“I guess, like most gay kids, I always knew I was different, maybe not gay per se, but different. I guess the first overt sign was my being obsessed with Madhuri Dixit. At that time, she was probably the biggest Bollywood actress on the planet. I clearly remember watching her songs and trying to recreate them, by draping bed sheets to make her dresses and spending hours in front of the TV to learn the dances’ moves (this was way before the internet; I’m ancient — I know). Or the fact I always associated with the female characters in animation shows like Catwoman, Sailor Moon, or my favorite, Daphne from Scooby-Doo (this would also explain my love for the color purple).
All this meant I was picked on from an early age — I still remember going back to school after summer break in the 3rd grade. I had a brand new pencil case; it was a Hello Kitty case and I loved it. But in class, I was so mercilessly teased about it I smashed it on purpose, so when my mom asked me where it was, I said it broke. I was sad, but I was not going to give the boys another reason to pick on me.
As I approached my teens, the fact that I was different was obvious to everyone in my class. I wasn’t good at sports and had certain feminine traits. Instead of going out and playing with the other boys, I would stay at home and sketch, dance, or just read. When I did go to play, the other boys made fun of me — I ran too weird, I wasn’t good at the sport, I threw like a girl. No one likes being picked last, and after a while, I just stopped going to play. This led me to gain weight, thus not only was I too girly but now fat too. This led to an unhealthy relationship with food, something I still struggle with at times.
A quick intro to my background — I’m a single child born to an Officer in the Indian Navy and a mother who worked in a bank. Growing up in a military environment — you live on base and everyone and everything around you is related to the military — meant I was constantly told what a man should be, and it was everything I was not. To my parents’ credit, they never tried to reinforce those ideals on me — if I didn’t want to go play, it was okay; if I cried, it was okay; if I wanted to learn to dance, they’d enroll me in lessons.
One of the constants of having a parent in the military is you’re always on the move: every few years Dad got transferred, and we moved along with him. This taught me to be adaptable and flexible; giving me the chance to reinvent myself with every move. Around when I was 13 my father was transferred to Mumbai, and I took it as a chance to be someone different. While my parents never pressured me to be the perfect son, I put pressure on myself to be that ideal boy.
Self-acceptance is hard, even harder for an overweight 13-year-old. When other boys made fun of me, I started physical fights with them. I pretended to have a crush on the hottest girl in class, came up with a celebrity crush, lining my bedroom with her posters, all the time hiding under my mattress a collection of pictures of men in their underwear cut out with care from underwear boxes, newspapers, and magazines. I finally became a part of the boys’ club and it was good. Then, in the summer of 2002, it all changed. I keep mentioning I always knew I was different, but that summer, I knew I was GAY.
Two things guided me in the path to self-realization. First was a little British film called Bend It Like Beckham and the second was the man himself, David Beckham. I remember going for the movie in the sweltering may summer with my cousins who were visiting from Canada, just to spend the day inside someplace with air conditioning. I remember watching the film (brilliant btw), but a scene really stood out — the suspected love interest of the British Indian lead, tells her he really likes Beckham; she replies, ‘But you’re Indian!’
This moment left a mark on me, ‘So, I can be gay!’ Until that point, I assumed only white men can be gay (we need more diverse representation, sorry had to put that in). Less than a month later, the FIFA world cup began in Japan and South Korea. Watching all the matches projected on a big screen back at the Officers’ Club with my friends became the thing to do. It was there when I saw him, David Beckham taking his shirt off post-match, and I thought, ‘Yup! I’m gay.’ Honestly, I was crushing hard imagining him when I was doing that thing that teenage boys do. There was no escaping the fact I liked boys and Beckham in particular.
When I turned 16, my dad was transferred to a new city, and once again, I was presented with the opportunity to start afresh. When I first arrived at my new school, I tried being myself, sadly the teasing and bullying started, and I went back to my pattern of trying to fit in. Half-heartedly asking girls out and being relieved when my proposals were rejected. Though this time, there was a difference — someone else like me, a boy in my class.
We started spending more and more time together — one thing led to another and I had my first kiss, my first sexual experience, and honestly, I liked it. I wanted more, sadly would have to wait till I went to university to truly explore. After graduating from high school, I wanted to pursue fashion design, but my dad’s family and friends had a different idea. I had managed to convince him to let me go to design school, but after speaking to his friends and family, he decided I should do something different. It was at that moment I decided to just be myself and do what I wanted to do — I couldn’t go to fashion school, but I could be myself.
I guess I have been lucky with the fact that after my first kiss, I never struggled with the fact I was gay — I knew who I was inside and what I desired. The first month into university, saw a boy in my dorm, thought he was cute, and I made my move. We were watching a film on his bed under a blanket, it got late, and I decided to sleep in his bed. You get an idea where this is going. Unfortunately, his roommate saw everything. The next morning, the whole class knew.
