Our Voices The Orinam Blog

Out, Proud and Liberated: Reflections of a former officer in the Indian Army

Ed: the full post may be viewed at https://out-and-proud-indian-major.com/out-proud-liberated/ and another version at https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/i-was-an-officer-in-the-indian-army-im-gay-and-very-proud-2255980


Hello Everyone,

I decided to write this blog as it is a part of this new phase of my life where I would like to live more honestly and with more authenticity – at peace with myself and with the world.

Well this blog is about difference – my difference. I am sure you all agree that we are all different – no two persons are the same. It is our differences that define us – and yet we are also much more similar than we are different

– and it our similarities that unite as a group of colleagues, as a family, as a society and ultimately as humanity.

As for our differences, if people around us – family and friends – praise our difference, then we are happy to flaunt it (it could be a sporting ability, an uncommon talent or any ability that is rare) but when the difference is

something that we know or fear that society doesn’t/wouldn’t approve of or at least looks down upon, then we hide that difference. And that’s what I did too.

But now finally, I am done with that hiding and I am writing to you as I wanted to let you know about my difference and as you might have guessed, it happens to be something very personal. And that’s probably why I am not very certain of the reaction that this will evoke but if I go by my recent conversations on this at my workplace with my manager, my peers, my direct reports, and outside workplace with my close friends and few others on this matter, then I am quite optimistic that it will be by and large positive. Even if it is NOT, it won’t affect me as I am not doing this to seek anybody’s approval – I don’t need that – I am just trying to be honest.

And those of you who know me either through our association in the military or outside, if you feel differently about me after you read what follows, then please don’t worry – I’ll understand as I respect your right to your views/opinion/stand.

So, here goes – I wanted to let you know that I’m gay – and that I’m very proud that I’m gay.

Feeling ‘different’

Anyway, one of the first things that most people ask when someone gay ‘comes out’ to them – is – ‘when did you first know’. Well to be really honest, when I was a youngster I wasn’t clear – though through my teenage years in high-school. I just knew I was a little different.

Lately, I have wondered how was it that it that through my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t feel much of this side of me – and it took a some very recent retrospection, a recalling of an old painful memory that I had almost forgotten – a memory that would have probably stayed buried deep in my heart had I not been forced to summon it in search for answers. This memory was of a relatively minor bullying that I had experienced in high school. The physical intensity of that bullying may have been relatively mild, but it most certainly seems to have affected me psychologically, at a deeper level. This incident happened when I was about 15 years old and at that age when puberty has set in and hormones racing through those young bodies induce feelings of attraction for the opposite sex in adolescents – which in turn makes young boys stare at girls and girls to check out the boys – there I was drawn to this rather cute looking boy in class. He probably noticed me looking at him a few times and one day decided to ‘teach me a lesson’ in the only manner young boys know best. He surrounded me with some of his close friends and pushed me to the ground holding me by the neck and uttered some expletives and probably that was the end of it. The physical violence was not brutal – far from it – in fact, it was not even a fraction of the intense blows and hard punches that so many gay kids have endured (and continue to endure) – violence that has left them scarred physically and much worse, traumatized psychologically. Despite that, it most likely drove home a message – a wrong message – but one that gay kids the world over learn from such incidents of bullying – that what I was feeling was ‘wrong’, ‘bad’ or ‘sick’, and if I continued to heed those feelings it could provoke much worse violence that would only hurt me physically and mentally – and so it was best to ‘conform’. And just like that those feelings got deeply repressed and probably resurfaced not suddenly but slowly through my mid-twenties.

Realizing I’m gay and struggles with self-acceptance

That is probably why I went through my late teens and early twenties without feeling anything close to what can be called romantic attraction or love. Through those years at the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Indian Military Academy (IMA) and through subsequent years as a Young Officer in the army, I felt no romantic attraction towards or love for anyone. But by my mid-twenties, when those feelings started slowly resurfacing, I started understanding that I was gay – that means I felt like a man and also identified as a man – and I felt attracted to other gay men or men who I thought were gay – but then it was also a question of accepting myself for who I was which I was not ready to do. So, I went through my mid-twenties struggling really badly to accept myself – and the hyper straight world of the army only made it that much more difficult for me. However, by my late twenties, after months of drinking and wondering and questioning why I was different and crying myself to sleep over it, I finally came to terms with myself and accepted myself for who I was.

But after I accepted myself, I felt that this had to be my ‘big secret’ and there was no way I could tell anyone. After all, as far as most of the world is concerned someone who is gay is basically a freak, a weirdo, someone fundamentally flawed. Or at least that’s how most people thought back then and even today quite many feel that way – and that’s the way most young gay guys end up feeling about themselves, me included. And besides if I had told anyone ‘officially’ in the army, I could very well have been discharged dishonourably, kicked out. And I was still relatively young – struggling to decide what to do about my situation – I loved the army but I was just beginning to feel that I will not be accepted for who I was. But with no idea on what to do, I had no option but to keep my secret to myself.

Pressures to marry and coming out to my family

Initially I didn’t tell anybody – not even my parents – or closest friends. Then when my parents started pressurising me to get married – I decided I am not going to cave into their pressure and be dishonest and lead a double life out of fear of society or relatives. So, I wrote them a long emotional letter saying that I have decided that I don’t want to marry. I further said – Don’t ask me why because I can’t tell you. It broke my heart as it probably broke theirs. But then that was not to be the end of it – for little did I know that my parents would not give in so easily and so when I came I home on leave from some posting somewhere, my parents had arranged a meeting for me to see a girl and meet her family. The moment I heard that I was very angry as they didn’t seem to want to honour my request to be left alone. But why would they have – they were only looking to find me happiness in life – or at least that’s what they would have thought they were doing. I wanted to tell them everything then and there and cancel that upcoming meeting but that could have been very shocking and stressful for them. So, I had no choice but to play along then – and I thought I will tell them no more matchmaking after this. So I and my parents drove down to another town to see the girl and meet her family – as expected, my parents had done their homework – good family, educated girl, very beautiful too – but one look at her and I thought to myself I don’t want to cheat her and myself – and I certainly don’t want to lead a double life. But I wasn’t yet ready to tell my parents – and since the decision on a life partner is something really important and complex, I must have made something up like ‘I didn’t feel a connection’ or something like that. But I realized that my parents were just getting started and I wasn’t willing to go through any more of that charade. And I realized the only way that I could stop them was if I came out to them and sometime not much later, I decided to come out to them.

