The Unbearable Freedom Of Being

 

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Source: the Internet.

‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ a ninth grade English paper once asked me. It was a 20-mark essay, and I had 20 minutes to earn them. I rolled up my sleeves, and pulled out my cursive best.

The thing is, I wanted to be a great many things.

I wanted to be a chef, I wanted to be an actor, I wanted to be a painter, I wanted to be an astronaut, and for two weeks after I turned 11, I even wanted to be a National Geographic correspondent, if only because my older sister said that she wanted to be one. My essay – and the time allotted to write it – might have come to an end at this point, but my story didn’t. From the age of six to sixteen, I raced through changes. My styles, my sexual leanings and my haircuts changed, and so did my dreams.

Only, what did I never dream of being?

Myself.

All my years of adolescence, I had struggled to find myself, even though I struggled comfortably – I was so used to push my problems under a hypothetical carpet, and pretend they didn’t exist, that I never realized the lies I was hoarding up – little white lies, they wouldn’t hurt anyone, would they? It was an easy, lazy life.

I used this complacency as a security blanket, and wound it around myself whenever thoughts of the future terrified me. What would coming out (as a gay man) be like? Would it be a cakewalk or a walk down the plank? Would I have to talk about my feelings? Would I have someone to talk about my feelings to (a fair question, because I grew up thinking that you were only allowed to talk about your feelings at expensive therapy sessions, sappy book clubs or when watching romantic tearjerkers)?

Growing up was always a mark of independence – no more school, no more staying at home, no more rules, no more restrictions, no more getting worried over your mother’s eighteen missed calls (well, almost) – it seemed like a technicolour dream, being so free-spirited. But honestly, I didn’t know what I would do with all the freedom. Independence (or the mere thought of it) petrified me. What would I do being free?

Would I finally have to be myself?

People are terrified to be themselves, especially when bravery is an option, and not an obligation I’ve been called manipulative, selfish, a coward, a sore loser. Why would I want to be myself then? I’d rather be someone nicer and more admirable; I’d rather be someone else.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Some enjoy the peace that comes with accepting who you are, but most of us waltz on the fence in the middle. Take sexuality, for instance. We can stir ourselves to walk free and fabulous, but we’d rather stay safe and sound in the cage of heteronormativity. I made myself feel at home in the cage till I was twenty-one.

The thing about independence is that it doesn’t come gift-wrapped and express delivered to your front doorstep. It needs to be earned, or fought for.

Coming to terms with your sexuality and stepping out of the closet isn’t easy – especially when in a country like India, where minds can be as narrow as Bandra’s bylanes, even if you are an upper-class well-educated man (and sometimes, especially if you an upper-class, well educated man). Everyday life is a battle. As countless films and American television shows have told us, you don’t just wake up one morning and walk out into the sunlit world. To reach the closet door, you need to push through your woolens, those ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ shirts you bought on an impulse but will never wear, and the odd tangle of smelly socks, greying underwear and smutty novels you don’t want your mother to find. It will be tough, especially if you’ve been hoarding – and holding back – all your life.

And even when you do, it’s a never-ending process – those closet doors that everyone talks about? They are revolving. Week after week, you will find yourself coming out to friends, family, acquaintances, and (occasionally) drunken strangers at the bar. Perhaps one day it will not be the big deal that it is today, and you won’t have to worry whether your words are followed by a kiss to the cheek or a punch to the mouth. Every new acceptance is a fresh slice of independence, and you’ll wolf it all down without worrying about empty calories or complex carbs.

It will be liberating, the way you feel after you’ve survived a last-minute clearance sale. Only this is the clearance sale of regrets.

Fortunately, my personal coming out story reeks of acceptance and Hallmark cards – it happened at the dinner table, one Friday evening back in early 2015, over cups of chamomile and desiccated coconut biscuits. I sat my parents down, and told them everything in a diligently rehearsed 17-minute monologue.

In 18 minutes, it was done.

Questions were asked, hugs were exchanged, a tear was shed (that would be me). My mum went for a walk with her friends, and my dad continued solving the crossword puzzle. They accepted it with a simple shrug (and lots of love and support over the next couple of years, but this is the not a story about that). My sexuality was just another fact.

What about the war of words I had been expecting? The emotional bloodshed? The years of torment at the hands of society? They never came, even though the history books said that they would. Times are changing, and somewhere over pop culture references and more inclusive media representations, my parents and peers had changed as well. The history books had it wrong.

What they did get right was this – freedom felt liberating.

