I like swinging kettlebells, I really do. It’s one of those things that sounds kinky but is actually truly torturous. Yet, it feels oh-so-good …later. much. much. later.
So when Women’s Health India reached out to Gaysi to write for their “Girl Meets World” column in their 2nd anniversary issue this April – we jumped at it!
As a regular reader of WH India, I decided to give it a go – and it finally arrived in print with my coming out – all – over – again story “Stand Up To Come Out”. I know its May, but if you can, do get your hands on a copy of Women’s Health India April 2014. It has Sonakshi Sinha on the cover and is quite an interesting read! In the meantime, here you go …
Bright lights. A foreign city. A crowd of 300 strangers and counting. I stood on stange, as green about the gills as my parrot pants. Adjusting my microphone, I took a deep breath and began…
It was September 2013. I was a few months into my repatriation from America. Yes, I had voluntarily come back from the land of the free and the brave to…the land of masala dosa. I was learning to live in India all over again, both as a woman and a gay woman. Now I had decided to come out publicly for the first time through a standup show (yes, that was a first too). I was going to come out as a gay woman in every which way.
I’d already said the words “I’m Gay” to those who mattered. I had written a letter to my mom and sat in front of her while she read it. I did dinner with my sister and avoided the topic entirely, then went back home and told her on Google chat. I really believed the hardest part was behind me.
And then, life happened. Within a short span, many dear relationships came to an acrimonious end. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.
Wisdom tooth surgery.
I lost three bothersome teeth…and all feeling in my tongue…for three months. “You are young and this is temporary!” said the doctor with a flourish as he left me to the mercy of my regenerative powers. I got through this odd phase in the healthiest way possible. As I couldn’t taste anything, I shovelled nutritious home-cooked food into my mouth every meal. I stubbornly stuck to a Cross Fit regimen. My sore, aching muscles made up for my then emotional and lingual impotence. I was actually thriving – physically.
The rest of me
…well, it was a metaphorical process. I felt dead inside and my palate seemed to reflect that. That said, I still had fits of madness…and that was how I landed up as a standup act at a popular open-mic event in Mumbai called Dirty Talk.
So there I stood as the first act channeling my inner Ellen Degeneres, Margaret Cho and Jane Lynch. It’s true: queer women have historically been very funny people. My roster of jokes was just itching to be let out. This was it. 300 people were going to discover that I was … South Indian.
Oh yeah, and a lesbian.
My standup routine got off to an auspicious start. Within a minute, I had referenced Chennai Express, Shah Rukh Khan, lungis and blue films. I even told the crowd a joke about how my new phone thought my dad was gay (“Dad’s leaving tonight” autocorrected to “Dad’s leaving Timothy” – Timothy, if you are reading this I’m sure you were a great guy!)
I guess that was the turning point: once I’d made my dad gay, all my inhibitions fell away. On that stage, I was a regular girl, taking digs at my life, family, colleagues, my exes. As I wrapped up to laughter and applause, I started rethinking career options. Maybe there was money in this gay and being funny thing.
As a newly minted standup comic, I could be facetious to no end. The truth was, however, that I had come out publicly for the first time to 300 strangers, in a country where people still think LGBTQ is the name of a glamorous insurance agency.
At that juncture, I felt this odd combination of emotions. I was elated from the joy of being so blatantly alternative in my public performance. Yet, there was still this niggling concern and paranoia inside me that persisted – like an old scar that itches. Perhaps unsurpisingly, my mother’s last words to me before I went to perform were: “Make sure there is no press.” What if I’d just breached the safe space for me to freely live in India as a lesbian? … and by safe space, I mean in hiding.
Three months later.
The Supreme Court of India passes a ruling that effectively re-criminalises the queer community – The IPC 377. In its aftermath, there are a lot of words thrown around to describe people like me: ‘miniscule’, ‘deviant’ and of course, my favorite – ‘criminal’. My land of masala dosa had turned its back on me. It also struck me as sad that not one of those words was ‘funny’, or ‘happy’ or just plain ‘citizen’.
So that’s where I’m at: along with a bunch of other LGBTQ folk, we’re on a mission to reframe the stereotype of the gay individual. We aren’t just hot headed activists asking the world for impossible things like equal rights, we’re also regular people who like to tell jokes and live life freely. My standup act wasn’t a politically subversive act; it was just a courageous one. For could there be a more noble pursuit than to make someone launch?
BTW: Yes, my tongue did come back to life! I can tell my vada pav from my medu vada.