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'Take pride in your identity to demand the same from others'

Shirshendu Pandey shares that how it's important to work on your emotional and financial independence together

Shirshendu Pandey has learnt to pick his battles when coming out to strangers.
Shirshendu Pandey has learnt to pick his battles when coming out to strangers. (Shirshendu Pandey)

Coming out means different things to different people. For me, it was a decade long process. I had been aware of my sexuality as a 10-years-old. But when there are no role models and the society pretends that sexual orientations and variations do not exist, you grow up thinking maybe there is something wrong with yourself. That needs to be hidden, or that it is something to be apologetic about. So coming out, meant challenging those beliefs within myself.

Also Read: 'My family's acceptance has liberated me'

In my first job, I had a senior HR professional, who was out and proud and living in a committed relationship. It was the single most empowering real-life example for me. It gave me life goals and an assurance that what I felt deep within was not as ridiculous as I was made to believe.

Yet, the transformation didn’t happen immediately. For a long time, I told myself that the only thing that stood between me and my complete self-acceptance was financial independence. When I became financially independent, I thought things would change with me having more agency. After being financially independent for two years, I realised I was still emotionally dependent. I realized I had to address both. But opening up to people emotionally and seeking support is far more challenging.

The real challenge is seeking a support system in case you have no one left to support and acknowledge you emotionally when you come out. I socialised within the LGBTQ community to seek some emotional support, and it was a bittersweet experience. Most people of my age were struggling with their own issues and while, it was comforting to know that I was not alone, it was challenging because I ended up relying on the wrong people and so, for every productive step, there was set back of couple of steps.

Remaining unfazed by what others thought also took time. I was a corporate learning manager for a Mumbai-based company nine years ago, and one of my colleagues came to know about my sexual orientation. He would casually bring it up in conversations with innuendos and jokes. After a point, it became stressful for me to continue there. I was so afraid that others will find out about me that I would tremble upon seeing him. I did not have the courage to confront him or even ask for help from an otherwise decent organisation. I quit and joined another company in a different city. It took me another two years before I decided to come out in 2013.

I had realised that I had to take pride in my identity if I were to demand the same out of others. And so, in the new city Chennai, I made friends, deeper connections within the community and learnt to both offer and receive help from them. Two years later, I told my parents about my orientation.

One evening, I wrote them an email, and asked them to read it and then called them. I was prepared to say goodbye to my conservative Brahmin family if they found this unacceptable. But my dad only said, "We love you no matter what. And your well-being is the most important thing for us." That weekend I visited my parents. Thereafter, I came out to my siblings and brothers-in-law; they all accepted me unconditionally. I soon came out to my colleagues at work and met with a warm embrace and acceptance. I have had some horrible coming out experiences as well. But people, who mattered, didn't care. Those who cared about, I realised didn't matter.

Over the years, I have come out so many times that one would think it gets easy. But it does not. I still feel a tinge of fear and anxiety every time I correct someone about my sexuality. My boyfriend, Puneet, is an absolute stranger to my parents. Even though my parents love me, they don't address our relationship. His immediate family is also practically estranged, though there is some acceptance from his extended family.

But of all the challenges of coming out every day, the biggest one is to compromise and not come out in some situations. It is painful to fight so many battles to just be myself and then having to be okay with others thinking I am straight. Our society, laws and legislation aren't there yet. But life goes on - we win some and lose some. What matters the most to me today, is that I am not alone; I have a hand to hold on to.

Shirshendu Pandey is a Gurugram-based talent and organisation development professional with a multinational company, a doctoral scholar, and author/ researcher.

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.

Also Read: 'I am proud as I am not as afraid anymore'

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