“It takes no compromise to give people their rights.. it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” – Harvey Milk
Manoj belonged to a middle class family. It was a family of scholars. His parents were teachers at a neighbourhood school. His best friend Tez studied in the same school where Manoj’s parents taught. He stayed with his uncle. Manoj was being home-schooled since he had some ‘issues’. These were according to his parents, though he was not aware of any. The two friends met every day; they played cricket, and kho-kho with other kids of the society; they lay in the grass every evening, enjoying the sunset. It was in the year 2005, when Tez fell victim to a bus collision accident. His bones were severely fractured; he had several concussions and had lost a lot of blood. Manoj was stupefied after hearing the news. He rushed to the hospital just to see his friend lying in a coma which would last for two months. It was a devastating situation for Manoj; he had no one to talk to and no one to spend his play hours with. He tried to talk to the other neighbourhood kids in order to seek solace; however, they would avoid him. Confused and disappointed, he sought the reason why he was being avoided. He was thwarted by everyone’s negative attitude towards him and finally went to see Tez’s uncle and asked him why everyone stayed away from him.
“You see, Manoj, there are a few things which the older people don’t understand.”
“According to your parents, you possess some ‘feminine’ attributes. But don’t worry, that’s what makes you special – different from the others. The fact that you are special is what the elders don’t understand.”
“I don’t get it, uncle.”
“I know, dear. But one day you will. You will understand all of this and you will make the others understand it too. No one will avoid you then. In fact, you will attract a lot of people – a lot.”
Manoj went home and tried to confront his parents. He was certain that they did not want him to mingle with the crowd. Furious with their child’s rebellious behaviour, they shut Manoj inside his room for weeks. His mind was dazed; perplexed by many conflicting thoughts, he tried to find out why his parents despised him that much. He missed Tez at the same time. He kept thinking over what his uncle had said. He would visit Manoj twice a week just to see how he was doing. Tez’s uncle was his only company. Tez woke up from the coma; he got better and re-joined school.
Tez had very little or no idea about what had happened in the world outside while he was in the coma. He met Manoj couple of times a week and noted the changes in his behaviour. He asked his uncle and came to know about Manoj’s house arrest mandated by his parents. He understood Manoj’s circumvention when they came across each other. Their eyes did not meet anymore. Tez comprehended the changes that took place in Manoj’s body – he became thinner, paler, rickety and feverish; he also developed dark circles under his eyes and wrinkles appeared too. Tez finally decided to have a candid conversation with his friend. They met at the beach on a Saturday. They walked barefoot along the shore. The softness of sand really comforted the feet of any tormented soul. First they talked about regular neighbourhood and school affairs, and then Tez switched the subject of their conversation.
“What happened to you, Manoj?”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t talk to me now-a-days. You look sick. Why?”
Manoj increased his pace. Tez seized his arm and he stopped.
“You can trust me, buddy. I will listen to you. Tell me everything.”
Manoj told him everything about what he had to go through for two months to make his parents believe that he was ‘normal’, in order to come out of the house. He told Tez about the torturous attitude of his parents towards him and how all the other kids avoided him. He also shared some information on being ‘feminine’ that he found on the internet which said that ‘feminine’ males were called ‘gay’. He was in tears and he choked. Tez was appalled by his friend’s agonizing situation. He felt dismayed and angry.
“Tez, do I behave like a girl?”
Tez gave it a long thought and said, “Yes, sometimes you do.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No, not at all. I like it, in fact.”
“Yes, my friend.” Tez smiled and out his arm around Manoj.
He promised Manoj that he would speak to his parents and the other kids. He would not let anyone harm his feelings and assured him that he would never let him down. They walked into the approaching dusk; the sunset bathed them and they felt succoured.
“Do you like me?” Tej’s voice was shaken.
“Of course, I do.”
“No. Do you like me?”
Manoj smiled and replied. “Yes. I like you.”