It was obviously a very difficult decision and I was very emotional as I realized that it also meant telling my parents that I will end up denying them the happiness and pleasure of seeing any grandchildren on my family-line. And more than that I was worried that I may be disowned, thrown out of the family (it is not uncommon – in fact, younger gay kids, the world over, are often thrown out of their families, rendered homeless and many go on to take their own lives – in many countries, suicides by young gay men account for a disproportionately large share of suicides by young men). In my case, it was not like I needed them for financial support, but I certainly needed them for a sense of belonging – something that probably all of us yearn for. Anyway, I was lucky that right around that time, NDTV was running a program – I think it was We, The People – an open house discussion on the subject of homosexuality. Not that I wouldn’t have told them otherwise, but it certainly could make things a little easier for me. So that day, I told them I wanted to talk to them but before that I made them see the NDTV program and then choking with emotion, I came out to them. My mother initially didn’t understand – so my father explained – and her first reaction after that was – ‘so what you’re still my son and I love you no matter what’. My father said that I needn’t worry and that I will always be part of the family. That was obviously a big relief for me – my parents had accepted me. And then sometime later, I came out to my younger brother – whom I love very much – and he was fine too though he was sad for me. And then slowly over next few years, I came out to the few people in my life I was very close to – few cousins, my best friend from high school (Yasas, a straight guy and a big support and ally), even few of my closest course-mates in the three services. And then I stopped as I didn’t think anyone else needed to know as this was my very private matter – and that was my stand for the last many years. But I must add that hiding myself and evading questions on marriage, love etc was a burden that stressed me constantly.

Out of the army and the burden of hiding

And then as things happened, I realised my family needed me to be with them or at least closer home. So finally, I decided to leave the army. But I would be lying if I said that my being gay was not one of the reasons. And though it was not the top reason, fact is I had got tired of my colleagues and more than them, their wives, constantly asking me why I hadn’t got married yet or when was I planning to get married, etc. And in early 2010, after my second request for premature discharge was accepted, I left the army. As I look back now, I must say I really loved the 11 and ½ years that I served in the army – it made me a stronger person, it took me to different parts of this wonderful country, exposed me to different cultures and traditions, gave me an opportunity to serve the country in operations (including leading troops in counter-terrorist operations) in the most trouble torn parts of this country (the North-East and later Kashmir).

After I got out of the army, I was lucky to work for ‘equal opportunity’ employers like Amazon (my last company) and now a financial services MNC. I drew comfort from the fact that these companies called themselves equal opportunity employers – since it made me feel that I would NOT be discriminated against even if someone got to know I was gay or if I were to come out. Yet I chose to not be open about it – not even to colleagues close to me

– as I felt that it was a very personal/private matter, and it needn’t get in between my professional equation with them.

The other thing that hiding did to me over these many years, even though I was not out, was – it made me feel like an outcast in society – ostracised and unwelcome – so I withdrew from family, from good friends and warm acquaintances – for fear that if they knew the real me – they would probably hate me. And when I withdrew, many of them – especially those who had helped me and to whom I was ever grateful in my heart, mistook me to be a selfish, mean character.

So as you can probably understand, hiding has been a very heavy burden to carry and it has bogged me down for years but now finally I feel I’m done with hiding this part of me. In fact, whenever I have heard my equal opportunity employers make that seemingly cliched pitch to LGBT folks saying – Get your complete self to work – I used to think to myself if only I could. But now I can certainly say that – yes, I am getting my complete self to work, and I am done holding part of myself back. And while this might seem like a strong statement to you but to be honest, for me this whole experience of ‘coming out more openly’ has been powerfully liberating. I am beginning to feel free….

So, I have just got started with my workplace – I had already come out to my manager, my peers, my direct reports, and a few others at work and – and also to friends from my school days, close coursemates in the three services, old colleagues, other close friends, among others. I then published a blog similar to this one on my company’s Pride intranet site earlier this month and it has been very well received. I was appreciated for having the courage to be my authentic self so openly and for inspiring other gay men and LGBT folks in the company.

I feel that since I served in the military, my story could touch the lives of gay men serving – perfectly fine professional and fit officers and soldiers – who are forced to hide themselves out of fear of discrimination/persecution or it may touch people who served and are now out of the military but struggled similarly like me or more importantly it could inspire gay men who are military aspirants. I am also sure my blog will also help many people form an informed opinion on the question of gay men serving in the military. That’s why I wanted my story to be published on the website of a major channel like NDTV – or The Hindu – both well-known for their liberal values. Incidentally the NDTV story came out just days before my 45th birthday on 3rd July – a perfect birthday gift – I was finally entirely free…,

Now some of you may be wanting to ask me why did I decide to come out at all and why now – well there’s a bit of a personal story behind that and you will have to bear with me as I tell you about it.

Why I decided to come out and what finally led to it

Well, a few months back, I was chatting with one of my very few gay friends and I was telling him about how I felt down and lonely sometimes and he suggested that I read a book called The Velvet Rage by Dr Alan Downs, a Ph.D, a psychologist and psychotherapist – who is gay himself. In the introduction, the author talks about how lives of gay men all over the world are almost similar in that they go through three phases and I thought to myself

  • How is that even possible? Research says that anywhere between 5 to 10% of male population is gay – so my initial thought was how can the lives of millions of gay men throughout the world be similar – but I can tell you by the time I read up the whole book, I realized that the author was completely right and what he had written sitting in faraway America was also true about my life here in India. I had pretty much gone through the first two phases and was wondering if I will ever reach the third Anyway, the first phase – which he calls – Overwhelmed by shame – refers to our early years when we realize that we are different and that society looks down on that difference – so much so that you begin to think you are fundamentally flawed, a freak and absolutely unlovable – this obviously leads to an overwhelming sense of shame that you carry for most part of your life. The second phase, which he calls, Compensating for Shame – refers to the phase when gay men look for ways to escape that overwhelming shame – could be, drugs, alcohol, casual sex, chasing success at work, trying to look more beautiful or masculine, etc., – basically any means to neutralize that toxic shame and find validation. The third phase – is what he calls – Cultivating Authenticity – which is when all the means that the gay man had previously employed to validate himself no longer seem to work and the only thing that can right his life is if he tries to live his life with authenticity ‘without the influence of shame’, ‘without the need to compensate for his inadequacies or to escape the pain of his shame/emotions through addictions’. [Page XIV of intro by the author to the second edition of The Velvet Rage.]

