I was sitting in the cafeteria with my friend cum mentor and guide, listening to her journey over the years and her recent speech at an LGBTQIA+ Symposium where she came out to the audience amid cheers and applause.
When I told her about the Likho Initiative that I am a part of and asked her if she would be one of the protagonists of my article, she agreed to my request. Not just because she is my friend but also because she wanted the people to know what it means to her.
“I want people to understand what they are, what they actually want or Say, and whom they actually want in life. It took me a whole 40 years to realize this one thing. When I reflect back on the past years, I wonder what life could have been if I was this aware a person during my 20s or 30s.”
I couldn’t agree more with this.
“So, Prachi. I know you have just come out as a member of the LGBT community in front of the whole audience in New Delhi. How does it feel?” I asked.
Prachi- “Like a Heaviness from my heart has disappeared. You know how light it feels that we are here talking about our sexual orientation so casually as we talk about stock Markets. This feels liberating, to say the least”.
I could not agree more. From using the Incognito window to watch Wynonna Earp to openly discussing the TV Series Dickinson and the movie Portrait of a lady on Fire, we surely have come a long way.
Me- “But What held you back for so long?” I couldn’t resist asking.
Prachi- “Self-realisation. For so long, I couldn’t come to terms with my sexuality. When you cannot accept the way you are, how can you expect others to understand you?”
Me- “Right. How is your relationship with your parents? Have you told them yet? I mean, are they okay with your decision?”
Prachi- “I haven’t specifically told them. But they will come around. I function independently. At this age and the stature, I have earned in my life, disowning me is not a thing parents would normally follow.”
Me- “Okay. So, you just said that you realized it very late in life. You are out now and an inspiration for many of your generation. How was the journey all this while?”
Prachi- “See, it’s been a roller coaster ride. Even when I couldn’t come up to terms with my sexuality in those early years, one thing I was sure about was that I did not want to marry a man. I fought with my family, ran far away from home in the context of a job, and didn’t have conversations with my parents for years. Only if I could have sorted out the reason at that time, it would have been fair.”
I was totally in line with her thoughts. But one thing I still needed to confirm was the role of finance. Because in Prachi’s case, finance was not a major factor. She was self-sustained from an early age. But what about others?
Then I got to interview three more people to understand what are the defining forces in one’s coming out journey. One of them was Samiksha (Name changed), who is also a good friend and has recently come out as a Lesbian.
“You recently came out as gay to your family na?” I asked Samiksha.
“Yeah! To my siblings specifically,” she replied nonchalantly while sipping her coffee.
“Not to uncle?” was my next obvious question.
Samiksha- “No. But somewhere he knows.”
Me- “Why so? As far as I know, you and your father have a pretty okay relationship. I haven’t come across him as someone orthodox or the non-understanding kind.”
She- “Yeah. But I do not seem to have a pretty solid reason for coming out to him. I mean, it’s not that I have a partner whom I need to introduce to him. When that scenario arises, I would definitely take him into the loop.”
Me- “You are almost 30 now. So, at what age did you realize that your orientation was different?”
Samiksha- “See, I had always found myself different than other girls. When they used to admire boys in school, I had a crush on my Physics teacher. She was strict, a hard task master, and I used to do anything in my capacity to be in her good books, even if it meant waking up at 4 a.m. to practice reflection and Refractions diagrams.”
Samiksha- “Then, in my senior secondary year, I had a girlfriend. We were best friends cum partners. I had no idea at that time that it was a real thing. And no idea why the whole school had started ridiculing me secretly or why they had circulated some very nasty notions about us. Or that it isn’t abnormal to have feelings for the same gender. All I knew was that I loved her.”
Me- “You never told me this life event of yours. So, this was in your school days, right? What happened afterward?”
Samiksha- “Then! The fear crept in.”
Me- “What kind of fears?”
Samiksha- “Fear of Non-acceptance, Fear of being Zeroed out and the Burden of loyalty towards my heterosexual Partner, who was accepted very well by my family and the society.”
Me- “So why now?”
Samiksha- “I got a Job in a Community Based Organisation with my kind of people. Plus, after a certain age, you need to choose Happiness over Easy.”
Me- “Was finance a deciding factor anytime in your whole journey of acceptance?”
Samiksha- “A big time! See, as I was preparing for the RBI post till last year. I was mostly dependent on family and my partner for finances. Living on pocket money leaves you with limited power to even decide kitchen grocery, let alone your sexuality and orientation.”
Me- “So now you are proud and out. Do you plan to resume your studies keeping your job aside?”
Samiksha- “I will resume my studies but not at the cost of my financial freedom. Because at the end of the day, money is what saves you no matter what your orientation is!”
Me- “Yeah. That’s a valid point you put. Thanks, Samiksha.”
