Having just returned from a few days in Auroville, the Matrimandir has become to me a symbol of my coming out, emerging from the earth as it were to shine my light in all its brilliance as authentically and sincerely as humanly possible. My story of coming out as a gay man, the first I reckon in my entire community of neighbourhood, church, school, university and social network of my birth and upbringing, is an on-going challenging and exciting journey of self discovery and discovery of what all my relationships are really made of. I have experienced how being open and proud of my truth has repercussions not just for me but also for all who know me, especially my family. It’s a coming out for all of us not just me!
My first realisations of being gay were very early on in life, well it was not so much being gay but being effeminate. By the age of 7, I was aware that I was different to other boys, I didn’t like the rough and tumble of the playground, I preferred the company of girls and also older women, being creative, participating in domestic things that are typically socially associated with the feminine, into intellectual and spiritual debate. I used to love dressing up in my mum’s saris when no one was home! For being effeminate and sensitive I was teased and bullied, verbally sometimes physically, both by boys and girls and adults alike! The taunting was not just in the school field, but also in church, the neighbourhood and sometimes even at home. “You should’ve been born a girl” was often shouted out, like as though that was a bad thing. I grew up with the very clear notion that it was unsafe and unacceptable to be truly me.
To be loved I had to be what everyone else wanted me to be, my mother included.
So guess what, I did my best to be ‘the good boy’ everyone adored and loved and did that very well indeed right into my twenties, becoming the ‘blue eyed boy’ and shouldered the aspirations of an entire community. I now realise being the good boy is not a unique phenomenon, Dr Alan Downs in his best seller, “The Velvet Rage” talks of it as ‘the good boy trap’ where a lot of gay boys fall into the trap of becoming high achievers, excelling in multiple fields, mostly to compensate for that very deep inner fear of feeling less than our straight counterparts and indeed the shame involved with being gay. The messages that I grew up with was that being gay was sinful, disgusting, dirty, unacceptable, against nature, God and society and that I was going to hell, apart from a host of other negative messages. No one is born with shame. Shame is a learnt emotion. A powerful emotion.
The realisation that I liked boys and not girls happened much later as I was a late developer. The paisa truly dropped when I was about 16 nearing 17, when I realised there was no other way, this is who I am, its intrinsic to me, I’m not wilfully choosing to be attracted to boys, I’ve never been attracted to girls so it wasn’t that I was giving up my attraction for them in preference for boys either. These realisations were very private, I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone with this. There were no teachers, elders or guides I felt I could go to, to talk about this. Using my own initiative I went to a psychiatrist who I found in the newspapers who said that he could perhaps help me become bisexual, and even at that young age I knew he was a quack. There were no affirming messages anywhere to be found. There was no loving arm to hold me. There was no reassurance from anywhere. So I went deeper into the trap of being the good boy and went into the Church to train as a pastor, hoping religion and faith would cure me! Fasting and prayer only made matters worse. The isolation and confusion worsened and there was no one I felt who would understand or support me in this struggle.
Quite by chance while in seminary, a senior told me that his organisation was going over the weekend to a certain park to ‘evangelise’ gay men who met there. Everything changed from that moment on for me. What? Who? When? Where? The fact that there were other people like me? And there is a place where I could go and meet them? I can’t tell you how fast my heart beat! The excitement overwhelming!
Off I went the following week sometime in March 1997 and sure enough for the first time ever, met other men, even to just hold their hand and look in their eyes was like heaven. Soon I came to attend Good As You an organisation set up then for support and advocacy for the queer community which became a weekly support for me on Thursdays. I would sneak out of seminary and drive a 60km round trip just for this support and I’m glad it is still there today doing some amazing work in providing support for those coming out, I was one of their first voluntary counsellors on the telephone switchboard service they started way back then.
I hadn’t yet come out. Being the good boy however had its uses and I was sent off to Cambridge, UK in 1998 to do an internship by the seminary I trained in and was faculty-designate. While in Cambridge, I had the opportunity to talk to the greatest minds and scholars of Christianity both from the conservative and liberal schools of thought to make my own mind up about what the Bible had to say about being gay. As for me I had to find a way of reconciliation between my faith and my sexuality to be able to accept myself and come out. When I realised in a very profound way that the Bible does not condemn me for who I am, and that Jesus himself had much love and compassion for those who were not straight (Matthew 19:11,12) for Jesus was very much on the side of the marginalised of society, the fringe, the condemned. So I was able to come out to myself helped very much by a dear friend of mine who is now the Chaplain of the LSE and Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. After much research again pretty much in hiding with little support as I was afraid I would be sent back home to India and disgraced if it came out into the open and was afraid of what impact it would have on my family.
