“I will live with this guilt forever.”

By Anonymous | An undergraduate student from Ashoka University writes about coming to terms with his queerness.

The Indian Express | The Quint

6th of September, 2018.

I haven’t slept the whole night. I am tired and restless. I can’t concentrate in my class. I try and participate, but can hardly speak up because my throat is dry with fear. I skip my next class, because I do not want to disrespect my Professor. As I walk up and down the room, I am transported to something that happened four years ago.

I had just finished my 10th standard and was entering the 11th. I was being forced to take up the JEE Mains and Advanced Training. I started out, and discovered that it was not my cup of tea. But dropping out was never an option for me. I had to continue. This was the first time I was going to live in a boy’s hostel. At the time, I was very confused about myself. Somehow, accidentally, I had discovered gay porn (I did not know what it was called then). But then, my parents had never been comfortable talking about sex. It had always been the ‘that which must not be named’ thing in our house. So I never brought it up.

Today, I am able to articulate this better. While all my friends were trying to find ways to woo girls in our batch, I somehow couldn’t stop thinking about men. Seeing my (really cute) roommate strip down to his underwear everyday was awakening a very different feeling in me. I was not even sure what space was about then. I used to take ten minutes extra to brush just so I could stare at all the other men on my floor in their towels or underwear. I had no one to talk to about this back then. Some of my friends had even started dating. This made me really want to date someone too. But I had never heard of a man dating another man. So I assumed it was something that never happened.

But I really wanted someone to talk to. Someone older (as I write this, I realise that I am so much into older men). An older brother, maybe. A brother whom I could cross my boundaries with. Someone I was comfortable fantasising being sexual with, because I imagined sibling relationships like that — no secrets, and in absolute comfort with each other. I never had one of my own, and so I created a world where I had a big brother — tall, handsome and very loving. I started talking to him in my head. Started opening my heart unto him. Started fantasising being in the shower with him, hugging him to sleep, jerking off with him. All this, of course, when I was alone. And this was my little secret.

One day this secret came tumbling out. When I was writing a letter to my imaginary brother, one of my closest friends walked in, and asked me about the letter. I told him everything, except the sex part. I described my fantasy world to him. And it was only after he left that I realised what a big mistake I had made. And before I could call him back, he had gone and told his friend circle about my brother. And I thought it was way too late to clarify. Afterwards, I had to tell a hundred different lies to cover one up. Eventually, some bit of the sexual also slipped out. While I realised it was wrong to lie to my friends by telling them a fantasy that only existed in my head, I never had the courage to tell them the truth. My ego did not let me. And finally, one day, it all came tumbling down. One of my friends met my mother when she came to pick me up from the hostel. He asked her about my brother, and she denied his existence. I was able to save the whole thing from falling apart in front of mom, but my friends did not spare me. They confronted me in the bus, and I was given a dressing down.

That day, I opened up about everything. I tried explaining why I had even made up a person like an older brother to begin with. But none of my friends wanted to hear me out. And I did not want to hear myself out either. I totally understood why — I had lied to them, and myself. But no one, except a select few people, heard me out. What followed was worse. My ‘friends’ started threatening and blackmailing me saying that they would reveal everything to my teachers. They even found the letter I had penned and went on to make life hell for me. This had a very big impact on my studies. I was almost failing my class. I was constantly worried that my teachers and parents would come to know what I had done. And this started making me more withdrawn. There hasn’t been ONE happy day in school for me. Threats from my friends every day that if I did not do certain things for them they would complain about everything to my teachers, my crumbling academic life, all this eventually lead me to developing trichotillomania (a hair pulling disorder). And I had still told only half the story to my doctor. My parents immediately shifted me home. I had to deal with those friends a lot less. When they discovered that I was not of much use anymore, they stopped threatening and blackmailing me, though the angry stares and abuses never stopped.

This is the first time I am opening up about this. I know I brought this upon myself. What I did was immensely wrong. And I will live with this guilt forever. My parents still don’t know anything. No one at Ashoka knows, or at least, did. I am a very different person at Ashoka. I tried leaving all this behind. Tried moving on. But I don’t think I can. When I think about it, I shudder. My breathing stops, and I grow restless. I withdraw into a shell until something comes up and I have no choice but to get out. This was exactly how I was feeling today. I was so anxious about the verdict. I shudder at what would have happened if I had discovered Section 377 when I was going through what I did at school. I would have lost all hopes of loving. I was happy that Ashoka was giving me a space to explore my sexuality. But I lived with the guilt somewhere deep down that I was majorly disappointing my parents.

The verdict is beautifully worded. When the Chief Justice starts out by saying that the sustenance of identity is the pillar of life (paraphrasing from his speech), I almost cry. He goes on to say that the Constitution cannot be guided or dictated by majoritarian or popular views. He also adds that we need to create an environment where India is to respect the community for what we were, because sexual orientation is a biological phenomenon and is ‘natural’. I can’t stop jumping up and down hearing this, though my anxiety returns again. This is only one judgement. Thankfully, the others pick up: Nariman says that private acts of individuals are not the law’s domain, and that homosexuality is not recognised as a mental disorder, so homosexuals are entitled to live with dignity. Chandrachud goes on to add that the denial of rights to the community is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy, and declares that Section 377 is unconstitutional. Here, I finally release my breath. A majority of the panel has spoken up against the criminalization. We are free, but would India, represented by the panel, stand up together for once? Justice Indu Malhotra does not disappoint me either: “History owes an apology to these people and their families.” Nothing can spoil my mood. But my happiness is short-lived.

Section 377 being ‘struck down’ is only symbolic of an end to the years of oppression that the community has been facing because our colonizers thought homosexuality is “against the order of nature”. This judgement means that people can’t slap legal charges against someone for being homosexual, or having gay sex. But does that change anything for me? Not really. I am legally protected. But I am still one of the oppressed. I have my rights, but does that stop anyone from calling me a chakka? Does that mean that I can now come out to my parents and friends as gay, and they are not going to say anything about it? I am still going to feel guilty, even though I can now legally be a homosexual in India. The oppression we have been facing is not going to vanish. We have to be patient. We have to wait for the day when every one of us is actually equal. Until that point, it is going to be a very tough and uphill battle. But my biggest sense of comfort is that we are in this together.