Everyone around keeps saying how 2019 passed in a blink for them and there was so much they thought they would do but they could not. When I think of it, it indeed feels like it flew past but not without shaking things up in my life, for good and not so good. Around beginning of last year, I decided to share everything about my personal life and mental health, and not only did it help me gain the courage to keep going on but also, my story helped a lot of others who were fighting similar demons in their lives. What follows next is along the same lines but probably a lot more personal this time and I think there is going to be no turning back from here.
If you read this and don’t already know about it, please don’t feel betrayed. If you believe I should have told you about it or if you asked me upfront about it at some point and I denied it, then all I have to say is I am sorry I wasn’t ready then. It takes time and a lot of work to find yourself. Hope you understand it and see me for who I am.
There comes a point in everyone’s life when they begin to see their parents as normal human beings with flaws and limitations. It is not an easy feeling. Because since your childhood you always believe your parents to be these magical beings capable of anything and whatever they say or do is right. Being the only male child in a semi-urban middle-class north Indian family wraps you in a bubble of comfort, safety, affection and infinite tolerance. You live your life free of any conflicts with your parents till about you cross thirty. There exists a mutual sense of acceptance and sacrifice towards each other. You as a child understand and cooperate while the parents do their best to give you the best of everything they can get.
The problem with this setup is, when the conflict does arise, neither of the parties know how to deal with it. They expect the other to budge while pretending to be ok with anything. Both sides expect that the other one will happily sacrifice for the sake of everything that they have done in the relationship. Just that some conflicts don’t have a solution as straight forward. What follows is a long excruciating phase of coldness, confusion, complicated arguments, long stretches of silence and a great deal of miscommunication.
While my mother never made any attempts to hide how much she has been dreaming of the day she will get to marry her only son, my father succeeded in making me believe that he doesn’t care much about it. He has always maintained an image of his as someone who believes in pursuing the life one wants to lead, and if they have space for marriage then great, otherwise it doesn’t matter. One must follow their dreams and work towards making a difference in this world. Deep down inside, he too just wanted a simple beautiful middle class brahmin girl to be his daughter in law who would be a homemaker and take care of me, them and give birth to their grandchildren. Exactly how everyone around him has done it.
By the beginning of the 2019, the pressure on me to get married had reached the point when my parents had made my profiles on all matrimonial websites and that too, the paid ones. I was running out of excuses to avoid the conversations. With each passing day I was being cornered. It was affecting my life more than it should. It was suffocating me. I always felt like I was surrounded by this deafening noise. I was in two minds. Half of my mind wanted to run away from everything while the other half wanted to give in and just get married for the sake of shutting everyone up. Somewhere inside I knew I had to do what was right.
One afternoon when I was in Lucknow to attend the wedding of a friend, while my parents were casually chit chatting about marriage plans, they began showing me photos of girls from various matrimony apps, telling me about each one of them and what my mother thinks of them. It was one of the most heart-warming, magical little moments of my life. The happiness in their eyes that I was at least patiently talking to them about marriage was out of this world. I was almost getting in the flow and letting it be just to see them so happy and excited. Just then something inside me snapped. I knew if I didn’t do it then, I would never be able to do it ever again.
My heartbeat began to rise, palms began to sweat, and my mouth started to get really dry. I had rehearsed this conversation a million times in my head. Yet I had no idea what was the word I wanted to begin with. I walked over to the fridge, took out a water bottle, gulped down half of it, closed all the doors and came back to my seat.
“There is something you guys need to know”
Unlike what I imagined; my parents began to smile exchanging looks. It took me a second to understand that they were assuming I was going to open up about some affair that they didn’t know about. I felt a lump in my throat. Took a couple of more sips of water. A part of me was still telling me to stop. There was still time. I could rethink this.
“I don’t want to get married to a girl”
“If you don’t want to get married to a girl then who would you marry?” asked my mom still a bit smiley.
I saw their smiles fade away. I said it faster than my brain could process it. But there it was. I felt shivers in my hands and feet, my ears were red hot and I think I could hear my heartbeat from outside as well as inside. To have lived with it for over eighteen years, it surprisingly took really few words to say it. I could have passed out. I could have died. But nope. I just sat there.
My father immediately began fidgeting with his phone avoiding eye contact while my mother kept looking at me with an expression of shock and betrayal. I continued to speak in the most calm and polite manner possible explaining how this does not change who I am, the fact that I haven’t done anything unsafe or dangerous and the fact it was something beyond my control. I told them I didn’t bother about anyone else finding out, but I was always scared of them finding out because I could just abandon anyone else and not care about it. However, I couldn’t imagine life without my parents by my side. And that fear stopped me from coming out to them all this while.
