"I was constantly tortured about being gay up until I was 21, and I kept trying to suppress my natural tendencies. It was a very lonely time for me. I remember thinking that I can't tell my guy friends because they'll think I'm hitting on them, and I can't tell my girl friends either because they'll think I'm hitting on their boyfriends. It was a really awkward situation for me so I dated a girl for a while...actually, I dated quite a few girls. I even got engaged to one with the thought that if this is what I have to do, I might as well get it over and done with. But then I went to England to study, where I met completely different people and realised that I can be myself without being judged. So I broke up with my then fiancée and came out to all my friends. And surprisingly, they were all fine with it. I told my parents a year after I came out to everyone else, and I remember the moment vividly. I was home for the summer and I'd decided that before I go back, I must discuss it with my parents...so I casually slipped it in during dinner. My sister and my dad were very cool with it, but my mum was a little dramatic. She cried and said stuff like, 'How is this happening to us?', 'We're a normal middle-class family', to which I said, 'Whatever we are, even if we are a normal middle-class family, that won't make me magically straight.' So she came around in the end...after a couple of weeks. I think I've been really blessed that I haven't had any hate from people once I came out...it made me realise that all my problems and worries were in my own head."
DEBENDRA NATH SANYAL
"I was an effeminate kid, I found it easy to talk and connect with girls, so I was bullied by others. I was called every derogatory word possible—chakka, hijra, and gay amongst others. I couldn't bring myself to accept my sexuality...I would rather choose to act straight than go through the bullying. So, I put on my best 'male impression': I maintained a stiff body language, used a deeper voice, joined all the sports teams, and even forced myself to date a girl. Living two parallel lives got really exhausting, it led to me being depressed and bipolar. So I finally decided to tell someone, my closest friend. It was my first step to liberation, and there was no looking back. Eventually, I came out to my other friends—some distanced themselves from me, but others accepted me. I finally gained the courage to tell my parents; all my mum said was that 'she always knew', and she reassured me by saying that she would never interfere with my personal choices. My dad, on the other hand, couldn't fully comprehend the situation. He tried to find excuses to justify my sexuality like, 'Maybe you've convinced yourself you're gay' or 'It's just a phase'. But he's trying to make his peace with it ever since, and I'm just so grateful for that. I've recently been crowned the second runner-up for Mr Gay World India, and I couldn't be more proud of being gay."
"I am a queer, disabled activist. Queer and disabled are two identities that the government tries to pretend are non-existent.
Growing up, it was always a big challenge for me to fit in at school. So I found myself succumbing to peer pressure and rebellious behaviour, just to try and fit in and for my voice to be heard. It didn't help me get anywhere. In fact, I got depressed, which led to an eating disorder. I hopelessly tried to define and shape myself according to the environment I was in because I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. We all try to fit in because we want our existence to be relevant. As a queer person with disabilities, I could hardly conform to that, no matter how much I tried.
I think it's crazy how deeply embedded we are in a toxic, archaic India, where education and language are watered down to represent only the top layer of a hierarchical society. We are taught words like homosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual—which make you feel inferior and vulnerable. I saw that people's behaviour and preferences were boxed into these gender binaries and labels, just so that they could be mocked. I wasn't ready for that. I don't think I ever will be. But f*ck it. I'm here and I'm queer.
It was never a 'coming out' story for me because time is a social construct. But I guess it might have been last year that I embraced myself fully and wholly. But even now, when people ask me specific details about my sexuality, I can't come up with anything. And why should I? I have tried to put myself in the boxes of 'bisexual' or 'pansexual', even 'asexual' sometimes; and 'lesbian' often feels good. But I think my love is too large to fit in those boxes. Because sex is sacred in all its forms, and shapes and sizes. So let's take pride in it."
"I always kinda knew I was gay. But living in a heteronormative society, I was forced to hide it for 20 years. I grew up learning that gay people were disowned by their families, arrested by the police, and humiliated by society. But last year, I moved to Delhi and began interacting with other gay people, who helped me open up about my sexuality. After years of hiding in the closet, I gained the confidence to come out to my family and friends and I was lucky that they understood. On November 16, 2017, I publicly came out as gay on social media. It's crazy how homosexuality is still a taboo topic in India and that must change. I've met some amazing men who have taught me that sexuality knows no colour, creed, religion, economic status or profession. We all deserve the same chance as everyone else and I really want to urge parents to start treating their children with love and respect, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation."
