The pandemic brought us closer to our homes, but it took us away from people and places that we called our home. When we were asked to vacate our PG accommodation as COVID-19 arrived on the scene, I thought that it would be 15 days, at most, for which we were being asked to leave. I arrived in my hometown and over a period of time it dawned upon me that it would take much longer than a mere fortnight.
What happens when you come out to yourself in the middle of a pandemic? I am a 22-year-old cis-woman who spent most of her life invested in heterosexual relationships. Most of my dating life was ‘easy’ as I navigated through real-life or dating apps looking for people with similar interests as mine. As the heteronormative setup has it, it was never difficult for me to voice my choices or to confess to people I had a liking for. The past few months had me undertaking some introspection and I finally came to terms with my identity as a queer woman. This, when I am currently residing in a village and am surrounded by a family that is yet to accept the idea that teenagers or for that matter, even adults, date. This, when I am placed in a setting where the community abhors inter-caste marriages and where arranged marriages are still the norm. This, when the society around me is carefully constructed on the pillars of patriarchy, caste and class. This, when for the people I am surrounded by, queer is an alien term and LGBTQIA+ a community of the unaccepted. And this, when homosexuality features in conversations around me only as a slur.
When you are in these formative years of your life and living with a crippling mental health situation, and are practically shoved to live in a setup where you have no choice but to coexist with everything that contradicts your being, what do you do? The digital world helps me live a reality that reflects what I want to be. It helps me have a reality that I own. The digital world helped me seek help for my mental health, which was at its worst, without my family knowing that I was seeking therapy. It helped me stay connected to people who would understand where I was coming from. It helped me cope with the sense of guilt that came with the fact that people have it worse and that I am living in my bubble of privilege, cribbing. The digital space has helped me access a safe haven for things that wouldn’t be talked about in my immediate surroundings.
I keep wondering how it would have been for me if I was in my university right now. At this point, online education has ruined my interest in studies and has hampered my career trajectory. Without an interactive classroom setup and a university atmosphere, I already feel like I am falling behind while my peers appear to be taking leaps. The added pressure of what the future would look like if and when I come out to my family along with the inability to perform basic tasks due to rampant anxiety is terrifying. As a new member of the community, I still feel like an outsider. It is difficult to know of safe spaces that would allow me to meet people who are like-minded. My distrust for the online mode of meeting people and the difficulty in accessing dating apps as a queer person makes it further complicated. Courting people that I know outside of the dating apps is problematic anyway because it is difficult to know whether someone is on the same page as I am with respect to their sexuality.
While the fact that I have come to terms with myself is freeing, the consequences of this acceptance make me feel suffocated. I know that I need to be independent and secure before I own my identity publicly, but the desire to be able to live as openly as any heterosexual person would live makes me feel like I am trapped. I hope to get to the point someday where I can speak of who I am without living in the constant fear of being outed.