Gay @ IITB: Out and About
Hi! My name is H, and I am gay. I’m graduating this year (2011) with a B.Tech. in Engineering Physics from IIT Bombay. In a nutshell, this is my story as a gay student at IITB.
The Pre-JEE Days
For most gay people, coming to terms with the fact that you are gay itself is a painful, long drawn-out procedure – I fully accepted myself for who I was only at the ripe age of 16. Being gay and closeted is an enormous burden, and can be a massive pain in the arse. It was like perpetually wearing a cloak of deceit, like my life was one huge lie.
Doing my 11th/12th at the famous St. Xavier’s College, one of Mumbai’s most liberal institutions, hiding my sexuality was no trivial matter, and put me under tremendous pressure in nearly all social interactions with my peers. Oh yes, she’s so hot, I’d often find myself saying just to make sure my terrible secret remained a secret. Pretending to be someone you are not as a full-time occupation was such a bloody nuisance, it sapped me of energy, and made sure a significant fraction of my social interactions were entirely superficial. I felt like a piece of sh*t every time I lied; nonetheless, lying was such an integral part of my life, such an essential protection mechanism that I forgave myself unflinchingly every time. My adolescence was no fun, a period of confusion, lies and deceit. Lying to my best friends, and lying to them so often, made me miserable.
Entering IIT as a freshie in 2007, I swore off the lies. Never again shall I pretend to find a girl attractive, I promised myself, something I have stuck to till date. But then another problem presented itself – I was certain that by the end of 4 years at IITB my secret would come out at some time or the other, and the possible reactions I might face filled me with dread and horror. I imagined former friends saying – You bastard! All these years you’ve been staring at us, thinking your unspeakably filthy gay thoughts!
And so I chose the path of aloofness. Under pretence of being a muggu and having no desire for human company, I sought refuge in the Institute library all through my freshie year, scrupulously avoiding nearly all social contact. I wanted to get a good CPI, flee this god-forsaken country (as I then considered it), and begin life afresh in the sanctuary of some liberal, tolerant western nation. (Thankfully, I was not entirely successful in this rather pointless endeavour: for instance, my love for the Literary Arts often drew me to participating in those events.)
Coming Out to Friends
But I couldn’t bear to keep this huge secret bottled up inside me indefinitely. In the summer vacations following my freshie year, acting on an impulse, I revealed the truth to a recently-made friend from Insti. This act, my first “coming out”, as it is called, was tremendously liberating and I felt fantastically good. For the first time ever, I had a friend with whom there were no secrets to be kept: I could finally be myself! The following years, my sophie and thirdie years, saw me gradually come out to most of my closest friends, one by one. Each time it felt like a dream, each time I felt profoundly ecstatic. My second and third years at IITB were happy ones, with my wonderful friends, a new-found passion for Physics and Maths, and a variety of extra-curricular activities. I even had my first crush – that’s right, on a guy. Being gay was no longer a handicap, social or otherwise, and I no longer felt the urge to periodically wallow in self-pity: I was content, happy, perhaps even proud of my gay-ness.
The Wild Life
Yet I was discontent – although my friends were all wonderful and sympathetic, I craved the company of other people “like me”. During the summer after my third year, while doing my internship in the open, liberal German city of Munich, I made my first forays into the gay world, exploring several establishments in the city’s Gay District. I also mustered the courage to begin posting on the GayBombay mailing list (without an alias!), and got to know several wonderful, interesting people in the process.
On return to Mumbai, at the start of the 7th semester, my reckless, adventurous side got the better of me and I signed up for GayBombay’s monsoon picnic in the Igatpuri ghats, along with 49 other gay guys. Admittedly I returned somewhat scandalised: despite my most liberal upbringing, the culture shock was a little too much for me to digest. Nonetheless, a week later I found myself at a party exclusively for gay men – it was one wild, crazy dance floor! I also discovered the potential of the internet as a tool to connect with other gay people, and made several gay friends, both in and out of IIT-B.
The Wannabe Activist
All this while, I continued the process of gradually coming out to more and more friends. Every single one of them was cool with my being gay: I’d had a 100% success rate! After a certain point, I figured there was no point being so secretive any longer: I had the support of 20 of my best friends and felt loved and secure. Eventually, in my final semester, I decided to abandon all guard, and truly “be myself”, for at least 1 out of 8 semesters spent at my dear Institute. I became recklessly public about my homosexuality – from admitting that I am “interested in men” on Facebook, to putting up a large rainbow flag in my hostel room. Frustrated at the ignorance and silence on the issue, I took upon myself to educate fellow IITians about homosexuality and how completely normal it is. I freely posted links to articles on the subject on Google Buzz and on my GMail chat status, scandalising God-knows-how-many people in the process. Getting up at 5 AM on Day 1 of Techfest, I went on a round of the Institute on my bicycle putting up Gay Pride posters (Born Gay, Follow the Ray. Born Straight, Refuse to Hate!). Sadly, the message didn’t seem to get through to everybody – most posters were torn down within a couple of days. I bought a couple of Gay Pride T-Shirts from Azaad Bazaar, India’s only LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) store, and nervously wore them around campus, even to lectures, much to the amusement of at least one professor.
