SAATHII Calcutta LGBT Support Centre Says: Sharing is Growing!
Share a personal story. Share your experiences – sweet, bitter or bittersweet. Your story may change someone's life or touch a hundred others' and bring people closer to you. Give them a chance to know you better!
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1. The Moment that Stayed
The very mention of the word “story” seems to imply that the narration is fictitious. In that sense perhaps this experience of mine does not qualify as a “story”. However, if a story is to mean a narration which has a unique mysticism of its own and which transports you to a world that is fascinating and sweeps you off your feet without warning, then what follows is definitely a story – a real life one!
I will appreciate if readers write in their comments, views, feelings, similar experiences and contrasting experiences, anything they may wish to convey.
It was four and a half years ago – the autumn of 2000. I was on a flight to Delhi, a little out of sorts, thinking about the happenings of the previous evening. I had not expected Indrajit to behave so insensitively. I did not envisage stereotypical relationships in my life based on heterosexual patterns. However, I hated stereotypes of a different type amidst the world of homosexuals too. I hated stereotypes, period.
Indrajit had seemed to be someone who had brought freshness to my life. The few times I met him never degenerated into mundane talks of “What's your size?” or “Top or bottom?” He had made me feel like a person and not only a body.
All that was shattered in a moment last evening. “What a piddly size you have!” he had commented, and then, without warning, roughly held the back of my head and pushed it into his crotch. “Suck dammit. I said SUCK, asshole!!”
“Sir, please fasten your seatbelt. We are about to land.” Even the airhostess' stern request was so soothing in comparison to what was ringing in my ears all this while. Delhi was new for me and I was fed up of workshops on sexuality. The only factor that attracted me was the fact that a major portion of the workshop was to be held in the lovely sleepy hill station of Naukuchiyatal. This would perhaps serve as a balm to my troubled mind.
The workshop was very different from what I had expected. No papers, no boards, no lectures, no discussions, it was a heart-to-heart sharing of feelings and experiences – no holds barred. Believe me, lots poured out from people's love bowls. My loneliness seemed to vanish in a moment only to deepen further when I would be sitting near the lake. All the participants had to go through a number of soul-searching exercises. These were more of revelations for me than anything else. It was as if I was a small but beautiful being, unseen and undiscovered, lying under many veils. The lifting of each veil revealed more of me to myself. With the revelation of my own beauty, however, came also the understanding of how lonely I was.
One afternoon, I was lost in these thoughts during a workshop session, when one of the organizers started pairing off the 16 participants. She said it was going to be a very intense exercise and no words were to be used in the entire exercise. The person I was paired with was a guy called Pramod. He was an inch or two shorter than me, a year or so younger, stocky and well built. There was a searching look in his eyes that gave the sense that he wanted to say a lot. But his face was calm and he wore a most soothing smile.
The exercise was something I was not ready for. We were asked to imagine that the person before us was the one we loved most in the entire world and that this was our final meeting. We were first asked to look into each other's eyes. Then the lights dimmed, an atmosphere was created, soft music played on, instructions floated into our ears for a while and then I heard nothing more. Soon, I felt Pramod and me were the only people in the large room.
Before I knew it, we were locked in a passionate embrace. The action could have been involuntary, but it was part of the instructions going on in the background. Pramod was holding me as if I was a long lost love he had never imagined he would ever find. My cheek could feel the assuring warmth of his clean-shaven cheek. My heart was crazily beating beside his. Our beings had crystallized into one. We lost all sense of time and place. It seemed we had known each other for ages and that no force on earth could separate us any more. How long we must have stayed like that. I had wished the evening would never end.
End it did, but the feelings never set. They were feelings I could perhaps never put completely into words. Words would lose their meaning if I described what I felt that evening. It had washed away all my grievances, all the remorse I had been feeling till then.
Two days later the workshop ended. During those two days Pramod had hardly spoken to me, neither did I. Our eyes did all the communication. His smug satisfied smile did all the talking whenever we crossed paths.