Honestly speaking, I found the book intensely therapeutic and seriously life changing – so I read it twice – rather had it read out to me (by eBook Reader) on my hour long drives in my jeep from home to office and back and after that I thought to myself – well, I have gone through these two phases [phase two was a little limited, but I too had gone through one – when I drank heavily to escape my shame/loneliness/misery – the only saving grace was that whether it was when I was in the army or at IIMB or in my current company, I couldn’t have drunk uncontrollably and wallowed for days in my sadness – after all I had to show up for work (or class) next morning. And I further thought to myself – when will I move to the third phase in my life as a gay man and before that do I even want to move to the third phase – by killing that shame that has crippled my life – by living more at peace with myself and with the world and living more honestly with the world by being openly out. And the book motivated me decide that at some point of time not too far from then, I do want to move to the third phase and live with more authenticity. And that is how I finally embraced the idea of coming out openly one day.

And as luck would have it right around the same time (8-9 months back), another set of totally unrelated events, decided when I would come out – and it all started with a treadmill. Thing is, I had been slowly getting out of shape over the last about 3-4 years and my weight was approaching 100kgs and after having been quite fit in my younger days in the army, I just didn’t want to get into triple digits – so I thought of buying a treadmill – and since I knew that once I started working out I would go all out – I needed something heavy-duty – so after much research, I went for an imported piece, Sole F63T – and then started slowly working out. And to keep my mind occupied while working out, I started watching all the movies and documentaries that I had recorded on my TataSky set-top box. However within a month or so I had finished seeing most of them and by then thanks to ‘The Velvet Rage’ and the workouts, I was beginning to feel more conscious of my gay identity and so I started looking for documentaries/movies with a gay theme – and though over the years, I had seen a quite a few of the well- known films with a gay theme (like Philadelphia, Milk, Brokeback Mountain etc), I was looking for more stories about lives of gay men from around the world. And thankfully I found lot of content, movies from all over the world, from the US, Canada and the UK and to the middle east and India to South-East Asia, Japan and Australia. And as some of you may expect, most of them tend to be sad – about struggles against society’s discrimination, relationships that can’t survive social pressures, or one of the men is killed, or fate separates the two men etc., Then when I was again running out of material to watch, my best friend from school (a straight guy and a big support) suggested that I try NetFlix and I did. And after seeing some movies, I came across this series called The American Crime Story, Second season – on the Assassination of Gianni Versace. Though I am not much into fashion, I was curious, and so I read up about Versace to learn that he was a rich, world famous Italian fashion designer who was also gay and while I had heard of the world famous fashion brand he had created but I did not know much about the man behind it or how he died. And I wondered thinking here was a gay man who was as successful as probably any gay man can get – his fashion empire included more than hundred fashion boutiques throughout the world, he lived in a mansion by the sea in posh Miami (Florida, US), owned a fleet of luxury cars, and was courted by the rich and famous of the world – how did he die ?

And as I read up reviews before seeing the series, I found that Versace was killed by a serial killer – a deranged gay young man with a history of a troubled childhood.   The seral killer had killed four professionally successful gay men. And after reading that I thought to myself, how sad is that…. And what a pity.   Shunned by the world, we needed solidarity amongst us but here was one of our own who meticulously plotted and killed not just one but four of us and not just any four of us but four successful ones at that (and another straight man in an unplanned homicide). The fourth and last to be killed was Versace after which the FBI, which had already launched a US nationwide manhunt for him surrounded him – that’s when the serial killer killed himself. The third was a famous real-estate developer (speculated to be closeted and leading a double life), the second was a young, successful and upcoming architect who was gay (by the way, when I out of high school I had wanted to be an architect and for someone like me it would have turned out really great as architecture needs the left brain as well as the right brain but life had other plans) and the first to be killed was a young naval officer who was gay.

The episode on the gay naval officer depicts events in his life before he was brutally murdered – events set in the nineties when US military followed the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy (I’m sure most of you may know that until recently most militaries throughout the world did not allow gay men or LGBT folks to serve openly – however, today many countries in the world– especially in the West and South-East Asia allow members of the LGBT community to serve openly. However, the US had this intermediate phase – where it followed a policy called ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ – basically meaning Military commanders shouldn’t ask (their likely LGBT subordinates about their sexuality) but the subordinates shouldn’t tell either (if they did they would be forced out of service – either honourably or dishonourably). The episode showed the life of this young motivated and committed officer onboard the American naval ship USS Gridley. The episode depicted one incident, in which a sailor is being violently beaten by another surrounded by a group of onlooking and cheering sailors. That’s when this officer happens to pass by on his rounds, hears the commotion and rushes to the scene and breaks up the men. When asked the assaulter says “f****t tried to brush up against me” and just then the victim who has just gotten back on his two feet, pulls one solid punch and knocks down his attacker and says “I’m sorry, Did I touch you?” and then the officer yells “Alright, we’re even” and disperses the men. And then a another incident follows, this time that same gay sailor who had had the ‘audacity’ to hit back his straight attacker has been tied up – so now he can’t even fight back and he’s being thrashed by his fellow sailors with socks filled with solid soaps and belts and again this officer happens to notice it and breaks up the attack. And then he sits the injured sailor down in a quiet corner and tell him that he needs to go to a doctor but the sailor, possibly frustrated by a series of such physical attacks, cries out in pain and frustration – “I need out – get me out – get me reassigned” – implying ‘I can’t bear these assaults anymore – get me out of the navy or get me on another ship’. The officer is moved by his pain but can’t tell him that he too is gay and that he fully understands his plight – so he tries to indirectly signal that to him with his eyes and the sailor understands and grabs his hand seeking help and then rests his head on the officer’s shoulder while he is still fighting the pain from his injuries. And then just as this officer is comforting the sailor and patting him on his head, a straight officer happens to pass by noticing the two of them sitting together – it is obvious what he would have thought – why is this officer comforting this gay sailor – he too must be gay. And then the officer’s harassment starts – the officer who noticed the incident makes insinuating statements/jokes on the breakfast table much to the amusement of other officers seated with them. And then as if this is not enough, the young officer is summoned by the Captain of the ship after having heard the rumour/suspicion about the young officer and the Captain then hands him a pamphlet on the Code of Conduct and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell etc., and asks him to go through it then and there. All this obviously increases the officer’s sense of harassment and persecution and this is followed by a scene where the officer gets into full ceremonial uniform and attempts to hang himself. He is shown choking, his face all red, ready to kill himself but then since he was not a chair or some stool that he could have kicked off, he manages to stop himself (though he later meets death at the hands of the serial killer). Having been in a similar situation as that officer when I was serving in the army – serving with a fear of persecution – I was possibly subconsciously relating myself to him and his plight.

