How did it feel when section 377 was decriminalised by the Supreme Court?
September 6, 2018, is India’s LGBTQ community’s Independence Day, when the Supreme Court (SC) of India struck down Section 377 and declared we were not criminals, but had the freedom to be ourselves. A great step towards an inclusive society. I was with friends and people from the community at the Alternate Law Forum in Bengaluru, and broke down with tears of joy.
What does gay pride mean to you? Were you ever ashamed of being gay?
It is the stand we take against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people; to address the acceptance of dignity, equal rights, and celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance. Notwithstanding what others think, nobody should be able to make you feel ashamed of who you are or what you stand for. Though when young, I was ashamed, now, I wear my sexuality with pride, like every other heterosexual person.
What more has to be done for the LGBT community?
Removing anti-discriminatory laws, having legal rights, marriage equality, medical and insurance benefits, better support and empowerment of the transpeople, etc., top the list. Post Section 377, as the SC has also said, government has to take steps to sensitise and bring awareness to people.
It is the dual duty of both the government to remove old laws and make changes, and the courts to ensure the law is implemented; else call them out.
What is discrimination to you? Have you been personally discriminated against?
Discrimination is treating someone in an unjust manner, just because they are different, guided by narrow mindedness or prejudice.
I have been discriminated based on my skin colour, mannerisms and feminine behaviour during my school and college days. I literally got into physical and verbal fights. I fought it at times by proving better than others in sports.
Who are your gay icons? Why?
Ellen DeGeneres, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, Harish Iyer are my icons. I was able to relate to their stories of being in the closet, and their struggles to being accepted. I am inspired by how they succeeded and got better at their work, championing the cause for the LGBTQ+ community.
How are you involved with your community?
I am co-founder of a group called ‘Working With Pride’, where in tandem with various organisations, we help create, learn and help workplaces to be LGBTQ+ inclusive. Also, I am the co-facilitator for an exclusive Leadership Programme for the LGBTQ+ people called ‘Leading With Pride’.
I also work on awareness and sensitisation programmes at various educational institutions and corporates.
Is society more open today about the LGBT community?
Yes and no. The reason being, in metros and big cities, there is more awareness and acceptance level, but when you go to small towns and villages, the struggle is real.
Do you look for empathy? How do you cope with negative feedback?
Indeed, I think my community needs empathy. People need to understand what we are going through and help us make our lives better. From my initial years of work, I have looked for constructive feedback, for my development. If the intent is good, I consider it: if it’s just to malign me, I don’t bother at all.
What do you think of suicides in your community? Did you ever contemplate it?
Suicide is an escape from reality, and caused by helpless situations. Many from my community have taken this extreme route as they were being harassed, bullied or even tortured for who they were.
When in school, I tried to kill myself, not once, but thrice. A point came where I couldn’t take it anymore as I couldn’t tell anyone, and the frustration inside me was building up.
What do you think about the straight pride rallies in the US?
Simple, I think they just want the attention that the LGBTQ community people are getting. The straight people who are walking the parade want to celebrate their 364 days of privilege of having everything they want, which includes, be who they are, love whom they want to, marry, have kids naturally or through surrogacy or adoption, and everything else. If you mapped the countries where straight people are getting killed for who they are, it is nonexistent.
What discriminations exist ‘within’ the community?
Discriminations like fat shaming, bottom shaming, etc., exist. The gay community for instance, discriminates between lesbian, trans and queer, and others.
When did you realise that you were gay? What triggered the realisation?
I realised I was different at a very young age, but I didn’t know what it was called, as those days we didn’t have internet/mobile to research or learn. Like kids in their teens who develop feelings towards another person, be it same sex or opposite sex, I also went through it.
What about college life?
It was here that I found there was a word to describe it. My college life was good and painful in its own way. My mannerisms, behaviour and colour were being called out at various places. But at the same time, it’s in college that I learnt a lot, and met my best friend too.
How did it feel being a subject of curiosity or a data point?