They quietly continued listening. I further told them how most of the people in this country decide to either not tell their parents or just end their lives. Those who choose to sacrifice their happiness and get married either end up with extra marital affairs or a really messed up married life equally ruining the life of the girl who was at no fault. I told them that the only reason I could muster the courage to say it out loud is because of the relationship I have had with both of them and I had faith in them that they would accept it sooner or later. Silence continued.
“Do you have someone in your life right now?” my father asked.
I offered them to watch the episode of Satyamev Jayate about this issue. They agreed to watch it. But halfway through the conversation with the gay guy, my mother walked away. My father told me to stop as he doesn’t need to watch it. I felt the air grow heavy in my home. For the first time I felt as if silence had mass. I knew I had just turned my life upside down.
I thought I must give them some time alone to talk about it freely. So, I stepped out and went to my aunt’s place nearby. When I got back at night, things seemed slightly lighter. My mother was attempting to sound normal asking about food and stuff. My father was busy just researching and reading about it. I sat next to him.
“Are you physically and sexually fit? Do you have any trouble?”
“umm. No not at all. Everything is fine”
“Have you seen a doctor or psychologist about it?”
“No, I haven’t, and I didn’t need to but if you want, we can go to one. Meanwhile, you should read the statement released by Indian Psychology Association about this prior to the scrapping of 377”
I open the letter and give him the phone. He read it through but didn’t say anything.
“Have you shared this with anyone else?”
“Yes. Some of my close friends know about it”
“Now that we have established that you don’t have to get married, let’s get rid of the matrimony apps, what do you say?”
He opened his phone and started deleting accounts, deleting subscriptions and apps from his phone. I didn’t know how to react to it. As much as I wanted it to all go well, I didn’t expect it to get sorted so easily. It was all so ceremonious.
I had told my close friends earlier that I might come out to my parents and I think they all had a heart attack. Abhishek, Shruti, Kasturika and Shashwat were holding their breath till I messaged them that it was all ok. Abhishek called up Shruti from office and told her he couldn’t concentrate on work. She asked him what Shashwat was up to.
“He’s sitting next to me breathing heavily” Abhishek replied.
They were more anxious than I was at one point. Basically, we all came out to my parents together. I don’t think I have words to express how grateful I am to have such amazing close friends. I am who I am today because they have been with me throughout the process of me finding myself. Yes, special mention to Shruti for being there from the absolute beginning.
Later at night, I happened to have a chat with my mother. She asked me if I was running away from responsibilities or was scared of what lies beyond in a married life. I assured her that it was nothing of that sort. Then my father walked in the room and told my mom she should try to accept it as it is a God given trait and nobody has any control on it. I figured he was through with a lot of his research. Which gave me a ray of hope that may be, it will all be good.
The next day seemed slightly lighter. Conversations had resumed instead of the eerie silence; I could see my mother faintly smile every now and then and my father was just going about his daily business of phone calls. I took a deep breath.
Late in the evening I got back home and saw my parents just quietly sitting in the bedroom. I sat next to them. My father began talking.
“Why do you think your mother and I are so worried about you?”
I took a moment to answer that.
“You’re worried about my health and safety”
My father smiled and a tear rolled down his right eye.
“Yes, you’re right. In all of this, what is important that you understand what exactly we are worried about. It is not about society or the fact that you have a different sexuality. But about the fact that are you ok?”
“I am fine. As I told you, there is nothing to worry about. I am absolutely fine. I have been in terms with this for a while. Was just very difficult to tell you. But I am fine with it.”
“I understand how much stress you must have been under. And it makes me so sad to realize how much pressure we were putting on you. We are sorry for that. Had we known; we would have never put so much pressure on you for marriage. We were just doing what we always thought is the right thing to do.”
My mother stayed quiet while my father continued to speak with tears flowing. I stayed fixed unsure of what to do or say.
“I won’t lie. This is the most difficult for us to understand and come in terms with. We will need time to really understand this. But what we can assure you is that we will not put any pressure on you to get married. A lot of people don’t get married. Life works just fine for them.”
“We are also not very hell bent on the whole idea of grandchildren. We understand there are various other ways like adoption, surrogacy etc. All we want is that you be with us. And you be happy. Rest we don’t care about anything else.”
I kept sitting and looking at him. Any given person at this point would have broken down by now. For some strange reason, I did not. I still don’t know why. This was the moment I was thinking about every moment for last so many years. And now that it was here, I did not feel like breaking down. I guess the years of keeping it together and toughing it out eventually made me that way. I just kept staring at my father in disbelief. He was talking like the man I always knew him to be. My mother was just quiet.
