I grew up in a time when we didn’t know the word lesbian in our city. Gay men just meant happy people. I wasn’t aware of who or what I was while growing up. It was not till the first year in MA that I openly used ‘bisexual’ to describe myself, but that’s another story.
Growing up in such a scenario, unaware of the existence of the queer community, made my childhood complicated, to put it mildly. Many called me a pervert, including me. Self-hate and shame go hand in hand for those who grow up in such oppression. I didn’t have any example to look up to or any ideals to follow. In the school I was tormented, called names for being ‘tomboyish’, ‘butch’.
It was a long, tiring and lonely journey of self-realisation and self-assertion until I met Rohon. Rohon was a student from out of town in my university.
As I love to say, inspired by the quote from Casablanca, “Of all the departments in all the universities in all the world, he walks into mine.”
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My amazing friend
Rohon was amazing, Rohon was an inspiration: An out and proud gay guy from out of town who spoke my language commendably. As a matter of fact, it took me three days to realise that he’s not Bengali, but I knew he was gay in the first 30 seconds. This is how it happened.
I was in my department talking to my teacher and during the conversation I mentioned something about fanfiction. That’s what caught his ears. We at once started a conversation that lasted 72 hours, over texts and phone calls.
The same evening that I met him, we were sitting down in the campus, sipping our evening tea. Consequently, which later became a norm with us, we both started appreciating a handsome guy who walked past us. Suddenly Rohon became quiet and took a serious sip of his tea; he looked away from me while he said,
“You know I’m gay, right?”
“Of course,” I said.
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You are what you are
I wanted to say all politically correct things, things that I would have appreciated if someone told me when I came out to them individually. I wanted to say, that’s all right darling, and I don’t choose my friends on the basis of their plumbing system or who they sleep with. That being gay is as simple as being an Indian or a non-Bengali, it doesn’t add or subtract anything from who you are. I wanted to say, you are a lovely person and I won’t want you to change in any way.
But all I said was “Of course”; it was all that needed to be said. That’s the moment when our secret understanding began, our mutual understanding of a shared past. Though we grew up in different cities, in different times, we share the same history of self-loathing, being bullied and a lot of things that the queer in India face on a daily basis. In that moment, we felt that condensed solidarity, the assurance that this person will never hold my essence, my being, against me. Because it is not about being accepted, rather it is about not being discriminated against.
When he looked at me again, with his bright face and shiny eyes, I knew I had found a friend I’ve always been looking for. As Rohon often says, “Don’t be with people who tolerate your crazy; be with the ones who celebrate it.”
He showed me the way
As I said, once we started talking, we talked for three days straight. For those three days we were talking either face to face or over text or phone. One thing that kept recurring in the conversation was how important it is for me to watch the film, ‘Pride’ (2014) by Matthew Warchus. And as happened with most of his requests, till date, I watched the film.
For me, ‘Pride’ is a period drama about how Joe Cooper, a 20-year-old gay guy in the UK, finds his confidence and place in the war through a larger struggle against the government and police that criminalised homosexuality in his time. It’s a coming-of-age movie with which I readily identified.
He gives me strength
Divergence is still criminalised in our country and being a queer entails being a political queer here. I remembered how I hid myself when I walked in Kolkata Pride Walk for the first time, much like Joe Cooper from the movie. I said as much to Rohon. He said that he’ll join me in the next Pride walk and we will never hide again.
So, came the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk on 14 December 2015. I have known then, as I knew now, for the Queer Community, it’s going to be a long hard struggle for dignity and acceptance in this country: But that day for the first time, I felt that I will never again be alone in that struggle. Rohon and I walked hand in hand, in the Pride March, shouting slogans at the top of our voice, singing songs of revolution and hope and suddenly I knew I’m done being ashamed of who I am.
“There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand
There is power in a union”