready to embrace one’s gayness.
Lack of being ‘aware’ of how to handle an LGBT person can be cited as the main reason. Abroad this may not be seen much as much of an issue.
When did you first out yourself?
Don’t really remember. May be, when I popped out into this world 38 years ago? But perhaps, when I was confused about whether I was to marry a girl or not. I had to tell the girl that I had discovered myself and she understood.
I therefore also feel that women need to ask their to-be husbands (esp. in the arranged marriage setup in India) if he is comfortable with a woman or if he’d get turned on by her. Awareness needs to be there amongst wives or parents. Awareness that a husband or a fiancé who is arranged to be married or a son in his mid to late teens and twenties who doesn’t have at least one girl friendmay be gay. This awareness is lacking. “Oh! He’s a nice boy. He doesn’t even look up at a girl when she passes by”, is a comment that most ‘good boys’ get in our country. Would they even know that he’s looking at other men ALL THE TIME!
Was it unplanned or was there careful planning involved?
It happened out of a necessity the first time, I guess. There was an element of growing guilt because of the uncertainty of getting ‘discovered’ or ‘what if I can’t satisfy her…’ and ‘this just doesn’t seem right for the girl and for me’… that drove me to do it.
Now, if people ask me if I am gay, I just say, “Yes!”.
Somewhere, I guess, you will know in your heart when you are ready to tell either the whole world or just few people. It all depends how ready you are. And there’s no magic formula for this. Each one will find her/his own way of coming out – some out of pressure, some out of one’s own accord. I’ve been in both situations.
Who did you come out to and why did you come out to that person?
The first time it was necessity and a feeling of guilt that I am being untruthful.
On other occasions, to friends or colleagues whom I felt wouldn’t have a problem with my sexuality and shared a great part of my life with thereby just wanting to be myself around them.
And on some occasions, when I’ve been encountered with a direct question.
How did that person react?
The girl probably knew it. She didn’t seem shocked. Bless her! We still talk about it and laugh about it. She is concerned about my safety in India.
These would be other reactions I’ve received – “Oh! We knew! Didn’t wanna ask!” or “Of course, you are! Which part of you isn’t gay, darling!” followed by kisses and hugs and all.
There has been just one instance where a classmate of mine (she became a close friend after she this incident), just came up to me and asked me if I’d like for her to hook me up with a guy she knew. She was so matter-of-fact about it, as if to say, ‘I don’t have a problem as long as you’re cool with yourself’, I responded, “Why not!”. It felt so natural and liberating and the total non-judgemental approach was something I’d wish would happen to everyone else too. We became instant friends!
Did your coming out change anything about your relationship with them?
Of course, it changed the relationship drastically. All those whom I have come out to, I feel closer to me now than ever before and so there are two categories of friends now – those who know and all the others whom I think don’t know.
In Corporate India though, I’d say that coming out to one’s colleagues is not necessary at all. Corporate India isn’t ready for gay people yet. The lack of ‘awareness’ of the LGBT community is the reason and you can’t blame anyone for that lack of awareness. Sometimes, it takes an LGBT person many years to come to terms with oneself in more cases than one. So, how much more time do you think it would take for one who isn’t? It would be unfair for us to ‘expect’ them to accept us instantly. But, it’s not that this hasn’t happened at all. It has, but is really very uncommon.
Corporate India would rather they didn’t speak about it – more of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ sort of approach. HR teams especially should be sensitised to the LGBT community. They should know that playing the right chords would make the LGBT employee dance to their tunes (and ‘fabulously’ so too ), which would become a strength for the organisation itself providing it stability.
Have you ever been outed without your consent? If yes, how did you deal with it?
Just once! But, the person who I was outed to, didn’t react judgementally at all. She was just worried about my safety. Her words were, “I love you!” That meant so much – mind you, because she didn’t say, “I still love you!” – she meant that nothing had changed between us. And she belongs to my parents’ generation.
How did the people you were outed to deal with it?
Some were happy to have a ‘gay’ friend – because it’s like a fad! LOL!
Some, like an aunt of mine, were worried about me in Indian society and some, like my parents, worry about how I’d manage alone being single when I grow old with the law of the land being unsupportive.
Most others, who are close friends and colleagues, are happy the way I am and have no problem with it.
I’d like to know what the church in India and its members think of me if they knew. Really not sure of their reactions, since I am not ‘open’ there yet. Religion has a very narrow minded approach toward homosexuality, though I’m very sure Christ doesn’t at all. All I can think of when I think of Christ or God is love and non-judgemental unconditional love – because She/He is my Maker and is equally proud of me as much as I am proud of how She/He has created me.
