LGBTQ+ activist Aditya Tiwari talks about growing up queer in a small town in India

Poet and queer activist Aditya Tiwari takes a deep dive into his experiences of growing up in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, at a time when homosexuality was a punishable offence.

28 March, 2023
LGBTQ+ activist Aditya Tiwari talks about growing up queer in a small town in India

It’s heartening to see that times have changed—the world is a lot different than what it used to be a decade ago...when I was growing up. And it is primarily because we are finally trying to understand the nuances surrounding gender and sexuality.

My childhood was tough, just like it was for most children from the queer community. As a teenager trying to find the right words and terms that would help articulate my existence, I battled constant discrimination for being gay. Other children in school tried to put me in a box and, as a result, I was often subjected to derogatory terms and physical abuse. This hatred followed me in my adult life, too, where even strangers thought it was okay to harass me. But, through it all, I was determined to understand who I really am. It was important for me to put into words what my true identity is, especially in a country where the queer community does not have the same rights as cis-het people.

Most LGBTQIA+ Indians in small towns and non-urban spaces grow up without understanding or even hearing terms such as ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transgender’, or ‘queer’. I remember, back in 2017, I was attacked by a bunch of homophobic men. I stepped out of my home to buy a pack of cigarettes, and about eight men stopped me and hurled homophobic slurs at me. When I tried to fight back, one of them slapped me, and, later, I was thrashed by them all. I felt helpless and couldn’t process what I had just been through. Due to a lack of awareness and acceptance, it is challenging for us to be our authentic selves. I was desperate for a way out. Thankfully, I found one. As I looked for safe spaces to explore my identity, I stumbled upon a public park in the neighbourhood, which was a hotspot for queer people in my town. And just as I was about to give up hope, I found acceptance and solace.


Growing up, there weren’t a lot of voices like mine in the media, and I used to think to myself, ‘Why should I not become the perspective I was searching for when I was young?’. So I did. After Section 377 of the IPC was scrapped in 2018, I gained the courage to share my horrific experiences. Upon reflection, the decriminalisation seemed inadequate, because hate crimes in small towns still persist. The truth is queer lives in small towns aren’t visible enough in the mainstream media, and, therefore, nobody knows what we go through...what our stories are. The system constantly fails us and the potential of the queer community is still suppressed in Indian society.

The world does not make it easy for people like me, because being gay is a political proclamation. When you accept yourself for who you are and live life on your own terms, you are viewed as if you’re opposing everything—society, religion, and the State. It is both liberating and daunting. But I was determined to share my story. I truly believe that when more people share their stories, they help build safe spaces for fellow queers. It is a strange state of being...queerness breathes life into you and sometimes, also burns you...

I feel lucky to have found the strength to stand up for myself, and I am immensely proud of the person I am today. The support from my peers has been phenomenal and I have received a tonne of messages from young people sharing how I have helped them in their journeys. They feel happy seeing someone like them—someone ‘brown’ and ‘queer’—living their best life. This makes all the experiences I have had—good and bad—worthwhile. Queer culture is on the rise in India...and queerness is no longer bound by geography. I strongly believe that in order to increase representation, the idea of being queer needs to change. It cannot boil down to a limited percentage of people who are leading safer and more privileged lives. It is time to focus on queer talent and recognise their potential sans a stereotypical gaze.

Queer individuals are doing some incredible work across industries. We all have the same heart, then why treat us differently? We, too, have dreams, hopes, and desires... and we deserve to fulfil them. If we get everyone’s support, our struggles will slowly fade away, which, in turn, will improve our lives. My hope is to live in a truly inclusive India, where each person with a unique voice has a platform to own their individuality.