Back in Delhi, it was time for separation. He pulled me close to his heart, put his cheek against mine and said, “Take care of yourself.” He vanished into noisy Old Delhi soon after and that was the last I saw of him, but we did keep in touch. I sent him small little gifts every year for his birthday and he would send me e-mails saying it was very sweet of me. Then, one day, I heard his voice again. He called me and we spoke for a while. Then he called again. Once more, later.
My close friends ask me whether I am in love. I say I do not know. Some say there is no future to this relationship. I say I do not care. I tell them, I do not know whether Pramod is gay or straight, I do not know whether we will ever meet again and whether we will ever have sex or a relationship. I just know that Pramod is a moment in my life – a moment that will last forever – a moment that will not change with the new bedsheet I use tomorrow. I just know that I am happy – very, very HAPPY! And isn't that what all of us want to be?
Contributor: Sanjay, Calcutta
2. I'm not “straight”, and I don't want to be
“Please help, somebody please help!” In spite of his shouting no one even looked at the young guy who had come to a puja pandal along with two of his friends. All of them were surrounded by at least 10 other guys who were beginning to get violent.
When I look back, the experience really seems to be a nightmare that has left its strong effect behind forever. But why did such a thing happen? Is it only because those three guys were effeminate? It was their good fortune, which helped them run away from that place after all the harassment. But there have been incidents that even took lives. So, the ultimate question is where are we going? Is this the civilization our ancestors had been fighting for over the years? Is there anybody who knows the answer?
The answer lies within us. It is humanity that can teach us how to respect others in order to get respect. If we can stick to our principles and if we can begin serving ourselves and the community or people in the society living in distress, so called straight people would realize that we also have much to give to society.
Therefore, my message to my community: Please explore yourselves, identify the qualities within you and begin utilizing these in a proper manner. You all possess various talents and some people of our community who believe in a different kind of gender or sexual orientation have already proved this. Believing in an alternative gender or sexual identity is not a crime. So, the problem is not yours at all. Hence, don't hide your talents or yourselves but try to come out in true spirit to serve yourself and your community. From my own experience I have realized this fact of life.
Presently I am contributing towards the improvement of the condition of my community. Though usually I don't get any leisure time, if I manage to find some time I try to utilize it for my only interest and that is music. We generally think about our today, but from now onwards let's try to plan for our tomorrow as well. I strongly believe that if I can overcome my past painful experiences you all can also do that. So, love yourselves, love your community and utilize your talents and you will discover a different world.
The world is beautiful with all its resources. All you have to do is to filter these for your benefit. We are beautiful people with beautiful minds. Just be confident and believe in yourselves and the world will be yours!
Contributor: Amitava, Calcutta
3. Campus Changemakers (1): The Silent Catalyst
"Since when have guys from Bhagu started getting in here!" Bhagu is a popular short name for Calcutta 's Bhawanipur Gujarati Education Society College from where I graduated with a degree in commerce. But I did not quite expect it to be uttered with so much contempt, least of all by another Calcuttan and that too on my first day at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.
Entering TISS had been a big decision for me. After years of soul searching, I had finally decided to take up social work as my career option. This decision did not come to me easily and put me against the wishes of my middle class professional family, which would have liked me to complete my Chartered Accountancy (CA)
course. But joining TISS was a good break from the CA course in which I was just not interested.
I entered TISS with great expectations and big dreams. I was very optimistic about being in TISS and was sure to utilize my two years in there in getting to know and in building myself up. TISS, for those who do not know, is a premium social sciences institute of India. It is known for being a pioneer in social work education, practice and research, with an underlining philosophy of supporting marginalized sections of society. I was sure TISS would have an understanding and sensitive atmosphere, which would be accepting of my non-heterosexuality.