The first person I came out to was my one and only older sibling, as I thought I would get a sympathetic ear. I was so wrong. I was in tears. I spoke to her over the phone while I was in Cambridge, only to be told that I was making a choice and that my choice was wrong, against God’s will and that I should never tell my parents as it would kill them and that she would never support this. That view hasn’t changed to this day. It tore me apart. I was unacceptable. For which I was often told, “You are always loved and accepted, its just THAT part of you which is unacceptable!” Is it a part of me or is sexuality a fundamental part of one’s psychological, sociological and sexual framework, of how one views and understands and lives out one’s place in the world? I had to know and understand. So I studied hard and became a psychotherapist and worked in the gay community providing individual and group therapy for the past 15 years. The Church was no longer an option for me as an out and proud gay man. I parted ways with the seminary which still today remains a sore wound it seems. The blue eyed boy had become the disappointment of an entire community, and a cause for gossip from school teachers to shop keepers. People who really didn’t know me much condemned me as a person of bad character! How being gay equated to bad character I would never know. In the Indian context one doesn’t have to explain the impact of such a “fall from grace” on friends and family.
So it was easier for me and them to be as far away from it all as possible. London became home to me for the next 17 years, where I was free to be me, explore who I was, make my mistakes, achieve my goals, have my relationships and break ups. There was not even one person in my network there who didn’t love me fully and wholeheartedly for being gay!
So the next stage was to tell my parents. I had kept saying no to the many proposals of marriage that were coming my way. While in Bangalore I too tried hard to conform and tried to have a girlfriend, and got it so wrong! Finally there was a marriage proposal in 2002 which came along that in the community seemed perfect in all respects! It had to be right, right?! I was in London and these conversations were happening in Bangalore! I was coming for the Easter vacations on holiday – great perfect time to be organising a wedding right? Wrong! I was dying inside! How was I going to say no to this proposal that from all angles and perspectives seemed right? Right except for one thing! That one thing! Suddenly that one thing became everything!
It was Maundy Thursday a special day in my calendar as on that day I was miraculously saved from death as a 3 year old child who had fallen off the roof of his house into a granite stone gutter, this miracle commemorated every year, that God had saved me for a special purpose! I sat my folks down around the dining table, my sister knew what was coming. I told my folks that I couldn’t marry. I could marry this girl or any girl for that matter. There were no words, suddenly no vocabulary sufficient to put the point across effectively. The words “I am gay” felt empty and meaningless. So I said, I’m not attracted to women, I can’t make women happy etc it was excruciating! Tears everywhere. Mum and Dad suggesting medical treatment thinking I was impotent. Slowly over the next few days the penny dropped for them too to a certain degree. Suddenly the conflict between love and faith became real. Tested for the first time in such a fundamental way. I must say I’m lucky to have the family I have for it is their love that binds us all together even though their understanding of the Bible seems to prevent them from accepting me for who I am. I’ve tried fighting and arguing my case over the years. 17 years later I have returned back from London and to find that much of what I ran away from is still very present. There’s much work to be done. What I am in control of is me accepting them for who they are, and love them even though they may not accept me, yet. My father on the other hand has indeed worked very hard in understanding. He has listened to all the debates on TV when way back in the mid 2000s the Delhi High Court had ruled against section 377. He made a scrap book of all the newspaper articles on the subject, saying “son, all the arguments you give, they are also saying.” Bless him. He and I have since become friends. I know he understands. He shows it in his own way and that is enough for me.
In 2005 I met my partner. I had a wonderful long relationship with him a dear handsome Swedish man my first ever real relationship. After almost 4 years of being together we visited India together and met the whole family of course not explicitly. My parents came to London to stay with us twice. On the second visit we decided to have a civil union, my family were very opposed to it and would not approve even though they all loved my partner. We went ahead anyway, the family did not attend. We thought we’d give the family a year to think about it and so we had a big wedding in Stockholm a year later but sadly the family decided not to participate and I was told not to tell anyone about it either, so I had no representation from my Indian side at my wedding. Sadly when we separated a few years later, that process too was without much support for they did not know how to I reckon, and didn’t accept or validate that relationship fully in the first place.
Slowly over the years others in my family have come to understand and support albeit privately. Other childhood friends from school, college and even church community have shown support and acceptance which is truly wonderful. Things are changing for the better. When people realise that the Queer community is actually PRO-community in so many wonderful ways, and when we are allowed to freely be who we truly are as equals, society will see what an immense blessing we can be in our homes, communities and in the work place, we tend to bring a certain quality of joy, colour and life.
Yes it is lonely being the minority of one in such a vast sea of community. However, as in the words of Polonius to his son Laertes in Hamlet “Above all else to thine own self be true” this is worth all of the hardship. To live one’s own life, not the expected life of the community. To shine one’s own light, to know, love and live out one’s own truth. What value can you put on that?
To those still thinking of coming out, I would say as a friend once told me, “If it is truth you have to suffer for, then that suffering is worth more than anything else in the world.” I would say work on your love with your family, trust your love, love conquers all. Where there is love, there is victory. What my sister feared would happen, “don’t tell them, it will kill them,” is what I too believed and feared would happen, it never did. In fact, our relationship is more real that it ever was, its not easy or smooth sailing by any means but at least it is authentic. Where there is love there is no fear.
2 thoughts on “Above all else, to thine own self be true!”
A pleasant and heart warming read. Sanjay, I’m extremely proud of you for finally documenting this story & truth of learning, struggle, acceptance and victory. May your life continue to blossom for a brighter future that awaits.
As Jallaludin Rumi says
“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free”
Much love and power to you always.
Lovely reading your story. More power to you. Do you practise in India?