Q. What do you identify as (gay, bi, transgendered, queer, non-binary – use any terms you like here)?
Q. When did you first start to define your identity as such?
I knew I was attracted to men in my last few years in school. After school, I began to explore the internet and came across the term ‘gay’. It was only four years later that I could say, with little or no shame, that I was gay. Of course, this was in private circles — I wasn’t out to most people around me.
Q. Have you experienced first-hand homophobia? If yes, how did you deal with it?
At school, I was called ‘baylya’ (sissy) and similar words. It damaged my self-confidence and I could not make friends or talk to people. So I had very few friends; I could not even look at my own shadow or hear my own voice because of this shame. I performed miserably in class 12 and this continued well into college where I could not focus on my studies. The fear of being gay and the homophobic slur-slinging around me had really taken a toll on me.
Q. When did you first out yourself? Who did you come out to and why did you come out to that person?
In the second year of engineering [college], I came out to a female friend. We would often hang out and by then, I was reasonably ok with who I was. I told her in the college canteen. She was naive herself, so she had a lot of questions. But our bond became stronger.
Q. Did your coming out change anything about your relationship with them?
It did. Not in the case of just that one friend but with every friend that I came out to. Afterwards, I could see a marked change. They were happy that I trusted them with my secret. I was also happy that I had to no longer hide this part of my identity from them. I no longer had to fake girlfriends (which I did for a long, long time).
Q. Do you think being gaysi makes it harder to come out and that if you weren’t part of such a traditional and conservative culture you would have an easier time with your sexuality/identity?
The term ‘gay’ is never introduced to us. The possibility of a man loving a man might never even occur to you from [everything that happens] around you. And when the desire of being with a man romantically grows from within, it is the conflict that tires one out. For a long time, I prayed to God that I become a girl the next day and that people forget I was ever a boy — because for me, to love a man, it was necessary to be a woman! A couple of years later, the prayer changed. Now, I prayed that I have a wife — and a boyfriend on the side. The possibility of being in a monogamous, romantic relationship [with a man] seemed distant because of the traditional atmosphere around me.
Our culture disregards anything out of ordinary. The tall guy is called ‘lamboo’, the squint-eyed girl is called ‘kaani’, the fat one is ‘motu’, the thin one is ‘sukdu’. Where does this really end?
Q. Have you come out to any family member?
Yes. I came out to my family and a part of my extended family, and they have been extremely gracious in their support. Their support varies, as expected, but I consider myself fortunate to have such an understanding family. My brother, my sister-in-law, my parents and my cousin sister are the reason I am happy. Since some of my Saathi (IITB’s LGBTQ support group) work was covered in the papers, I suspect that some other family members also know, but I’ve never spoken to them about it. Not because I am ashamed or because I am not close to them, but because I don’t feel the need to explicitly tell them. I don’t have to go and tell them my favourite colour or movie, right?
Q. Okay, a few things fun things now. What are your turn-ons? And turn-offs?
Turn-ons: hair, hair, anywhere. Turn-offs are barely anything. But then, I do get put off by some gaysis who try so hard to be ‘cool’ by aping what they have seen in American TV series. I feel disconnected with such people and in circles such as these.
Q. Share one moment/memory from your life that makes you most happy about being gaysi.
I was a part of the team that had curated a set of videos and stories in Hindi and Marathi for a project called ‘Saathi Connect’. One of the videos was my Marathi interview. After seeing the interview, a politician from Maharashtra called me and said he was happy to see people talk about these issues in Marathi (guess who?). That made me very happy because the call really meant that the purpose of the video was being fulfilled. In that sense, I strongly feel that gaysis need to communicate with people around them in local Indian languages. A lot of prejudices about being gay come in because it is viewed as a ‘western’ concept. While we are okay watching gay characters in American TV shows, we aren’t very comfortable seeing them in our families. Language breaks that barrier.
Q. Your favourite queer-themed movie?
Ravi Jadhav’s ‘Mitraa’ in Marathi — which also won a National award — was powerful and I cried each time I watched it. I also like an American film, ‘Make the Yuletide Gay’, about a gay boy trying to come out to his parents in the presence of his boyfriend. If Yash Chopra made a gay-themed angrezi movie, it would be a lot like that one.
Q. Your favourite queer-themed book?
I read a lot, so please bear with a long answer. ‘The World of Homosexuals’ is a 1977 book by Shakuntala Devi — very ahead of its time and very, very informative! I also love ‘Cobalt Blue’ by Sachin Kundalkar, translated by Jerry Pinto. I cried every five pages towards the end of the book. I love ‘Out!’ (a compilation of Indian LGBTQ stories by Queer Ink). ‘Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History’ by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai is excellent too. Notice the trend in these books?! I have been able to confidently embrace my gay identity ONLY when I could find Indian references.