The initial few days were fine. I had not come out to anyone as yet, but people could guess about me as I and another friend of mine would try to bring up the sexuality dimension in class room discussions. To begin with, most of the faculty and students had no idea how to react. With time, however, things improved to the extent that there would be no uncomfortable silence when a point on right to sexuality would be raised, or a human rights violation involving sexual minorities would be shared.
Yet, things were far from open as most of the people would just keep quiet during these discussions. This was something that was not healthy. Some of my friends and I felt that we needed to initiate discussion on sexuality issues to make people talk, become aware of their biases and to accept diversity in sexuality. We initiated a common interest group (CIG) on gender and sexuality with some students as its members. Apart from initiating discussions, the CIG started publicizing Gay Bombay events, organized a talk with gay activists of the Humsafar Trust, Mumbai and screened films that were part of Larzish, a film festival on gender and sexuality issues in Mumbai.
All this led to a homophobic reaction from a number of students, especially the one who had made light of my Bhagu credentials. He would make fun of me, tease me and once he even threatened to sexually assault me. I did not understand why he was doing this to me as in the beginning he had appeared to be quite friendly. Later, I was to discover that I was not the only one at the receiving end. He behaved even worse with a friend of his who was not “masculine”.
I decided against making a complaint. For me this was not a personal problem, but a larger issue of the institute's failure to inculcate in its students sensitivity towards all. Complaining would not have helped as my fellow student might have been punished, but he would probably have remained homophobic. I believe a lot of systemic failure goes into making a person behave the way he was behaving, and I could not put the entire blame on him. In addition to all this, my complaining could have backfired. I was new in TISS and had no support system, while he was a year senior to me and could have made my situation really bad.
Moreover, I did not want to be tagged as “gay”. There is more to me than my sexuality and reporting against him could have led to my being straight jacketed into the image of a gay person. I decided on a different course of action. I spoke to a couple of senior students and apprised them of the situation and my decision. I along with my friends continued with awareness generation and sensitization activities on sexuality issues through the CIG. I also made my displeasure known to my tormentor indirectly, through some common friends. All this had the effect of stopping him in his tracks.
Later in the year, during the institute's annual academic festival, two senior friends (second year students) made a paper presentation on prejudices against sexual minorities in the TISS campus. They interviewed me and another friend for the paper, which won the third prize at a national paper presentation competition organised as part of the academic festival. The recommendations made in the paper were submitted to the Director of TISS.
It was at this time that I approached the institute authorities and spoke about my experiences. They were quite forthcoming and helpful. The findings of the paper had already showed up the dismal performance of the institute in creating a safe, sensitive and understanding environment for sexual minorities. By now, as I started my second year in TISS, I had developed a good rapport with my seniors and my batch mates. I had friendly relations with some of the faculty as well.
Thanks to the CIG's continuous efforts, the attitude in the campus towards sexuality diversity had at the very least become responsible, even if not totally accepting. People had started talking about gender and sexuality issues. This created an opportunity for us to ask for concrete policy measures from the institute's side. These came in the form of the Director's welcome speech to the next batch of first year students. The Director said that TISS believed in equal opportunity, and that this equality extended to sexual minorities as well. He said so thrice in his speech.
In my second year at TISS, we continued with the activities of the CIG. We organised talks, film screenings (“My Bother Nikhil”) and workshops. We also organized a panel discussion on sexuality rights as part of our annual academic festival.
To top it all, as I prepared to leave TISS at the end of two very eventful years, we were informed that beginning with the new batch, students of all departments of the institute would have to take a basic course on sexuality! I sincerely wished this was just a beginning . . .
Contributor: Gulrez, Bhopal
4. Campus Changemakers (2): Being Piku and Being Fine
Being a doctor was never my preferred choice. It was sheer (mis)fortune that landed me in the profession. However at the end of the six years I spent at the Calcutta National Medical College, I feel it wasn't that bad either. After all it was my college that had instilled in me the courage to be a content gay man out of a morose depressed boy that I was at the end of my terrifying school years where I was ostracized repeatedly after coming out to my classmates in class seven.