MY Third Responder is Kabir (Name changed), a sexual health Counsellor I met through a common friend. He had undergone FTM surgery and is in the process of Documenting his new identity in Government-issued documents.
My first question to him when we met was- “Why SRS (sex-reassignment surgery)? Why not lesbian?"
Him- “The thing is. I do not see myself as a member of the gay community. Even from childhood, I identified myself as a heterosexual and a man who loves a woman."
His answer gave me a great insight into SRS surgeries in India. Would hopefully pen down these stories on a different day!
Me- “So the first and most generic question over to you. When did you realize your orientation?”
Kabir- “Since I got the sense like 4/5 years of age.”
Me- “Okay. At what age did you come out to your family?”
Him- “See, I haven’t like made a statement. They understood by my behavior from that age itself.”
Me- “Okay, so they are quite understanding.”
Kabir- “Not during the childhood, but later like when I was in my college, they were okay. My father has never told me anything since childhood. On the other hand, my mother used to scold and beat me up blue and black."
Me- “Has she come around now?”
Kabir-“Yes, she came around like in my college days. I feel she finally accepted that this is how I am. She was very supportive of me from then onwards, even welcoming my girlfriend home.”
Me- “Cool. Did finance have a role in your acceptance journey?”
Kabir- “Yes, of course. See, from the day I turned 18, I have been financially independent. And I was always a meritorious student, so that fulfilled the conditions set upon us by our parents.”
Me- “Fair enough. If you have to give one piece of advice to college kids today who are part of the community, what would it be?”
Kabir- “My suggestion would be to go and become self-dependent first so that you are able to care for yourself as well as your partner. College is not a favorable time to get involved in these matters. Basically, first, complete your studies, get a good job, and then tell your families. Be your own backup.”
Me- “So basically, the point is being monetarily stable before accepting your sexuality and orientation.”
Kabir- “Exactly. Do not push yourself and your partner into hardships. And in case you are being forced into marriage or something, then do not take decisions in haste. Consult a trusted CBO before jumping to decisions. This advice is relevant for both homosexual and heterosexual relationships."
Kabir- “For those who have to get Transition surgery done, there is a process you need to follow. You have to go to a psychiatrist and get a letter of acceptance from them. Then only, you can go into therapy and SRS operation. In most cases, even counselors and psychiatrists are unaware of the issues of SRS or have a negative approach towards the issues. Even your partner’s family would ask for your net worth. So, it is better na in all spheres, to be financially stable beforehand.”
Me- “Yeah. Totally got it. Last question from my side. What in your opinion requires Financial Stability-?
1. Accepting your sexuality /orientation
2. Coming out to others.
Kabir- “Both of them.”
Me- “Thanks, Kabir.”
Going through the conversations with various people in my circle, I realized one thing that finance does play a major role in the acceptance journey of an Individual, but it just doesn’t work in isolation.
Like Satyam (name changed), who identifies himself as Bisexual, says, “No matter how much financial stability I achieve in my life, I would never be able to come out to my family. Not because I am scared of them throwing me out, but because I need to have them in my life. And when I am aware that they are old school people, why should I force them to accept something they don’t believe in?”
Me- “What if you want to marry a Boy someday? Then would you tell them?”
Satyam- “Would settle abroad in that case. In India toh, I can’t give my relatives the pleasure of sayings nasty things to my parents.”
His thoughts were seconded by Nitin, who identifies as gay. He says, “Look, financial independence played a major role in my journey of acceptance to Myself, but for my Parents, I am the next generation male who would take over the family profession of generations. And the profession we are in, society wants someone who fits the norms- A heterosexual staunch man. How can I come out to them when I know they would not be able to accept this fact? And more than me, they need me at their side at this age. I can’t risk breaking the whole family for the reason of my acceptance.”
I couldn’t deny the logic behind their actions. My mind went back to Samiksha’s words where she talked about fears- Of being zeroed out, fear of stares, and isolation from family. Samiksha came out after she joined a community-based organization. And she had her siblings in her support. Kabir’s mother and sister had a turnaround during his college Days and supported his decisions. Vaani (name changed) had her mother as her biggest supporter. Her father never talked to her again since the day she told him about her orientation, but her mother and sister always had her back.
So financial stability would give you a cushioning effect in case things go whirlwind. You still need to have a support system, too, whether in the form of family, friends, siblings, or community groups. As was prevalent in my conversation with all these people, family background mixed with stable finances, the environment you are working in, these all work in conjunction towards coming out journey of an individual. Like my Bantai said to me, “Dekh Behen. To own up own’s sexuality is one thing. Pehle tujhe pata hona chhaiye tu kya feel karti phir khud ko tayyar kar both financially and qualification wise. Phir tu dusron ke saamne rakh apni baat. Ki haan Main aisa feel karti hun.” Period!