Coming Out Personal Stories

My Long Journey To Knowing Myself

An older queer person comes of age in a world where internet is but a glimmer of hope on the horizon. This is their story of discovering their own brand of queerness as a person assigned female at birth in the Global South.

Tw: Mentions of homophobia, gender dysphoria

When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be a boy.

All the stories I heard and read showed men standing tall and strong, protecting people, fighting battles, and asking questions.

Women were at best pretty young people to be protected, or matronly and motherly women to be revered or at worst, spiteful, vengeful people who hurt everyone. As the Malayalam saying went: ‘Asooyakkum Kushumbinum Kayyun Kalum vachatanu pennu.’ (If envy and spite are given hands and legs, that would be a woman.)

Malayalam films of the 1980s and 1990s – the decades when I was growing up – quite frequently showed uppity women being slapped into submission.

Can anyone be blamed for not wanting to be associated with such a role?

The indicators that society had attached to people with the female form and aesthetic – such as dressing up to look pretty, the nurturing and caring persona, or the perfect wife – never enticed me. I preferred the straightforwardness and bravery associated with ‘men’ to the coyness and baffling manners associated with ‘women.’

Am I trans? No. What I wanted was to see myself in the stories of a society that refused to, for the most part, see me or understand me. And I did not want to be defined by qualities that, for whatever reason, society had chosen to associate with my body type, when these qualities did not feel very familiar to me.

Such were the 80s and 90s, folks.


Things of course got more complicated when I became a teen and got emotional crushes on girls my age. My escape was to construct romantic stories in my head, where I of course was a boy and the girl in question, remained a girl. I had only the vaguest notions about sex but understood romance thanks to Hindi films. And with those tools, I constructed a world that satisfied me.

Homosexuality was not a thing that I had heard about or understood. In our 12th standard Biology curriculum, we had a chapter on diseases that included AIDS. I remember going about asking people what exactly homosexuality meant because the chapter said that homosexuals and promiscuous people often contracted it. Nobody seemed to know the answer, while our teacher was on leave.

I did not know much about sex either. We learnt about mitosis and meiosis, and the stages of the foetus in school and how Darwin had figured out evolution but not what the physical act of sex entailed. It took me until my second year of engineering to finally figure out the details of sex.

No, I did not check the internet because the internet of the time was 52kbps and we had to compete with our peers and seniors to get time at the Computer Lab. I checked Guyton and Hall (medical textbook) after a visiting professor of life sciences (an MBBS) told us that sex is sin, so we should feel free to do the lesser sin of masturbation to keep ourselves from committing the greater sin.

In case you were wondering, the description of the mechanics of sex in Guyton did not impress me. But it did somewhat dispel the idea that I had inherited from watching Hindi films: that two people lying together side-by-side led to the accidental creation of babies.

If you consider going to an engineering college, I recommend taking a humanities course first (given the news, yes, even now).


Post engineering college, the next adventure awaited. Arranged marriage.

“Why not marry since I have to do it someday?” This was the refrain I heard through the last year of Bachelor’s. Given that the narratives, culture, and education I was exposed to had given me no reason to understand the possibilities of life or sexuality or gender along with having had no faith in ever falling in love with a guy, I agreed. But after a few excruciating months living in said marriage and some sessions of therapy, where the therapist suggested that I find a way to make the marriage work (because what else is there to life?), I decided to call it quits.

Oh, but that is not all.

While going through anxiety about my less-than-perfect marriage, I managed to fancy myself in love with a guy without having the faintest idea of what romantic love entailed; probably buoyed by the notion that such love is inevitable because that is what not just Hindi films and campus culture but the Jane Austens, Nancy Drews, Erich Segals, and Jeffrey Archers told me. Fortunately, I did soon figure out that it was neither love nor attraction, but an appreciation for being talked to with respect and kindness (though it felt like it took eons for this realization to dawn, at the time).

