Shachi Lavingia talks to Priyadarshini Chitrangada, Dharti Patel, Joyston Moreira, Pushpak Sen, Somitro Mukherjee Kajuri, and Som Banerjee about their stories and what it meant for them to come out of the closet.
While most of us stand up against comments and unsolicited advice about the shape of our bodies, acne, skin tone, marrying outside the community, stereotypical gender roles, and belief system, a section of society has been fighting silent battles about who they are at their very core and who they choose to love. The journey of understanding one’s identity is anyway confusing and terrifying at the same time but talking about it openly to live a life true to yourself, now that’s something we want to understand better. Priyadarshini Chitrangada, Dharti Patel, Joyston Moreira, Pushpak Sen, Somitro Mukherjee Kajuri, and Som Banerjee talked to us about their coming out of the closet stories and what this experience meant to them! Was it hard for each of them to accept themselves? Let's find out!
Priyadarshini Chitrangada - In a world built on tenets of compulsory heterosexuality, coming out is a constant process. It’s never a one-time event. For me, I chose to come out to my childhood best friend for the first time, and we googled the term that I used to identify with back then and realized that it’s called ‘bisexuality’. I had never seen a lesbian or a bisexual woman in real life. The absence of such a figure increased my fear of coming out. I stayed in the closet until I went to college. All my peers and colleagues knew me as a queer woman during my undergraduate years. Trans and Queer visibility always come at a price. Back in college, my then cisgender male heterosexual best friend thought that he could convince me to be straight by forcing himself on me. When I outed him, no one believed me. The majority of my peers in college ostracized me and didn’t believe me. I feel lucky to have had a few individuals by my side at the time, some of whom are still my strongest pillars of support.
I moved to Brighton for my post-graduation at the University of Sussex shortly after finishing my undergraduate degree from St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata. While studying Gender & Media there, I came out to my family over a video call. It was a very long and overwhelming conversation with my mother, at the end of which she said, “It's okay. I wanted to raise an honest daughter, and I’m glad that you have the courage to live your life honestly”.
With the onset of the pandemic, homelessness has escalated for PAGFB*LBT individuals. They either run away from their homes due to threats and violence because of their gender-sexual identity or are thrown out when they refuse to get married to individuals arranged by their families. So, as I share my positive coming-out story, I cannot negate the fact that it is not the general scenario. Our country may have decriminalized homosexuality legally, but families are not ready to have trans and queer presence in their space.
Dharti Patel - “Your personality reflects the kind of influence you have while growing up. My mom was a typical Indian mother who kept me in a bubble ruled by society. She was constantly nagging me about how a woman or girl should sit, sleep, wear clothes and behave "ladylike". From a very young age, I’ve had all these traumas caused by the burden of being a perfect woman. In my mind, I was a totally different person; I was a tomboy. I was 6 when I felt something towards a girl for the first time. My innocent heart did not know LGBTQIA+ terms at that time because there was no one to guide me. People stereotype the community, especially in Bollywood movies. If you’re not educated about something in your school or home, how will you know that it exists?
I was only taught to hate the LGBTQIA+ community, so I grew up hating myself. I’d already decided that I will end up alone. I grew up suppressing my feelings, and I was so scared that I wouldn't even utter words like gay or lesbian. At that time, these words felt like an insult. People always questioned the masculinity of a gay person or his ability to make kids. I was lucky enough that I never got bullied for my sexuality after I came out, but I know for a fact that many have faced harassment for who they are. After finishing school, I got into college, and there I saw so many kinds of people. I felt like I was finally out of that bubble my mom had created for me. I started to understand the difference between what is actually right and what is right according to society. I became rebellious, and I knew I had to come out of the closet. All those suppressed feelings and emotions were asking me to let go of them. After having so many inner conflicts, I came out to my friends when I was 18. I’m lucky that they were very supportive and understanding. I also came out to my brother, but he did not take me seriously.