"For me, realising that I was pansexual did not happen at any one moment. It was a long, complex journey that began when I was 12 or 13. I would feel unexplainable guilt for wanting to look at beautiful women on TV; I thought I was supposed to think about boys. I couldn't fully relate to being homosexual either, I was sure I was still attracted to boys. So I disregarded my attraction to girls and thought I was just a weird, straight person. It was only when I moved to college that I got a chance to explore my sexuality. I finally admitted to myself that I could be pansexual. I started dropping hints on social media and my mum eventually figured out that I belonged to the LGBT+ community, and she made me really proud by accepting who I was. I feel much more confident having conversations about my future with my parents now, even though my father and I haven't really gotten around to discussing my sexuality yet. I'm not really looking forward to that conversation, but I have my fingers crossed."
"I was 16 when I first came out, and I decided to tell my sister. I didn't have the courage to tell her directly so I wrote it all on paper and slid it under her door. It seemed like the longest hour of my life, I was terrified as to what she'd say. But she texted me saying that she loved me and she accepts me the way I am. She made me believe that it's okay to be who I am and that I'll always have her by my side. I was so relieved and thankful! She gave me the strength to eventually tell my parents, and held my hand through the whole ordeal. It wasn't the best idea to tell them though, they took me to a psychologist for almost a year to try and help me 'get rid of it'. We came to a conclusion that my parents would never understand that side of me and the shrink advised me to move out of my house once I was independent enough. Now, 10 years down the line, my parents still haven't addressed this 'issue'. I didn't end up leaving my parents and I don't want to. They've stood by my side, supported me, fed me, given me a roof over my head, regardless of who I was. I'm fine with the fact that they may not accept this side of me. We just need to embrace what we get and move forward."
"The first time I came out publicly was at a comedy open-mic night. I was tired of people telling me that I'm wrong for being gay, which led me to believe that if I was going to talk about it, I had to make some noise around it. I did come out to my closest friends when I was 19, and then eventually to my other group of friends. Their reactions ranged from utter disbelief to claims of me trolling them. 'There's nothing gay about you,' said someone. So I used these reactions in my stand-up routine. It was quick, like ripping out a Band-Aid. As I faced a bunch of listless faces wondering what I was going to joke about, I blurted out, 'So I'm gay. Who else? No-one? Only me then!' and I waited for a glass to come flying at me. Instead, I was faced with a furore of applause and cheers. I realised how important it was to talk about homosexuality and also to have a sense of humour about it. After that, coming out to my family was like cakewalk, albeit with its own share of woes."
"All through school, I stood out like a sore thumb; I was different from all the other boys because I wanted to be a girl. I was 16 when I realised that I liked boys, not girls. So I spoke about it to my mum, and her words have stuck with me ever since. She said, 'Do and behave the way you want because it doesn't matter in the long run. All that matters is the difference you make in the world.' That's all it took for me to accept myself as gay, and it was easy to convince the world after that. But then, when I went to college, I realised that I wasn't comfortable in my own body. I wasn't sure what it was, I Googled every possible thing until I realised that I'm actually transsexual. I'm 99 percent female and just one percent male. I think like a woman and I want to live like one. After that, I started being more 'me'; I was happier and wasn't scared of telling people what I really felt. Now the next thing on the agenda—a sex reassignment surgery."
"As a child, I loved playing around with my sister's things and draping myself in my mum's saris, so yeah, I always knew I was different. But my dad used to get angry at all my antics and feminine gestures. After a while, I moved to Chennai for college and found myself attracted to men. I had a series of flings, relationships and heartbreaks. I started researching a lot about the LGBTQ community, and realised I was gay. In 2013, I came out to my sister and a few friends...and I felt so much better! I didn't have to pretend to be someone I'm not. I was so surprised that my sexuality didn't bother them at all, we even joked about it—we went to gay bars and just had fun really. They helped me accept myself and realise it's okay to be different. But I was scared to come out to my parents for the longest time; it was only last year that I finally did. I was expecting tears and drama and fights, but they were completely fine with it. I guess they always had a hunch though."