When young, I detested being the subject of curiosity as it always bought attention/limelight, something that l abhorred as I wasn’t confident. Now, with my work and the title of Mr. Gay India 2019, I enjoy it, as I get the opportunity to reach out to the people and create that awareness about my community.
How did you break the news to the family? How did you come out?
A privileged patriarchal society gave me the right to say yes or no in a marriage. Years ago I had vowed I would not get married to a girl and mess up her life.
My parents’ search for an eligible girl had begun. With time, they zeroed in on a girl and it was then that I came out to my parents, and it was a difficult process. My parents were angry, upset and frustrated; then they started blaming themselves or thought someone had done black magic.
But I had to hold my ground. I reminded them they had taught me to be honest, truthful and do the right thing. They were unable to digest my explanation. All this was very shocking to them. They were worried who would look after me when they passed away, as they thought that only a woman could take care of a man.
How long did it take for you to be accepted in work and life?
It took me around 25 years to accept myself. When I started working, I decided not to mix my personal and professional life, and hence I was in the closet for the first 10 years. Post that, I had also come out to my parents; so decided to come out to everyone. Acceptance at work was not an issue. Everyone was very happy to see me being myself.
How important is it for people to come out of the closet?
In current times, I believe it’s very important, be it to everyone or just close ones or only parents. Being in the closet leads to issues like low confidence, lack of trust, authenticity and honesty, which may lead to mental health issues.
Do you have a boyfriend? Will you marry? What is your attitude to having children?
Yes, I have a partner Soham from Kolkata, since the past three years. And if same sex marriages get legal in India, I would like to get married to him. We both love kids, but of others! We love to play with kids, and pamper them, but only for a while.
How did the Mr. Gay India 2019 pageant happen?
Mr. Gay India Pageant was started in 2015 with Sushant Divgikar as the National Producer and Director for India. Mr. Gay India Pageant 2019 was held in January 2019. Of the many participants, only seven reached the final rounds held at The Lalit, Mumbai. I won the social media campaign, the sports challenge, the people’s choice awards and also the final round questions.
Winning it made me feel on top of the world. I wanted to hug my boyfriend Soham and my four-legged baby Suzie. I also wanted to tell my parents how blessed I was to be their son and hoped they were proud too.
I was very delighted to be at the Mr. Gay World Pageant in South Africa in May 2019, an amazing event where I got to meet 21 other delegates from around the world, and I was among the Top 10 finalists.
Has it give you any boost?
Yes, definitely, it has given me a lot of visibility, helping me represent India at various events, conferences and programmes.
What is your religious belief? Why is there hate in some religions for gays?
I’m a Hindu. No religion asks people to hate each other. We are expected to live in harmony and be supportive. A few men in power decide what is right and what is not right, and that has got us to this sorry level today.
Which gay films would you recommend to understand your situation?
Evening Shadows, My Son is Gay, Margarita with a Straw, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Kapoor & Sons, Naanu Avanalla…Avalu, Prayer for Bobby, Sec 377 Ab Normal, Aligarh, and Milk.
Where do you work? What’s the attitude of your co-workers?
I have worked with an IT company for close to 15 years. My co-workers are very proud of me. They, at times tell me that they are jealous of me (in a good way) as I am living my life with no fear or regrets, and with honesty.
What would you like to change about yourself?
Nothing. Today the person that I am is because of the past that I have experienced. I want to evolve to be a better human being. So, physically I would only like to be healthier. Mentally, I would like to learn to be at peace with what I have, and emotionally I would like to be more stable. I would never have liked to be straight. Even the roads are not straight, then why would I want to be.
Any lessons you would want to share?
It’s one life that we have, and everyone is born different from each other. What’s life if you cannot live it authentically? There is more joy in giving back to the society.
What are your hobbies?
I spend some time at an Old Age Home and a Center for kids affected by HIV, and I like watching movies with friends.
Do you envisage a world where all, including gays, are equal?
Yes, but not in my lifetime. Maybe it will take two or three more generations.