Do you think being Gaysi makes it harder to come out & that if you weren’t part of such a traditional and conservative culture you would have an easier time with your sexuality/identity?
Yes, I do. I also think that religion has a major role in it – and there’s a difference between religion and faith. People get confused. Hinduism or Buddhism seem accepting. Christianity (as I was born and raised as a Christian), seems to view these things through non-Christian eyes. Would Christ react this way towards me? Would Christ think I am possessed by some evil spirit when I love Christ with all my heart and soul? Would the same Christ who hated hypocrisy and saved a prostitute from being stoned, be judgemental? Nah! The church has far removed itself from the actual teachings of Christ and has become very exclusive and instead of being accepting (not just tolerant) and inclusive. Why can’t we just stick to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, for example? Wouldn’t that make our world a better place? ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ and if you can’t do that then ‘Do unto others only what you would like others to do unto you’. Easy peasy! My Faith is strong and personal, but I don’t believe in any sort of religion.
I’ve also noticed that an urban gaysi born after the mid to late 90’s don’t seem to have much of that problem. Their friends also seem to accept them. Exposure to a global culture through cable tv, the internet and globalisation could be the reason for this open-mindedness.
Would you recommend that people stay in the closet or come out, especially after the disappointing 377 verdict in December by the Supreme Court of India?
I would recommend people to come out of the closet for sure, to show that we may be queer, but we are an integral part of society and we do pay our taxes as law abiding citizens. But, the 377 verdict is disappointing. Makes one feel the need to come out even more, doesn’t it? Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Just be comfortable in your own skin and with your sexuality. Reach out to an NGO who can support you or a fellow gaysi with whom you can talk to. Or write to Gaysi Family and we can talk to you and listen to you.
I would never advocate not coming out and never want anyone to stay closeted – I’ve been in the closet – it’s suffocating with my own fears – and having stepped out, I know the difference. The difference is freedom from fear and guilt. And that’s a great relief!
You recently shifted base from Chennai to Mumbai – main difference you noticed in the Queer culture between the two cities?
In Mumbai, I feel I can breathe easy as a gay man, despite the polluted air. I feel I am not being judged much. Here homosexual men and women are active and involved. Also people are slightly more aware and normally do not have a problem with it.
In Chennai, people associate “gay” man with being pansy or effeminate and think that he’s on his way to becoming a tranny. They may think that he’s an ‘ali’ (colloquial for hijra in Tamil Nadu). That’s the notion. They feel gay men are women in a man’s body. May be true for some, but the majority are just men who like other men. It may not be easy to be oneself in Chennai than in Mumbai. Somehow I’ve seen that girls who are tomboys are not often looked down upon as much as a guy who may be even slightly effete. But, this could just be my perception based on experience.
The general perception, in both places and perhaps all over the country would be that the gay person is more carnally driven. The whole romantic world of ‘togetherness’ and being in love and such, never occurs to an unaware heterosexual when the word or a human ‘homosexual’ is encountered with. Sex, drugs and partying is what they think is the community’s lifestyle and homosexuality can also be synonymous to AIDS. And we know that all these perceptions are not true and can be true of heterosexuals as well. These myths need to be broken by example.
Even at the time of the verdict, the way the media portrayed this was sensational – more ‘sex’ational’, I must say! Homosexuality was referred to as ‘gay sex’! This is very appalling and disturbing! So much for our education and awareness!
But, coming back to the question (and I’m trying to be dramatically alliterative now):
Bombay = Breathe-easy Bazaar!
Chennai = Claustrophobic Closet! Over time hopefully should change to Convivial Carnival!
One Bollywood actor/actress you would love to see coming out as gaysi?
All the South Indian divas who made it big in Bollywood from Vyjayanti Mala Bali to Rekha to Sri Devi or anybody else.
And perhaps Vivek Oberoi or Abhishek Bachan or Dhanush! But, maybe I have a crush on them all. Wink!
In any case, there’s no one in particular. Being gaysi is more about being comfortable in your own skin or being cool with yourself – not matter what sexual orientation!
Your favourite queer-themed movie?
Get Real! perhaps? But, I’d vote for the American series – Queer As Folk!
Your favourite queer-themed book?
Dumbledore in Harry Potter was gay. So the entire Harry Potter series is a gay friendly, open minded not really queer themed, but equality-themed book. Anything that propagates equality of all creatures great and small (including the teachings of Christ or Buddha) can become a favourite. For some reason, I love Life of Pi.