I am a homosexual; a homosexual in the largest democracy in the world. Things should be easier for me with superlatives like that, but they aren’t. In fact they have been difficult.
It took me many years to gain the courage to look into the mirror and tell myself that the person I see is gay.
I faced homophobia at a time that I wasn’t even sure of my sexuality.
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. I was raped by a male relative for 11 long years from the age of seven to 18. I had confided in a friend, and that friend thought it was newsy enough to share with everybody in college. When people heard that I was a man who was raped by a man when I was a young lad, they assumed that I must be gay. They presumed my sexuality at a time when I was grappling with words and definitions.
One day, when I reached college I found my name on the blackboard – it read “for gay sex contact Harish.”
In another instance, I found my name plastered in the college lavatory. When I sat down on my bench, there were chalk marks that read “fag.” As I walked with the offensive three-letter word on my pants, my friends laughed.
More than a decade of abuse had left me maimed in terms of sexual responses. I took longer to understand what my sexuality was. But at that time, I knew one thing for sure – being gay, would mean being subjected to ridicule.
The trauma that my friends subjected me to was so strong that I tried to kill myself. When I reflect back, I feel ashamed about those gory steps I took at one point of my life. But at that moment, I saw no light at the end of the tunnel.
I thought that the shame and stigma one had to face for being raped by another man was too much to bear. I survived, but I shrunk deep into the closets of shame. I was battling with my sexuality. I wasn’t sure if I was heterosexual enough to marry a girl, and I didn’t want to accept that I was homosexual or bisexual and live a life of shame.
I was also aware that I would be told that I am gay because I was abused by a man — though women who are abused by men in childhood never state that they turned heterosexual because of rape.
In India, heterosexuality was a norm. Everything around me was heterosexual. Who wants to place themselves lowest in a world where everyone would despise you?
I decided to be heterosexual. I tried my luck. I had sex with a woman and I could not perform. I had no anxiety fear, I was just not feeling so inclined from within. In the meantime I was feeling strongly for men. Between Tarzan and Jane, Tarzan’s thighs seemed to attract me more than Jane’s breasts.
I came to terms with my sexuality slowly and steadily. Once I got over my aversion to sex with men, which many years of abuse had scarred me with, I had sexual relations with men, and I instantly felt at peace with my body.
Around the age of 25, I came out to mother. After initial reluctance, she accepted me. One of my friends then decided to make a college journalism project on me and my sexuality. I found acceptance.
I started speaking about my abuse and my sexuality to many people. My advocacy work in the field of male child sexual abuse and homosexuality began and I became a magnet for stories of pain and pathos that people shared with me.
Many stories of homophobia emerged from dark dingy closets that were created by the same society that I live in. There are many attempts at suicide like mine in colleges even today. Children get bullied for their sexuality, in India and in the rest of the world. The pages of history have turned. But the story has remained the same. We are growing in to being a world that judges more, loves less.
I am told again and again that India is a free country. Yes, we are indeed free from the clutches of the British who ruled us. But alas, no one departs without leaving their footprints.
The British left us Section 377. A law that punished anyone who had “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”
What’s order of nature? Love for me is the order of nature. And I am a man, who loves men. Section 377 was overturned by the Delhi High Court in 2009. In the landmark ruling, the court stated that consenting sex between adults in private is not a criminal offense.
The operative words being – consenting, adults and private. It still maintained that sex without consent and / or with minors and/or in public is a punishable offence. There were several petitions against this judgment, some argued that homosexuals are a bad influence to the society. I still fail to understand what are these morals that we are talking about. I have been in a heterosexual world all my life and I have not been influenced by heterosexuality, how do heterosexuals get influenced by my sexuality so easily? And about the natural versus unnatural debate, I think we are prejudiced against anything that doesn’t procreate. I strongly feel that sex is natural as much for recreation as it is for procreation.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will rule on the matter. Though legality is our right, and we shall not rest until we have it in totally, and not in half measure, our real battles continue to be in our homes, in our little cozy closets, where we are still seen as victims. Things are better, people are more aware, but still we need to “come out.”
Beyond the courtrooms, homosexuals in India still await their date with freedom.
Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist and was named as one of the most influential gay men in the world by The Guardian newspaper in 2013.