What’s it like to be a lesbian in a country where this orientation is criminalized? Where parents often don’t accept such a child? Here is a personal account of the pain and anguish of one such person [/h2]
By Khalid Shah
Society didn’t matter much for Anuradha, but when it came to her family, she hoped to have little or no confrontation. At the same time, she knew her parents would never accept her as a lesbian. Anuradha came from a typical, conservative, Punjabi family. Her family expected her to marry a Punjabi boy from a business family. While growing up, her mother had constantly warned her against marrying a low-caste or a Muslim boy.
DISGRACE TO FAMILY
In India, where parents treat their daughters as a “liability”, any sign of rebellion is seen as a disgrace to the honor of the family and society at large. It could even disrupt the marriage prospects of others in the family.
Anuradha, who works in a research organization and holds a masters degree in international relations, has three older sisters who accepted her orientation. “My family is full of wonderful people, but my parents have certain prejudices. They will never accept me as a lesbian,” she says. “It would be terrible for my parents if I came out openly about my sexuality and said that I can’t marry a boy.”
Anuradha plans to go abroad in the next few years to pursue her doctorate and will not return to India. She says she does not have a future here after the criminalization of homosexuality. It is impossible for her to marry and live with a girl. “I want to go far away from my parents where I can live life on my own terms. That way, I won’t hurt or bring them social disgrace,” she says.
Anuradha was in denial of her sexuality for a long time. Her first lesbian experience was with a best friend at the age of 10. She continued to have regular, intimate moments with her till she shifted to a boarding school. There, Anuradha dated a boy for a short while. She doesn’t attach any meaning to her childhood experiences. Putting them into the definition of a homosexual identity would have brought up other issues to deal with, including morality and social acceptability. “At some level, I knew all along that I am not a heterosexual. But living in denial was the easiest way out,” says Anuradha.
In December 2013, Anuradha attended a LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transg-ender, Queer and Intersex) film festival at India Habitat Centre in Delhi. She was surrounded by homosexuals, transgenders and queers. She felt exposed. “People could see what I was and what I had denied for long. I realized that those childhood flings were not random. I started adding meaning to things I had denied,” she says. She met a beautiful woman at the film festival over whom she had an instant “crush”. She kept thinking about her throughout the film festival. After the festival, she stopped denying her homosexuality and decided to come out.
It took a month for her to muster the courage. She told Lata, her best friend with whom she had lived with for over a year. “It was easier for me to come out to my friends. They are liberal people. No one judged me. My friends encouraged me to explore, they supported me completely.” Lata says she initially brushed off Anuradha’s admission as a joke. “When she told me, I thought she was fooling me. Slowly, I realized that she was serious. It wasn’t a shock or a surprise. Earlier, I used to say: Get her a guy, get her a guy and then, it changed to: Get her a girl, get her a girl.”
Anuradha says her initial lesbian experiences were innocent. “Having a physical connection with girls felt as natural as anything else. When people say that it is a lifestyle choice, I don’t think it’s correct because frankly, if I had a choice, I would choose an easier, less complicated path. Being gay has countless social consequences in this country. This is not a lifestyle choice I made, this is who I am. I was born this way.” Her coming out inspired two of her closeted gay friends to come out as well. “I am much happier now. I am content. All those years of denial and confusion are over,” she says.
—(Identities have been changed to protect the individuals)