Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters Abhishek Mande
How do you tell your parents you're a homosexual? Such an admission can shake up the closest-knit family. Darshan Sathe* shares his story.
Even as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has been read down to decriminalise same sex behaviour, the country continues to remain polarised on the issue.
Homosexuality is still considered a taboo in large parts of Indian society.
Here, Darshan Sathe shares his experience of owning up to his sexual orientation -- how he confided in his friends, his parents took it and finally, how it affected his state of mental well-being:
I must have been about four years old when I zeroed in on a particular activity as a favourite pastime, especially during the summer holidays.
I used to dig into my sister's wardrobe and pick out a particular blue frock with floral prints and I used to dress up as a girl -- complete with a bindi, lipstick and whatever little makeup I could gaudily put together. I loved looking at myself in the mirror like that.
One fine day my parents caught me. Though my mother didn't make much of it (or at least didn't show it), my father insulted me.
The incident remained etched in my mind.
I often ask myself if my obsession with that pretty little frock was my first realisation of the feminine side within me. Perhaps it was.
Incidentally, I am not a cross-dresser.
While I was growing up, like everyone else, I watched Madhuri Dixit gyrate to Ek Do Teen. But unlike a lot of boys my age, I actually loved dancing to it and would do so at the drop of a hat.
The audience, often family members and sometimes neighbours, would applaud. But even at that tender age, I wondered if there was a hint of mockery in that applause.
*Name changed to protect privacy
I am often asked 'When did you first realise?'
Photographs: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Reuters
I come from a conservative family. So any kind of sex education was out of the question (can you imagine the horror of the very idea?). As far as I know, we never had a talk about the proverbial 'birds and bees'.
Even the human anatomy in textbooks had a kind of blur around the reproductive organs.
Porn wasn't very easily accessible then as it is now.
Along the way, I developed effeminate characteristics.
Of course, none of this ever went unnoticed. My friends never lost an opportunity to call me names.
Incidentally I also never played any of the 'guy sports' like soccer and cricket. However, I was very good at racquet sports like badminton and tennis.
I am often asked 'When did you first realise?'
The answer is: I don't know!
I suppose sometime in school, while growing up, I just figured.
But the day I came across the word 'homosexual' in the dictionary, I instinctively knew I was one.
That day, I knew I had a secret. And I was not sure I wanted to share it with anyone.
As it happened, much the way friends become best friends, my friend told me some of his secrets, which were shocking enough to possibly nullify my shock value.
So I wrote out a letter to him, explaining how I liked him and I told him I was homosexual.
Of course I suffixed it with the general, 'it's not my fault if God made me this way'.
We were travelling in a local bus when I slid the letter to him, requesting him to read it at home.
Curious, he read it then and there and simply said this: "I knew it. Mujhe kuch farak nahi padta (It makes no difference to me)".
I was happy to have received that reaction. But I was more touched by the second part of his statement -- 'It makes no difference to me'.
And he's stuck to it. To this day, he has never once made me feel different.
So much so he knows of my taste in men. It's fun when he spots someone and says, "Yeh tere type ka hai (He's your type)!"
'Like a hopeless lover, I fell in love with a classmate'
Photographs: Kurt Lowenstein Educational Center International Team, Germany/Wikimedia Commons
I have to confess, coming to terms with my sexuality has been a task.
When the going was good it never made a difference, except of course the time when people would notice my slightly feminine demeanour.
I was a very bright student, that is if we irrationally equate 'brightness' with good academic performance. I was good at a few sports. But I was also a very good orator and a good quizzer -- just the kind of kid that many of the supermoms would kill for.
I always vied for perfection. So much so that it became an obsession, which wasn't attended to.
So the question of coming to terms with my sexuality only happened when the going was not good, in fact bad.
Just like any hopeless lover, I fell in love with a classmate.
It started as friendship and unknowingly translated into love. I was in college at the time and neither of us was mature enough to deal with the situation.
For a brief while, the feeling was mutual, though only on a platonic level. Then all of a sudden he shut me off. To this day I have never completely understood why he did that.
So while all this was happening, the superkid started losing his interest in studies. My perfectionism came in my way of attempting to write any exam I couldn't top. First I didn't appear for one paper, then another one and this went on.
It began to escalate and I started sliding into a state of depression.
I started popping pills and in no time, what was a case of situational depression turned into a bipolar disorder.
Don't most people fail in love? But it took me over completely.
It was during this time that the question of coming to terms with my sexuality started bothering me.
Have I come to terms with it today? I suppose to a large extent I have.
My sister asked,
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
About two years ago, on the eve of my elder sister's engagement, I decided to share this secret with her.
By then a few people had already known and were fine with it.