But that shot of this officer struggling on the noose just hit me very very hard – and though it was probably not a conscious thought then – but what I felt was that – that could very well have been me. I had been a disciplined and committed officer and like all military officers, I too had been trained hard to be mentally strong – yet if I were faced with similar circumstances where I had to endure harassment and discrimination, even I may have been broken and driven to take my own life. I must add that despite feeling a lack of meaning in life many times, I have never contemplated suicide and so when I thought that this could have been me – it filled me with a deep sense of anger and stinging sorrow. And I further thought how many more of us will you beat up, how many more of us will you kill, how many more of us will you force to take our own lives. And though I had finished my work out by 3.30am and was trying to sleep but I just couldn’t. I just lay there totally disturbed – angry and sad at the same time. Finally at around 7am, I decided – That’s it, enough is enough – I am done hiding – I am ready to tell everyone that this is me – if you accept me for who I am – well and good – else it’s your problem and this was also going to be my way of showing my defiance – defiance of heteronormativity. The moment straight folks hear that phrase – questioning or defying heteronormativity, they start thinking that that’s the “Gay Agenda” of the gay community – to convert straight folks gay. But as you (hopefully) understand, you cannot turn a straight person gay and just as equally you cannot turn a gay person straight. It doesn’t work that way. Yet all over the world, parents (of gay boys) with a regressive mindset subject their boys to these conversion therapies (which are illegal to begin with and which are often run by quacks with no formal medical qualifications) and in the process break that boy’s self-esteem, deeply traumatizing him. Also, also let me add that this defiance bears no grudge or enmity against straight people. It’s merely about informing the ignorant among the straight folks that while you may be the majority, don’t assume that that sexuality is simple and binary. There are natural variations which form a small minority, like members of the LGBT community – understand them and accept them.

Finally, at 7am that morning, having decided to come out, I emailed my manager  who had joined the company a little over a year back and was visiting the US that time. I wrote to her saying that I wanted to meet her urgently to discuss something very personal and that while I knew she would be busy with meetings with senior management in the US, I wanted to meet her badly even if it was for just 15-20 minutes. She is a very understanding and empathetic person and could possibly make out from my email that it was something serious so she replied saying she will make some time for us to meet. And within an hour of my coming into office, she messaged saying let’s meet in 10-15 minutes and then I scrambled to find a video-conference room and though I had been worked up the whole night, I had managed to put on a brave and impassive face after getting into office but now sitting in front of her all my anxiety returned – for here I was – about to tell her my biggest secret – something that she may be shocked to hear – and yet I had made up my mind that no matter what the consequences are on my relationship with her or anyone else in the organisation, I was going to come out. And then the moment she saw me, she could make out that I was very disturbed – she asked me if I was okay and that we can talk later if I didn’t feel well – however I insisted that I wanted to talk then and there – and after a long round of disclaimers and background statements including that though today the law was not against me but just a year ago, I could have been looked upon by law as a possible criminal etc., (which probably only got her even more worried about what I was going to say) – I finally came out to her. Her first reaction was that she was perfectly fine with that – and that she fully supports me. I told her about my past and what led me to this decision. And then she said if this is what I wanted to tell her about myself then I should not feel so emotional – I tried to explain that while I fully agree with her but years of fighting shame isn’t easy especially after it has made you wonder if you’re a freak and after it has corroded your sense of self-worth. She heard me patiently all the while with complete empathy and mentioned how she had come across many gay men in her previous organization (Goldman Sachs) And since Goldman has had a policy of asking new joiners if they wished to reveal their sexual orientation, many did reveal and those who did went on to meet up others like them in the company supported LGBT ERG or Employee Resource Group – to find support and advice.

Then I told her that I wished to come out more openly – to my immediate peers, to managers reporting to me and ultimately to everyone in the organisation and that didn’t mean that I was looking to grab a mic and make an announcement or shoot off an all staff email – but I certainly wished to be totally open about it. She asked me why though – you have told me and you can tell others you are comfortable telling – to which I said, if I did that then I need to keep worrying who told whom, who else knows etc., – and this is more than that – I am trying to make a point here – which is that – I am done hiding from the world – and I am ready to let everyone know that this is who I am – and I am not ashamed of who I am – in fact, I am proud that I am gay. If you accept me, fine else that’s your problem. I also want to throw this burden that I have been carrying all these years – and I want to live more freely and breathe more easily without worrying about the world.

And besides this is not just about me – it is also about other young lads in office today who are gay and are probably suffering with that shame every day like I have. You never know, one of them may be thinking of taking his own life or harming himself – he may stop after he reads my story or if someone else read my story and derived some courage thinking if I could come this far, not professionally, but survived this long I mean – then maybe he can too – or after reading my story, if someone were to want to meet me, just to talk or ask for advice, then I would most sincerely want to meet and seriously tell him – My friend, there’s nothing wrong with you – you are perfectly fine the way you are – be proud of who you are, or better still if my story could inspire more people to come out then that would be really, really nice.

And after subsequent discussions by my manager with HR, we decided that a blog would be a good way for me to come out and that is how my ‘coming out’ blog at my company blog came about.

