International Family Equality Day was on the 5th of May, and I spoke to six queer Indians to listen to their stories of warmth and love owing to their chosen family. Thank you, for being there.
I realized that I am a little different from my straight friends during summer vacations of 4th class after I got attracted to a girl with whom I used to play. And obviously, I wasn’t aware/sure at that time. Full disclosure came in when I moved to Delhi for undergrad. I met some truly amazing people in the drama society of my college, and their company changed in more ways than I can count. My seniors introduced me to this shitty yet wonderful app Tinder and also to Nazariya LGBT where I spent an amazing time.
It was truly overwhelming spending time with people from the community and allies during my short association with Nazariya. I got to know about the nuances of prejudices the community faces in their daily lives and how we can take action against it. It’s a privilege that I am out of the closet, thanks to these 2 sacred places (Nazariya and my dramsoc) where people were not judgmental. They are my chosen family and they have not only helped me reform the norms with which I live but also helped me grow as a person.
Before coming to Delhi, I was at my home in Haryana and I was quite introverted. I didn’t have any support system, as my family is too judgmental when it comes to things like these. The access to social media actually helped me a lot. I received support from people of the community from around the world through social media and groups.
After 377 verdict, Delhi Times carried an interview with me and that created quite a rage among my family members. It was a difficult time for me. My father and my uncle dropped into my flat in Delhi at 11:30 in the night, and were persistent that they want to take me back to Haryana forcefully. I tried to jump from the 5th floor flat because they were trying to force me into going back, but my friend helped me a lot during this time and stopped me from doing things. Also, my landlord’s opinion on the whole thing surprised me a lot. He came up during this ruckus and told my father that I have the right to be where I want to be as an adult. One of my friends, Sai took me to her place and made me stay there for 2 days after the incident.
There is no limit to the support you get from the community. I can call so many people my chosen family like Abhina Aher, a foremost trans-activist, whom I consider my mother. Other activists like Simran Sheikh, Sylvester Merchant, Gautam Yadav and Rohit Sarkar have also supported me throughout. I have grown up learning from them, and now I get to work with them. Isn’t that exciting?
Also, it was so liberating to come out to my straight friends and I have seen them change over the years. They are a big support system, and have always been by my side. There is this straight cis-woman, Sandipa whom I met at a tea-stall on a campus, and now we are like family. We talk to each 10 times a day about everything. Without my chosen family, I would not have been able to continue living my life in my own terms.
For instance, on 1st May was May Day and I was wandering about this place called May Day bookstore and there I had worn a sari for the first time, and it was beautiful because I had never imagined myself in a sari before this. I had just been staring at the beauty of saris but I never thought of myself being able to wear that and it happened just yesterday and I ant get over it. The fact that I look so much like my mother when I wear a sari and a bindi and I cannot tell her is something I’d like to talk about I’m not out to my family and even though I’ve tried to educate my family about the LGBTQIA+ community, I’ve not told them much about my own identity and my gender issues. We talk a lot about these things but if I told them that I identify as a homosexual person and that I’m a gender non binary person. Telling them comes with a lot of abuse and emotional labour I don’t think I should put myself through at this point no matter how badly I want to be myself. But, on the flipside, moving to Delhi gave me the chance to start afresh. Since the start of my first semester, that is the past 6 months, I’ve gotten to know two really nice people and we moved into a flat together. I then asked my previous flat mate to move in and he did, and then we asked one more person to move in and now we are this wonderful family. It so happened that we all belonged to the same friend circle in college and this meant there was already a level of understanding present. I never had to come out to my flat mates, they already sort of knew. And the irony is that they are all heterosexual cismen. It’s such a rare blessing that they’ve embraced me and given me such a platform to rise and shine. Other than them, there is also our dog Socks who turns up in all my pride photos because *represent*.
This house has been such a place of love because all the women attached to my flat mates, my school friends, college friends and other people have also been coming to this flat and they have all been very important to me and the growth of my identity. The sari I wore on May Day is also given to me by the girlfriend of a very close friend. I borrowed a bra from another friend. The women in my life have been so supportive with whatever I do and most recently, I went to give a talk and my entire chosen family turned up to cheer for me and they were in the audience hooting and cheering- I felt so good. It is that kind of support that helps me wear what I want outside – the safety with which I can come back home with these guys. If I wear a bindi I make sure I wear it till I get home to show them. I’ve told them multiple times, how important this is for me, but I don’t think I can ever tell them enough that I don’t think I could have grown so much if I didn’t have such an environment to grow.
My flat is a home. Not just for us, but for all the people who visit. It’s become a centre of inclusivity, a safe space where everyone is just allowed to be. I don’t think anything else matters. The only fact that they accept and love me the way I am is something I have always wanted from my biological family.
My chosen family is my friends and my flat mates. When it came to coming out to my biological family, I had to think a lot, and work on convincing them to accept me as who I am. But with my chosen family, it was never necessary and we never talked about it because it was normalized to the extent that it wasn’t needed. Well, (chuckles), no cis-hetero man has yet become part of my chosen family but a lot of cis-women and people for the community are my chosen family… 2 days ago, I broke down for the first time in my life and I didn’t know what to do, I was alone in the house. My first instinct was to call my friend, my chosen family and not my biological family. My friend asked me to come over when she heard me howling, and I went over to her place and ended up spending a great time there… I think, the very concept of family in the mainstream is fixated to the amount that we only consider our biological family to be the real family. But as a social being, an individual connects to so many people, they have so many bonds and relations, then why can’t we call them our family?
I’ve known one of my closest people, Parul, since she was a 19 year old fighting her family. I am 10 years older to her and we will hit 10 years of knowing each other next year. When we were just starting about knowing each other, we figured that since we live close by, she could drop by for a bit now and then. She’s practically grown up in my house and when she does some really good things, I feel pride and I feel like I have contributed to her upbringing. Through the past many years we both have felt that we are not just friends, I feel very emotionally dependent on her. Last year I got a small procedure done and until I got the procedure done, for the whole year she was planning her leaves and travels according to when I would need her by my side. She’s even seen a nurse giving me a sponge bath and I tell her that now toh you’ve seen everything (chuckles) and that I’m preparing her for the future- for when I’m bedridden, that she is my pension plan. The rest of my chosen family is in Bangalore, I met them there and I’ve known them for ten years and they are my chosen family. There are times I’ve reached out to my own family as well and they’ve taken their time to come to terms with my sexuality and my chosen family has been there in a more wholesome sense than my blood family has.
I keep moving- I was in Delhi earlier and then in Bangalore and now I’ve moved to Delhi again, but most of my chosen family is in Bangalore. The proximity at which we were living together in Bangalore made it easier for me to call them to get me a Crocin if I needed one at night, and that just got us together- the four of us.
When I came out, my biological family was not really supportive, but they were neither very against my sexuality. I had to think twice before talking to them about anything. When I entered Nazariya, in the beginning it was just like activism, but as you go alongside them, you build a connection with them and find friends. And the next thing you know, they become your family, care for you and are always there to look out. Of course, like every other family, there are fights, but there is also love. I have a few great friends whom I could call my chosen family like Vaibhav, Ruth, Anushree, Bhavya and so many more. I can’t even remember when they came into my life, but I know that they are there. I know they are looking after me. When I was struggling during my board exams, my cis-hetero friends from high school didn’t come to rescue, rather it was my friends from Nazariya who helped me go through the struggle.
Even though these people are from various colleges, you know that they are there for you. I think chosen family is quite contradictory to family as an institution. We chose them and get to be with the people we like, but with biological family you have to live with it as you were born in it. I guess, every person in the community deserves a chosen family for all the love it brings.