My objective all this while was to get people to at least talk about homosexuality. The first step towards understanding and acceptance is breaking the veil of silence. A few friends accused me of being overtly loud, and too reckless both for my, as well as the community’s good. The best retort would have been to quote Arundhati Roy, when, in response to similar allegations, she once declared, “I AM hysterical. I’m screaming from the bloody rooftops. And you and your smug little club are going ‘Shhhh… you’ll wake the neighbours!’ I want to wake the neighbours, that’s my whole point. I want everybody to open their eyes.”
My secret life was finally revealed to the general public during my valfi (with my consent), with my friends thoughtfully and symbolically having put up my rainbow Pride Flag up on the stage background. I felt a quaint, strange feeling of happiness and light-headedness: I was now officially out of the closet, and more so, IIT Bombay’s first openly gay student!
A Bed of Roses
Life as a gay person has been exceedingly easy for me. Nearly every single one of the people I came out to were understanding and sympathetic. (One of my friends, a self-proclaimed homophobe, took a couple of days to come to terms with my homosexuality. All has been chummy between us thereafter.) I am extremely fortunate to come from a liberal, urban family. Although not yet out to my parents, it is a mere formality: I’m confident they won’t take very long to come to terms with the matter, and they definitely won’t disown/disinherit me.
Unfortunately, public awareness in India about homosexuality is abysmal, with the minds of most people choked with myths and misconceptions. Ultimately it boils down to whose opinion you trust – that of the entire world’s scientific community or that of a random assortment of clueless babas, preachers, and self-proclaimed healers.
Contrary to what the Hon’ble Union Minister for Health, Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad may think, homosexuality is NOT a “disease”! Homosexuality is neither a matter of choice, nor can it be “cured”. Homosexuals are not out there to “convert” straight people: you either are gay or you’re not, or your somewhere in between (bisexual, perhaps). Nobody can change anyone’s sexual orientation, not even their own!
Section 377 was struck down by the Delhi High Court on 2 July 2009, finally acknowledging that homosexuality is indeed normal. The verdict notwithstanding, Indian society remains exceedingly cruel to homosexuals and other sexual minorities. All throughout the country – IITB being no exception – homosexuals face a tremendous amount of hostility, ostracism and discrimination. This is the case even among the “educated elite” of India: just a glance at the countless bitter, hate-filled comments one reads following any article about homosexuality on the internet sends shivers down my spine. Imagine what the case would be in more conservative sections of the Indian society!
A widespread misconception is that homosexuality is a western import. The truth is that there are and always have been gay people in India, it’s just that we’ve been, until recently, too bloody scared to reveal our sexuality to the cruel Indian society! Why on earth would anybody want to go through the ostracism, mental trauma and castigation that would inevitably ensue? Acceptance of homosexuality, however, is indeed a western import, as is acceptance of widow remarriage, abolition of sati, and countless other social reforms of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Many of us lead frustrated, unhappy lives, and never reach our full potential as human beings. This is a consequence primarily of society’s ignorance: the sheer pointlessness of all this suffering astounds me. According to most estimates, somewhere between 4 and 10 % of the population is homosexual – this may include your best friends and loved ones. I beg all IITians, please help create an atmosphere where your friends do not have to undergo this terrible oppression! Lift the veil of silence and ignorance, and let there be free and frank discussions on the topic. (Try, at least occasionally, to use the word “gay” in a non-insulting fashion!)
Accept us for who we are, and then let’s all get on with our lives as usual, as healthy, productive members of society.
If You Are Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender
The loneliness, confusion and unhappiness that you may be experiencing can often be quite overwhelming, and it is vital you find somebody to talk to, someone in whom you can confide your feelings. Ideally, your immediate family and your best friends should be the first to know. Unfortunately, it’s quite likely you come from an extremely conservative family. Also the 100% acceptance rate I had with my friends is not always guaranteed. If, however, there are people in your life who you are confident will have no issues, it is strongly recommended you come out to them ASAP: doing so will only strengthen your friendship and make you a much happier person. There also exist numerous faculty members at IITB with a progressive outlook towards sexual minorities, see http://www.sacw.net/article1026.html for a small sample.
And finally, but most importantly, you might like to join Saathi: a support group for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people at IIT Bombay. The group is meant to be a safe space for people who’re still coming to terms with their sexuality and/or are confused. The principal aim of the group is to help people discover themselves in a comforting and a supporting environment along with people who’re in the same boat. We understand that many of you may not like to openly acknowledge your sexuality and/or are apprehensive about associating yourselves with people who’re open. We respect your concerns: you can be as anonymous as they want. No one will force you to reveal your identity or rush you into coming out to people. Check out www.saathi-iitb.org!
1. The above post was inspired by a post on the website of The Fifth Estate, the student run media body of IIT Madras. The original post can be found here.
2. You are welcome to submit your comments, but please ensure that they are commensurate with the sensitivity of the issue.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, InsIghT or IIT Bombay. For specific queries and feedback, leave a message or mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org