Advice for Allies

As part of this blog, I would also like to offer some advice to allies and well-meaning friends on what they must know and things they must keep in keep in mind regarding their LGBT friends –

  • First and foremost, you must be absolutely clear and convinced yourself that homosexuality is completely natural and not some abnormal medical/psychological condition that needs correction/treatment. As an FYI from a scientific or medical perspective, in the U.S., homosexuality was dropped from the list of psychological/psychiatric conditions/illnesses way back in 1973 after the American Psychiatric Association took the lead and removed the ‘diagnosis of homosexuality’ from the second edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (or DSM) and this was followed by several medical bodies throughout the world gradually doing the same. The International Classification of Diseases of the WHO removed homosexuality from the list of psychiatric disorders in Certain members of the Indian Psychiatric Society first took a clear stand on this in 2012 (that homosexual orientation is a natural variant of human sexuality) ^[1].
  • Confront your own assumptions, prejudices, and biases, even if they make you There is great deal of information on Google, YouTube and LGBT media that can help shatter your prejudices and biases.
  • And please read up more on the natural diversity in human sexuality – it will certainly improve your understanding of not just LGBT struggles and challenges but also how bereft of basic happiness most of our/their lives are. And how basics that most straight folks take for granted in their daily lives are still so difficult for LGBT folks – dating, romantic relationships, boyfriends/girlfriends, marriage, children, etc – either LGBT folks wouldn’t have these joys in their lives or if they do have a few of them then they wouldn’t be able to talk about them
  • If you think that someone you know may be gay (or LGBT), hold that thought but do not directly mention it to the individual and certainly do not talk about it to others who may not have the maturity or the trustworthiness to keep that to And certainly, don’t ask that person directly if he is gay. You may think you are being helpful or that you’re doing it out of a sense of concern or because you want to express your support but in doing so you may only alarm and distress him for you chose to talk to him about his sexuality when he hadn’t even thought about having that serious conversation with you and much worse, you may push him further into the closet or further away from you as he may fear that you may treat him differently or that you may not want to have anything to do with him after he accepted he was gay or worse still that you may tell others.
  • Express your support in other indirect ways – you may indicate your open-mindedness in a broad manner, and in a much more reassuring way by merely saying that in general, everyone has a right to their sexuality and that to you someone’s sexuality is not a factor that dictates/determines your friendship with
  • Never ‘out’ anyone, intentionally or unintentionally – the decision to come out is very personal one and it is that individual’s right to make that decision for himself. And no one else has that right. And as for coming out, anyone gay should come out only when he is ready and should never be forced by others. Please remember that if you ‘out’ someone, you could unintentionally end up causing him immeasurable anguish which may take years to get over – in extreme cases, it may drive the guy to take his own
  • If someone comes out to you, please be sensitive, empathetic and supportive – please realize that the person coming out to you may have probably thought about it several times before deciding to have that conversation and must have really found you to be someone significant in his life – a close/good friend or source of support or may be just someone he has a lot of regard for. Also please realize that in all likelihood, sharing his sexual orientation with you means a lot to him – as he wants to be honest with you. And he would have mentally prepared himself for the worst-case scenario of your reacting negatively. If you are a true ally, then you will probably reassure him after he comes out that this doesn’t change your equation with him. If you genuinely feel happy that he chose you to be worthy of his trust – to share his most difficult truth, then the least you can do is respect that trust and live up to that trust by having the courtesy and civility to not talk about it to others. Please remember if your gay friend (or LGBT friend) has not come out openly but he has come out to you then letting others know is solely his right and it his thing – you don’t get to advertise it and talk about it like some juicy piece of gossip – doing that is irresponsible and insensitive behaviour in the
  • Also, as an ally, please do your bit to discourage anti-LGBT comments and jokes – for they only make it even more difficult for gay men/LGBT folks to feel accepted in your midst, and in society. So, if you hear such comments or jokes, please let your friends, family and co-workers know that you find them
  • Have the civility/decency to not ask questions about sex or physical intimacy – it is none of your business. If it is not appropriate to ask a straight person such questions then how is it appropriate to ask an LGBT person such questions ? It is not only inappropriate, it is rude and condescending. If he has come out to you, then your acquaintance is seeking acceptance as an LGBTQ person, and as an equal human being – and he certainly doesn’t expect to be treated as some walking sexual fetish open to your indecent probing
  • Defend your LGBT friends against discrimination. Occasions are likely to arise when you may be required to stand up or speak up in favour of your LGBT friend/s and against their harassment or discrimination. In some cases, yours may be the only voice in their support but it can provoke and encourage others around to think more compassionately, liberally, positively – and most importantly, it will signal changing attitudes and growing acceptance to those who hear
  • Please be mindful of and sensitive towards the fact that though we are making progress, life continues to be more difficult for LGBT folks in general – be it in basic matters like finding friendship/companionship or more serious life related matters like adoption rights, social/official/state recognition of their spouses, spousal rights including inheritance rights etc on which we haven’t even started the conversation as a society or be it in even more serious matters, like the mental and psychological struggles with shame that they go through every day navigating their lives in a world dominated by straight men and the straight majority. [Since I spoke of adoption, I want to mention that I would have certainly considered myself fortunate if I had had the right to adopt a child or have a child through surrogacy, irrespective of whether I was single or not – but the laws have denied me that happiness)
  • And if you are a true ally, you must genuinely believe that everyone regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation should be treated with a sense of equality, respect and dignity – because only that can translate into true empathy and support for someone who has grown up believing that the world can only hate
  • ^[1] – http://www.indianjpsychiatry.org/article.asp?issn=0019-5545;year=2012;volume=54;issue=1;spage=1;epage=3;aulast=Sathyanarayana
Lack of role models and relating to gay struggles no matter where in the world

Also, we need to realize that as luck would have it, unfortunately, in India we have very few gay role-models that young gay men can look up to. And to make matters worse, popular media (films and television) continue to stereotype us – leading most people to believe that that’s the only type of gay man there is. It is true that some gay men express themselves in a manner that is considered effeminate – maybe they find that the best way to express their true selves and what’s wrong with that. Yet it is equally likely that there are seemingly effeminate or metrosexual men who are straight. And it is also equally true that while most gay men (including me) tend to me a little more sensitive than straight men but we also come in all shades/shapes/sizes – and at the other end of the spectrum you may find an extremely muscular hulk of a guy, more macho than your average straight man, who is gay – so don’t be surprised then.