I never chose to be gay just as my parents never chose to be straight. But I definitely chose to remain gay (literally so!), as a straight jacket (which was definitely never mine) would have suffocated me to death much before I would have breathed my last.
I came out to one of my friends (a girl), and subsequently to others in my second year of college. The grown up kids in the college never reacted like my pals at school. They were receptive, supportive and at least unbothered by the fact that one of their batch mates was gay! Many popular misconceptions that only girls can be best friends, or that only a gay person can feel the agony of another, and the like, broke and moulded as I passed through this wonderful journey in college.
We had a short vacation following our second year board finals. We planned to make a film in the spare time with the minimal resources we managed to bring together (which included a handy-cam for shooting and a friend's house as venue). We got the necessary financial and networking support from SAATHII. We made a film called "Piku Bhalo Achhey" (Piku Is Fine), which was an autobiographical sketch of a gay boy's journey into self-acceptance. This was the time I felt the need to come out to my mother. I decided to play honest.
A lady in her mid-forties from a conservative Bengali family took time to accept that her son was gay. But when she agreed to play the role of Piku's mother in my film (where I played the role of Piku), I knew she was acting out her acceptance.
Thereafter there was no looking back. My mother and other friends feared persecution from my college authorities when my interviews started coming out in the media. Many of my friends who took an active part in the making of the film, refused to be seen in the same frame with me in news articles. When however the media reacted with applause, much of their apprehension was gone.
A second round of fight began when I was studying the clinical subjects. The sheer lack of information and concern about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues among the faculty had often led to long drawn arguments between my teachers and me. I remember teasing the nerve out of a senior professor of the psychiatry department for making a homophobic comment at a seminar on adolescent health issues. In the end she had to admit that she was wrong.
A bigger ride of success came when I managed to secure the single seat that was reserved for house-staffship in the psychiatry department. Now, I feel so content when a patient comes to me with the complaint of being homosexual, and after a few rounds of counselling goes back confidently to search for his heartthrob! At the same time, not all the staff of our department are sensitive to sexuality issues, and I enjoy the little verbal fights that I often have to put across my views.
However, another realization that has surfaced through these experiences is that, support of any form can come mixed with unwanted sympathy or pretensions. The best support is the one, I feel, that comes from your own heart - when Piku stands in front of the mirror, faces himself, and says "Piku is fine".
Contributor: Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta, Calcutta.
5. Campus Changemakers (3): Some Serious Fun on an Outing
I was in the first semester of the first year of the Masters in Social Work course at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. We had a generic "skills / methods" class called "community organization". The first year batch of about 125 people was divided into two and taught by a teacher each, for about a couple of hours every week. So in the first week, we had some general discussion on learning to do a bigger-picture analysis of specific situations or "problems". It was funny that the teacher with us kept thinking I was sleeping in her class, and I would give her hardcore feminist analyses of whatever we were discussing at that time just after we'd argued about whether I was really asleep or not! (She also turned out to be my fieldwork supervisor for the year ultimately, but that's a different story).
So, the next week we listed the word/s for "community" in as many different languages as possible while working in smaller groups. By the third week's class, we had come to the conclusion that there were two kinds of "community" - one that defined itself and you (that is, any individual) on such common bases that it included you into itself whether or not you liked or wanted it, and the other was when you (as an individual) identified with a group or community of others on some similarly common bases. So our teacher then proceeded to ask us to name communities and explain how as an individual any of us were part of it or not. The usual "Maithil-speaking", "Brahmin-community", "community of artists or dancers", "Left-leaning" and the like came in as responses.
As this continued, my friend sitting at the front of the classroom and I at the back, looked across at each other and laughed, thinking how we had felt attending our first Gay Bombay film festival show the previous day, and how we felt this day - two queer persons who hadn't really even thought beyond it being just the "LGBT" community! But yes, for us "Community" meant something more than any of the other communities - language, region, ethnicity or religion-bound - that we were also part of and / or identified with, and especially at that moment amongst all those people and the discussion in that classroom.
