Self-Acceptance and a Queer Life in India

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The colors of life, love and pride

My name is Rahul. I was born in a small town in Tripura state in North-Eastern India where I spent my first 18 years.

My earliest memories are of how much I loved my sister’s colourful dresses and dancing in front of the television. Neither of these were the typical masculine traits expected of young boys in the conservative patriarchal society of countryside India in which I was raised. As I grew older, I started to recognize my attraction to men, but I couldn’t share those feelings with anyone. Little me somehow sensed that these feelings were unusual and generally unacceptable to those around me. By that time, I was already dealing with discouraging comments from family members about my body language and my love of dance. I didn’t dare add another trait which would surely have made me the subject of the highest level of bullying.

A child is born with dreams

While I kept this a secret, I didn’t try to change myself. I accepted my feelings and desires, though I didn’t yet understand the concept of being gay or what LGBTQ+ meant. I knew my feelings were real, but, in India at that time, seeing someone openly discussing homosexuality in real life or even on TV was very rare. Then, one day, when I was 14 years old, I heard about Rituparno Ghosh, his movies, and his personality. I searched for info about him online and I found the articles and interviews where he talked about LOVE between two men, LOVE between two women, his desires to dress up as a woman, his desires to be a woman from a man. When I saw his film ‘Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish’ (2012), I saw my first representation of love between two men. ( The YouTube link of the trailer of the movie: 

Chitrangada and Rituparno

I continued my quest and came across the word “homosexuality,” then “LGBTQ,” and then their full meaning. I realised my feelings represented something larger than just myself, but they were not yet acceptable in society. I learned about the 377 Penal Code of the Indian constitution which criminalised homosexuality. Through this process of searching and learning, I accepted my feelings fully and I told myself “I am gay and I love men sexually and intellectually.” As a result, I was rescued from having to live a fake and unhappy life.

Expressing myself

After that, the next step was to figure out how to safely express myself, my feelings, and my desires. I started doing that not with my family or in my home, but at school. I thought I was the only gay man in my area. But that belief was proven inaccurate when I met someone on Facebook at the age of 15. Of course, I believed he was the only gay man in my state who I might love. My conversations with him after school made me feel more gay than ever, though he never actually labeled himself as gay. Within a month I lost my feelings for him as I realised he was not comfortable with my gay identity. He started making fun of my dream of coming out as a gay man. So I didn’t keep any connection with him because I realised that keeping a connection with him was implying I’m disrespecting my identity.

Happy and confident with myself

Very soon, I shared these hidden feelings with my best friend during one school day and showed him the conversations between that guy and me. He laughed loudly for a long time and I realised it was very uncommon to him but I didn’t feel judged. Gradually, everyone in my class learned about me and whenever they asked, I replied, “Yes, I’m gay!” This process re-affirmed my self-acceptance, though I knew that somewhere ahead lay a big fight for my acceptance by the larger world.

This is the story of my gradual self-acceptance as a gay man. I’ll continue sharing bits of my life, adding other stories over time. To close this first chapter, I’d like to share one small conversation I had with a guy in my school about me being gay. He had asked me, “If you were locked in a room with only a girl who was naked, wouldn’t you be attracted to her?” I confidently replied “Not at all!” He followed up by asking “How can you be so sure about that?” I told him “Well, if you were locked in a room with a guy who was naked, would you be attracted to him? I know myself better than anyone.”

My neighbourhood in the small town in Tripura, India
In 2015, for the first time, I used the rainbow filter in my Facebook DP/