Queer in India: Hope
Growing up different
“I never thought you’d turn out this way.”
I looked at my mother. Behind her glasses, did her eyes look a bit sad? I had pulled a picture album earlier that day out of a stack of old clothes. In one photo, 3-year-old me smiles at the camera wearing a saree designed from a gamchha, a traditional cotton towel.
In another, a micro Artemis stands with a shaved head wearing a dhuti out of the same gamchha, holding his doll.
Most of my childhood pictures have me holding a doll. My mother says I used to carry them all around the house, taking them to bath with me, combing their hair. I loved taking care of them like my kids.
My mother says I was the life of any social gathering. I loved organising them. Singing? Dancing? You got me. Playing circus with my sister was one of my favourite activities.
But that’s before I started going to school.
“So are you gay now?”
My friend loomed over me as the rest of our group laughed in the background. School. Especially primary school. That was a whole new ball game.
I don’t know how they realised I was different even before I knew. Even before they came to know about words like ‘gay’ and ‘queer’. I was the odd one out. And like any flock finding a weird bird in their midst, they tried to pick me apart.
Later, I would learn things just to fit in. I would try to learn about their interests, even if I didn’t care at all. Nothing helped. I still stuck out like a sore thumb.
By the time I reached high secondary, people started questioning. I still haven’t figured out what gives me away.
Did you know people are least likely to assume you are gay if you are actually friends with them?
Apparently they find it hard to relate you with the negative word ‘queer’. Anyway, back in school, people now knew what ‘gay’ meant. Harsh stares and refusing to let me sit on the same bench became common.
Ours was an all-girls school. Kissing girls for practice was cool, but actually being gay? Not cool at all.
It wasn’t easy coming in terms with my queerness, something almost all queerlings face growing up. Ma had this dream about having a daughter. The whole Indian mother dream, you know? I felt guilty for crashing it. I felt I’d never make friends who would love me for being myself.
One good thing out of the whole ordeal was I joined this queer writers’ group. I started writing. I never knew I could write stories. The people there were cool. And it was really nice to see queer people being themselves.
It felt like this bubble, I guess like the safe place people talk about so much. I met this person I look up to as my grandpa. He’s a middle-aged gay man and I love to hear his stories about when he lived in New York. They are so wild. I don’t get to talk to him much but I like to tease him about being a grumpy old man.
I met Elf. He’s always having faith in me even when I don’t have any on myself. He told me to read this poem when I was scared about going to college. I took a printout and carried it with me to college.
“Poof poof poooof!”
We moved in slow motion holding onto each other, imitating a train. Around a burst of laughter, my friend managed to say, “Who knew playing train in a dining hall would be this fun? Do you think people think we’re a bunch of weirdos?”
I shrugged, too busy laughing. “Who cares when we’re having fun?”
When I went to college last year, I was scared. I didn’t want a repetition of high school. And I knew I wouldn't have my family’s support if I got called out. I grew my hair long. For fresher’s welcome, I wore a dress. It wasn’t because I wanted to, but I wanted to be accepted as a part of the crowd.
The plan failed because I didn’t like not being myself.
But things turned out to be good, anyway. Even after me being my disastrous self, I made friends. And a couple of close friends with whom I can dance in our dining hall with a plush toy. Apparently they didn’t get scared by my weirdness.
Can you believe that?
Being queer, or being myself doesn’t feel like a bad thing anymore. I now know there are people who have my back. And most importantly, I belong. Yes, it took time. Yes, the journey wasn’t always nice and smooth. But I won’t have it any other way. It shaped who I am now. It showed me being myself is the way to go.
I don’t know what the future will bring. I’m hoping it would be good further down the road. Yeah, I’ll trip and stumble sometimes. That’s inevitable. But it’s not the end if the ending isn’t good, right? I’ll be holding on to that hope.
But for now?
I’m happy the way I turned out to be.
Artemis Shishir is the pen name of a transmasculine, first-year university student in India. He lives with his family in Kolkata when not taking classes in Hyderabad. Artemis is a storyteller and fiction writer pursuing a degree in English.