Also, I am sure some of you must be wondering that I have written about being affected by stories of gay men in other parts of the world – how do I relate to them or identify with them. Well truth is – across the world, gay men have suffered similarly and that leads to a sense of solidarity – for we are all fighting the same battles – for acceptance, for equality, for rights.

Struggles as a gay vet

And I want to make one final point – which is what made my struggle even more difficult – which is that, for so many years, I have struggled with reconciling the ex-military part and the gay part of my identity – as if the two can’t/don’t fit together. But I have slowly realized that this was an absolutely unwarranted struggle that I had subjected myself to – probably driven by lower social acceptance levels in India. I probably didn’t even think of coming out earlier only because I was ex-military – as if my coming out would somehow be detrimental to the image of the army. I realize now I was so wrong to think that way. After all it is perfectly fine for gay men to serve openly in the military – and today so many countries in the world have allowed gay men to serve openly – and they have shown that it is indeed fine. So now I feel strongly that it is the duty of the LGBT community – especially those serving in the military, ex-military and especially LGBT military aspirants – to assert themselves more and convey that message clearly that given the changing times and social attitudes and especially given the very progressive Supreme Court judgement in 2018, it is time the government in general and the military leadership in particular, realized that we should change and also realize that –

  • LGBT personnel serving in the military have the basic right to a life of dignity
  • Openly LGBT military aspirants who are fit in every which way, have a right to serve their country

And I realized that while there are instances of discrimination even in militaries that have allowed members of the LGBT community to serve openly yet things also seem to be getting better in those militaries – so much so that two Apache attack helicopter pilots of the US Army – both gay men – got married in the Cadet Chapel at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York – a wedding attended by 150 guests, including their flight squadron colleagues in Army service uniforms. (“Apache helicopters, the kind of aerial weaponry immortalized in Hollywood tough-guy films such as “Rambo” and “Black Hawk Down” — are among the US Army’s most revered killing machines, and those who fly them across enemy skies “have an attack mentality,” said Capt. Daniel Hall, a 30-year-old Apache helicopter pilot based at Fort Bliss, in Texas, one of the two men who got married” – Full Story @ New York Times article titled For Love of Country, and Each Other dt. Jan. 19, 2018 – https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/19/fashion/weddings/two-active-duty-soldiers-marry-in-same-sex-wedding-at-west- point.html). I shared the story with one of my batchmates from IIMB, feeling positive that if US army and so many other Western can change then years from now may be ours will too – but he sounded a cautionary note at my optimism by rightly commenting that – “Military acceptance will follow social acceptance. The military has never been a trendsetter when it comes to inclusion. Take gender for instance. For social acceptance it’s important that the hetero-normative ideal is challenged; that the alternatives become visible and stake their claim in society; that the society sees that the alternative is not something to be feared but just is”. But that also made me realize rather sadly that that only means given current acceptance levels in Indian society, it may be decades if not centuries before we see two Indian Air force pilots – both gay men (or both women/lesbians) marrying and their union being hailed by their fellow officers. However I certainly will voice my obviously strong opinion whenever/wherever I get the opportunity – and my opinion is that – with the Supreme Court having struck down Section 377 of the IPC – and with changing social attitudes in the country, it is time the military kept pace with the change.

In 2018, after the historic Supreme Court judgement read down section 377 of the IPC, press reporters asked General Rawat, the then Chief of Army Staff (and current CDS/Chief of Defence Staff) for his opinion on what it implied for the army and he made this statement – ‘Hum logon ke yahan nahi chalega’ (all this won’t work or won’t be acceptable in the Army). He accepted that the Army is not above the law but maintained that the Constitution does give it some independence. He further added about the army saying, “We are neither modernised, nor westernised”. Given this public statement in 2018 that homosexuality is unacceptable in the military, I would like to remind the sexagenarian general (obviously expected to be regressive in his thinking), that the army is not his royal inheritance that he can choose to run the way he pleases – it is an organization which owes its existence to the highest law of this land, the Indian Constitution and those serving in it, including serving gay personnel, are citizens of this country who have rights – and while some of the rights of those serving in the military may be rightly curtailed (like rights relating to freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom to form associations and unions) – but he can NOT take away the fundamental right of serving gay men to a life of dignity, honour and self-respect and he also can NOT deny the right of LBBT military aspirants to serve openly in the future. He is also wrong on a whole range of other points in his statement on this matter and I wish to point these out to him.

Gay people and military service

I would like to list some facts that political leadership, bureaucrats, military leadership. as well as the general public must know/understand especially about homosexuality. I feel the need to mention these as many of you may have friends and relatives in the services and some of them may be gay and I would like to help you form an informed opinion on the matter –

  • There is nothing Western about homosexuality – it has existed throughout the world ever since humanity has existed. Also, homosexuality has been found to occur across all continents, across all humanity, i.e., across all races and ethnicities, across all religions, across all Ironically, homosexuality doesn’t seem to discriminate. Therefore, as with society, a small percentage of personnel serving in any organization including the military would be gay (I was one of them).
  • World as well as Indian history has many military characters who displayed streaks of homosexuality (including Alexander, the Great, Mughal Emperor Babur, Alauddin Khilji ). Indian temple sculptures from Konark and Khajuraho to the Kamasutra and other ancient literary materials contain enough references to evidence that ancient India accommodated a whole range of sexual behaviours. Historical literary evidence indicates that homosexuality has been prevalent across the Indian subcontinent throughout history, and that homosexuals were not necessarily considered inferior in any way until about 18th century during British colonial rule [2]. So, this is not a western concept or affliction. If there is/was anything western whatsoever in this matter, it was that regressive section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizing homosexual acts, introduced by the British centuries ago. And yet UK and other progressive countries scrapped these draconian and regressive laws almost 50 to 60 years back – they had the sense to realize their law was outdated, wrong and unjust.
  • Since large parts of the world fell to the British and the French in their colonisation drives in the 18th and 19th century, these regions in Asia and Africa ended up with either a section 377 of penal code in British colonies or section 347 of penal code in French colonies. It is this Western imposition that led to negative attitudes in these
  • If LGBT personnel can serve their country in their militaries with pride, dignity and discipline in other countries, Indian officers and soldiers who are gay should be able to serve our military the same way, with pride and dignity .
  • Lastly – about 50 countries in the world, mostly in the west and South-East Asia allow members of the LGBT community to serve openly – the change was mostly hard won. The judiciaries and political leaders in these countries, took the decision to change because it was the right thing to do and the progressive thing to do and because it was fair. And the last 10+ years have shown that it has not affected discipline, cohesion or the professionalism of their militaries – in fact, this decision has helped them prevent the loss of precious, well-trained resources like fighter pilots, elite commandos, linguistic experts.
  • [2] – Ruth Vanita; Saleem Kidwai (18 October 2008). “Indian Traditions Of Love”.