“We don’t want to lose you. You’re all we have. We have lived all our life just for you. And this can’t be something that takes you away from us. We just want you to promise us one thing.”
“Anything you want”
“We don’t want you to get in a relationship or marry a man. I don’t think we are ready for it.”
“Yet…you’re not ready for it YET” I immediately added.
“Let’s just take one thing at a time. For now, let’s not talk about marriage or relationships. Let’s just work out me being me here. There’s time for other things.”
“Is there someone in your life already? If yes, then tell us now. Let’s get it all cleared up right now”
“No there isn’t. But I know there will be. And it will be as normal as anything. You’ll meet him, like him and we will all be like a family”
I saw my father go silent at this and shift uncomfortably. I could see that this thought was a little too much for him at this point.
“But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I want you guys to know that I am the same person you’ve known all along. And I will be the same. This doesn’t change our relationship. Maybe it makes it better but nothing more.”
I moved forward and hugged my father. He smiled and I felt him ease up.
We had dinner and my mother went to sleep. My father and I however, continued to talk till about 5am. He told me stories about people he knew who were gay or bi. We discussed how life can be really difficult for a gay person. He expressed his concerns over health and safety. He insisted that he didn’t want me to become an icon or an activist but just keep it easy. I understood what he meant though. I assured him that whatever I do, I would never embarrass him.
I discovered how easily I could talk to my father about anything be it sex, relationships, mental health or just history. I somewhere knew this well that I could talk to my father about anything but hadn’t really put this to test till now. The more we talked, the more I felt thankful for being his son. We also talked about how it is not very easy for him or my mother to accept and get used to. He asked for some time and I assured him that they could take as long as they wanted, and I would be more than happy to provide whatever information they may need. I offered to answer any number of questions they may have. I just wanted them to understand what it really is and feel proud of me.
The next few days went by pretty easily. Life was back to normal. My parents were back to normal. We were laughing and talking like usual. And before I knew it, I had to get back to Mumbai.
On my trip back to my apartment from airport, something felt absolutely different. Mumbai felt different. I reached home, put my bag aside and just sat in my room. Everything that happened in the last few days came back to me. I felt a strange kind of peace around me. Like someone had turned off loud music. I could hear the fan. I had not heard the fan in years. When you are constantly occupied by a thought, there is very less chance you’d notice things around you.
This whole incident also brought me a lot closer to my parents. I felt it. I could talk to them without any guilt or fear. I could just be myself. And to me, this had seemed like a far-fetched dream up until now.
This is the most difficult thing I have done so far. It took me everything I had to push myself and face the biggest truth of my life. And only after doing it I realized something very strange. I felt and understood why people would not do it. I developed a new perspective. I used to look down upon people who lied to their parents or partners. Except I could see why some people would choose to not do it. Because it is fucking difficult. I can only imagine what would one go through if their parents are not as chill as mine and if they didn’t have a healthy communicative relationship as I had with my parents.
I had only imagined how it would feel after I have come out to my parents. The real feeling was way better than my imagination. It was like sixty percent of my brain’s processing power was now available again to me. Like someone had taken a big load off my back that I was carrying around for all these years. And strangely enough, my face cleared up. I felt a change in my health. I felt better, lighter and healthier. Everyone I met told me how different I looked and how happy they were to see me like that. Never had I thought coming out would change so much in me physically and mentally.
In a month from then, I made another trip to Lucknow for Holi. I bid adieu to my beloved doggo Knowey but that’s a story I would tell you separately. The air was different in my home now. Or at least I felt so because I could breathe. However, I did know that my parents were still struggling with the idea no matter how much they say they are okay with. I wanted to help in whatever way I could.
I decided to invite all my friends over for a small Holi get together. The idea was to make my parents see how my friends behave with me knowing who I am. I thought if they would see my friends loving me and laughing with me like nothing is wrong, they would get some assurance that maybe it is not such a big deal.
That evening was the much-needed break. All my close friends came over, we ate, laughed, and talked a lot. My mother has seen all of them since my school days and she loves to see them all grown up and settled in their lives. Gives her a great sense of satisfaction. She had a great time.
As the roar of laughter faded away when all my friends left, I was in the bedroom when my mom walked in.
“See how happy all your friends are”
I felt that maybe it worked. Maybe she did see how my friends are okay with me being myself.
“You should also get married to a girl. It will all be fine. It’s just a mental block. You’ll also be as happy they are”
My heart began racing really fast. I felt a sinking feeling. Just when I thought I have a fairy-tale life with my parents being ok with me being gay, reality hit me hard. Something told me, it was going to be a long and tiring process from here on. And I was right.