Teenage kids generally have a hard time coming out to their parents. I came out to my teenage kids. I had come out to my parents almost 20 years earlier. My coming out story is a bit tortuous, not unlike those of many gay men of my generation.
Born in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu at the very end of the flower power 60s, I had my sexual awakening in the early 80s as a teen. I was in an all-boys school and my first sexual experience was a blow job at my home from a classmate who clearly knew what he was doing. Initially I wrote it off as just serving my sexual needs with what I could get. But then we kept meeting at each other’s homes when our parents were out. We would sit so close next to each other in class on those old fashioned benches so that as much of our bodies could touch each other. We even began to share items of clothing.
Don Johnson of ‘Miami Vice’ fame has the dubious honor of witnessing my first hand job orgasm from the cover of a magazine. It was the time when the world first started speaking of AIDS. I remember reading an article in Newsweek about the “gay epidemic” and being extremely worried if I was going to get it. Daytime fantasy was drawing pictures of naked muscle guys making out, while my dream was to marry a woman and have kids. Even then, I never thought of myself as a homosexual. But there was something bothering me in the back of my head.
So when I got the opportunity, I switched to a co-ed school after my 10th grade. I never talked to my parents about changing schools, I just announced it to them, when I got admitted. My dad was convinced I had moved schools for a girl. I was popular in high school both with the guys and the girls and I flirted with several of them. I was a topper in academics but that didn’t stop me from flirting with the younger lady teachers either. I was always obsessed with the male body, especially a muscled one. I was convinced that the male body is the most beautiful thing on earth, perhaps I still am. I would read everything about bodybuilding that I could lay my hands on. But in those days there were no proper gyms to go to. So I convinced my parents to buy me one of those pneumatic “Bull workers” and I trained in my bedroom.
Undergraduate Engineering College, PSG Tech in Coimbatore was when I started having proper girlfriends. These relationships filled my heart, but something still felt not quite right. One afternoon stands with guys continued. I’ve always been a romantic and sometimes I would fall madly in puppy love with some of them. One time, when I as in my final year of college, an hour of flirting lead to making love to a classmate of mine in his dorm room. He seemed completely into me and he spoke that evening about how we had lost all this time and how we could both have girlfriends as fronts, while we would be lovers. But the next morning at college he pretended that the previous night didn’t happen. This was the time I started to seriously question my sexuality but I still wasn’t sure. Isn’t a gay guy supposed to be effeminate and talk and walk funny? How could a masculine guy like me, be gay? And probably for that reason, my sexuality didn’t worry me. “Moi? I couldn’t be gay”.
Going to the US for Graduate school in 1991, clarified things. Philadelphia was reasonably gay friendly even then and the University of Pennsylvania which I went to had a very liberal air about it. It was still the pre internet days but gay erotica and movies which didn’t exist In India shaped my imagination and struck a chord. Even in those pre Grindr days, hook ups like in gym toilets weren’t hard to come by and with them I realized more and more that I definitely preferred guys to girls. After a year, I finally found the balls to attend an LGBT club meet in my university (thinking back I wonder what took me so long) which lead me to my first gay bar experience. I woke up in someone else’s bed the next morning. Suddenly I had a circle of supportive gay friends, an adopted family who accepted my gay side. Gay bar visits became twice a week. I felt liberated.
And then I met my first boyfriend. He went to Law School and was the all American guy. I like men on the shorter side; I prefer their proportions. He was intelligent, articulate, funny and kind. It was love at first sight. We both lost the group of friends we came with and ended up at his home, which I never left for the next 9 months. He introduced me to his friends the next morning and I was immediately assimilated in. His parents lived in New England and they seemed to accept our relationship.
That’s when I decided to come out to my family. I started with my oldest brother, older by 9 years, but he just did not want to discuss it any further with me. When I visited India next, I told my mom and dad. They were obviously very surprised and totally ignorant of my “condition”, not knowing if it was just a phase or a permanent abnormality. But things never became dramatic like being asked to get out of the house. The only comment that is still etched into my skull was from my dad “You are going to be just passed on from man to man”. That disgusted me. I wasn’t the kind of guy who would be ‘passed on’. But I figured this is how most of the world would view a gay man – helpless, weak, and unmanly. None of which I could ever be, because nature had designed me to be confident, proud and even aggressive at times. At the end of that visit, when my parents came to see me off at the airport, my dad broke down. He truly believed it was probably the last time he would see me. He said he had one request: Not to live with my boyfriend in the same apartment. I couldn’t say no to him, seeing him in the state he was.
