This is a true story of a student currently studying at IIT Madras. Being the voice of the student body, T5E believes that it is its duty to share his story1. This is a story of acceptance.
Hello. You do not know me. Even the people around me don’t really know me. Because I have a secret, something I’ve kept to my world for a very long time; something I wish to reveal. But not confess; that makes it sound criminal. I need closure and for that, I must be true to myself. So here goes.
Yes, you read that right. I am a homosexual. And everything else you said to pull your friends’ legs when they deviated from unspoken social norms – one does not watch Twilight; one does not stand on adjacent urinals. But I, in contrast to the liberal usage of the word, am gay. Literally. “A person who is sexually attracted to people of their own gender.”
Yes, gay people exist in IITM, not to mention in every other educational institution, in every walk of life. Which shouldn’t be surprising, considering we’re normal folk. But we are insti folk, aren’t we, and we’re all very witty. Homosexuality in college is purely an outlet of comic relief. You call someone gay, you say you’ll be ‘cool’ with it, because you’re oh-so-progressive, and you tease him with another guy (In fact homosexuality has become indispensable in today’s interaction sessions), but deep down you know he’s straight. Then, twenty years down the lane, at the reunion you’ll tell his wife he’s gay and laugh. And I’m still talking about our nation’s pride – IIT.
The idea of homosexuality is confusing, even for us. It can be a horrid experience. Sometimes, its like being convicted for a crime you didn’t commit, and people pretend to not notice you afterwards. You have a built-in secret, courtesy the Man Upstairs. There is no a priori rule for morality in this matter; you assume it’s evil because of the prejudices of the modern Indian patriarch. The internet, your only friend in these matters, is abuzz with forums of support and, rather unfortunately, Christian ministries. I recall this time when I was particularly upset about my ‘handicap‘ and had sent a mail to one of these ministries, expecting some sort of rational explanation. Their reply, strewn with quotes from scripture, was an advice to feel guilty for and repent my transgression. I was thirteen. The feeling of shame and disappointment, forced into us for no fault of ours, is something straight people can thank themselves for never having to face. It took me a while (three years I think) to realize that I’m normal, but when I did, it was unimaginable relief. But only for a brief, vivid moment.
Now, this was when we were all busy cramming for JEE. Yes, those two years when, possibly only when, even straight people are stressed for reasons they shouldn’t be blamed for. Being, shall we say, different, does not allay the situation one bit. I’m here having fallen in love with a heterosexual (Can you see how different it sounds when you refer to ‘ordinary’ people this way?). And the rush you get whenever he calls for questions in Trigonometry is something I’m not sure even my JEE rank brought. The hours you spend contemplating the possibility of a straight man falling in love with you is a distraction, especially when it happens a month before a draconian exam. You eventually learn you deserve better.
Then you arrive at IIT – I’m sorry, the IIT. Excitement is a drab word to describe the sense of achievement and hope for a better ‘intellectual’ life you expect to bask in. All around you are these smart people. The orientation lectures keep reminding you of the amazing life you’ll have. However, the truth dawns very soon. I’m not talking about how I discovered slumber in the classroom – that’s a whole different tale. There are no openly gay people, even in IIT. No, not even a mention of LGBT counseling, in an institute with 5000 teenage boys. The much-hyped GCU is a group of people who, for the most part, just want to add another ‘Position of Responsibility’ to their resumés. As if that was not enough, you have seniors put you through tasks where you learn about the unspoken aspects of society, and more importantly, homosexual hate – vital to being a part of the fraternity. As it happens, a GCU representative proclaimed in self satisfaction, “We want a healthy bro atmosphere in here. Gays can clear off”, to much acclamation from the audience. Me included.
My wingmates exercise hypocrisy when they shriek “Look at those dudes holding hands. Yuck!”, when in contrast, they are far from objectionable to the concept of gay women. Gah – IIT, an institute that claims to house the future leaders of the globalized world, is remarkably like the rest of India. And India has much to thank homosexuality for. For starters, we’re the only ones who have been able to put all religious groups on the same side of a debate.
IIT may not teach you engineering (Yes, Jairam Ramesh), but it teaches you independence very well. In less than a year I turned from “Yay, IIT will support the desolate gay teen that I am!” to “I’m queer and I’m very much here.” I knew it was time. In the cliched voice of a celestial being from a mythological story, I heard myself wanting to come out of the allegorical closet. I couldn’t take any more of these double standards – I had to tell my family, and for this I rehearsed my speech a million times. My sister – she studies Medicine – I knew she’d understand. I phoned her one night and came clean. She was traumatized. She scolded me and said IIT was tampering my head. She ‘advised’ me never to talk about it again, to anyone. Sadly, logic can only take one so far, even for ‘educated’ people. Faith ultimately answers the call whether to believe or not. Back into the shell, little turtle, that’s where you belong. When you hear yourself saying aloud you’re gay however, it changes you. The years you spent reading teenage magazines praying for a reaction, the sleepless nights you spent crying in vain for God to set you straight, the indignity of being branded as the one who let down his parents, brutally dashing their dream of seeing their only son’s biological baby playing in their laps. You grow stronger. But, I tried again, confident in my naivete.
