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“My mother’s smile is as warm as before and I am still my father’s Chinnu”: Alok’s coming out story

I had not visited home in a year and a half. Was it because I was hiding my ultimate secret from my parents? It was rather their journey post- knowing that secret that bothered me. I have journeyed through the phase of accepting my own sexuality and how to deal with the imprudent society. I guess acceptance of my own self – not just my being gay, but also my body image issues and my recurring phase of depression, helped me win the war against society. That process reaching its fruition equipped me to come out to the ones who matter the most in my life.

My coming out journey began about four years ago. The first time was to a few queer men, strangers of course, on a dating app. One of the best decisions of my life was to attend the weekly Thursday meetings of Good As You, a support group for LGBTQIA+ community in Bengaluru, in 2016. It was my gateway to acceptance in many ways. Through the platform I came out to many more people in the queer community. Cupid’s arrow struck me, and so did the desolation of one-sided love! I needed my sisters’ emotional support then and I had to come out to them. I guess they are officially the first straight people I came out to! All that happened in a span of six months. Post- that, my coming-out cruise transcended from being emotional outbursts to a fun ride. I then came out to many of my friends and a few professors in college. There was a phase when my coming out to straight people was to prove to them that being gay is not my sole identity. I realized that the more I beg for sympathy, the more I am looked down upon. I changed my ways to more straightforward ones. Despite this cocky attitude I was not yet prepared to come out to my Amma and Appaji (mother and father)!

Alok's picI had always shared my deepest and darkest secrets with my mother…yeah…I was that kind of kid; I still am! Until I was 20, my being gay was not an important secret. I enjoyed being unique in the sea of heterosexuals! I thought I would grow old in my bubble with my mother. Things went awry with bad career decisions and loneliness while I was working in Bengaluru. Though being gay was never the root cause of any of my problems, it somehow felt like one. When I was 26, my parents casually informed me of the marriage proposals for me coming their way. I firmly declined, and declared that I would marry a person of my choice and at my own free will. That was not yet the moment to come out! No, I was not prepared.

Falling in love with another man, making many new friends (it is important for a guy who grew up with no friends!), my journey of sculpting a new, confident, and effervescent ‘me’ – I wanted to share all these with my mother. But I quit my job to pursue MBA and that was the next hurdle. I knew many instances of parents disowning their kids when they came out. The emotional blow of being disowned was not what I was set for at that juncture. I postponed the coming-out encounter to the time after I got a job.

Fast forward to 23rd December 2019… some of my friends in their teens have come out to their parents. The thought of coming out to my parents before officially crossing 30 years of age was now a question of my pride! On a serious note, I had equipped myself with knowledge, morale and love to do that. If not now, when? There was no more waiting. Apparently, dropping hints for the last five years and educating my mother about different aspects of LGBTQIA+ community were not enough for her to realize I am gay! My picture with my poster for Namma Pride 2017 march was printed in a Bangalore daily and my sister-in-law shared that on the family WhatsApp group proudly (not because I am gay, she does not know that yet! She was just excited I made it to the newspaper!). Nope! That didn’t do the job either! My ‘well educated’ and ‘well informed’ parents are too naïve, I guess. I had to come out officially!

Love is Love: Art by Alok A N

I had informed Amma that my visit home this time is strictly for business – “It is to share something with Appaji and you”. She was unimpressed with the gravitas of my concern! She got busy with her preparations to feed her hostel-dwelling, college-mess fed, frail son! I guess I had to set things straight to come out as gay! I insisted that my parents clear their schedules for the next day. I had my playlist of YouTube videos ready to assist me in the process. Like an attorney rehearsing arguments of a case, I ran through the FAQs queer folk are asked when they come out.

On D-Day, my parents and I had a sumptuous breakfast and sat on our couch lollygagging. They were either too preoccupied or too strung out to ask me what I had to share with them. I belled the cat by playing a series of YouTube videos. The first one was about a lesbian couple; a Myntra video, ‘The Visit’, for its Anouk collection. The protagonist has invited her parents to introduce them to her partner! I guess it was too abrupt for my parents to comprehend. But, I had more weapons ready in my arsenal. I then played a Kannada short film, Freedom – a gay man’s partner comes out to his mother in a rather casual way over a phone call. That did it! My mother visibly swallowed the lump in her throat and innocently asked “Andre… en artha?…What does it mean?” Those abstract videos did intimidate my parents.

The third episode of Satyamev Jayate, Season 3, was the next video in my playlist for the occasion. As I watched it with my parents, I was surprised how well it was researched and shot way back in 2014. My parents pretended to be neutral as Gazal narrated her transformation story. I guess I knew what they were thinking. I clarified what gender identity means when my parents asked me about Gazal. They were awed by her parents’ support. It so appeared that Deepak’s casual and funny narration of his life story took the load off of my parents.