When I went back to Philadelphia, I told my boyfriend I was moving out. He was understandably very upset. He told me he had been warned about this by his Asian girlfriend – that for an Asian, the family can be very influential and be a deciding factor in determining an individual’s course of action. He was doubtful about the future of our“ relationship and wanted to break up. I was angry at being judged and I didn’t do much to reconcile the relationship. It was a pity and I’ve always felt bad about walking out on him, especially given all that he’d done for me.
Being alone, I had time to think about things. I asked myself if I was going to be happy as an openly gay man. I wanted a “normal” life – get married (to a guy would be preferable), have kids, be a successful entrepreneur, go out in nature that I loved and ride my motorcycle. There were no successful gay role models in the early 90s, even in the western world. No Tim Cook, no Ricky Martin, no Gareth Thomas. Same sex marriage was almost unthinkable those days, even in the US. I didn’t want to be a loser; I didn’t want to sacrifice my dreams just because of my sexuality. It didn’t seem worth it. I had no neutral person to advise me. So I decided to renounce that part of me and get married to a woman. A beautiful woman who I had known since Kindergarten.
While my now ex-wife and I had been friends for a long time, marriage never occurred to us until her parents suggested it. It took a little time for me to see it possible to think of her as a partner rather than as a friend. When I did decide to get married to her, I wanted it for life. I am a monogamous guy by nature and I like to put everything into the relationship with my partner. And that’s how our married life started in the US. We were best of friends and lovers. We couldn’t be separated. We did everything together for 15 years. Life was a dream. We moved back to India. Two beautiful and intelligent kids followed. A beautiful home. We were the perfect couple in the eyes of society. I couldn’t imagine a life without her. I had no extra marital affairs, no one fighters. I was a doting and faithful husband. It’s not that I never longed to make love to a man. I dreamed of licking that portion of a guy’s neck that is just below his buzzed hairline, my favorite part of a man’s body or get a beard burn from kissing him. I would speak about it to my ex but it was all fun and games and she took it very sportingly. I was honest with her always. She knew about my past pretty much from day one. I kept my mind busy with my work and my hobbies. My mountaineering and skiing sojourns. My marathons around the world. The Ironman. Life went from one goal (business and personal) to another. We both couldn’t have been happier.
Things suddenly changed in my late 30s. I was in Singapore in a mall. I saw this younger guy come down an escalator. He must have seen me looking at him. He caught up with me and told me he was a tourist and asked me if I could help him find a pharmacy. I knew this was a ruse. My gay street smartness may have been a little rusty, but I know a male to male call when I see one. And he was a handsome Latino. I have something for Latinos since my Philadelphia days. Their passion is juicy and free flowing. They know how to arouse me with just the way they touch me even if it was with the tip of their little finger. It’s like I can speak to them with my eyes and skin, even if I didn’t know a word of their language. I invited him for a drink leading to a night together that made me feel like a new person. He had his flight the next day and we never saw each other again.
I am an outspokenly honest guy, and I told my ex (wife at that time) about the incident. Things between her and me went south from there. Not because I told her, but because the incident changed something in me. She could sense it in my physical relationship with her and this put stress on me in bed, throwing our relationship into a fast deteriorating cycle. After a couple of years, we asked ourselves if we were happy going about our lives like this. We had many years in front of us. We took time over coming to a decision and the decision was to go our own ways. To be honest, I never imagined a life outside of my marriage with her, even if I has sexual cravings outside of it. Neither did I intend on having affairs. Love goes beyond sex. What if I were married to a guy and all of a sudden he couldn’t have sex for some reason. Would I leave him for that? No, I wouldn’t. Would I have a sexual relationship with a third person? No, I wouldn’t. This is just how I’m wired. In other words, I wouldn’t have broken my marriage unilaterally. But when we both felt this was the way out, the path ahead was clear.
