Happy Pride! Every time I say so, I instantly ask myself “What are you proud of? Being gay? But that’s not a personal achievement; I was born this way!” I recently saw a post doing rounds on social media, hash tagged 'pride'. It read “I’m not proud because I am gay, I am proud because I am not afraid anymore”. That resonates with me, but then I introspect further. Am I really not afraid anymore? Truth is I still am. Otherwise I wouldn’t have pulled my hands off my partner’s hold while walking down the street, or worried about speaking about him at a job interview when asked about my marital status.
So, I decided to rephrase the post for myself, “I am proud because I am not as afraid anymore.” I am proud that I mustered the courage to get on this journey of becoming less afraid. It started with self-acceptance. I always knew I was attracted to men. I was crushing over the boy across the street when I was six; and then, as a ten-year-old, on the guy in the school bus who was always nice to everyone. But I was afraid to tell anyone because society told you that was not normal. Adolescence is tough for everyone, but being gay is an added level of challenge. When I look back at my teenage self, I feel sorry for the boy. I hope someone told him sooner that everything is okay with him. It’s ironical how the word 'gay' comes with so much trauma!
I am proud of myself for hanging in there, through the stormy period that teenage was. I could not connect with a lot of my friends because there was so much I could not share with them. Growing up gay is lonely. Instead, I focused on my studies and kept my parents happy with my grades. College gave me the opportunity to get far away from home and I grabbed it. My sexuality was a secret and I felt it was safer further away. That distance gave me the anonymity and courage to explore my sexuality. College was also the first time I had access to the internet. It was 2010, social media was still new to us, but it came to me as a blessing. I realised I was not alone. There are hundreds of queer people in the same city, probably millions in this country.
I am proud of myself for betting on a friendship the night I came out to my best friend in college. And more than anything, I am proud of her for being such a wonderful ally. She was awake the entire night researching about what being gay meant, particularly in a country where Section 377 was still in force. Next day, she gave me a tight hug and said she loved me more. She gave me the hope that the people who really love me will not desert me when I tell them the truth.
It took me another three years to come out to my mother. I am proud of her for handling it quite well at that point, and promised that they would never force me to marry a woman. But she didn’t quite understand what being homosexual meant. I didn’t realise until much later that she was just in denial. A friend once recalled what her cousin said, “In India (very often) we don’t come out to the family, the family comes inside the closet with us.” It was the funniest and truest thing I had heard in a while.
A couple of years after coming out (for the first time), I introduced my partner to my parents. Kahran and I had been together for three years, and I told my parents that I wished to marry him one day. My parents freaked out at this point. They would have been okay with me keeping my sexuality private. But they couldn’t wrap their heads around why I would want to make it public by marrying another man. I am proud that I have decided not to hide anymore. Much like our government, my father still thinks gays can exist but shouldn’t marry. I am proud to have people in my life who think otherwise.
When Kahran and I decided to call ourselves engaged, we had a small party with a handful of closest friends and family. Kahran’s family was there, setting a beautiful example of how you could accept your child for who they are.
The year I moved to Bengaluru for my doctoral studies in 2014, I attended my first pride. A year earlier, the Supreme Court had overruled Delhi High Court’s 2009 judgement decriminalising homosexuality. While doing so a judge had reportedly commented how he had never met an Indian gay person.
That stuck with me, and I realised that to normalise homosexuality we need more people to see us. Coming out became more than a personal cause for me from then. Initially, I opened up only to people close to me, but now, I often slip in my sexuality into conversations with acquaintances and strangers. I am proud of all the people including my PhD supervisor, colleagues and managers, who reacted warmly while coming out to them.
Coming out is an endless process. I am still coming out to one person or another. Even after almost 10 years of self-acceptance, it’s still a nervous experience. But I am in a much better place now. I know I am not alone. I know there are people who love me for who I am. And I have nothing to be ashamed of. And for that, I am proud.
Gourav Tarafdar is a researcher working on sustainable energy technologies, a marathoner and a proud queer person.
This is part of the Coming Out series, where individuals from the LGBTQ+ community share their experiences of opening up about their identity, and how it's continuous journey.