Okay, I came out, but what is the next step? Like everyone else, I would like to have a partner and experience those cute moments of the relationship. At that time, I did not know any other lesbians who were out of the closet. So, I started joining LGBTQIA+ groups on Facebook, hoping to find someone and feel like I belong somewhere. I also wanted to make friends from the community so that I can relate to them. I came out to my family when I was 21, and obviously, they did not understand what I was talking about. I educated them about different sexualities, and over a period of time, they became very understanding and accepting. I always felt uncomfortable in dresses and frocks; therefore, I always wore jeans and a t-shirt.
My relatives used to shame me for being "boyish". Everyone has this stereotyped idea that only men can wear pants and only women can wear dresses.
We judge someone's gender based on the way they are dressed. After I cut my hair short, everyone used to say that I am looking like a "boy." I have been touched inappropriately in the name of "Oh, I thought you were a boy." Even if I was a boy, you can't harass or touch me without my consent. It’s about time that we should stop normalizing sexual harassment towards any gender. People like to watch lesbian porn and movies until the real lesbian shows up. In 2017, I started my YouTube channel to spread awareness about the discrimination happening toward the LGBTQIA+ community in India. I want to become the person I was looking for when I was a child. I want to become a mentor or someone who you can look up to. I want to educate people about the LGBTQ community and destigmatize it. My Instagram DMs are always open to people struggling to come out, dealing with mental health, and people who just want to talk."
Joyston Moriera - I grew up in Qatar until I moved to the UK for my bachelor's in 2014. I was 18 years old then. It was only then that I realized who I truly was with the help of my friends who were studying with me at the time. I accepted myself as being gay and realized the happiness that comes with being true to myself! No more lies, doubts, self-loathing, or feeling guilty for being religious and loving men. As a Mangalorean Indian boy, coming out at 19 was a huge shock and a disappointment to my parents. This caused a lot of mental trauma and turmoil. I was taken to a doctor in India to see if I could be ‘cured’. Thankfully, the doctor did not try to cure me but also did not tell my parents that it’s normal to be gay. Since then, to be a good son, and for my parent’s happiness, I had to hide my wings for years to follow and fit into the norms of ‘society’.
When I got my first job in the UK at 22, I got the confidence to stand up to my parents and be open about myself. It was not easy. After lots of heated talks, arguments, and counseling from parents of gay kids, my parents learned to accept my ways while keeping it to themselves. My partner, Sugith, and I decided to form a civil partnership, and I wanted my parents to be in the UK to experience this. A few months later, they agreed to come to the UK for my happiness as long as I didn’t tell anyone about myself apart from my friends here. They did not want their circle of friends or our family to know I was gay.
Finally, after my partner was ignored and after years of feeling suffocated and breathless, I had to take a stand! It takes a lot of courage to go against your parents’ wishes when you come from an Indian background. There are a lot of emotions tied to these decisions and the consequences I thought I would face. A member of my family as well as my partner said, “Take control of your life and do not let other people dictate your happiness”. Taking this as my burning torch and all other emotions that were bottled up, led me to post my coming out story on Facebook. The post was filled with so many supportive comments from my cousins, friends, some uncles and aunties, and family friends who were so supportive, I was deeply touched, empowered, and emotional to see so much love. Most of my family and friends showed so much support to my parents. I realized 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.
Today, Sugith and I are in a civil partnership since April 23, 2021. My parents have let go of “What would people say?” and are fearlessly fighting with people who are against this. They’ve fully accepted Sugith and his family as part of ours. Education, love, and acceptance is the key.
I have always been a ‘non-manly’ person. Back in the day, I never really understood why people would treat me differently for the way I was. Right from childhood, I have been a rebel and I’ve always been myself around everyone. From an early age, I realized that the only thing I was good at was being fierce and I would always be at my feminine best in an all-boys school. There have been so many instances where people have told me that I don’t belong there but something in me always kept telling me that I am as much a part of this system as everyone else. If people didn’t like me, it was their problem. Not mine. I wouldn’t say that it was all easy. It was not but I have always stood up for myself because nobody else would. I’ve never really come out of the ‘closet’ because I was never ‘in’ it in the first place. I want to ask, who created this closet? It’s the perception of a heteronormative so-called ‘normal’ society that thought we ‘belong’ in a closet. I am strictly against this ‘other’-isation.
