Coming out as gay is hard, wherever you may be. In this story, a small-town gay man beats himself up about his sexuality until a secret Facebook group from Mumbai changes his life.
“Do you know that Fawad plays a gay character in Kapoor and Sons? He doesn’t look like one, right?” she asked me.
It was my best friend’s brother’s wedding. We were chatting about random stuff when she asked me this. I had known her for the last 13 years of my life, but never had the courage to come out to her. But this time, I just couldn’t take it. Putting my friendship at stake, thinking this would be the last time she’d ever talk to me, I said, “I’m gay too, do I look like one?” I was in the 8th grade when I first realized that I was attracted to males. I avoided thinking about it, believing it to be something that maybe everyone goes through. It wasn’t until 'Dostana' released in India, that I came to know of the term, ‘gay’.
The more I researched the term, the more questions I had. I learned of the laws about homosexuality in India. “I'm not a criminal,” I murmured to myself, scared. I wanted to talk to someone, to explain what I was going through, but sadly, I had no one.
My hometown, Jamshedpur, is the first planned city in the country but I guess they never planned for homosexual sons and daughters. There was no LGBT group that I could seek help from. And that is still the case, even after a decade. I was constantly in a state of confusion. Isolation. Fear. Self-hatred. I left home in 2012 to go to Manipal University, foolishly hoping that staying away from home might cure the ‘gay’ away. As I should have known, it didn’t. So, in my 2nd semester, when my confusion started affecting my studies, I decided to talk to someone. I chose the most educated person in my family, my brother– a final year MBBS student – to talk to. Perhaps, one of the biggest mistakes I have made to date.
I told him, "I think I might be gay". His response? "No, you are not! Stop thinking about it. You are watching too much porn. Stop watching porn and concentrate on your studies. The more you think about this, the weirder thoughts you’ll get." This how a future doctor reacted to my situation. I was so embarrassed, but I did as he said. I tried to ‘act’ straight - stopped watching gay porn, stopped jerking off. I did this for months, but then one day, I could not take it anymore. I decided out loud, “You are gay. Accept it. You can't change it.” As it turned out, even after accepting my sexual orientation, l didn’t have the courage to come out to anyone. Why? For a simple reason- what if they don’t accept me? This is one of the biggest problems that gay people from small towns face. Man needs the surrounding of his friends/family to survive, to thrive. In bigger cities, they have a gay circle that is there for them even when their family or straight friends are not. There’s a sense of security. Would this country let me have the same?
I tried seeking support on the internet but mostly found people who were seeking sex. With some luck, I finally found a nice Canadian guy. I started talking to him and his friends regularly. However, I soon realized that they couldn’t entirely relate to what I was going through, as they were all from different countries. I was very grateful for them but I was still looking for someone to talk to in real life.
And I finally did. A big turning point in my life was when I found Yaariyan- a secret Facebook group, the youth wing of The Humsafar Trust. It saved me. Made me realize that it’s possible for an ‘out’ gay man can live in this country with respect and dignity. Connected me with people living their life peacefully, without getting judged for their sexuality. This was the support group I had been looking for since I was 12. The biggest surprise? I already knew many of the people in that group- some were friends of friends, some were familiar faces from college.
Talking to people like Shruta and Neytra, who works with The Humsafar Trust, gave me the courage to come out to my best friend. Funnily, once you’ve done it, you realize it’s just a statement is all. I soon came out to my cousins, classmates, friends, relatives, a few office colleagues, etc.
I have been lucky in moving out of my small town to Mumbai, the best place in India to be gay. But is everyone is lucky like me? I had the means and financial security to take this step. But what will happen to the lesser fortunate members of the community who don’t? Who will support them? Will something like The Humsafar Trust be founded there?
Initial charges can be brought by the collective efforts of the government and NGOs like The Humsafar Trust (Mumbai), Sampapathik Trust(Pune), Naaz Foundation(Delhi). Recently, The Humsafar Trust conducted a sensitization workshop with college principals and anti-harassment committee members in Himachal Pradesh, to understand the issues of the LGBT community. Such workshops conducted in smaller cities really benefit the LGBT crowd struggling with their identity.
Talking to different people from small towns, I learned that most gay men who continue to live there do so because of unavoidable circumstances. Everyone wants to be in a better place. Things have changed and become so much better in bigger cities. Small towns won’t see that change until someone makes an effort. Not an individual but us, as a whole community, can work wonders if we get together to hear these unheard voices. A small start can be educating our relatives/friends/families about LGBT so that many other Varun’s can find someone to talk to without being judged.
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