If you want to confuse a person about love, feel free to inundate their socio-cultural world with romantic/parental love as the epitome of all love, while also keeping the rather satisfying worlds of sibling relationships, friendships, comradery, and mentorship out by limiting it mostly to the world of those deemed men. If you also hint that sex is the highest form of pleasure to people who can neither experience said ‘pleasure’ nor imagine it and thus would somehow consider themselves flawed, you are doing a great job.


After divorce, I stayed away from imagining love for a while. I had learnt by then about homosexuality, but it seemed all about sex, and since I did not have much inclination for it, I did not think of myself as gay. Besides, sadly, there were no women in the picture. Stories there were but reimaginations involving fictional characters. It was somewhere in the making of those stories, set in the female-centric world of British boarding-school fiction, that I considered the possibility of being gay.

Fast forward to 2011, and I stumbled up on a whole world of anglophone f/f stories, mostly located in the US. It was still limited (and there was no Kindle), but it did give me an idea about a gay love that was romance, and not sex, though sex featured rather prominently in all but Young Adult fiction.

As I was slowly learning to think of myself as gay, the Supreme Court of India decided that the part of Indian Penal Code that criminalised same-sex activity did not affect all that many people in India and hence, should be reinstated (an absurd reasoning if there ever was one, but our SC is great at such noteworthy performances of logic). In defiance, I came out to a few friends and family members. All I can say about that experience is that nobody disowned me.

Still. Self-acceptance. Yay!

Unfortunately, to my consternation, I soon realised that the experience detailed in all these women-loving-women fiction and features is not quite at par with my experience. I rarely felt all these body reactions that they regularly mentioned, and never could at a glance tell if a woman is ‘hot’ or not. I found the intimate encounters detailed in these works boring and preferred slow developing emotional relationships to anything physical. Not to mention that they were mostly white and anglophone.

After a brief sense of belonging, I was back to deeming myself a misfit.

Yes, dear reader. I am blaming the narratives. Again.


It was somewhere in 2016 that I finally came up on asexuality as a thing that some humans experienced. Asexuality is a spectrum, and you could be gay or demisexual ace or any other combination of identities. So, I could continue building romantic stories about women in my mind, without having to deal with or worry about sex. Plus, I could give equal validity to aromantic love.

Folks, I had found my label, or rather my community. This time, on Tumblr.

Well, part of my label.

The other label was found in gender studies and twitter, where agender and non-binary were coming into public parlance. Free of all shackles or expectations from having my body. Or such the word agender seems to me.

And thus, I knew myself (somewhat).

And lived happily ever after. (Not really.)

The end.


What a tedious and convoluted journey, isn’t it?

A journey that might not have been quite as painfully lonely, confusing, or meandering if there were more narratives and stories about people like me. Stories of cis/trans women, transmen and agendered people with agency, same-sex love, female friendships, asexual love, and gender/body non-conformity, set in all the variety of contexts and idioms and cultural and religious symbols that this world of ours sees and has seen.

As Junot Diaz once said: monsters do not cast reflections. Thus, if you want to make someone feel like a monster, then give them no cultural reflection.

However, as Dr Sunny Singh, author of Hotel Arcadia, has explained on twitter, it is more.

A people that sees only itself in the mirror also become monsters. If a dominant class is not exposed to stories that reflect people, realities, and experiences that are not theirs, they become intransigent and narrow-minded individuals who otherize those different from them, eventually contemplating genocide of these ‘Others.’ As we have been seeing in the experiences of Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, and Indigenous Tribes, and lately, Christians and other minoritized populations in our country.

If you see only your reflection in the mirror, then your view becomes distorted. You might become a monster.

Representation matters. Stories and narratives matter. Of all peoples. In all genres. In all walks of life. For everyone.

And for this, I tell my story.

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AV Kakkad is the author of the Contemporary Women/Queer novel In the Star of Love.
AV Kakkad

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