They need to see more of us – in our ordinariness, doing our daily chores at homes, pursuing our goals in our universities and our work places, speaking about our lives, hopes and disappointments and, most importantly, being comfortable about ourselves.
Since last week, while I’m here in Hyderabad, I’ve been reading about Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean coming out and the flurry of emotions it’s caused. I have always been enthralled by those who dared to love themselves at a time when they were given to understand that they were obnoxious. Especially those who dared to affirm themselves at the risk of their own ostracism. And yet, through it all, they honoured their own humanness.
Each coming out story is a testimony of how beautifully diverse we all are. Despite our loves, attractions, ages, skin colours or castes, each one of us has a unique narrative that weaves itself among a myriad others.
My own coming out took twenty nine long years. Coming from a Catholic background, where gay is synonymous with shame and guilt, I chose a life of celibacy for eleven long years. Ensconced within my own pseudo-religious closet cocoon, I had admitted only within the confines of the confession box as well as over pins-and-needles sharing sessions with some of my closest friends that I was attracted to men. I always sought clarity as to why God made me the way I was, and His only reply was that He carved me in the palm of His hands, fashioning me in His image. And also gave me my sexual orientation. Three years later, as I look back at myself, I’m surprised at my streak of rebellion while I was in the Jesuit order. There was some part of me that always questioned authority, some part of me that often gnawed at the veneer of convention.
Yet nothing prepared me for the day when my 20-year-old sister attempted to share her life with me. It was an afternoon while I was packing my stuff to get to Chennai.
“I’d like to share something with you,” she said. “Go ahead, Ancy”, I said, making myself comfortable while reclining on the bed rest.
“I don’t ever want to get married.”
As she uttered the words, “I don’t ever want to get married,” I shuddered and grew pale, realizing the highly volatile ground she was navigating. I had always known my sister’s leanings. Her sexuality was conspicuous, though none of us in the family dared to admit it.
Umpteen times earlier, I had served as a confidant to several friends. Yet, that day, I was scared. I was really scared. Instinctively, I knew that the same fears I hedged myself from through my choice to be in the religious order were beckoning me and, worse still, were mocking me.
“Why would you say that? Perhaps you’re confused!” I lied, steering away from the direction this conversation was gravitating towards.
I continued, “You have a long way to go, Ancy. In time, you’ll think differently.”
I could see the light of hope waning in her eyes. The yearning of wanting to open up to somebody was getting bleaker by the minute. She looked crushed. And yet, through the moments of silence between our words, I knew she hoped this conversation would end differently.
And then, not wanting to give up on my sister, I said, “Ryan* is a nice guy. He likes you very much.”
“I don’t like him. He’s a liar.” Then she went on to narrate an incident where she had caught Ryan spinning a yarn.
“Oh, come on, Ancy! All of us tell lies once in a while. Cut some slack on the poor guy. But he likes you very much. It doesn’t matter if he takes a drink once in a while. All of us tell white lies.”
She looks at me quizzically and admitted it. Perhaps she just caved in, knowing that it was useless.
After a while, she gave me that smile, playfully mischievous. She said that she’d talk to Ryan and give him a chance. She made me believe that things will get better. And two hours later, while I was at the railway station on my way to the seminary, Ryan and she had a little moment together when I was chatting with my parents. Seeing the two of them together, I hoped that day I was of some help to my little sister.
Till today, I can never fully fathom what must have gone through her mind those few hours when she decided that everything was over for her. Planning every little detail of her last minutes of life to prove to her confidant (a particular nun) that the nun mattered to her, Ancy had managed to take her own life by taking her last breath in the river where she often swam. Like Virgina Woolf, she had stones on her lifeless body when it was recovered hours later.
I didn’t have an opportunity to speak to her at length, after that day when she was about to open herself to me. But I rue the fact that I didn’t do what I ought to have done. To open myself to her and listen to her, keeping aside the false sense of propriety that my family,society and religion had instilled in me.
Something which I discovered about my sister after her death was that she wrote well. I read her diary entries about her feelings of confusion, desire and guilt mixed with her overbearing desire to be faithful to God. Through her writing, she wanted to break even from her inner tumult and come out honestly. Her death has taught me the importance of being honest to myself.
Though she wasn’t as fortunate as I was, I am grateful to all those who came out before me. It made me realize that I’m not alone. There are so many of us in the midst of our uncertainties, careers, relationships and the everyday humdrum activities of our lives, who have to deliberate whether we can afford to come out. When we decide to come out, we change the world we live in. We do our bit to make a difference. Sadly, while in some countries more people are coming out and making progress in terms of LGBT rights, we in India are still at a rudimentary stage when it comes to LGBT rights. Though some amazing things have happened over the last three years after the Delhi High Court judgement, we have a very long way to go.
They need to see more of us – in our ordinariness, doing our daily chores at homes, pursuing our goals in our universities and our work places, speaking about our lives, hopes and disappointments and, most importantly, being comfortable about ourselves. People just need to see more LGBT faces.