Before finishing up this topic, I would like to highlight (for General Rawat’s attention/benefit) the important statements that each of the five-judges of the Supreme Court Bench made in in their unanimous and landmark verdict of 6th September 2018 which read down Section 377 of the IPC ^[3] ^[4]. By declaring publicly to not follow the verdict of the highest court of the country, the General has proved that he has not even read the main points from the judgement leave alone understanding the strong reasoning that the esteemed Judges gave for their historic decision – all of which, by the way, also apply to gay personnel serving in the Indian military and not just to civilian gay men. If he had read/understood the below messages, he probably wouldn’t have made those regressive statements. –

Reason why the Supreme Court Bench said they are reversing their own (regressive) decision of 2015 which brought back section 377 – a step back after the progressive 2009 decision by then Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice AP Shah to read down section 377 of IPC:

Section 377 is irrational and arbitrary. And because gay activists argued the police used Section 377 to harass and intimidate the gay community. (@ J Suresh : Not very different from what retention of the ban in the military has been used for and will continue to be used )

Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman on that bench, made very strong and much needed statements:

  • “History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries. The members of this community were compelled to live a life full of fear of reprisal and persecution. This was on account of the ignorance of the majority to recognise that homosexuality is a completely natural condition, part of a range of human conditions”
  • “The misapplication of this provision denied them the Fundamental Right to equality guaranteed by Article 14. It infringed the Fundamental Right to non-discrimination under Article 15, and the Fundamental Right to live a life of dignity and privacy guaranteed by Article ”
  • “The LGBT persons deserve to live a life unshackled from the shadow of being ‘unapprehended felons’.”

Then Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra:

  • “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is violation of freedom of speech and .. Bodily autonomy is individualistic. Expression of intimacy is part of right to privacy.”
  • “The Constitution is a “dynamic document, having the primary objective of establishing a dynamic and inclusive ”
  • “Attitude and mentality need to change to accept others’ identity and accept what they are and not what they should ”

Justice AM Khanwilkar:

  • “Majoritarianism in “constitutionally untenable.” (@ J Suresh : The judgement clearly indicates that constitutional morality supersedes majoritarian/public ”)
  • “We have to bid adieu to prejudices and to empower all citizens”.

Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Rohinton Nariman:

  • “Human sexuality cannot be confined to a binary”.
  • “Section 377 travelled so much, that it has been destructive to LGBT “
  • The archaic law “inflicts tragedy and anguish”, “it has been misused, forcing the LGBT community to live in hiding, as second-class ”
  • “The media – television and radio – should give wide publicity to this judgment and its ”
  • “The government and the police should also be sensitized to deal with such situations.”. (@ J Suresh : I wonder who is responsible to sensitize the top brass of the )

Justice Rohinton Nariman:

Concluding this topic, I feel this is a difficult if not impossible battle that serving gay officers and soldiers in the Indian military and LGBT military aspirants have to fight for themselves. While I don’t belong to either groups, but I do belong to the third group which is not currently suffering the impact of this policy but which has certainly suffered quietly in the past and so I intend to provide whatever support I can to those currently affected, including raising my voice at appropriate forums. I may not be a someone important, but I do have a voice and I intend to use it whenever and wherever I can. Lastly, I want to highlight this fact, lest it goes ununderstood, that while today after the Supreme Court judgement of 2018, the many remaining battles for gays in rest of society are about civil rights but the battle for gays in the military is about basic human rights.

Advantages of my privilege and It is getting better & it will get even better

I would also like to add that I am fully aware of how fortunate I am to have the privilege of strong family support (my father, my mother and my brother), privileged social standing – my father’s as well as my own, good education, a mentally and physically toughening and character building military service, a supportive best-friend (ally – Yasas) from high-school days, supportive cousins and close friends especially my close coursemates from the three services, supportive equal opportunity employers, and supportive colleagues at work – especially a supportive manager, supportive peers and direct reports – as well as the advantage of exposure to LGBT progress and inclusion in western and south-east Asia/Asia-Pacific countries.. And it is due to this privilege and this exposure that I was able to gain the understanding, the freedom, the courage & confidence to come out boldly.

I also want to say that while I have written at great length and with acute poignancy on my fears of possible persecution or fears of dishonourable discharge, I also understand that so many from the LGBT community especially in India would have faced and must be continuing to face far worse challenges and going through far more difficult struggles. So, I have to accept that despite all my struggles, I still had it easy – at least easier than them. And as I say that I am reminded of the pain I felt while listening to the struggles of trans folks on the few Orinam meetings (LGBT Support Group) that I was able to attend in the last 7-8 months after I decided to come out at work. It was a humbling realization that trans people face far more difficult challenges day in and day out. But the optimist in me would like to believe in the cliched mutual support message in the LGBT community – It gets better.

And as I evaluate the current social situation across the world and particularly in India, though things haven’t gotten as good as I would have liked but there is hope. Even the situation in India seems to be improving, and acceptance levels are generally growing but we still have a long way to go. Thankfully, we recently had the first mainstream Hindi film to be centred entirely on the lives of two gay characters – Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhaan. The film was a good attempt to highlight the social and family prejudice that two gay young men in love face – and it managed to handle the rather sensitive topic of homosexuality in a positive and light-hearted way. I am certain the film was successful in furthering positive change in attitudes.