My sexuality doesn’t define me. I’m equally a part of society as the rest of you are. I’ve always existed right in front of your eyes. It is YOU who has failed to acknowledge me. I strongly believe that ‘coming out’ is very personal and we don’t owe it to the ‘straight’ world. The only person anyone needs to come out to is themselves and that’s ENOUGH. Anytime and every time I see coming out videos or read about stories, I see the ones coming out as always weeping. It breaks my heart. The straight world has created such an environment for us that we feel threatened to be ourselves. We feel like it’s our obligation to come out. Well, let me tell you it is not. And to all the allies reading this, if you really want to be supportive, please help in creating an environment where if at all someone ‘comes out’, they’re not in tears but smiling ear to ear while doing it. Let us always remember that somewhere or the other, big or small, we all have rainbows in our hearts.
Somitro Mukherjee Kajuri
So, I came out for the first time to one of my very dear friends. I was so nervous, a little bit excited, and scared, I had mixed feelings. She was so supportive and sweet, she just hugged me. Then gradually, I opened up to my other friends, some were accepting and some were not so supportive and they stopped talking to me. I think people around me always knew what my identity was but no one ever came to me directly. I still remember the day when I came out to my parents. I saw so many documentaries on people coming out, I prepared a full speech and made my parents sit in front of me. When it was time to speak up, I froze but somehow gathered the courage and told them. They were quiet for a few seconds, and I started crying. And I still don’t know why.
I expected a lot of drama but everything went very smoothly. They just looked at me and asked me to stop crying. The only thing they said was, no matter what you are, what your preferences are, you are always going to be our kid and we love you and we are with you, we don’t care about people and society, because you are much more important to us.
'Coming out of the closet' is an extremely anxious event in every queer person's life, the ones who had to walk down that road would know what I’m talking about. The apprehension and the uncertainty that surrounds the aftermath of the event leave the steadiest nerves shaken! Yet, some of us never had the luxury of sitting inside this otherwise thought of as our safe but lonely space called the closet! As an overtly feminine person lost in a boy's school, I could never really hide. Even before I could discover my identity, all sorts of labels were imposed upon me, and I was forced to meander my way through them, trying to make sense of them, rejecting some, and embracing others. Personally, whenever I walked into a room, all eyes turned toward me, I distinctly seemed different from the rest, and assumptions about me were exchanged through hushed glances and silent whispers. My friends, peers, and family knew something was 'off' about me, and I wasn't quite the male child they had hoped to find in me. I was a sort of duality, a feminine soul trapped in a man's body.
Coming out of the closet was more of a self-exploration journey that I started out on, trying to reinvent my identity at different ages. For the longest time, I identified as a gay man, only to realize that my dysphoria was extremely internalized, and it took me a while to arrive at that realization. It was only in my sophomore year of college that I confronted my reality; I was never a man really! Yes, the cloak that I was wearing was that of a man, but the soul inside was thoroughly feminine. It was my shortcoming or the lack of knowledge about the same in the immediate surroundings that I could never muster up the courage of claiming the woman's identity that was mine, to begin with. It was around that time when I also discovered that traditional orientations like gay, straight, and bisexual, where the orientation is always described in relation to one's own gender, don't really apply to a trans woman like me. Instead, I identify as androsexual, someone who is attracted to a masculine entity (irrespective of their cis or trans identity). Then I started fighting a battle with pronouns, trying to avoid the binary ones and adopting the non-binary one. So, you see, the ‘coming out' in my case didn't happen overnight, it happened several times, spanning many years, every time I came a little close to identifying who I really am.
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