India’s LGBTQIA+ community is no longer as invisible as it was. However, there are still plenty of legal and social hurdles to overcome. Change starts with the individual before it permeates into society. Nobody should be persecuted for being born a certain way, or for loving someone. Talking to people who have come out, we find the courage it takes to reveal one’s sexual identity and love themselves for who they are.
“Pride, to me, is mostly about being able to love myself and feel confident about my sexuality. Being vocal about my sexuality is really important. Growing up, I had role models and friends who were cishet. I was not able to excel at the conventional masculine things in a boys’ school and was constantly shamed. Due to lack of awareness, adults never discussed the topic of sexuality. Coming to terms with my sexuality was also made harder as I did not get the support I required,” says Tanay Sane, a gay poet studying at Ashoka University, Haryana.
Sane first accepted his orientation when he posted a poem on Instagram and someone commented the word ‘f**got’. “The day was eye-opening for me. I realised that if people were going to use the word f**got as an insult, then the joke would be on them. I was proud to be a ‘F**got’. Coming from a place of privilege in terms of education, my experience of coming out has very little in common with the majority of Indians. Most of my friends were supportive and full of love,” says Sane. Although he has faced his share of homophobic reactions it did not affect him. “I taught myself to be strong and accept myself the way I am,” he says, adding, “When I came out to my parents they struggled to take in the news. They were fearful of the situation and attempted to convince me that I was just going through a phase.” Eventually, they understood that there is nothing to be afraid of and supported him unconditionally.
Sane further says, “When someone approaches you with their story, let them be the storyteller, tell them you love them, tell them you are happy for them and do not steal their narrative, let them have control over their own coming out. Don’t give them unsolicited advice.”
During his adolescent years, Krishna K, a musician from Chennai, only had crushes on girls and felt comfortable when associated with the masculine gender. “I was unaware of the other labels back then and only reinforced my identification as a pansexual transgender male in my later years,” he says.
“Explaining my orientation to people I trust and know has been tedious but freeing and refreshing at the same time. I have never hidden it and have received a fair share of positive and negative remarks. I personally try to educate all those with negative reactions in a respectful manner. Even if they refuse to acknowledge the labels we use, my respect for them is unwavering. I am forever grateful to those who do not make a big deal about my orientation and accept it as a natural part of life.”
To Krishna, coming out is not a big event that requires a lot of glorification. “It is a beautiful thing and is simply about sexuality. I am most comfortable when I am not pressurised to come out and I can just be me,” he says adding, “Pride is important to me as it is a medium for us to get our rights so that everyone has the love and equality they need. It is an expression that we as a community can use to harmlessly show the world, that we are just like them.”
Initially, Dikshitha R, a bisexual from Chennai, was apprehensive about her orientation. “I was almost as though I was aware of my orientation but refused to accept it because it is considered a ‘wrong’ concept in society.”
Thankfully, she came across people who had accepted themselves and even had come out. “This really helped me take some time out and figure it out myself. Now, I am pretty comfortable and open about my identity. Pride to me is a simple emotion of belonging. It gives valuable importance to the concept of being and accepting who you are,” says the youngster.
Dr Prasad Dandekar, oncologist and founder of Health Care Professionals for Queer Initiative (HCPQI) and Seenage, says “When a colleague uploaded homophobic comments on Facebook a few years back, it broke my heart. After overcoming those thoughts I chose to believe that he acted that way due to lack of understanding,” which was the inspiration behind starting HCPQI, an organisation that sensitises healthcare professionals to the needs of LGBTQIA+.
The organisation holds conferences in collaboration with medical professionals and makes it easier for people to approach doctors.
While the LGBTQIA+ is mostly associated with youngsters, Dandekar knew middle-aged people from the community who felt lonely and left out. Which is why he, along with his LGBTQIA+ activist friend, started Seenage’s Gushup recently. “It is a safe place and gives you a sense of belonging. The initiative is based on the idea of creating a common space to express, talk, share and form a cohesive bond amongst ourselves,” he says.