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Life Coming out to myself and my culture

Jan. 16, 2020
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The conversation I never expected to happen was waiting for me at the bottom of my staircase on the morning of August 17th, 2018. I always thought that I’d orchestrate something elaborate when I came out, but the deadline I’d given myself to come out was quickly approaching. And being the procrastinator that I am, I had nothing planned—so naturally, I decided to come out via my college essay.

Yes, I was one of those kids. I wrote my college essay about being gay. Sue me. I had to set myself apart from the other Indian boys applying to college somehow. More importantly, I made a crucial mistake in the process. I sent my mom a copy of my essay late at night so I could wake up early and come out to her before she read it. But then I slept in, and instead of getting downstairs before everyone else, I was the last one down the next morning. As I approached the living room, I heard sniffling—but when I walked in, it went dead silent. The air felt heavy. I slowly sat down on the couch, reaching for my dog and bringing her onto my lap.

Before my brain could even process what I was doing, the words spilled out of my mouth: "Mom, I'm gay." That was the first time I’d ever said those words out loud. Time slowed as I glanced around the room, looking from my dad to my brother to my mom. She burst into tears, while my dad and brother continually reassured me about their love and acceptance. After a few minutes, my mom managed to tell me how much she loved me. Then, a confession: upon reading my essay that morning, she felt worried that she’d done something during my childhood to affect my sexuality.

That last part snapped me back to the moment. I was, of course, incredibly, unspeakably grateful for my family’s support—but also, had something caused me to turn out like this? 

It was only after several months and countless sleepless nights that I began to see where her comment and my insecurities about my gayness were stemming from—my culture. I’d never really thought that my culture could impact me. I’m ethnically Indian, as are both my parents. India is a country mainly populated by Hinduism, a religion that doesn't explicitly detest homosexuality. Still, though, being gay is culturally stigmatized; until recently, same-sex PDA was punishable with prison time in India. I grew up hearing my grandmother and people on the street claim they were going to stop supporting certain Bollywood actors who’d just come out because what they were doing was wrong. That word wrong always stuck with me. Like, what was so wrong? Was my existence wrong then? These painful, confusing, ever-lingering questions definitely resulted in me repressing my sexuality. I’m sure of it.

My ethnic culture wasn’t the only thing that affected my sexuality and coming out, though. I don't think my parents ever meant any harm in the comments they made while raising my brother and me, but—but—their comments left a lasting mark. I was brought up in an extremely heteronormative area, one where every kid was considered straight until proven otherwise. I was no exception, and so I still received typical Indian parent comments: "You better hope your wife can cook that. Your wife is going to be so lucky that you can make desserts for her. When you get married to her, make sure..." I started to worry about acting too gay and outing myself in any way—from what I wore to how I spoke to how I behaved. My culture and my upbringing were actively invalidating my sexuality and my identity. How could I truly accept myself when everything around me was telling me that my identity was wrong?

I still don't know if I’ve entirely accepted the fact that I’m a gay man. But I am proud to say that I’m comfortable enough in my skin to express my sexuality. I don't think I would’ve ever made it to this point without the truly supportive family and friends I have; I was lucky enough to have a support net to fall into when I started exploring my sexuality. But reconciling my sexual and cultural identities is an ongoing fight—one which will only end when I can proudly tell the world and myself that I’m a gay Indian man.