We had been really good friends for years. This one day, out of the blue, he calls, “Can we go out for lunch? I need to tell you something.” I replied without any thought, “Yes.” He looked visibly nervous that day. What followed was at least twenty minutes of random talk. When I finally lost my mind owing to the curiosity, I came forward from my seat with a clenched fist, and demanded, “Dude, will you tell me what’s the matter?”
He took a pause and said, “I need to tell you something. Please hear me out and promise that this won’t affect our friendship.” This could mean a thousand things or nothing at all. I said, “Nothing will affect our friendship, I promise. Tell me.” I was lying. There can be many things that could affect our friendship. What if he was an online troll by profession? But I had to lie because I wanted to listen to what he had to share. And then he said those three words.
“I am gay.”
Technically, I was introduced to the “topic of homosexuality” about three years before this. This was during college, a time in which typically all the public mentions about “being gay” were about mockery of one or the other form. This junior in college was once asked on stage (for some weird reason) by the judge of a personality contest, “Do you have a girlfriend?” And he had said “Yes, I do.” It followed by a huge round of applause, laughter culminating in whispers. Most people knew it wasn’t anything about him publicly admitting about his relationship. It was about him having a girl-friend because most people had stereotyped him as ‘gay’ because of his effeminate behavior, not participating in sports and perhaps his walk too. They would make casual remarks to singing “Yeh dosti hum nahi chodenGAYYY” with an additional stress on “gay” to ugly pranks. Coincidently, during this period this junior and I, with other 4 people, were invited as Student Jury members for a film fest happening in college. In a period of one month, we were exposed to about 49 documentaries addressing various local and global issues. One film that particularly hit us was about this girl who was raped repeatedly for years, by her brother and father, in an attempt to “convert” her into a “normal girl”. This was an extreme case for sure. But a question came to our minds, “How can you change/convert someone’s desires?” And I remember this guy had said, “Whether you are homosexual or not, people always try to force their views on you. “
“I am gay”
I heard those three words, took a second of pause and said, “Okay…Great…(pause, smile)…But.. why would you think this would affect our friendship?”
A smile broke out on his face and the nervousness instantly vanished.
“What? What did you expect me to say to you when you’d say you are gay? Something like ‘dur ho jao meri nazron se’? I asked him.
“Yaar. I just didn’t want to lose you.”
“When did you first come to realize?” (I knew the fact there is this period when a person realizes their sexual desires, whatever they are, and assuming for homosexuals it may be much later until they fight their feelings to follow the society’s normal path.)
“It’s been around 1.5 years. I soooooooo wanted to tell you but could not.”
It felt like a dagger on my chest. Had I not been a good friend? Why did he have to hide it from me? I take pride in being a confidant for most of my friends. I am an experienced secret holder. Sometimes even strangers in the bus or train have told me their secrets. Why did my friend not tell me this in spite of wanting to? I must have made him uncomfortable in some way.
“Did I ever make you feel that I would be disapproving of this?”
This question was a rhetoric. I did not want to hear the answer. Obviously, I had screwed up somewhere.
“You have been one of the nicest friends.” he tried to soften the blow. “And I have wanted to tell you, all this while because you’d be such a support! But I somehow could not. I remember this day we went to Zen and you had casually joked about someone around, “I think he’s sooo gay.” It’s silly, I know. It was casual and not even shaming but I didn’t want to lose you for this.”
“Oh. When was this?”
“Around two years back. This was the time I was starting to face my sexuality.”
My head almost touched the ground. My hands on my face. An impulse was to give him a “tapli” on his head. “You didn’t tell me all this for such a small thing!” But then, I had a few seconds at my side. I gave it a thought and it was unbelievable that such a “small” thing could have such a big impact on someone. Just for that, my 21-year-old friend had gone through the struggle of dealing with this without me by his side. I felt like going back to that moment and undo it.
How does it feel when a friend or someone from your family reveals a tightly held secret to you? I’m not talking about ordinary secrets. I am talking about the ones which may have a big impact in their lives. How does it feel when they open up? It transforms your friendship and relationship and takes it to another level. It did for us too. After this, he was able to tell me about his Grindr dates (a dating app like Tinder, for homosexual men), how some of them were horrific (like all blind dates can be) and how some of them were hilarious because you end up discovering that some of your own friends are closeted homosexuals. There is so much of gossip and speculation even within the community. But the worst is being closeted from your own parents or siblings. It has to be the most suffocating feelings of all (from what I have heard) but it is a risk that most of us, if in that situation, would not dare to take. It may mean emotional blackmails to complete banishment from the family. Or it could mean a warm hug and lifelong peace. No one can tell before attempting.
All of us have some biases and opinions that we’d rather keep it to ourselves, especially when they are about things don’t matter to us directly. It’s perhaps okay if I don’t have an opinion about women wearing burqa or a case when a brother rapes his sister. But what happens when we see an issue face-to-face in the lives of someone we love?