When we decided that our life from now was not meant to be together, we also set ourselves free to find other people. I met my partner and now fiance on a rainy November day in Madrid. And he being Latin, our eyes and skin spoke to each other from the first minute. We were very intensely physically attracted to each other and we spent a weekend of passion. Even though we both knew my flight was at the crack of dawn on Monday, we hoped that there would be more to us, than just a weekend of sex. I changed my travel plans and came back to see him. And that’s when the romance started. We found we wanted the same things in life, while at the same time our interests lay in different areas. He is an architect by qualification and very passionate and knowledgeable about music, literature and fashion, so much so that I feel like a country bumpkin when he starts talking about these subjects. In these five years we’ve never gotten bored of each other. I love to grow and evolve with time and see my partner do the same. And if the two people can accept and adopt to these changes as they continue to create memories together, it makes for an unbreakable partnership.
My ex-wife and I both felt that the only persons we needed to consider in our process of separation and be sensitive to were our kids. Definitely not society and not so much even our parents and siblings. We planned the timing of when best to tell our kids, making sure it didn’t affect their school lives. And so I came out to my kids in the presence of my then wife. The message literally was “I’m gay. Your mum and I are going to get divorced. And I have a boyfriend” . That’s like 3 bolts striking you out of the blue. And there’s no way to pad it. I just paused between each bolt, stupidly hoping a few seconds in-between could help. But the kids seemed to take it amazingly well. Luckily they were old enough and by then independent enough, having been in boarding school. It might not have affected their day to day life, as they lived in different countries but naturally one’s parents breaking up is definitely not a nice thing to happen to anyone. The only solace comes from the fact that it could be worse if the parents continued to live together and fight with each other every day, making home life a living hell. It’s not about if they will not be scarred either way, it’s about which wound is less deep. My daughter said she wanted to meet my boyfriend. My son asked me questions about him. And they both met him shortly after. I feel so blessed to have kids like them for accepting me unconditionally. It’s incredible, this new generation. I find myself learning values from my kids.
Next came our parents. My ex decided to tell her parents by herself and I met them a few days later. It was a huge jolt for them but they dealt with it a civilized way with no drama. There were no desperate attempts to try and keep us together like some parents would have. They seemed to know that it would be futile. But I could sense a need in them to ‘avenge’ their daughter. While things went fine with my ex at the time we planned our separation and divorce, I guess the gravity of what happened took a while to hit her. It turned out to be more painful and emotional than we thought it would.
I stopped being close to my parents from the time I came out to them in my early 20s. I didn’t keep them informed about everything. Just that we were separated. I only told them I was getting divorced on the day we filed for it. My first reaction from my mum was “I hope you are not going to marry your boyfriend”. In the meantime, I had moved to Bangalore where I started my new Business, ZAGO an Urban Lifestyle Beverages Company and set up home with my boyfriend who would spend a couple of months with me at a time, living between Bangalore and Madrid. After a few months my mother called me in Bangalore and said she felt bad about losing me and that as my mother her love for me is unconditional. She said “I love you and therefore I love your boyfriend too”. She met with him and they hit it off. She told him, “You know what. I like you. And I think you can take care of my difficult son”. Ever since she’s been in touch with him. My 90 year old dad needed his own time. In the beginning it was “Why would I want to meet someone who destroyed our family”. And then it was “Sorry I was too harsh in my choice of words”. And finally it was “You know I really like how you’ve gone about things and I respect you for that”. My dad and I never hug. But I hugged him that day. And he hugged me back tighter.
One of my brothers on the other hand has been totally unaccepting “Well I know you are gay and stuff, but do you need to live with a guy” to “You are ruining your children’s lives”. My other brother seems a little more accepting and has visited me and my boyfriend’s home a few times. I have to say my coming out has had my family, my parents and my siblings taking a lot of shit from society. People would make caustic remarks. They stopped calling them. Stopped sending them New Year greetings that they had done for years. They lost a lot of ‘friends’ too. But they never took it out on me and I truly respect and admire them for that.
My boyfriend was born in Cuba. Most of his family moved to Miami. He decided he preferred Spain and moved there when he was in his early 20s. I was the first boyfriend he introduced to his parents. And today his whole family including his sisters, their husbands, the grand kids and the great grand kids (his sisters are much older to him!) accept the Indian as one of them in their very Cuban family.
Once I came out to my family, I only chose to tell a very few close friends of mine. I wanted it to just trickle down to the others in a gradual process through word of mouth and through my social media posts. Some of them couldn’t catch the not so subtle posts. One of them even asked me “So who is this guy who is there in so many of your posts as if he were your spouse!” But with my friends, it’s been overall positive. They are all mostly in their 40s and 30s. My school friends, my college mates, my Motorcycle buddies many of them have been accepting and several of them have told me how much they admire what I’ve done. I have more ‘true’ friends now than before, people who I know will be there for me through thick and thin. These new friendships or the old ones that have been rejuvenated since my coming out more than make up for all ‘fake’ ones that I lost. And I’m out at work too. It does help that it’s my own Company! The only people I feel let down by is the Coimbatore society most of whom to this day treat me like a social pariah.