My friend had already had a chance to speak, so when we both put up our hands after that glance across 50 heads, I was asked to speak by the teacher. I explained how the "straight" and most-often heterosexist-homophobic community defined itself differently from the LGBT community, and claimed that the latter be listed down on the board, too. Our teacher looked a bit perplexed and before I could continue, a few people who were friendly with me because they perceived some educational and urban-regional affinities (with me) turned towards me, laughed and said: "But you are supposed to say something you are part of . . . ha-ha-ha!"
Our teacher said, "That's what I had wanted too, but I'll write it down anyway". I cut across the laughter saying: "I don't see anything particularly funny about what I'm saying, because I'm bisexual and I am part of the LGBT community with pride". There was stunned silence in the classroom after that.
During the hourly break, I got some very funny and diverse reactions, like the patriarch (literally!) of the batch who was looking me up-and-down in the most peculiar and confused way possible, the apparently "urban and hip" "friends" who had laughed earlier and didn't seem to know where to look now, and the girl who came up to me and asked me to explain to her what LGBT meant.
I loved it. Of course, when I alone applied to be Junior Student Representative on the Gender Amity Committee (TISS' equivalent of the UGC and state-mandated Committee Against Sexual Harassment), meetings were called in the men's hostel (by the aforementioned patriarch) to "prepare ourselves against that feminist you-know-what weirdo". Some women (since I was then in the all-women's hostel) also asked me while sitting around in the common-space in the evenings, with nervous little laughs: "So, I hope you're not going to jump on me . . . are you?" I would just respond with: "No, you're just not my type, actually."
Later, my friend and I started a study circle on gender and sexuality issues, invited people from organizations to run a course on masculinities on campus, and organized talks on sexuality minority rights (where we also got acquainted with the patriarchal politics of gay men, by the way). As student representative on the Gender Amity Committee, I also pushed for inclusion of issues of harassment on basis of sexuality identity, and managed to garner support from some faculty members. I felt extremely happy when the Director of TISS included sexual orientation (in those very words) amongst the grounds on which discrimination was institutionally not condoned, during his orientation speech to the batch of students junior to us (that is, beginning of our second year).
It was also quite a struggle to get my chosen research or dissertation topic "approved" (looking at gender and power relations in the sexuality rights movements in India, through a study of LGBTQ groups), to find a willing guide, to educate faculty, management and students alike on issues of gender, sexuality and violence from and with a left-liberal, queer-feminist approach, and to carry on relationships within a small campus! I made queer friends, and many "non-queer" people found that they could be friends with me too.
I was disappointed that none of our juniors was out, even within the small queer circle that existed. But there were also some tiny things that were very important to me, like a friend coming out to other friends at the very end of our time at TISS (I was happy that she could and did choose to come out to people other than "out" me, and also that she told them she felt that if we hadn't talked about these issues, she would probably never have even been able to come to terms with her own particular sexuality identity).
There was also the instance of the "patriarch" batch mate, who insisted in our second year that a queer rights activist be invited to speak at our social work students' annual academic festival. But what made me happiest was that when homophobic students' questions were answered beautifully and strongly by that speaker, the two people who clapped the loudest and cheered the most were two "straight" men, one of whom had laughed at me in that "community organization" class, and the other, my then partner -who had struggled for a long time to understand that I was and am a bisexual woman, no matter how "normally heterosexual" our relationship otherwise appeared (to him, simply because he was the heterosexual man in it, and I was "the woman").
Yes, coming out is important, tough and only the beginning of a lifetime of articulating one's identity - especially and even if it's "just" on a campus. But, you know what? It can be fun, too!
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Illustrations courtesy: Dum Dum Swikriti Society, Kolkata