t is now time to turn, like the sunflower, towards the sun.
-- Namdeo Dhassal
On 11/12/13, when the Supreme Court's order recriminalising homosexuality flashed on TVs, I felt a cold sweat. I shivered. But I had no difficulty hiding it from my colleagues in the newsroom. After all, I have been hiding my gayness - yes, I am gay - for many years. It was no big deal.
But then something started ringing inside and there was a dull pain that intensified over the next few days. Secrecy is sin. For many years, I committed that.
Yesterday the Supreme Court rejected the review petition as well. The order recriminalising gay sex declared silence is sin too. The urge to speak up was stronger than ever before. So I say this.
I am gay. I am married to a woman. It has been a remorse-filled 12 years, traversing two entirely different worlds – one fake and the other original but secret.
This is my story. Here I lay it bare, though not in its entirety.
My life in mirrors
Where do I start from? There are many starting points. Once I accepted myself as gay and came out to my wife, many instances in life, which remained suspended for no reason, fell in place for both of us. Now when I look back, the picture is clearer.
As a child, even before I went to school, I loved dressing up like a girl. Once my parents went to work and my brother and sister went to school, my grandmother looked after me. Left to myself the whole day, my favourite time-pass was dressing up as a girl. I did not enjoy the company of other kids, unless they were girls. My best friend was a girl in the neighbourhood. Our companionship, however, did not last long. As I grew up, I increasingly got worried people might find out that I am more comfortable with girls as friends. Would they start making fun of me? Probably, my friend and her parents were worried too, only that their concern most likely was her closeness to a boy. The friendship died a slow death.
Around seventh grade I also started feeling attraction to the male body. There was no sex education. I did not know why this was happening. I liked dancing. My sister was learning classical dance. I remember going to the dance class with her as a kid. Whenever left to myself, I dressed up like a girl and danced. I had no friends in the village. I enjoyed my own company more than anybody else's. Whenever I went out, I was afraid of getting publicly ridiculed and mocked. I feared that each and every aspect of my character, my behaviour betrayed the femininity, which I desperately tried to hide.
One such was my fear of crackers, which was not considered masculine. As part of festivals, when my father and brother burst crackers in front of our house, my sister and I hid inside the house. I particularly remember one incident that happened when I was four or five. One day, when I was returning from the market, somebody burst a cracker near me. I got scared and ran, crying. After this, people started calling me "cracker”.
I learned to hide my likes and dislikes in order to adjust to the society's norms. I changed the way I walked, the way I spoke. I learnt to swing my hands in a manly way. I did not shave my moustache, even though I strongly wished to. In my home state, a clean shaven face is considered feminine. As I started living in the make-believe masculine, macho world, I created another world for myself – a world inside mirrors. Alone, in front of mirrors, I felt comfortable. I spoke to the reflection. He was a girl. I danced, sang, enacted roles. It was liberation. My life was in mirrors, until I came out to my wife four years ago.
Growing up as Mr Cellophane
As I grew up, the list of my fears also grew. The fear of homosexuals was the biggest of all. I took care not to show any sympathy or compassion for homosexuals. I kept a distance from people who were known to be homosexuals. I hated them. When I look back, now I know the fear was of myself. I was keeping a distance not from others, but from myself. The hate, too, was for myself.
Along with the fears, my shell grew harder too. I kept away from the society. I remained invisible – Mr Cellophane. Nobody knew who the real me was. The heterosexual world never thought I could be gay. It just takes for granted that everybody is a heterosexual.
My relationships were plain and colourless. Love or hate, there was no passion. My father passed away three months back. I don't think it is just coincidental that I am writing this after his death. I love and respect my father. He was always helpful to all and was careful not to show discrimination based on caste or religion as much as possible. But I cannot deny the fact that he was the person who inculcated masculine straightness in me right from the childhood. He staunchly believed that dance is for girls. He despised and ridiculed my femininity, my love for dance. I stopped dancing. But I failed to maintain a sporty physique as he wanted. Until he was unwell and unable to speak properly, he enquired about my work-out schedule. When he died, I cried. I cried not only for his death, but also for a life that I unwillingly forfeited.
There were a few relationships that I lived through intensely. One such was a disastrous relationship I had with a cousin brother two years elder to me. That happened during my college days and went on for more than 10 years until I broke up. His love – blind and possessive – was a burden. I couldn't concentrate in my studies and mostly flunked the classes. I was overcome with the guilt of incest. For many years after I broke up, the guilt continued to haunt me, until one of the foremost sexperts in the country told me such relationships-between cousins, brothers etc-are commonplace everywhere, including in Indian families.
