Breaking the closet

l LGBTQI issues

When I was young and in school, I used to wonder if I had a disease. I was a boy who liked other boys and had never heard the word gay,” says Gautam Yadav. In eighth standard, he had to drop out of school as he was abused and called ‘hijra’. The incident traumatised him  so much that he had to study his 10th and 12th through correspondence.

However coming out to his family, at the age of 17, about his sexuality was not his hardest struggle as his father, despite being educated only till 6th standard, was very supportive. “When I came out to my family, I was not sure if I will be allowed to stay at home anymore. But I was so surprised when my father accepted me and said that he knew about it all the time. I see many educated people cannot come to terms with this situation. My mother, however, is still dealing with it,” said
Yadav. But for him the real coming out was telling his family about his HIV+ status.
In 2008, he got associated with Naz foundation, an NGO that filed a petition challenging Section 377 and won in the Delhi High Court in 2009. “They suggested me to get tested. Telling my family about this was the biggest challenge but my sister helped me with this,” Yadav said at Gaylaxy Magazine’s event Breaking the Closet , held at India HIV/AIDS Alliance recently.

He wishes someone had told him about safe sexual practices when he was a teenager. Now doing his bachelors through correspondence, Yadav is a gay rights and HIV/AIDS activist and spreads word about safe sex.

Reiterating Yadav’s point, Rituparana Borah, a queer feminist activist from Nazariya said, “It is a common notion that coming out of the closet has to be related to one’s sexuality. It is not so. For the transgender there is no concept of coming out, as their state is publicly reflected through their bodies.”

Questioning what the closet really meant, she added, “Someone might be forced to hide their caste status because of the society we live in, that is a closet for them. Sexuality is one aspect of our lives, there can be several things that people are forced to hide and those aspects become their closets.” Further, Borah questioned if there is really a need to come out. “In our helpline, we tell people that they should only come out if they are sure that they will face no violence. There are so many lesbians who come out and face violence, corrective rapes and forced marriages. In such cases, we need to question if coming out is mandatory,” she asked. “It seems like coming out to the family is considered the highest point in a homosexual person’s life. In so many cases, family becomes a site of violence then why is validation from the family celebrated to such an extent?” added Borah.

A young girl (identity undisclosed) on the other hand felt coming out to parents can become important at times, “I have been dropping hints to my mother about me being a lesbian. Despite all that she is living in denial. She is not ready for me to come out.”

Activist Anwesh Sahoo also shared his story and Uddipta Das performed at the event.  Many other participants at the event shared their coming out stories as well.

Sharif Rangnekar, a journalist and researcher, didn’t have much option but to come out to his mother after his brothers got married. He said, “I was living with my mother and had very little private life. My first kiss was with our servant. I had a typical life, I went to work, came back home and spent time cooking and listening to music.” Being an introvert, he didn’t have a social life. Later he found out about the Saturday meetings by Naz foundation and started attending them. “Since I would never go out, it became increasingly difficult to tell my mother where I was going on Saturdays. I eventually came out to my mother and it was a journey of learning for both of us,” said Rangnekar, who was accompanied to the event by his much supportive mother.

“I was also very close to my mother and shared all aspects of my life with her, so to hide my sexuality didn’t feel right to me,” he added.

However, not all who come out of the closet or are accidently thrown out of it, lucky enough to find their family’s support like Yadav and Rangnekar did. Borah explained, “My friends knew about my sexuality and I was generally vocal about it. But I didn’t feel the need to tell my family. So in 2009, when much of Section 377 of IPC was declared unconstitutional, my parents saw me on TV celebrating and stating that I am a lesbian. They didn’t talk to me for a long time and even now that they have started talking to me, my sexuality is under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy with them.”

Rangnekar felt that the closet is a societal construct. “The closet is all those restraints that we face living our lives. The problem is not us getting out of the closet, the problem is the society getting out of it,” he said.

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