Although, this time with lesser hesitance. I told my closest female friend and, to my relief, she understood. She said she’d support me no matter who I was. Not a man would have loved a woman the way I loved that girl that day.
I was soon becoming bolder, and I began to take a stand. For instance, I no longer shut my windows while watching Desperate Housewives. One night, I even debated with my mother on how I thought Hindus were sexist when they wouldn’t permit women into the Sabarimala temple. I must have crossed a line, for my mother asked “You have extremely radical views. What next, you’re going to tell me you’re gay?” Caught unawares, I blurted that it was a normal phenomenon and changed the topic to how nice it was of the neighbor to offer her a lift to office that day. That semester ended sooner than expected, like life was seated in a theatre with popcorn, watching me keenly. My parents, my life-givers, my unconditional lovers. They deserved to know and I just had to tell them. I sat them down one night and said that I’ve been meaning to tell them something. I said I really missed playing cards with them. They laughed and brought in a pack. I wasn’t concentrating. Bad jokes about how bad IITians are at Rummy. We ended the game, with Dad concluding he’s capable of thulping (forgive me) the JEE. Laughing, he went to sleep.
It was my Mom and me. Always the observant parent, she asked what the matter was. I lost my calm, saying I had problems and life in IIT is not as happily-ever-after as you’d expect. Blood rushed through my head. She asked for me to elaborate, so she can ‘help.’ I said she couldn’t. She pleaded. She said she wanted to know what was bothering her child. That was when I did it. Just like that, I told her. Watching your mother weep is something, but when she bursts out about how she doesn’t understand what went ‘wrong’ with her perfect upbringing, that I should have ‘this disease’, and what happened at IIT that makes the ‘good boy’ with the perfect record in school talk this way – you wonder if you’re made of stone to survive. I told her I’d give her all the time she needs. I’d even let her take me to the doctors just so she’s assured I’m all right. My mother did her groundwork – she told my Dad, (Thank god it didn’t have to be me) she called up a few doctors and set up an appointment.
We went to his office. The office of an andrologist. What?! I didn’t protest though, it was too important for me to act cooperative. A portrait of a prominent Godman hung by. A chill down my spine. We entered his office. I let them speak to him. They spoke about how shocking and embarrassing they find the whole situation, how they think the internet is corrupting society and how they really want him to fix me. The doctor laughed “These days, kids are being exposed to too much of this nonsense. They think it’s a fashion. Kali Yuga, I tell you!” and beckoned me inside. I went. He followed. He made a weird, inappropriate gesture. I stared blankly. There was a physical exam, his method of testing if there was something anatomically amiss. I passed; and that led him to the conclusion it was a mental issue. He told my parents “He’s normal! Don’t worry at all. This is a passing phase, he’ll get over it. Get him to see a psychiatrist. He’s a bright boy, see, he’s even willing to change!” I was silent from the shock of having been strip searched just a few moments back. Not a word from me for the rest of the day. The next morning, I mustered as much dignity as I could and asked to be taken to the best psychologist in town, the absolute best. We went to an extremely posh clinic, I was glad. Momentarily that is. Three sessions. Three hours of me at my debating best, three hours of me explaining how it’s just like heterochromia, how there’s a reason I’d been collected shirtless Salman Khan pictures from when I was ten, how the society thought of left-handedness as evil too but later encouraged it. He agreed with me on everything. “That’s right, but you have to make the right choice. Listen to your parents,” he ended. Three thousand bucks from my Dad’s pocket spent talking to one of the best psychologists in India, and what did we conclude? I shouldn’t read too much on the internet; I should concentrate on my studies.
But I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t need anyone, professional or otherwise, to tell me what I’m doing is right. I shot off mails to a bunch of friends in IIT, those who had always expressed open curiosity about my sexual orientation, but whom I hoped would understand. They were very supportive. And then I told more people. And more people. I got a wide range of reactions, from disbelief to respect, rejection to awe. Yes, there are homophobes in IIT but, more importantly, there are progressive people too. Which brings me hope. Sure, IIT isn’t what I wanted it to be, but then, nothing’s perfect, right? I am here, after all, with the privilege of being able to recount my tale on the voice of the student body. I’ve had classmates tell me how wonderful they think being gay is. I’ve had professors express their support for homosexuality. That is how I retire to bed each day, knowing I will sleep in peace. I may have been through a lot – depression, guilt, shame. Evangelism, medical examinations, social ostracization. But when I read another mail calling my story ‘inspiring,’ I know there will be a time when the freshman gay will admit himself freely during his introduction sessions, when he will sheepishly grin and talk about his crush on the young actor in his favourite TV Show with his roommates listening, without cringing. And with this vision of the future, I rest.
1The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Fifth Estate or IIT Madras. For specific queries and feedback, leave a message or mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.