They hugged each other tightly and walked the rest of the evening holding hands. They realized holding hands made them feel more comfortable and invulnerable.
On the following Monday, Tez went to the staff room during recess to see Manoj’s parents. He told them to treat him properly at home or he would expose their behaviour towards their son in front of their colleagues. They were intimidated by Tez and called his uncle immediately to tell him that his nephew would be suspended if he came back to the staff room again. Tez convinced the others kids that Manoj was as normal as them. Manoj found back all the company that he had lost. He was happy and utterly indebted to Tez. None of the neighbourhood parents liked Manoj. They did not want their kids to play with him. But that did not stop the kids from discovering what a ‘special’ person Manoj was. As few years passed by, his parents realized that he needed school education and real classmates – that would help him prepare for the competitive examinations. Then, Manoj had more time to spend with his friends, particularly Tez, the person he loved. They were happy and their feelings for each other intensified over the following years.
Manoj excelled in High School. He established the fact for himself that he was gay and had no restraint regarding the matter. He was often disregarded by the authorities and was warned and suspended a number of times. He was loved by the most, but hated by the rest. People made fun of him, ridiculed their relationship and tried to make them feel bad whenever they found an opportunity.
Homophobia-triggered aversion was more prominent in the faculty. Some people considered homosexuality an infection that spread to more people, causing fear or affliction to the unaffected rest. Manoj and Tez never gave up. They organized low-profile ‘Rainbow’ meetings at the canteen and tried not to draw the staffs’ attention. However, they had enemies who were not so tight-lipped. They counselled the fellow students who wanted to come out of the closet and the straight people who supported their cause. The duo made statistical notes of attacks against homosexuality. The students suffered back in their homes – their basic freedom inhibited by the parents, relatives, friends, neighbours and everyone else. They were smitten by demotivating remarks passed by and the sheer sanctimony amongst the people ‘close’ to them.
In his High School graduation speech, Manoj decided to unveil what he held back for years – how he felt, what he discovered in himself and why he was ‘special’, as Tez’s uncle once called him.
“… and now, my friends, I’d like to discuss something important. As a kid, I was victimised by many people for no rational reason whatsoever. It was just because of my sexuality. I was discriminated and anguished at each step of my life, which took me closer to hope. My parents wouldn’t let me go outside with my ‘femininity’. Other parents wouldn’t let their kids play with me. I was subjected to macabre situations because I was considered ‘abnormal’. As I grew older, I realized that I wasn’t alone – there are thousands of others like me. A very special friend gave me hope and accepted me for what I am. He paved the way for me so that I could transcend, distinguish myself and pronounce my sexuality as ‘normal’, if not straight. I won’t say thanks to him ‘cause he deserves something that my words can’t speak. ‘Society’ and ‘civilization’ are two different things. Our society may or may not be civilized. I’d rather rise in the civilization than limit myself to the constraints set by the society, which is again made by man. I just want to say that people are afraid of the ‘truth’. People are afraid of the good things – things that are different – strange, but good things. The world had seen so much sin that people are afraid of the virtues now. They feel that the virtues might destroy them.
Homosexuality is something like that. It doesn’t spread like an infection, but it spreads like love. It shows you that we have different colours in the world. Never be afraid of it. It’s the cardinal right of an individual to express his or her sexuality. We are like flowers in the garden, clouds in the sky; we are everywhere and we need your support. Trees require water, sunlight and minerals to grow. We are like the trees; we require your support to grow. If you don’t let the trees grow and cut them down, the land becomes barren and lifeless; people fail to see the beauty of trees, they die of hunger when the crops don’t flourish. We are like those trees; without us there will be only wilderness in the population and people won’t see the beauty of us. The trees cleanse the air you breathe; we cleanse your sombreness with colour. Let me ask you once again; please let us live, because we can’t live in falsehood. We can’t hide and we won’t! We wait for the day when people like us won’t be afraid to say that they are queer. That’s all, thank you.”
(It is a fictional account inspired from a number of true events.)