It’s been years since this incident. Since then, so many friends have come out to me as gays, lesbians, bisexuals. Overall, I resist making even casual remarks about sensitive things. It still happens, but I try not to. And really, these are as “normal” and ordinary people as possible. They are not flawless if that’s expected out of them. Coming out, sounds like a weird word, to begin with. Why does someone even have to come out? Well, that’s something only the person who has had to suppress their sexuality will understand. For heterosexuals, it would help to imagine, what would it feel like to be told that what they are feeling for the opposite sex is unnatural? It’s pretty evident why “homosexuals have to come out” versus other people. The reason is that there are severe taboos attached to being one.
How To React When Someone Comes Out to You
- Acknowledge: In a world where we live in, it is actually a big deal if someone comes out to you, especially if you are not homosexual. There are a hundred fears attached to saying those three words, and when someone does that, the least you can do it, take a pause and acknowledge. Keep it a secret if they want to.
- Do Not Joke: It’s not funny. If you don’t understand how it feels, do not speak but try and not crack ugly jokes.
- Resist the Questions: There is no need of words in this conversation, anyway. Sure, you have heard different things and you have all sort of fantasies about homosexuality (how to you really have sex, how to get attracted, OMG, what will you do now? what will the society say? etc) but resist asking all sorts of questions right then. Now is not the right time.
- What to say: To begin with, say that you love them. Say that it doesn’t matter who they want to sleep with and it will not affect your love for them. The nicest thing to say is, “I’m glad you shared this with me. I just want you to know that I love you. And this doesn’t affect our friendship.”
- Do not Freak Out: When you freak out, you ask mean questions like, “Omg, what will you do now?” Would you say that to someone who’d say, “I am passionate about Math”? You won’t. It’s that simple. Nothing is to be done about it. The person is just sharing it with you.
- Do not be Awkward: There’s nothing awkward if the person if of the same sex as yours. They could be a friend/brother or sister. But you don’t need to creep out. Don’t think that they “like you that way” just because they are homosexual or queer. Just like every heterosexual person doesn’t like you! Do not run away from them.
The list is unlimited. But these are the most important points. Some people ask questions like, “how come not a single person has come out in front of me?” And my usual answer is, “Umm. Perhaps. You didn’t deserve to know.” It’s a sign of being a really good person if someone comes out to you. It means that you made someone feel that comfortable that they could tell you such an intimate detail about their life. Yes, sexual orientation and gender are complex matters. But just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it is wrong. You don’t know how to fly a spaceship, do you?
I remember this awkward conversation with a friend’s friend when suddenly we got talking into the whole topic of Sex, Sexual Orientation, choices, etc. When we discussed homosexuality, she was taken aback. While slowly taking things in, she asked me:
“All this is fine, Aarti. What if god forbid your child is gay or lesbian? Wait, not god forbid..I know there is nothing to resist here, but just in case……?”
I smiled. At least, that correction had come. This was a sign of progress.
Most people also confuse gender with sexual orientation. Gender is Male, Female, Transgender, etc. Sexual Orientation is Heterosexual, Homosexual, Asexual, etc. Facebook has introduced an option to select from 63 genders. I can be a Trans Woman (a person who feels like a woman but has a male body) or a Trans Man ( a person who feels like a man in a female’s body) and I might still like men or women or both. There are people who are GenderFluid: A gender fluid individual does not see themselves as male or female but may identify as one or the other depending on the day. These people may want to be called ‘they’ instead of he or she. There are people who are gender non-conforming: Gender Non-conforming is a person who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society. Where are these people? Why haven’t you seen them? I don’t know, you tell me. How will these people influence your children? Well, if sexuality worked by “seeing” then homosexuality would not exist because the most commonly, outwardly seen are the heterosexuals. Sexuality is within.
A dear friend who had lived all his life in India and had carried usual opinions about everything went to Australia and got the shock of his life. He saw an entire locality full of gay/lesbian people: gay people walking in the parks, gay people kissing, or talking. What was this place? “This must be a western influence.” he thought. But after living there for a few months, he realized these relationships were as normal as others. These were not gay people talking or kissing or walking. These were just people. And this was not just in Australia but everywhere the society was sane enough to let people be the way they are. Who are we to judge and ‘have opinions’ about two happy and consenting adults?
I understand that these definitions are sort of an enigma. But we live in a world that’s increasingly becoming complex, not because these “new things” are coming up. But because these buried things have been there for years and it’s now that there is more discussion about it. People living in the closet are not waiting for your approval, but waiting live a dignified life. Human bodies are truly complex. Given all of this, if you still find yourself overly troubled or upset about sexual preferences of other people, please remember the Supreme Court of India on 24th of August 2017 has reiterated an important interpretation of the Constitution that sexual preferences are a part of someone’s private life, giving anyone a right to privacy. It is not a subject that needs anyone’s approval.