I come from a privileged position in society with a certain economic independence. I feel thankful for my position as well as for the countless people who have fought for LGBT rights that allow me to lead the openly gay life I lead now. I want to give back in some way and this is an ongoing exercise. I used social media as a PR and communication tool. Firstly to come out to friends and acquaintances in a more efficient way and not to put them in an embarrassing position, not knowing how to react when I announce to them, my sexuality. Secondly, to show them how gay people lead their lives and that they share the same challenges and joys like straight people. Thirdly to give other closeted gay people hope that there are viable options to living depressed or committing suicide. And lastly to communicate to the people back in Coimbatore that I did not ‘run away’ from their town and that I am a proud openly gay man, living life on my terms. Even if my posts help one person’s life, I would be satisfied.
As I write this, the Indian Supreme Court has ruled for decriminalizing “unnatural “sex in the IPC 377. I went about the whole day of 6th of September, 2018 with a lump in my throat. Like any life changing event, today’s Supreme Court verdict takes time to sink in. After years of being the subject of ignorance and ridicule, it’s gratifying to be not just given dignity but also compassion for what LGBT people in this country have gone through. When you have suffered long, you become numb but when a loving hand comforts you, you just breakdown. The Supreme Court has not just been a Bearer of Justice. It has been my mother, father, sibling and friend all rolled into one, by not just accepting me but even understanding my pain. The day my country accepted me (at least legally) was every bit as emotional as the day my mother accepted who I am.
One could wonder what this ruling does for the Urban Queer in India who has been going about her love life fairly unhindered. I think the legality that the Supreme Court’s ruling gives to the community also validates that we are not a bunch of perverted freaks with a mental disorder and the we deserve the same rights as other citizens. The ruling sends a strong message to people like my brother who think it’s wrong for me to live with a guy, to my “friends” from Coimbatore and those of my parents’ who turned their backs on us, to Bollywood, to school bullies, to work colleagues, to the rural masses and even to our political parties. It has planted the seed of change in their heads that we hope will eventually reach their hearts as well. It has signaled that they need to update their “values”. I can now kiss my man at the airport and tell business colleagues what I did with him over the weekend (minus the naughty bits). And such “normalization” of our lives will hopefully help the society at large to understand us better.
The most important words that have influenced my life were those of my daughter’s Head Master at her High School Graduation. They have helped shape my life since. He said
“In life you will face situations occasionally where you have to choose between two paths. One will appear to be the easy path to follow and the other will seem to be the right path to take. Always choose the right path because that’s eventually going to be the path to happiness.”
When I had an opportunity to choose which path to take in my early 20s, I took the easy path. But when I was given the opportunity again later in life, I decided to take the right path. I could have taken the easy path again and still been a sexually promiscuous and closeted ‘straight’ husband but I chose to take the right path and come out.
My life though has been turned upside down, since. It’s been harder, lacking the comforts and security I was used to, but I don’t miss them anymore. The sacrifices have been more than worth it. Many times I felt all alone on this transformational journey that’s almost taken a decade. Until a couple of years ago, things were often times very dark and depressing. There was no one I could talk too. My boyfriend who had spent most of his adult life in Spain was having his own issues dealing with India and its unique culture, for the time that he spent in the sub-continent. The geographic distance that was there between us at the other times was a test of the strength of our relationship. Depression and suicidal tendencies are common among gay people until they get comfortable about themselves and have a support group of friends and family around them. There have been several occasions when I felt that I was done with the world and perhaps even that the world would be a better place for my family without me. I did my research and figured out the best way to go. But I had a passionate dream of how I wanted to forge my new life and I wasn’t going to give up the struggle for this dream so easily. I took one day at a time, purged the negativity from my system and just focused on my dream. My boyfriend and I stood for each other through thick and thin throughout the whole process of transforming our lives. He accepted the baggage I came with. I couldn’t have made it without him. And I knew I was taking the right path, however hard it seemed.
Today, I can sleep well with a clean conscience, holding my man. There is no better luxury in life than a good night’s sleep.