I come from a defence background, and as such, the distinction of people into identities for me centralized around the region one belonged to, and the caste or sub caste they were from – was an alien concept, and I only dealt with it, first, in college.
But I must backtrack. You see, I know I had crushes on some of my cute classmates since early school days, since the age of 10. I did not know if that was called something. I also had bought into the gender binary, and being deprived of sexual awareness, assumed I would marry a woman one day, and had definite ideas about the kind of girl I would like. I was however, very proud of my being unique – in this world! I cherished it, and my daydreams with my classmates were dear to me.
Now, you got to remember I was born in the 70s, and smartphones, social media; even the World Wide Web was not in the scene.
However, in early 20s, I realised there were others like me, in my own country, heck, possibly even in my own city. When I did interact with people, and worked towards sexual orientation awareness, I never realized the validity of it all still, even when I became an activist. I worked towards equality, the tags never interested me.
I thought coming out to my parents and friends would be the biggest and the most daunting thing ever. With friends, it was never an issue, in fact it turned out to be fun – they were so smitten by the person I was that this new element didn’t change a thing, except perhaps their perception of gay men became a bit more well-rounded – and i liked that change in them.
Coming out to parents was a devastating deal – a bomb that exploded across years, again and again.
The years of overt and covert hostility has ensured there is no familial love between me and any member of my immediate family. That is a separate (and sordid) tale to tell, involving details I wouldn’t want to get into. So yes, I was bullied by parents, siblings (10.5 years younger), but the fact that I believed in myself, had a fantastic friend circle (straight and gay – I never believed in ghettoizing myself) helped – across 3 loves and heartbreaks too!
My stories of bullying are different than others you may have heard.
1. Working for an NGO, I had a nymphomaniac boss who was perplexed that I didn’t get attracted to her, and it galled her – so she would drop words like ‘wimp’, etc in my presence, but not directed at me. I was naive enough not to get it – till she claimed that I had sabotaged the program, when evidence existed otherwise.
I was bullied because I did not make a pass at her!
I received an apology from everyone in the organisation, except her.
When we work long hours these days (given we aren’t European in our work culture), we tend to make friends at work. Since most of my friends accepted who I was, and it was fun to be with them and around them, I worked longer hours, was more productive, and had my best learning years.
However, as long as my sexuality was not mentioned, it was fine – most pretended the elephant didn’t exist. As and when I started to mention anything that made the elephant visible, there was a pretence of being nonchalant – however, there was a palpable embarrassment, awkwardness, and I took it in my stride, allowing them to evolve and deal with it.
In the two organisations that I worked with, my sexuality became a challenge for some – in fact, my own team – the Human Resources. Ironic, right?
2. Well, in one place, my lady boss, who pretended to be in an asexual marriage, happily – was a closet lesbian who had a crush on my female counterpart in another region, and suspected I’d find out. My orientation was never made the point, it was performance, it was petty things that were made into humongous issues, it was pits dug for me that, when I evaded, made her more determined to get rid of me. I went through 12 months of torture all because someone feared being outed. Homophobia in reverse, by a queer person. (No, she never came out)
3. In the next organisation, I vocally expressed displeasure when people made disparaging remarks, unofficially, or at social events, about two men ‘being together’ ‘being repulsive’ (note the discomfort in the language too). This alienated me for I was seen as someone who could raise issues and get people in trouble. Fears, a phobia of being caught saying the wrong thing – because no one educated them in normal conversation that didn’t have to rely on mocking any particular group. They did not know what was right, and what could be taken issue with, and hence, avoided everything, except essential communication. I noticed the change, but couldn’t fathom why, for workload kept my focus elsewhere. Even when I figured, I wasn’t going to start complaining, but the decline in social dynamics was steep and palpable from there. Upon discussing it with the seniors, nothing was done about it, and everyone remained cordial with me, in front of me, but wouldn’t address the elephant that sat in a corner, enjoying bales of grass, troubling no one.
What was done, when I sought support, was a repetition – vague statements of people not being happy (people variously implied to mean vendors, or stakeholders, who, in fact, I had and continue to have, great relations with), every decision being questioned, opportunities used to put me down publicly. Not realizing, I decided to buck up, but was mystified, for none of these felt true. Over time, business stakeholders, senior ones, that my own team was undermining me, by casting aspersions on my character, demeanor and behavior, told me.
I quit, after an escalation to the country head yielded no support. Since I raised the matter with the newly hired D&I person in the headquarters in Europe, I was honored with bad feedback when I applied elsewhere.
Bullied to conform, passive bullying to isolate, and unwilling to address the same
- Bullying is not always overt, especially by smart people who know they can be held in the wrong.
- It can happen to anyone, even a person within HR, or in leadership roles.
- Policies are worth diddly-squat – it is how a person feels that determines the success of how open an organisation may be
- It is important for outreach to be made to employees to know how to talk, what’s appropriate and what’s not, why it hurts, and how to be sensitive to LGBTQ colleagues.
- Organisations that do this, despite PR claims and attendance at events that assume these organisations are progressive – need to be told what’s wrong and what’s not happening. We need to give them a chance to correct them.
- Till we maintain a database, and the number of opportunities given, we wouldn’t know when its time to start shaming them, and calling them out as bigots.
- Never go back into the closet, don’t reveal either, till you wish to – it’s a need to know thing.
- These bullies get away because we have no laws on anti-discrimination. Even Harassment laws are weak. Internal policies and whistle-blower teams are often a big joke, though not always.
- We need legal counsel in such cases, and there should be a provision for such, and an awareness of these, within our support groups.
- Bullying can happen at any time in our lives, when we buy a home, and the neighbors are homophobic, when the nephew’s classmate’s parents stop sending their kid over, – each site is a bullying incident. Let none go un-tagged and called out. Let none slide.
Remember – Bullying is a hate crime!