‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ a ninth grade English paper once asked me. It was a 20-mark essay, and I had 20 minutes to earn them. I rolled up my sleeves, and pulled out my cursive best.
The thing is, I wanted to be a great many things.
I wanted to be a chef, I wanted to be an actor, I wanted to be a painter, I wanted to be an astronaut, and for two weeks when I turned 11, I even wanted to be a National Geographic correspondent. My essay – and the time allotted to write it - might have come to an end at this point, but my story didn’t. From the age of six to sixteen, I raced through changes. My styles, my sexual leanings and my haircuts progressed, but so did my dreams.
Only, what did I never dream of being?
All my years of adolescence, I had struggled to find myself, even though I struggled comfortably – I was so used to pushing my problems under a hypothetical carpet (and pretending they didn’t exist) that I never realized the lies I was hoarding up – little white lies, they wouldn’t hurt anyone, would they?
It was an easy, lazy life. The only hiccup?
I was deep in the closet.
I used my complacency as a security blanket, winding it around myself whenever thoughts of the future terrified me. What would coming out (as a gay man) be like? Would it be a cakewalk or a walk down the plank? Would I have to talk about my feelings? Would I have someone to talk about my feelings to (a fair question, because I grew up thinking that you were only allowed to talk about your feelings at expensive therapy sessions, sappy book clubs or whilst watching romantic tearjerkers)?
Here’s the thing. Coming to terms with your sexuality (and stepping out of the closet) isn’t an easy task – and more so when you do it in a country like India, where minds are as narrow as our tertiary roads. Everyday life is a battle. As countless Netflix shows would like me (and the rest of the world) to believe, you don’t just wake up one morning and walk out into the sunlit world. You need to push through your woolens and those ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ shirts you bought on an impulse (but will never wear), and struggle to reach that closet door through an odd tangle of smelly socks, graying underwear and smutty novels you don’t want your mother to find. It will be tough, especially if you’ve been hoarding (and holding) up all your life.
And unfortunately, even when you do (because one day you will, cause good lord you deserve every single moment of it), it’s a never-ending process – those closet doors that everyone talks about?
They are revolving.
I came out for the very first time back in December 2008. It took me a seventy minute bus ride to gather up the courage to tell my best friend, only to pretend that the conversation never happened the very next day. I eventually told her (again) ten months later, and we’ve both never looked back.
Fortunately, the story where I came out to my parents reeks of acceptance (and Hallmark cards) – it happened at the dining table, one Friday evening back in early 2015, over cups of chamomile and desiccated coconut biscuits. I sat my parents down, and told them everything in a diligently rehearsed 17-minute monologue.
In 18 minutes, it was done.
Questions were asked, hugs were exchanged, a tear was shed (that would be me). My mum went for a walk with her friends, and my dad continued solving his crossword puzzle. They accepted it with a simple shrug (and lots of love and support over the next couple of years, but this is not a story about that). My sexuality was just another fact.
What about the war of words I had been expecting? The emotional bloodshed? The years of torment at the hands of society? They never came, even though the history books said that they would. Times are changing, and somewhere over pop culture references and more inclusive media representations, my parents and peers had changed as well. The history books had it wrong.
Over the next eight years, I came out to absolutely everyone and anyone. Sometimes, they didn’t even have to ask (although, pro trip: it’s rude to ask someone if they’re gay). And yet, something changed as time went by: I didn’t come out because I had to, I came out because I wanted to.
The last time I came out was two weeks ago. It was on a Whatsapp group chat for a fitness bootcamp. It happened over a shirtless Henry Cavill GIF (don‘t ask) and took all of two seconds.
If you’re still reading this blog, remember this, reader. Week after week, you will find yourself coming out to friends, family, acquaintances, and (occasionally) drunken strangers at the bar. Perhaps one day it will not be the big deal that it is today, and you won’t have to worry whether your words are followed by a kiss to the cheek or a punch to the mouth. Every breath of acceptance is a new slice of independence, and you’d hungrily wolf it down without worrying about the empty calories or the complex carbs.
It will be liberating, the way you feel after you’ve survived a last-minute clearance sale. Only this is the clearance sale of regrets.
Everything aside, remember this: you do not owe anybody that peace of mind but yourself. The privilege for others to be let into this part of your life is theirs to earn, not yours to be scared into giving. As long as you have found tranquility and freedom to be yourself, you are doing something incredibly brave already. Don't take the process of coming out as the world insisting you rip the Band-Aid off, whatever the circumstances; take it as a chance to see how far we've come, that there can be a happy ending, and as a chance to see what you need to do to be happy.
It’s a revolving door, after all.
You can use it however you please.