I assumed, since my sister belonged to my generation, she would relate to me too. I also suppose I wanted her to know about this before she left the house to go to her in-laws'.
So I did.
And she asked, "What is gay?"
Then in some cheeky way, I told her what exactly it is.
Like all brides-to-be, she panicked. She told our immediate family about it, our extended family about it and even the family of her fiance!
At the time, my mother wasn't keeping too well -- that affected her state of mind. Unfortunately, she doesn't recount any of these events!
But when she did learn about it, I remember there was a single tear. Then she hugged me. If at all I do discuss something remotely related to homosexuality, she has been quite receptive.
My father, on the other hand, was thoroughly scandalised. When I tried to tell him that it wasn't a big deal, it would lead to huge scenes in the house.
In retrospect, I realise he never knew how to react to the situation at all.
He would come up with all kinds of 'schemes' that he hoped would rid me of this 'mental whim'. He said I was just making a big deal of something really trivial.
On one occasion, he came up with the idea of hiring an 'upper-class prostitute' to 'let me experience the joy' of heterosexual sex.
What he didn't know was by that time I had been there and done that.
'Dad turned to religion'
Photographs: rt69, Flickr.com (Queereaster)/Wikimedia Commons
After months of tension-filled days, my father began to empathise with my condition.
Like every middle class person would, he turned to religion, which taught him certain facts about homosexuality.
Slowly but surely he began to come to terms with the idea of homosexuality. He talked to me about Lord Shiva's 'ardh-nareshwar' avatar that is worshipped by all eunuchs and the part of Arjuna's life where he lived incognito as a eunuch.
I was also quite surprised to discover that many Hindu scriptures don't consider man-to-man love as taboo.
Today, my father and I have reached a point where we can live under the same roof and not kill each other. Which is saying something.
The depression I'd slipped into a few years ago has turned clinical. I pop ten pills every day to deal with it. He makes sure I take those pills. My father often tells me that people don't know me as his son, as much as he is known as my father!
My sister and I, though, are not on talking terms. I do hope we come around. She was always proud of me and my achievements.
One of my maternal aunts told my parents, "After all the joy he gave you as a young boy (I was an overachiever, after all) had I been his parent, I'd keep him happy even if he was a vegetable."
So I am still hoping everybody just takes this subject lightly.
After all this, if someone asks me if I felt better after coming out to my parents, my answer would be no.
My parents come from a generation where such ideas are shocking to say the least. As for my sister, all I can say is for a person who doesn't know the meaning of 'gay', meeting someone who is could be quite unsettling. Especially if that person happens to be your brother!
I also suppose I should blame our education system that refused to educate us on these issues.
We were taught poems by Oscar Wilde but no one told us he was gay. I completed my computer engineering without knowing the Father of Artificial Intelligence (modern computer science) Alan Turing was gay too. Education needs to spell it out -- a man-to-man relationship is homosexual and man-to-woman is heterosexual. It could be handled more intellectually.
'I don't think I have fallen out of love'
A certain incident that really took me by shock happened recently. I saw two young boys, not older than six, in the garden.
They had a little fight and one of them started teasing the other, "Dhwanit is a girl!"
Outraged, the other child shot back: "Aadi is gay!"
Both of them come from IB schools and surely seem to attend sex education classes, but neither seemed to be aware that it isn't wrong or bad to be homosexual.
There are days when I think about my future and I see very bleak prospects. I certainly won't get married under social pressures, enjoy my heterosexual stint and then get back to my roots by living a discreet homosexual life.
I am aware that this is very common these days, but I cannot live with the guilt of cheating with a woman who'd choose to be my wife and my kids (yes, homosexual men can have children with women too!) for the rest of my life.
I often think that there will come a time when my parents will be gone, there won't be any family to speak of and I will be alone.
Even if gay marriages are legalised in India, I am not sure I see myself taking that step, because even though I may have come to terms with my sexuality, I don't think I have been able to fall out of love with my first boyfriend from back in college.
Meanwhile, for what it is worth, life goes on.
As far as work is concerned, I have got myself back together -- well, sort of.
I do see a psychiatrist once every two months. We are trying to work out a solution to my problems.
I was a lecturer in a college for quite some time and took up a job in an IT firm.
What I want to do is make enough money to survive. I intend to write a book someday. Maybe perhaps script a movie and have it made by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu!
What do I dream about? I want to be an achiever and have people admire me and after being in complete awe, know about my sexuality so they know that homosexuality isn't what they perceive it to be -- pink parties, gay parades, exhibitionism, drama queens, Bobby Darlings, or gay movies which always have one dying of AIDS and another ending up in a depression.
Maybe some day people can quote me as an example --
You dyslexic? So was Einstein!
You failed in your board exams? So did Sachin Tendulkar!
You gay? Guess what, so was Darshan.