After I came out to one of my onshore partners, he said he feels it might be more difficult in India and asked me what I felt. I told him well there are two sides to the situation. At the family level, for most families in India, religion is unlikely to be a factor that will decide whether they will be accept their gay son where as in much of the western and middle-eastern world, the more deeply religious a family is, the more likely it is that they will disown or reject their gay son. But even in the religious space, there seems to hope, at least when Pope Francis is seen signalling more acceptance of LGBT people when he said, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”. However, when it comes to the state, there is a really long way we have to go in India – it’s just been a year since we struck down the law that illegalized homosexuality. The West, especially Europe -specifically, the Scandinavian countries have been really very progressive – we in India, have had to fight a much more basic battle to NOT be considered criminals in the eyes of the law and now that that very basic first battle has been finally won in 2018 (after an initial win in 2009 and then a defeat in 2013) – we can now think of fighting for other rights – right to marriage/civil union, inheritance rights, adoption rights, right to serve openly in the military etc. And without these rights, the right to equality guaranteed by the Indian Constitution will be meaningless and I will remain second-class citizens as will my brothers and sisters from the LGBT community. So there’s obviously so much more to fight for and it is such a long road ahead. But we need to keep reminding ourselves on that long road, that it is getting better and it will get even better and we need to keep up the hope and the fight.

Why I am writing this blog

Anyway, coming back to me, firstly I am fully aware that by writing this blog, I have presented myself as a possible target for hate/ridicule. It is likely that people who would have not served even a single day in military service will arrogate to themselves the right to judge me and will question my fitness to have been an officer in the military or even my patriotism and they will most likely call me the filthiest of names – I might even receive hate from some in the three services but I don’t care – I can’t afford to – I have already suffered enough. More importantly, I am absolutely clear in my mind that I am doing the right thing – the discussion on letting gay men to serve openly in the military needs to start.

I was a loyal, disciplined and upright army officer and I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve in the military, So I am also doing this as a duty to better inform the top military leadership about this rather complex and sensitive subject on which they certainly have a clear stand but have very poor scientific or human understanding. All I am hoping for is the military leadership to be fair, humane and compassionate so that they can give their serving gay officers and soldiers their lawful fundamental right to a life of dignity, honour and self-respect. After all the military is hailed for its fairness and justice – values that I held dear even before I joined the military, values that were undoubtedly strengthened greatly during my service because every single day, I saw the military (including me) standing for them so strongly.

Another question I have for General Rawat is – now that you may have understood by now that the services would have always had some personnel who were gay – so are you now going to start investigations going two hundred and fifty years back into history and start investigating which soldiers were gay – after that do you plan to start chiselling out the names of those soldiers from the war memorials at India and from war memorials at various military garrisons and cantonments – Sir, You should knock those 5 to 10% names from these war memorials. Despicable guys they were, isn’t it ?

Also Sir, please don’t forget that all those concerns you have about gay men – effect on cohesion, morale etc, – all these arguments were been put forward against inclusion of women in the Indian military and so many other militaries throughout the world and against inclusion of blacks in the US armed forces and so many other militaries. Time has proved that all those concerns regarding inclusion of women, blacks and other excluded groups in various militaries were baseless and ridiculous to say the least. The only thing that matter is the individual capable, professional, disciplined.

Also irrespective of what General Rawat may have said and irrespective of his unreasonable stand on this matter – it is a fact that the world has seen tremendous progress on LGBT matters in the last 10-15 years as sensibilities and understanding both improve – in fact the LGBT fight is being called the next frontier for human rights – so it is only a matter of time before change in the military inevitably happens – of that I am very certain – if not sometime soon then certainly some time not too far away.

On a separate front, I also realise that my blog may cause pain to those who were forced to hide themselves by leading a double life and living a lie. The only thing I can say to them is – I did not wish to hurt you. You were a victim of your circumstances – however you can decide if you are willing to continue living a lie or are you willing to be honest to yourself and the people in your life who matter.

Also to those still living in the closet, I would like to repeat a dialog by the character, Dick Samuels, an old gay man, in a scene from the NetFlix  series ‘Hollywood’ – spoken as he laments life that has passed him by – “You spend your entire life trying to be this other person that one day it feels like you are on the shore and the other person is so far out and he’s going down and it’s too late. What’s worse is you are the person for letting it happen.”

Anyway, I have to get ready now for a churn in my inner circle – as some people who stood by me earlier will continue to stand steady while others leave – and new people join me. So, it is the beginning of a new (rather the next) phase of my life – one expected to be happier and more fulfilling, at least if I follow (as I intend to) Dr Alan Down’s advice.

 

Thank you for reading patiently

As I wind up, I realize, I have burdened you with this really long blog – and imposed my personal life and my opinions (on the various facets of this complex issue) on you. In case, you reached this far, I must thank you for your patience and admit that I am NOT trying to educate you – I certainly felt I must try to inform you so that you understand us a little better. And I was just trying to be honest about myself and also share my views on various issues related to my personal identity. As things stand, I have to move on and my way forward is that –not only am I going to be more openly and unapologetically ‘out’ but I also intend to work towards my community’s fight and struggle for acceptance and rights, participate in rallies and protests around the same. And speak about the issue in various forums – and since I could well be the first Indian military veteran to be openly gay – I intend to speak strongly on the question of allowing gay personnel (in fact all LGBT personnel) to serve openly.

Lastly, I would like to clarify again that I am not looking for anyone’s approval or sympathy. Acceptance – yes, hopefully – and – may be an honest attempt to understand me but nothing more. In fact, nothing can be better than things remaining just the same – after all I am still the same person – just that you know a little more about me. That’s exactly what I told in my first meetings with my direct peers and direct reports after I had come out (separately) to all of them.

And with that I will wrap up my message. With warm and sincere regards,

J Suresh

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  1. Dear Major J. Suresh,
    you don’t imagine how happy I am, reading your post. As you may see on my name, I’m not an Indian but I’m involved in the same you went through since more than 1.5 years. The arbitrary decision of Indian army, not to allow their gay people to enjoy fundamental rights leads to the fact that thousands of people have to suffer – forced to decide to live a life of lie within it’s job which is so much more than just a job and also within their families as India is still focused on “when you will marry?” or “why you don’t marry?”
    I’m currently not allowed to write more details in public about why I’m writing you and what story is behind. The experiences you have written could have been written by me and my partner as well. But behind our story is something that might be interesting for you. I would be glad if u could keep in touch with me and us. Jai Hind Sir

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