Section 377 Verdict: Battle in Court Ends, the One at Home Begins
“As the news broke out, I was watching the television with my dad, who has no idea that I’m gay.”
Today is a historic day for our country. The Supreme Court has decriminalised same-sex relations between consenting adults in private. In many cities, the rainbow has taken over the streets. Like my peers from the LGBTQ community, I was overjoyed at this landmark judgement.
As the news broke out, I was watching the television with my dad, who has no idea that I’m gay. When the channels started showing the celebrations, my dad said something which jolted me from within. He said, “Ae log gannd failaangay. (These people will defile our society)” .
Growing up in an orthodox Sikh family in Dehradun, I always felt that there was something off about me. In a deeply patriarchal environment, in my immediate and extended family, I felt alienated.
I had always been an effeminate boy, more fascinated by Barbie movies than the WWE fights, which were a rage among most boys my age back then, and I preferred playing with the girls in my locality.
I often got unsolicited advice from my cousins to ‘man up,’ making me internalise that there was something wrong with me. During adolescence, when the boys in my class started talking about their girl crushes, I started wondering why I wasn’t attracted to anyone, blurting out the name of a good-looking senior whenever anyone asked me who I liked – just to fit in.
Once, when I was in class 11th, I told my brother that I noticed the men more than the women while watching porn, and asked him why this was so - hoping to find an explanation to this. My brother, who is just a year older to me, did not know how to respond to this question. So he ended up saying, “Do you know that among Sikhs, only 1 percent of the population is gay? So you’re probably not gay.”
Unable to understand what I was feeling, I faced mental health issues during the last two years in school. I could not even express this dilemma to my counsellor – it was something that I did not have the vocabulary to express – even to myself.
Consequently, I developed a defence mechanism of pushing this thought at the back of my mind – living in denial about my queerness for the next five years, not knowing that this would not help me in the long run.
Last year, I started thinking about my sexual orientation obsessively, to the extent that I had to seek counselling. But nothing helped. Slowly, I started accepting my feelings, and it was only in January this year that I finally accepted myself.
I was in Delhi that time, away from home, so I started being open about this aspect of my life, to the point that I’m almost openly gay in Delhi now. But things are completely different back home. Barring my brother, no one in my family knows about my sexuality; it is the biggest secret that I’m withholding from my parents.
But even though I’m closeted at home, I, along with two other individuals, initiated Queer Collective Dehradun in January to create a safe space for the city’s LGBTQ community.
Having thought about this many times, I imagined that my parents would react in a dramatic manner the day I come out to them. I had planned that this would happen the day I establish my career. Last month, I came home to visit my parents, but fell sick. On getting diagnosed with typhoid, they did not let me return to Delhi till I recovered fully.
As the verdict came out today, one of the co-founders of the Queer Collective called me to invite me to a small celebration at a café. Post this, I got another call from a friend who congratulated me.
To my surprise, my parents were deeply disturbed as to why people were congratulating me. They asked me why this was happening, and I had no answer. I could sense the fear and shock on their faces.
A suspicion had gripped them – the suspicion that their son is gay.
After this, another friend who wanted to take pictures of the celebrations in Delhi, called me to know the probable places where the celebrations might be going on. By this time, I could see the intense anxiety on my dad’s face.
I have thrown small hints at my parents in the past about my sexuality, telling them that I shall never get married, whenever they try to tease me with the marriage jokes, common in Indian families.
They also brought in the fact that in June this year, I had gone for a writing workshop to contribute to Bombay Dost Magazine which focuses on LGBTQ issues in India, and then tried to connect the dots as to why I went there.
At this point, my mom came running from the kitchen and shouted at me - “Is this the reason that you say that you’ll never get married? Tell me, do you have a similar chakkar (affair) as these people?” Her eyes were filled with rage. I was petrified. There was a lump in my throat. For a moment, I thought I’d say “yes,” but then, rationality took over and I blurted a “no,” cursing myself for denying my identity in my head.
This was enough to quell their anxieties. But they fuelled mine.
On a day when I was supposed to celebrate myself and be truly happy, I was anxious and afraid. For the kindness and care that my parents have always shown towards not just me and my brother, but also to anyone who is in need of help, their hostility today seemed completely discordant to their usual nature.
Now, I am even more scared to indicate anything that may suggest my queerness to them. This episode has rung a warning bell in my psyche that it would be quite a rocky road the day I come out to them. I understand that it will be natural for them to take their time in accepting me, considering that it took me so much time for me to accept myself. But a hostility of this kind to the LGBTQ+ community is deeply appalling.
It got me thinking how raising slogans on the streets may seem absolutely futile, considering the inherent homophobia in our own homes! It also dawned on me that the decriminalisation of same-sex relations by the apex court may not affect the mindset of the people closest to us.
Though it has been an extremely tough battle to get rid of the discriminatory parts of Section 377, the battle to change the mindset of individuals who are still ignorant about the LGBTQ+ community may continue to rage.
The legal progress is supposed to pave the way for social change, but what if it doesn’t? What if my parents never accept me? I have always loved my parents, but how do I reconcile with their disgust towards one pivotal aspect of my identity? We sure have got our right to express our love today, but when will the world love us for who we truly are? If only there was a law to enforce this!
As I swing between being openly gay in one city and closeted in the other, the fear of losing the love of my parents has grown manifold today. The battle in the court is over, but the one at home has just begun.
(Hardeep Singh is a 23-year-old writer and photographer based out of New Delhi.)
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