The freedom to stay single. The freedom to be a sexual deviant. The freedom to wear a skirt (if you are a man) or a jersey (if you are a woman). The freedom to wear both. The freedom to wear neither. The freedom to never find your way back home. The freedom to stay in for the night, with Netflix and a bottle of wine (that would be me again).

What do we do with the freedom then? Do we let it consume us? Terrify us into never seeking it out?

We do neither. We simply unwind and enjoy it with a cup of tea.

Preferably chamomile.

The Guysexual’s Guide To Freedom

 

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What does freedom mean to me?

Wearing pyjamas on a Monday. Heading out on a vacation in the middle of January. Eating (and owning) eight bars of dark chocolate in one sitting. Netflix binging all week. Not replying to a text right away. Not feeling guilty about any of it.

Freedom might mean a lot of different things for each of us, but for the quintessential gay man in India, it means a lot more — the freedom to dress how they want, the freedom to love who they want, but most importantly, the freedom to be who they want.

At the end of the day, what else do you need independence from in India? You don’t need to answer the question; it was rhetorical.

But then again, the answers needn’t be. As Independence Day charges at us with all its tri-coloured glory, here are 15 different ideas that (gay) men need instant freedom from, this 15 August:

1. Body-shaming
I’ve said it before and I will say it again — square, round, fat, skinny, triangular, muscled, average, toned, thin, beefed up or even trapezoid — gay men (or anyone, for that matter) come in all shapes and sizes. As long as they are not a trigonometric equation, learn to appreciate all of them.

2. Patriarchy
Fun fact: did you know what makes a man (or woman) highly irresistible?
Their ideas on equality (and inclusivity).

3. Section 377
Because Section 377 is as redundant as Pahlaj Nihalani’s opinion right now. Let’s dust off the Constitution of India, and dust off those blues, shall we?

4. Bigotry
We all need to left swipe on extreme right wing propaganda – especially the one that opposes anything that is even remotely LGBT, including your (just the right amount of inappropriate) man crush on Rahul Khanna. Respect other people’s opinions like you would respect your mother on her birthday (or Mother’s Day).

5. Self hate
The only kind of people who hate gay men more than the bigots from above?
Gay men themselves. Internalised homophobia is real, boys and girls — it’s time to address the problem out in the open. Just like you should be.

6. Crocs
You might need freedom, boys — but your open toes don’t. The monsoons are over, so keep those crocs where YOU don’t belong — right at the back of your closet.

7. Judging relatives
Just like Apple’s license agreement and the disclaimer at the beginning of every movie, opinions of overbearing relatives are ticks that don’t need your attention.

8. Social media stress
The world might be going to war (here’s looking at you, North Korea and the United States of America) and I’ve still spent hours wondering why my #TransformationTuesday isn’t getting any Instagram love at 3 pm. It’s time to switch off the smart phones, and switch off that stress. I’ll probably go to the gym and work on my glutes instead.

9. Toxic love
No, the fact that he pinged you at 2 am, three months after he cheated on you (and effectively dumped you after) does not mean he’s trying to get back into your life. He probably just wants to get back into your pants. Love might be a lot of things, but it’s never deceitful. Nothing toxic can ever come out of a genuine, romantic relationship. Always remember that.

10. Notions of heteronormativity
Some people believe in monogamy. Some people believe in polygamy. Some people believe in free love. As long as you are practising safe sex, leave your notions of what is right and what is wrong right next to the used condom wrappers.

11. Gender appropriation
If Kiran, with the gender-neutral name, wants to dress in a way that’s slightly gender-fluid, don’t be a douche about it. No one needs that kind of negativity in their life — especially when they are trying to walk in six-inch stilettos in a busy Mumbai street.

12. Bullying
Just because I was okay with the fact that I spent most of high school getting pushed against lockers (and the occasional fellow nerd), doesn’t mean I am okay being dragged down a trail of comments by internet trolls, thank you very much.

13. No sugar diets
If gay men gave more importance to positivity than their protein supplements, the world would be a sweeter place to live in. Cinnamon bun intended. Empty calories aside, cutting sugar out just leads to an emptier life.

14. Bad television
The only thing worse than no LGBT representation in film (and other media) is shitty LGBT representation in film (and other media). Think of it this way — every time a gay person is portrayed as a promiscuous, sassy fashionista with no morals (or a wrist bone) on screen, a baby seal is clubbed to death in Antarctica.
Or worse, Chetan Bhagat comes out with another book.

15. Peroxide hair
Just one word: Nope.