This morning I opened my Instagram to find a post about two female penguins in Spain who apparently adopted an egg together. The headline read: ‘A Same-Sex Penguin Couple Became First-Time Moms at a Spanish Aquarium’. And then I opened the comment section and was met with a barrage of vitriol and hatred. The comments are always the same – that this goes against the laws of nature and god, that homosexuality is liberal western propaganda, that this is tarnishing Indian culture, that gay people are going to hell. It amazes me that although I come across these comments on an almost daily basis – the hatred, homophobia and outright disgust against me and my people that this country possesses still has the power to surprise me.
On the 6th of September 2018, I was still in the closet. I was on my way to a dentist appointment when the British era anti-sodomy law was partially struck down and homosexuality was decriminalized in the country. I remember I skipped the appointment because I was so full of excitement I didn’t think I could sit still. I bought myself a slice of rainbow cake and went straight home. I ate it alone in my room, I remember, I didn’t even tell my flat mate or call my friends. It was my own little celebration; my own little victory. Afterwards I lay in bed and imagined a life for myself. I still remember how viscerally I felt joy and hope on that day.
It has been almost two years since then, and a lot has changed for me. I have since been on dates with women, made a lot of queer friends, completed my Master’s degree which focused on queer literature, and came out to my parents. And yet here I am, trying to write this piece, not feeling at all like these were victories – my victories, our victories, or any victories at all. I think my queerness was theoretical up to that point in my life, and so my struggles were too. More and more now my identity feels like the Sisyphean boulder whose burden I no longer wish to bear.
I recently attended a friends wedding and realized how futile so many of my hopes and dreams were. My desire to have a partner, a house, our name outside the front door, perhaps a child, a small wedding where my parents could come and be happy for me – all seem further and further away. I never went as far as to dare to ask for the queer utopia of my academic dreams – my desires were small, perhaps even homonormative. How dare I have hoped for equality and normativity? One evening, I met an old friend for tea. She was an educator, just like I had hoped to one day be, who had been teaching for a few years. She spoke about getting fired from her last few jobs when the other teachers realized that she was a lesbian. “What if the parents find out that their children are being taught by a homosexual?” the multiple school Principals said to her, “They would not want someone like this influencing their children”. She advised me to never talk about my identity with my coworkers when I would start teaching. Tell them you live with a flatmate, she said, tell them you just haven’t found the right man yet. I looked at my friend as if I was seeing her for the first time. I saw her – a brilliant, passionate, strong-willed woman – reduced, before my very eyes, to this.
I thought I had come out of the closet once and for all, but again and again I am pushed back in. I am forced to hide from cousins, aunts, grandparents, co-workers, people I went to school with, the vegetable vendor under my building, my neighbor. When I read about women like me who died by suicide, when we get fired for coming out, when we find ourselves unable to go to the police out of fear, when we find ourselves disenfranchised from basic quality, I find myself going deeper and deeper into the closet. When my aunt asks me why I am willing to take up a job in Canada which I am very obviously overqualified for, I don’t know how to answer her. How do I explain to her that I am willing to do anything, anything, that does not involve living in fear anymore? What is Pride, I wonder often, and how do I find it? When my therapist asks me whether I am a lesbian because I had bad experiences with men; when I crop my butch girlfriend out of photos before sending them to my parents; when my girlfriend’s hand brushes against mine in public and my heart leaps in fear – I wonder what happened to that girl who ate rainbow cake and dreamed sweet dreams two years ago?
I wish I could still feel the same hope and carry it with me into life. I wish I could keep that moment pristine and untarnished in my mind forever – just solitude and hope and cake. But slowly over the last two years everything has turned bitter. I have shed my hopes like autumn leaves.