But the guilt had pushed me to the margins. I remained there forever, jealously ogling at the celebration of life, the happiness that flowed, around me. Whenever I tried to move towards the centre, I heard my own voice, life-less. I hated it.
When, after the studies, my friends started desperately looking for jobs, I remained clueless. For a mind in constant denial, everything remains hazy. What is he, one of my professors asked. Nobody knew. I didn't know. I had to find out and thus started my exile.
Nowhere to hide
Why did I propose to my wife? I hit a wall whenever this question comes up in my mind. Didn't I know that I was gay at that time? Definitely I knew but I never acknowledged it. I never spoke to anybody about my confusions. There was no easy access to the internet either. I thought it was this way with many men.
After marriage I found myself easily adjusting to the new life. I love cooking. Maintaining the kitchen well came to me naturally. My wife was happy about all this as well. But it was a playhouse set up by two best friends. There were no big tiffs. We enjoyed each other's company. For some, interestingly, we were a model couple. I want to be a husband like him, one of her friends told her once.
Days passed. Whenever I thought of telling my wife about by sexual orientation, I shuddered. For her, life had thrown up a puzzle. The more we tried opening the knots, the more we tied ourselves in knots because I never told her what the real issue was. After three years I gave up, she told me in one of our long discussions after I came out to her. But we remained together, faithful to each other. Meanwhile, her health failed. She started getting frequent asthma attacks. She was sick. Most of our nights were sleepless. There came a day when guilt overtook me. I told her.
To my surprise, I saw relief flashing across her face. And over the last four years, many things have changed. She became more confident about herself. She quit her high-paying software job and decided to pursue her passion. She is healthier now and doesn't get asthma attacks. She knows the distance that stared in our face all through the first few years of our marriage was not her mistake. Life has become a lot easier for both of us.
After I came out to her, in the last four years, we have had many discussions. We spent many nights talking, trying to find answers to the whys of life. There are no clear answers. Why did I propose to my wife? Why did I marry a woman? Why didn't I have the guts to face myself and realise that I am gay in time? That would have saved two lives, mine and her.
There are days when a cold silence descends in our house. More than sex, it is the betrayal. My guilt and her pain. Her pain and my guilt. We support each other emotionally: forgive, try to forget and move on.
When I told her about my wish to write about my experiences, she said start loving yourself seamlessly.
Can I? Can I, just once, end this self-imposed exile and go back to my home state? Start all over again? Be the person I naturally am no matter how effeminate? Correct the big mistake my life has been? Love myself? Love life? Be a dancer? (When I approached Bharatanatyam gurus recently, they were excited about teaching a 42-year-old, but said they had no time. They have time only for kids.)
Upon coming to Mumbai after marriage, my wife had brought with her a small notebook from her college days. Why would you hide inside yourself, she had scribbled on the opening page of the book. This one-liner haunted my conscience throughout the married life.
A world crumbles
Why am I writing this now? I could have easily continued life as if nothing has happened. The fact that I have come out to my wife has made my guilt a little lighter. The few friends to whom I came out can keep it a secret. In front of the society, I would be a heterosexual, 'normal'. But how long?
Let me narrate a story from A. K. Ramanujan's compilation of Indian folk tales.
There lived a woman with her two sons and daughters-in-law. She was harassed by all the four. She had nobody to tell her miseries to and kept everything to herself. As a result she started putting on weight. Her sons and their wives made fun of this. Don't eat too much, they told her. One day, overcome by pain, she walked out towards the outskirts of the village. There she saw an abandoned house and went in. She told her complaints about the first son to the first wall. It came crumbling down. Then she spoke about the first daughter-in-law to the second wall, then about the second son to the third wall and about the second daughter-in-law to the fourth wall. By the time all the four walls came down, she had also shed the extra weight that she had put on because of the accumulated grief.
To me, the four walls are the system. When they come crumbling down, we are bound to sustain some injuries. But I hope there is a beautiful world that opens up beyond the walls.
I do not mean to hide myself for long. Coming out is a gradual process and I have only begun. Slowly, but surely, people related to me will come to know. There will be serious repercussions. Many will question me. I may not have answers for all of them. But once the dust settles down, I would know who my true friends and relatives are. There will be more pain, but I am ready to endure them. After all, I am responsible for the life I lived. I take the blame and that is also my redemption – for not being true to myself and also for not opting to fight.
Ravi K.is a pseudonym. He works at Firstpost.