My upbringing in a middle-class small-city family was very standard. You went to school, you played with other kids in the neighbourhood, and your parents and society influenced what you thought of as right or wrong. I was lucky that my family was not too religious, though the presence of spirituality and morality at every step in my childhood formed my ideas about what is right and what is wrong.
I was brought up with the ideals of truthfulness and honesty, and that truth always triumphs (it, in fact, is on India’s national emblem). So when I came out and was greeted with angst, anger, homophobia from within my own family I, a 19-year old sweet boy who loved his parents and revered them, did not know what to make of it. Why was telling the truth bringing tears to my mother’s eyes? Why did my father tell me “I will ensure this doesn’t happen in our family” when all I did was be honest to him about how I felt; honesty which he had promised me was the solution to all problems when I was a kid?
Idealism and reality in today’s India are concepts that don’t hit most of us youth till we come out, since we have been brought up with social ideals that your parents always want the best for you and that your thinking anything that your parents don’t believe in is not only sacrilege, but also a mark of disrespectfulness towards your parents. Social conditioning has led to many a kid in India, and South Asia, believe that they are horribly wrong or are vile and disgusting individuals if they have same-sex attraction or, even worse, having a fluid gender expression or identity. The vilification and cartoonization of our unique South Asian Trans* social identities (hijra, kothi) has led to LGBTQ people being automatically labeled as perverts, sex-workers, and people (definitely not citizens) who deserve to be driven off the streets into the dark corners of our society where no one can see them.
Even though I personally had a mixed experience after coming out, when I first ventured out with my “I, Ally” campaign (www.youtube.com/iallycampaign) aiming to record video messages of support from straight allies from across the country, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of acceptance that I found. People from all parts of the country, from (mostly) all strata of society understood the true value of being honest and open about who you are and whom you love, and understood the time-tested dictums of “Love Conquers Hate” and “Live and Let Live.” Urban and semi-urban India today is getting more and more progressive. Actually scratch that – it is returning to its true Indian roots of acceptance and of the welcoming spirit that truly defines Indian-ness, and I’m sure that these values somewhere resound with Indians in rural places too. Unlike the homo-, bi-, and trans-phobia of the religious zealots who quote scripture to justify hatred, it is these Indians, who I recorded in my videos, who are the true face of modern India. I currently have videos from people from all across India and in more than 10 Indian languages, which clearly goes out to say that our society is definitely becoming more and more open to accepting people who are considered to be “different.”
I do also realize that the situation is extremely different if the LGBTQ person happens to be someone in your own family, and that not many Indian parents/families are that open or accepting. In my work with LGBTQ youth, I have realized that more often than not, their love for their children combined with the years of social conditioning make parents react the way they do. Honor-killings, sadly, are becoming more common, and societal pressure is immense for LGBTQ youth who come from more conservative or religious backgrounds. And I personally know many youth who are forced into “psychiatric” and religious “treatment,” are forcibly married or have to flee the country to live freely. The sorry state of affairs of youth policy in India ensures that access to a good life for all children and youth, forget LGBTQ, in India is still a distant reality.
Even so, I do see an overall change in understanding thanks to media, discussions about LGBTQ issues and, surprisingly, the recent re-criminalization of homosexual acts in India. The retrogressive change in this law caused all of India to uproar in anger, and opened the floodgates to household discussions around LGBTQ rights. It is the first time the government has actively spoken against criminalization of the LGBTQ community, and I hope this momentum stays steady and eventually brings about way more change than expected. And it starts with the youth, and that’s where I believe a better future for LGBTQ rights lies in India.