I don’t feel there is anything wrong in being effeminate or being like a woman. If somebody says to me “Don’t act like a woman”, I say, “Why is there such a problem being a woman?” It’s something you should embrace, right?
Ashiesh Talwar, 27 years, Engineer, Bangalore
Interviewed by Poorva Dinesh
Why did you decide to give us an interview on gender and sexuality?
I basically feel that this topic needs to be touched upon because not many people are very comfortable to talk about this in a heteronormative society like India. It becomes really challenging for people who want to come out of the closet and talk about their sexuality and gender and how do they feel. I know a lot of people who deal with a lot of oppression because of the society. It just creates a lot of depression for the LGBT community so I feel that this topic needs visibility more than any other topic.
If I may ask you, what is your sexuality?
I identify myself as a gay man. That’s my sexuality.
But the fact that you decided to speak on sexuality indicates it means a lot to you. Is it because the majority is still homophobic or it has to do with your personal experience as a gay man.
All I am saying is: we also need to have the same privileges a “normal person” has in the society. On the personal front, it has been more of an experience or a process that makes me want to talk about this right now.
When did you realize you were gay and when did you fully internalize that this is your sexuality?
This actually never happens if you ask me…like if I ask you the same question…when did you realize that you were a girl or a straight girl?
Yeah, it was just a part of me…
Exactly. It was a part of me too. There was no realization or anything, but I came to terms with it when I was about 14 or 15 because of course there was no education in India about sexuality or about your orientation so I didn’t know the terms for it, but I knew that it was there.
Since we are talking about gender and sexuality, it makes a lot of sense to also talk a little about your childhood.
I was bullied a lot in my childhood for being different. My mother used to tell me not to behave like a girl, or my schoolmates and roommates asked me to behave in a certain way…but I never understood why I need to behave in a certain way. I don’t feel there is anything wrong in being effeminate or being like a woman. If somebody says to me “Don’t act like a woman”, I say, “Why is there such a problem being a woman?” It’s something you should embrace, right?
When I was 11 or 12, I used to pretend to like a girl and fit into the crowd. I actually even had a girlfriend…not a girlfriend but those high school crushes. But then I realized this wasn’t me. I never had struggles accepting my sexuality like other people do. Touchwood. I was so much accepting of myself and I didn’t see any reason why I should be ashamed of it. But finding the actual terms for it was really hard. I did not even know what gay means…so that was something which was difficult for me.
What is your coming out story?
Oh it is very stupid. My coming out was very impulsive…it was not even planned. I did not plan it the way other guys do. I was going through a very bad phase and I was dumped by a boy. He made me feel so rejected that I thought that was the threshold of rejection. I thought that nobody could surpass this level and I just called up my parents and I told them.
You were not staying with your parents?
I was staying with my parents but I was in my office…like a regular day.
So wait…you guys were staying in the same house but you sort of broke the news on the phone?
Yeah! And then I went home in the evening and I talked about it more.
I first spoke to my sister and she told me not to tell this to our parents because they had so many expectations from me like wanting a grandchild and all. But I decided to go ahead…It was a regular evening at home. We were having dinner and I turned off the TV, and asked them if they knew what gay meant. They first thought I was being funny, but later both my dad and mother cried…They worried and still worry about me not being accepted by the society, and not so much about me being gay.
I have to come out to my parents once in six months. I have to keep reminding them about who I am.
They have their expectations from me…like giving them a grandchild or giving them a daughter-in-law and it’s also the peer pressure like my cousins are getting married and having babies. My parents keep comparing. They say, “they have this, they have that…”, but I tell them that I have a good job, I look good and they don’t! (laughs). I understand their point of view as well. My mother wonders what she will do with all the jewelry now (laughs).
Does your sister support you?
My sister is very educated. When I came out to her she was OK. But now that she is married, she doesn’t want her husband or his family to know about my orientation. And she says, “Do whatever you want, but don’t tell my family about it.” It hurts.
But I’m not going to educate my sister on this because she belongs to 2017. I can put efforts into my parents and educate them because they don’t belong to a generation that readily accepts this…
Do you think you are the butt of all jokes because of your sexuality?
Many times…many times
Any one such incident that comes to your mind?
This incident happened when I was doing my engineering. A group of boys took my number and my picture and they posted it in the boys’ washroom with a note “contact for gay sex.” That was a really really bad experience I had back in college. And I got so many phone calls at that particular time…
How did you deal with it?
The college authorities found out about the prank and they kind of jumped into it…and as far as I was concerned, I reacted to it as if nothing happened.
That takes a lot of maturity by the way.
Yeah at that time it did…I did not react at all…I cried in my room but I did not let it be explicit.
Do you feel accepted now?
If you ask me, I am not seeking anyone’s acceptance because I am very happy and I have accepted myself…but it is very important for us to set an example in the society so that other people can come out of the closet. My acceptance issues were over the day I came out to my family as a homosexual man, but my parents are yet to come out as parents of a homosexual man (laughs).
Do you have any message for anyone out there? Our readers perhaps…
This is for those who feel closeted and can’t come out or feel suicidal or depressed about it – we are born fabulous. There is nothing you should be ashamed of and there are other people like us and they are everywhere. They are right next door and they are so visible that you can’t even see them. Don’t seek acceptance from the society, just accept yourself for what you are.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic. But we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
Love (laughs)…love is not something which you find or you discover…you have to actually put efforts to make it happen. And it’s a really big deal to be in love and get that sincerity and to get that much of understanding to call it love.