I then proceeded to ask them about their first sexual awakening, which was, obviously, met with their immediate raised eyebrows. They are from families that restricted them from such discussions! My mother shared stories of a guy asking her out and how she had run away from the scene and never met him again! To my “He was not wrong. He was bold enough to express his liking for you”, her scornful reply was “Namm kaaldalli adella henge?…These things would not happen in our times”. My father did not have a juicy story to match hers, but he said back then he was too scared of the society to even think of expressing his desires. Right before audience members in the Satyameva Jayate studio raised questions about homosexuality not being natural and why not change ‘sexual preferences’, my mother shot those questions at me! It was surprising, for she seldom asks questions about anything. Dr. Anjali came to my rescue as planned and answered the audience (my parents). My parents were bowled out by the logic that if they (my parents) cannot turn homosexual, there is no possibility of a gay man turning straight. To make sure that they remember stuff from my overdose of gay gyaan, I reiterated the fact that homosexuality is natural and not a disease and that Indian Psychiatric Society has stopped looking at homosexuality as a mental illness too.

Un-Holi: Art by Alok A N

 

 

 

 

It was time to drive the point home. I showed them the short film I had shot with a few of my friends in college a year ago. It was the video in which I come out as queer. I had made sure I maintained a calm demeanor in front of my parents until then. I got a bit jittery as I showed my video. It was a personal account after all!

My narration until then was very scientific and I had struck the emotional chords right too. My father reacted exactly as I expected him to. He was logical. He connected the dots well and was overwhelmed to see my newfound confidence. It was my mother with whom I had been speaking about the LGBTQIA+ community for the last five years, who could not come to terms easily. She bawled “Why did I have to get this curse?” There went my efforts down the drain! I chided her like how she used to teach me when I was a seven year old kid – “My sexuality has got nothing to do with you, nor with the way you have brought me up. It is as natural as my other innate qualities” and asked her to repeat it a couple of times!

I chronicled the judgement of Supreme Court of India scrapping section 377. I briefed them about Dutee Chand, the first Indian athlete to come out as gay in public. I reminded them that Vasudhendra, my favourite Kannada author is also gay. My mother’s sobs interrupted my protest about Indian government being unresponsive about marriage, adoption, surrogacy and other civil rights for queer people. My father was impressed when I questioned the provisions of Transgender Persons Bill 2019. I had never hidden from them about my attending Bangalore Queer Film Festival, Kashish in Mumbai, Pune International Queer Film Festival and Bangalore Pride march every time I’d gone there for the past four years. But until now, to them, these were, ‘just another film festival’ and a ‘yearly rally on social issues’. I had not revealed the queer angle of the events! I could see the glint of happiness in their eyes (even in the tear-glazed eyes of my mother!) when I told them about my queer-themed painting being showcased at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, as part of an exhibition by Pictures Against Prejudice before Mumbai Pride 2019. I rummaged through my Instagram page to show them my posters from the last four years of Bengaluru Namma Pride marches. They did appreciate my efforts to change the stigma in the society through my posters.

It was a role reversal that day! It was for the first time in three decades that my parents sat blinking eyes like ingenuous kids and I shared with them a slice of life, my life! I ensured my parents that they have provided me with a good education and imparted me life skills. I emphasized that I am capable of deciding what I need for my life, and that they should not worry about who would take care of me. Had I been straight and married a woman there would still be no guarantee of that! I confessed that I am in love with a man. I showed them pictures of gay couples who have been together for decades – some of them, my own friends. But I did warn them that my life may not be as rosy as the picture I had painted, and that I am prepared for it. I reiterated that, like my self-acceptance was a journey, they would have to embark on one too, and at their own pace. I offered to help them connect with doctors, psychologists and parents of other gay men.

Alok's picWhat impacted them most was when I shared with them how happy I am after the self-acceptance phase, and that I do not want any compromises to stay happy in the future. The only difference of opinion we had was about coming out to the rest of my family and of course the prying neighbours and friends! I suggested they ward off marriage proposals from nosy kith and kin by saying that I will be choosing my own spouse (which is true after all! They wouldn’t be lying anyway!). I advised them to take time and be as proud as I am about my being gay and then tell others too. I guess my parents do not trust the others to be sane enough to let me be! I know they will cross that bridge one day.

Despite the momentary denial, weeping, multitude of questions and naysaying, my parents have now made the choice of prioritizing my happiness over what the society thinks of me! My mother’s smile is as warm as before and I am still my father’s ‘Chinnu’ (Gold – his nickname for me in Kannada)! I am proud of them.


All images courtesy the author.

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