“So how did you figure out that you’re …gay?”
The first time someone asked me this, I was in the 10th grade and I had just come out to my best friend. We had a free study period due to the CBSE board exams just around the corner, and she asked me why I had been so fidgety all day long. I tried to go with the ‘I’m nervous about exams’ excuse but she knew otherwise. So we went on a long walk around the school to talk it out. I was 14-years-old at the time, a highly self-motivated student with big plans and seemingly no worries. It would have taken me a second to tell her, ‘I’m gay’, but it took me an hour to gain the courage. She had no qualms about the fact that her best friend was gay but I still didn’t have an answer to her question.
In 7th grade, I spent most of my time with a small group of male friends. This meant that our conversations spiralled around 3 topics that we apparently weren’t supposed to be talking about: hot girls, the human body, and sex. The only information we had about these ‘trending topics’ came from popular movies, music, and ridiculous classroom rumours like ‘masturbation will give you pimples’. But although it was very exciting to talk about all of this, I could never quite relate to how my friends felt. While they described their vivid dreams about some porn star’s breasts, I told them fake stories of how some girl made me feel some way. I kept waiting to feel that certain way about a girl so that I could tell them real stories, but that never happened. I knew by then that I was so much more fascinated with the male body but the idea that I was gay never struck me.
In 8th grade, the word gay was synonymous with stupid, lame, and inferior. It took me another 2 years and lots of internet surfing to realise that homosexuality was more than an insult and that I wasn’t the only male who was physically attracted to other males. I still wasn’t ready to call myself gay though. In my mind, no one else in India was gay as far as my teachers, classmates, and politicians were concerned, and I definitely did not want to be the odd one out. Especially not in high school. I was also told that it was a choice, so I chose to ‘un-gay’ myself, or tried to, at least. That didn’t work either – for me, Varun Dhawan was still hotter than Alia Bhatt. What’s worse is that I actually believed for some time that I brought on my sexuality through some set of decisions and choices, and that I could get over it by engaging in sexual intercourse with a girl. Since no one talked about it, the silence only convinced me more of all my misconceptions.
Finally, in 10th grade, I fell for a boy and things started to change. I had a puzzle of mixed feelings for the funniest guy in my class, and when I put the pieces together, I could call it a crush. In retrospect, it was the silliest but most exciting experience to have at the time. It was the first time I could feel butterflies in my stomach, all those awkward cheesy feelings, and that curiosity about what it would be like to kiss the boy I liked. There was something intriguing about holding a secret so tight, but I had so many unanswered questions and a lot of hesitation. I finally wanted someone to talk to about what I was starting to experience. Subtle homophobic bullying plagued the school corridors with remarks about how homosexuality is disgusting. But when non-heterosexual representation increased in the media, people were finally talking about it. It was starting to get lonely and dark in my closet, but at least I could recognise the closet I was in.
As the doubts haunted my adolescent mind, I was so afraid that I may never be able to have a satisfying relationship with anyone. If only I saw more gay people that I could relate to in my school, in movies, in newspapers and in books, I wouldn’t have felt that way. All I needed to know was that gay people existed in my country and that they were completely ‘normal’ – that I was completely ‘normal’.
When I explained this story to my best friend during our long walk, I realised that my answer to her question shouldn’t have been so complex and long. If only we’d learnt earlier in school that human sexuality is diverse, intrinsic, and ubiquitous, perhaps we would think twice before pushing more teenagers into their closets.
Today, I can see how much has changed since that significant day. I’ve come out to all my friends and my closest family members, and almost all the reactions have been positive. For most people, it was the first time someone came out to them, and so a lot of explanations were needed. But would it have been different for people like me if we knew about human sexuality already? The student bodies in our schools today are taking forward the pressing need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education with initiatives such as Breaking Barriers and Social Awareness Week by The Global Impact Project. Perhaps if we start to #TalkSexuality in schools today, the impact will shut more ignorant ideas and open more closet doors for students nationwide. Perhaps, as people will then be more informed about gender and different sexual identities, which may decrease the likelihood of bullying and derogatory comments from peers and teachers, and prevent people from feeling ‘wrong’ or ‘alone’, among other issues.