I was born and raised for most of my life in Qatar, until I moved to the UK in 2014, at the age of 18, for my Bachelors. With the help of my university friends, I realised who I truly was, and accepted that I was gay. Up until then, I hadn’t realised the unbridled happiness of being true to myself! No more lies, doubts, self-loathing or guilt for being religious and also loving men.
As a Mangalorean boy, coming out at 19 was a huge shock, and a disappointment to my parents. This inevitably caused a lot of mental trauma and turmoil, both for myself and possibly my parents. I was taken to a doctor in India to see if I could be ‘cured’. Thankfully, the doctor did not (and could not, really) try to cure me, but he also did not tell my parents that it is normal, and perfectly fine, to be gay. I have always been an individual who wears his heart on his sleeve, but for my parent’s happiness, I decided to hide it for years – to follow and fit into the norms of a society that didn’t think twice about me. The UK was my saving grace, my haven to be free. Whenever I’d talk to my parents, I had to lie about who I was and what I was doing. This was not me and it pained me to do so, but I had to survive and be happy – and make them happy in some way too.
Keeping up the façade:
When I got my first job in the UK at 22, I mustered the confidence to stand up to my parents and be open about myself. It was not easy; it was as if my parents buried my story deep where no one could see it, not even them, and hoped I’d go back to being straight. But after heated talks, arguments, counselling from parents with gay children, my parents learned to accept who I am, although they weren’t ready to be as open about it.
Towards the end of 2020, my partner Sugith and I decided to get into a civil partnership and I wanted my parents to be in the UK to experience the ceremony. After all, as their son I love them, and I had to believe they love me too. They arrived in the UK on 8th December, 2020. My parents made a point to say that they would be visiting the UK for my happiness, as long as I did not tell anyone about my sexuality and what I was doing, apart from my friends in the UK. They did not want their circle of friends or any of my family to know I was gay. I had hoped having them in the UK and witnessing my life with my partner would allow them to see that we were just like any other straight couple, that we were normal.
My parents did see that my partner and I went through ups and downs just like they did. But I knew I was still hiding behind a façade. No one in my extended family knew about my partner or our upcoming civil ceremony. It was a big moment in our life, and I wanted my loved ones to be there with me, even if virtually. I had wanted my parents to change their mindset after seeing us together, but it wasn’t the result I was expecting. They did concede and say that they would be willing to “tell everyone in a few years when people asked why I wasn’t getting married”. I was certain they were still afraid of what people would say. I tried to empathise – they lived in India and they would have had to face society’s disapproval. My true life, my authentic identity was expertly hidden whenever they talked to family back home. My partner was never mentioned, which was soul-crushing. Sugith had done his best to accept my parents for the way they are. But my parents repeatedly refused to acknowledge my partner when speaking to extended family, even though they got along with us in the UK. Experiencing such ignorance, watching my true life be completely ignored was not acceptable to me anymore!
25th March 2021: the scariest, most heart-wrenching and overtly contemplated day of my life. After years of feeling suffocated, of feeling like the air was constantly being squeezed out of me, of having my partner being ignored in my life, I decided I had to take a stand! It takes a lot of courage to go against your parents’ wishes, especially coming from an Indian background. There are a lot of emotions tied to these decisions, and the consequences I thought I would face, was willing to face. The words a member of my extended family and my partner said to me encouraged me: “Take control of your life and do not let other people dictate your happiness.” Using this as my burning torch, I posted my ‘coming out’ story on Facebook. I was so unbelievably afraid of all the consequences that I might face from my parents – their rejection, their losing all their belief in me, the stress this would cause them. I also knew if anyone had to say anything to them, I could speak to them personally, since my parents were still in the UK with me. My parents were obviously not pleased at all with what I had done; initially, we argued a lot, exchanged words, and allowed a silence to fall in the house that morning.
The post started filling up with so many supportive comments from my cousins, friends, some uncles and aunties and family friends. I was deeply touched, empowered and emotional to see so much love. This is what my innocent, 19-year-old self wanted from my mom and dad. Most of my family and friends were even supportive of my parents. I realised then, it was not just me who needed all the love and acceptance, but my parents too. They have loved me all my life, but could never fully understand me until now. I guess they felt suffocated too, knowing they couldn’t share my story, believing they would face rejection and shame.
Today as I write this personal essay, my parents have finally let go of society’s stranglehold and fearlessly fight with people who go against me. Whoever wants to be educated, and are willing to listen to me, I will happily talk to them to make them understand what it is like to be part of LGBTQ+ society. Education, love, and acceptance are the keys.
It takes a great amount of courage to be who you want to be. But, you have to take the chance to be fully you.