After the initial teasing and snide comments, to my surprise, everyone was very supportive. For the first time in my life I was a part of the guys and myself at the same time. I felt a freedom I hadn’t felt before: I wasn’t an outsider anymore. I blossomed: I lost weight, joined the college folk dance group, started doing theatre — all the things I had given up when I was in high school as they were not manly enough. Even though I may have lost touch with many of my university friends back home, I take this opportunity to thank them for being true allies. These were a melting pot of students coming from all backgrounds, small towns to big cities, all religions and beliefs, and they accepted me just as I was.
The law, on the other hand, deemed me a criminal: section 377, a remnant of the British colonial rule labeled sodomy as an offense punishable by 10 years in prison. As a 19-year-old, I was caught kissing a freshman from my university in a park. The policeman started off by asking for the numbers of our families, to tell them the degenerates their sons were. Then, he wanted the numbers of our university to tell the dean the same. When we refused to give it, in a very calm manner he said, ‘Come to the police station, then. The whole station can have fun with you boys. That’s what you guys like anyway, why not let the others also enjoy.’
I was scared, the cop just implied he was going to assault us, and we couldn’t do anything, reporting him would mean outing ourselves and facing jail time. Thankfully, like most cops in India, he was corrupt and let us go after we gave him all the cash we had. Although we escaped the situation, it was then I decided to move to a country where I wouldn’t be discriminated against for my sexuality.
After graduation, I chose to move to Belgium – another opportunity to reinvent myself (you see a pattern here). This didn’t turn out the way I would have liked. For one, I was intimidated: growing up all the gay men I saw on TV and porn were white males with great bodies, fair, tall, ripped, or skinny. I was Indian boy – caramel, average body, and not as handsome as the porn guys (this is why representation matters people!!). Yet, I gave dating a shot only to hear things like ‘Sorry, I only date guys with abs,’ or ‘Oh, wow! Indian, so exotic – would love to hook up with an Indian.’ I decided I wasn’t good enough – between learning a new language, my master’s program, and working a student job, I really didn’t have the time to work out, and I had enough pride not to be someone’s token hook up. So, I spent a year withdrawing into my shell.
Once, again it was not other gay men, but my straight housemates who helped me be myself again. Megan, my Irish angel, took me to my first pride – Brussels pride 2015 — where I met some wonderful LGBTQ people who are still friends today. It was at my first pride where I ended up kissing a random guy, and my friend got a great pic. Drunk on hormones, adrenaline, and a lot of alcohol, I posted said pic on my Facebook.
The next morning that high wore off quickly- I woke up with a killer hangover and hundreds of texts and calls. My family was furious, and rightly so. I spoke to my mom; she wasn’t mad I was gay just at the way I had come out. In my heart, I agreed with her, but no way I was going to back down now. This led to a 3-month period of radio silence between my family and me. It was my parents who called me on my birthday and broke down the wall. And like any good Indian family, we just don’t talk about it. Since then, they’ve met my boyfriend, and gone on a trip to Singapore with the two of us. I mean, we even stayed for 2 weeks at my aunt’s place. Everyone knows, we just don’t talk about it.
Today, I am at that place where I can be who I truly am — a KPOP loving, Hello Kitty wearing, average Indian gay man. Now in my 30s, I’m comfortable with all these aspects of my identity. No more do I feel out of place eating alone at a restaurant, screaming along with a thousand teenage girls at KPOP concert, or just walking down the street. I took up evening classes to learn to make my own clothes, making my own T-shirts with Hello Kitty on them — taking something I was once teased about liking and owning it. I don’t care if anyone thinks its funny. I will wear my Hello Kitty T-shirts and my flashy yellow boots because this is what makes me happy, and I do it for me.
I have been blessed to have a family who supports me, my friends who were and are true allies — supporting me, pushing me to be my true self — and my current partner, who encourages me to follow my dreams. It’s thanks to his support I am going back to university to pursue a new master’s degree. I don’t want to take anything away from the wonderful LGBTQ+ people in the world, but in my journey, I was predominantly supported by my straight friends at university, both in India and Belgium. They took me to my first pride parade, my first gay bar, my friend Stephan even came to a gay sauna with me! They were my wingmen at bars, the ones who stood up for me when I was bullied, and my therapists when I needed guidance.
But in all honesty, even with all this support, if I hadn’t managed to get out of my own head, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I cared too much about fitting in and what people thought of me. Now, I chose to do the things I like, engage with people I want to, and if someone doesn’t like me, then that’s their problem, not mine. As RuPaul says, ‘Unless they paying your bills, pay them b*tches no mind.’”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nitesh Ghosh of Leuven, Belgium. You can follow his journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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