I never went to primary school. My parents were my first teachers, helping me explore the world via ships and planes, through numerous hardbound books and countless films on VCR tapes. They also inadvertently made me comfortable with sports shoes, pants, t-shirts and jackets – clothes that maximized on utility and comfort, in those years when I grew up quickly every day. I was handed remote controlled cars and teddy bears to play with instead of petite Barbie dolls and miniature tea sets. My father taught me how to swim, my mother taught me how to read, and at that age, it was all that you would ever need. Looking back, I feel like my parents had a huge hand in making me realize my sexuality at a very early age, and not just because of these somewhat trivial clothing and lifestyle choices, but because they did not treat me as a highly gendered individual, and neither did they prod me towards a particular gender and/or direction of people.
I did eventually start going to school in a small town in Uttar Pradesh. It was quite a letdown compared to my previous classroom that spread over oceans and was not limited by four drab walls. I grew up alone, my only friends being the books that I studied and found in the library. There wasn’t really much in terms of common experiences or mutual hobbies that I could talk about with anyone else. I was pretty much the prize student, getting top grades in all subjects, winning in all extra co-curricular activites and sports events I participated in.
I grew up reading comics and books whenever I could, being particularly inspired by superhero figures and characters like Wonder Woman, Doctor Who (I read the books first), Harry Potter, Eragon, Artemis Fowl, Batman, Batwoman, etc. I remember being particularly drawn to the sporty yet feminine women in the various Enid Blyton boarding school novels and other such characters in various other classics, such as Jo from Little Women. I was particularly fascinated in reading about courageous and non-conventional women in history encyclopedias, with role models like Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Amrita Shergill, Fearless Nadia, Kalpana Chawla, to name a few. My parents had a penchant for listening to a wide range of English music, and I grew up listening to LGBTQ pop culture icons such as Cher, Barbara Streisand, Madonna, Britney Spears, Elton John, Queen, Prince, George Michael, to name a few. While I didn’t realize it, and I am sure, neither have my parents even to this day, this was an essential education in LGBTQ culture that they imparted to me pretty early on in my formative years.
Towards the final few years of senior secondary school, I fell in love with a female friend of mine, and I was hated for it. Overnight, the star student who could do no wrong, became the universally joked about social outcast of the place. Life taught me for the first time, that it isn’t always a good, benevolent teacher. At sixteen years of age, my soul already felt weary and old, questioning everything that was happening to her, and getting no answers in return. Murphy’s Law took over my life, and my home, my health, my life, everything went sideways. I spent four miserable years, trying to kill my feelings for the straight girl crush I had, and in the process, constantly feeling horrible and hopeless about my future romantic prospects. With my family’s dysfunctionality at an all time high, I lost all faith in love and marriage and finding a meaningful romantic relationship with anyone.
I dropped a year right after school. My classmates were beginning a new chapter in their lives, college, and I was just a sitting duck at my house. I was depressed, severely ill, and unable to really concentrate on anything. Towards the end of that one year, my uncle decided to whisk me away to Singapore, where he lived, to cheer me up. My parents did help me with my medical expenses and trips to the doctor, but they didn’t facilitate the safe, sensitized environment I needed for recovering. For the most part, I was happy that I was getting out somewhere, even if it was only temporary.
Those two months taught me to hope, to dare to dream. On my uncle’s insistence, and my own anxiety about my future, I paid a visit to the university there, and I was so surprised by what I saw there, people of my age, comfortable in their skin, going about their lives, learning and living and enjoying on their own terms. I got a glimpse of what my life could be if took charge of it, so I did exactly that. I didn’t want to lose out on anything else any more than I already had. I argued with my parents, and gave all those damned pre-medical entrance tests again on one condition, that I be allowed to give an entrance examination of my choice.
I qualified that examination, and entered one of the most prestigious colleges in my field in the country, as an English honours student. It was an all womens’ college, and the place was literally like my own version of Themyscira. I came out to my friends, batchmates, anyone and everyone, started a queer collective, did various workshops and seminars across the university to sensitize others, met my girlfriend and the love of my life there. My life, in the words of John Green, was one exhilarating roller coaster that only went up, at that point of time. I was acquainted with the world of LGBTQ literature and authors in that space, had the opportunity to research queer themes in different works of literature and media, and interacted with numerous like-minded queer people, whether it be professors or fellow students. It was here that I discovered the works of Virginia Woolf, Patricia Highsmith, Sarah Waters, Adrienne Rich, and so many other queer female authors. It was exhilarating to find so many friends with whom I could discuss these finer details of everyday life, such as being queer, who knew of my girlfriend, even though my own parents had a hugely negative response when I came out to them in the same time. That was the first time in my life that people reacted to me coming out as gay with the same intensity they would to a mild weather change, and that was the turning point for me. I decided that I would not hide my sexuality any longer, unless it was a potential and grave violation of personal security. I should have known, there would be trying times later on.
I started my postgraduate studies in mass communication and filmmaking at one of the most reputed institutions in the country. It was a religious minority institution, and an orthodox one, and I was scared that I might have to go back into the closet again after three glorious years I spent outside of it. I was reluctantly getting ready to put on a façade, thinking of a cover story for my personal life, when one of the professors for our course walked in. My gaydar went wild, and it was such a welcome relief to see another queer individual in that building, that too, an unapologetic butch woman, that all of those previous thoughts of hiding my true identity flew right out of the window. That same professor made us watch and study a ton of queer films and documentaries, and I lived for those classes, because it helped me gain a different perspective on showcasing queerness as a potential filmmaker. A couple of weeks later, when I had settled comfortably into my new friend circle, I came out to my friends, and it felt so reassuring to do that. I found some of my closest friends in the walls of that college, and it became another home for me.
I wish I had more teachers in my life who could have helped me in coming to terms with my identity. I wish I had more reliable sources and books within my access instead of having to search for things with no direction on the Internet. I am glad the young kids today and to come will have more access to queer role models and vital information growing up, unlike me. I am happy, that I am doing my bit to make the world a better place for the children to come, and not blindly expecting them to grow up good in a horrible world. I am so happy that my current workspaces don’t mind who I am or where I come from, and that is such a rejuvenating and affirmative fact to remind myself when I go to work everyday. But I still wish there were still more safe spaces for me as a queer individual, where I didn’t have to fear for a homophobic backlash from people if I did come out. I wish my parents, who I still regard as the biggest teacher figures in my life, had been more supportive of my identity, among a lot of other things. I wish I had that in my first job where I undoubtedly spent some of the worst months of my life. I wish there wasn’t a recurring process of coming out again and again, and that people would stop assuming I have a boyfriend just because I am a girl. I wish that our parents, our teachers, who we spend such an important and huge time with while growing up, are more sensitized to concepts of gender and sexuality, so that boys wouldn’t be scolded for crying, or girls for not being a certain dolled-up kind of feminine, and I really wish our generation does better as parents. But most of all, I wish that some of the people who I really valued in my life as teachers, hadn’t viewed me through a different lens once they saw that I wasn’t conforming to the rules of the heteronormative society we live in. I was still that person, maybe a little flawed, and maybe a little wiser each passing year, but still the same good student at heart. And I will never stop learning.