Why Orlando Makes Me Want to Come Out

POV

Why Orlando Makes Me Want to Come Out

Illustration: Namaah/ Arré

G

oogle Maps tells me that Orlando is exactly 14,033 kilometres away from where I live. I will need to take a minimum of two flights to get there. I have never been to Orlando and had never heard of Pulse until Sunday. But even now, after the water-cooler conversations have died down and Facebook solidarity updates on the shootings are done with, I am unable to explain to anyone why the shooting at Orlando continues to affect me viscerally. I am unable to share my ongoing grief. I am unable to tell people that I’m like those who died. I am queer.

I sit silently at my desk, going about my business, getting my coffee, while my thoughts keep straying to Orlando, to the people who were brave enough to live their lives openly. I continue to track news updates, keep interrupting work to read about the victims, scroll through photos of the massacre. A colleague looks over my shoulder and asks, “Why are you obsessing over this?” To him, the shooting is probably just another massacre in the US. Same old, same old. For me, it has a whole new meaning. After all, people no different from me were hit. Shot, bloodied, and murdered.

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I sit at my desk and wonder about grief. Does the pain increase if you can identify with the victims? Does it decrease if they are far away? What is the mathematics of grief and how much am I allowed to expend on Orlando without giving my secret away?

I wept openly for the Delhi gang-rape victim. No one ever questioned me then. The girls in my school spoke about it for days, expressing themselves and their solidarity without trepidation. Our fear and anger were bared for all to see. Nobody asked why we were “obsessing” over it because we were all young women. Just like her.

At the Pulse nightclub, there were people just like me. High school grads, dancers, accountants, travel planners. The youngest victim Akyra Monet Murray was eighteen. Eighteen. Stanley Almodovar was twenty-three. Just like me. His mother made him a tomato-and-cheese dip before he went out that night. My mother makes sure there is food in the fridge whenever I come back late. I grieve for these kids and their parents.

I’ve started to mask the grief, internalising everything instead, and then I came across the piece on the same-sex couple who were to have their wedding but are now going to get a joint funeral instead. It broke my heart. But I hid my tears.

Orlando has made me want to come out. If nothing else, to cry openly.

***

When I first admitted to myself that I’m queer, my stomach lurched. I felt like I could hurl. This reaction took me by surprise. I had always considered myself a staunch ally of the community, supported friends who were gay, encouraged coming out. Then where was this horror coming from? And how on earth did it take me so long to realise this? Looking back, there’s a trail of crumbs laid out, begging to be examined. I’ve fallen for SO MANY girls over the years. For goodness’ sake, my first crush in kindergarten was a girl! It’s unnerving how I have managed to erase her from my memory. But maybe, it’s because I’ve always liked boys just as intensely.

After I got over the horror, elation set in. All the anxiety I’d felt over these years, the feeling of never being comfortable in my skin, finally made sense. I was eager to come crashing out of the closet. I honestly didn’t care about how many people I left devastated. As long as I could own up to my identity, unapologetically, I’d be content.

I decided to turn to a professor in college. She was a woman who had taught several out-and-proud gay students in the past and also helped a lot of my friends through their personal issues. After I finished my little confession, she grabbed my hands and asked why I hadn’t spoken to her earlier. I was reassured, but then she proceeded to advise me to not date any women for the next few years. Perturbed by her unsolicited advice, this presumably straight professor went on a rant about how I was giving too much importance to my sexuality because “how many hours in a day do you spend having sex anyway?”

Now I want to break the closet doors, hurl at it with a battle axe. I want to be out.

I was nauseated by the end of that conversation. But I was more furious. I wanted to cry and punch a wall in rage. But all my wrath would amount to nothing. Section 377 would still remain, along with shitloads of bigotry and queer phobia.

I never ventured out again and chose instead to keep my sexuality to myself. My sexuality isn’t something I struggle with; it’s just another facet of my being. I got used to the secrecy, and I’d given up the idea of ever coming out.

But Orlando has left me feeling more alone than ever before. Now I want to break the closet doors, hurl at it with a battle axe. I want to be out. I want to be able to talk about Akyra and Stanley with my friends. I want to be able to weep.

I’ve been practising my lines. And hopefully, I’ll muster the courage to speak to mom soon.

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