By Usri Basistha Jun. 25, 2022
Is my queerness invalidated by my lack of the conventional experiences expected of queer folks? Do I need to perform my queerness, or is the fact of it enough? Did I need to look and behave a certain way to meet some standard of queerness? A year into coming out, I’ve somewhat found the answers to these questions.
After ten days of roaming through the eastern Himalayas, gravity finally pulled me down towards the plains. It was a foggy morning, as my shared cab descended the wet and bumpy roads of the Singalila Ridge. It was one of those big SUVs. Crammed in there with a dozen others, I had nearly dozed off when the lady beside me abruptly opened a window and started puking. It was then that I suddenly realised, it had been 4 days of being oblivious of Pride Month.
A year ago, I could hardly picture how being ‘out and proud’ would feel like. As I sat hunched over my laptop, ready to release my coming-out post to the world, I tried to ignore that we were just recovering from the second wave of the deadly coronavirus. Now sitting in a cab, miles away from that familiar territory I wondered if by simply looking at me, my co-passengers could tell I was queer. Looking at my bespectacled round face, perhaps the only thing people could ascertain was my myopia.
Coming out stories generally sound filmy. A dramatic reveal to kith and kin, followed by rising tensions and general queerphobia. My story wasn’t quite as intense. A small group of my friends and favourite cousins already knew about it. So did my parents if you count the couple of awkward conversations, where they seemed to have mysteriously gone deaf mid-chat and avoided looking me in the eye when I uttered words like ‘bisexual’ and ‘queer’.
Coming out stories generally sound filmy. A dramatic reveal to kith and kin, followed by rising tensions and general queerphobia.
Nonetheless, I was terrified and waited till the last day of the month to do it. At the eleventh hour, I questioned my own decision to come out. Why do people do it? Why was I putting myself through the agony of declaring my sexuality to the world? Those who mattered to me, knew. My parents albeit bemused, didn’t threaten to disown me. Then why ‘come out’ to the rest of the world? Internalised shame and fragile idea of self-worth had plagued my entire adult life, nearly rendering me defunct in my mid-20s. Shame partly accrued by trying to first forget, then suppress and finally accept my sexuality. But why still declare it for everyone?
As the pandemic hit our shores, I enrolled into a psychological guidance counselling course. I read about “radical acceptance” in our classes, about how self-awareness is a must. During the first lockdown I committed to my healing in earnest. Mindfulness practices, breath work, journaling; you name it, I did it. The second wave forced me into quarantine for 3 weeks. Isolation led to introspection. My sexuality continued to be a blind spot I carefully avoided addressing. Whatever happened to ‘radical acceptance’? It was clearly time to replace shame with ‘pride’. Coming out was just the first step in a lifelong journey of unlearning it. However, I reached at this insight after a lot of trials and errors.
It was clearly time to replace shame with ‘pride’. Coming out was just the first step in a lifelong journey of unlearning it.
I came out with a Facebook post preceding a personal essay. But not before, I imagined people unfriending me. I imagined relatives shaming me in the comments. Random strangers sending me uncouth DMs. Instead my post got a total of 61 likes. It seemed eerily quiet on the social media front. Where were my 2,000 or so Facebook friends when I needed some old-school validation? Invariably, I complained to my therapist, about this nagging suspicion that many read but chose to scroll past it.
So for anyone asking, it is rather anticlimactic to come out during a raging pandemic. The world at large was worried about things like mortality, instead of whether I liked girls too. I wasn’t exactly expecting Shah Rukh Khan to burst out of my bed and congratulate me, but maybe a little more validation wouldn’t have hurt. Thanks to the ‘virus that must not be named’ we were all cooped in our homes, and glued to our screens. A well-timed like or comment made me feel connected to the world outside. Made me feel seen and heard.
In the months after, I felt my coming out seemed limited to changing my Insta bio. To be fair, adding the words ‘queer’, and of course the rainbow emoji, to my bio did zhoosh things up a little. I definitely felt a greater sense of community. Especially when my queer inspirations on social media followed me back. Or, when that random mutual friend slid into my DMs and asked me on a coffee date. Or feeling content with the knowledge that the throne of ‘coolest masi’—in my extended family—was now mine to enjoy. Somewhat emboldened, I even posted a reel, filter et al, on “Bi Visibility Day”. However, that was the extent of it. Outside social media not much had altered. Relatives still greeted me at social dos with their usual invasive questions about my future wedding. I still gulped down retorts about ‘same-sex marriages are not yet legal in our country”. And my queer community were mostly a bunch of folks scattered across the country or even in different continents.
Maybe I didn’t need to wait for the world to see who I was, maybe I was yearning to be seen by myself.
Sitting squished among strangers in that shared cab, I worried about whether I had really come out. If I was truly out, where were the queer milestones the conventional gaze expects of me? Where was my first Pride March? Where were my queer ‘3 am’ BFFs? Where was my first date with a woman—oh! I spectacularly chickened out of aforementioned coffee date—let alone a full blown relationship. Is my queerness invalidated by my lack of the conventional experiences expected of queer folks? Do I need to perform my queerness, or is the fact of it enough? Did I need to look and behave a certain way to meet some standard of queerness? I suspect coming out is an internal rather than external process. Maybe it is an inward journey, of unpeeling. Maybe I didn’t need to wait for the world to see who I was, maybe I was yearning to be seen by myself. It is more of remembering who I always was, rather than being someone new. It is telling myself, that my story is valid, even if no one is aware of it. Maybe it is giving myself permission to exist and explore. Maybe we should not call it coming out at all. Maybe it should be called coming home. To my truth.