As a new girl in Delhi, I was navigating through a shared female paying guest (PG) space for the first time in my life at the age of 23. Being a little wary of sharing any information about myself, finally, something happened which I was not prepared for.
I came to Delhi for a month for an internship. One evening after office, while I was on the terrace with one of my PG mates and I had just come out to her as a smoker; we were sharing a cigarette over a cup of tea. We were talking about our lives and life choices.
My new friend, A, shared that she had just ended her 11-year-old relationship as she wanted to complete her studies and get a job, but her partner wanted to get married. Then marriage was the next thing we were discussing.
After expressing my rigid reluctance to get married for a while, I said, “Also, I am not allowed to get married in this country!” This made her a little curious and I felt I should not have said that. An awkward silence filled the air.
She broke the silence and said, “Okay, now I understand!” I asked, “What?” She said, “Okay, don’t take any offence if what I say is not true.” She then said, “So, you want to spend your life with a girl?”
For the first time, someone did not reduce my identity to a mere sexual being.
I was silent. Not because what she said was untrue. That was perhaps one of the truest things of my personhood! But I was surprised and quite overwhelmed with what she said. How beautifully, even without having the need to choose an identity for me, she expressed what she could understand about me.
That evening took me back to many incidents, most prominently the one experienced five years back, during the first year of college. I remember sharing to my newly made ‘friends’ that I was in love with a woman.
The aftermath of this sharing led to the entire department, in a women’s college, being told to be “aware” of me as I was a lesbian, thus potentially “unsafe”! This incident never stopped me from coming out though, but I consciously chose to be in such spaces where coming out would be easy, comfortable and safe.
I chose to navigate my queer identity in ‘queer’ or ‘political safe spaces’. That incident successfully generated a fear in me which has been limiting me to comfort zones only.
This also made me reflect as to why I was so surprised with A’s response. For the first time, someone did not reduce my identity to a mere sexual being. A could believe that I and people like me can seek companionship (and not only sex!). Before this incident, all the occasions of unplanned and non-strategized coming out have made me see the reduced and only version of my identity – which only seeks sex from women!
This experience with A was an unplanned coming out, where I didn’t strategize anything. I just came out to her as a smoker, which was quite difficult as I was apprehensive of the expected reactions for being a woman and a smoker!
The PG was a space with a diverse group of young women from different geographical and social locations. I was hesitant to disclose some of my ‘not fitting the box’ identities to them, in fear of being judged and eventually getting rejected!
I responded to A, saying, “Spending life with someone is a big and loaded thing perhaps, but yes, I like women”. I soon realized that I had out come out to her as an activist as well. My identity of being queer was not only confined to my sexuality but also associated with what I do in life.
I feel coming out is definitely not an occasion but a process, as I come out to myself with my different selves.
As a gender fluid person and a queer feminist activist (the way I identify myself), I then came out to her with that identity of mine. This time, it was a little difficult for her to understand what I meant. After managing to create further dialogue, I was feeling liberated. The spring breeze of that Delhi evening provided a breather with a little more ease.
It also made me think that choosing to stay in a safely outlined space for coming out as a queer person (with previous traumatizing experiences), I could only be apprehensive about people’s reactions and responses outside that comfort zone. But in a similar way, I have also perceived (and judged as well?) that people would inevitably be uncomfortable and would have invalidate my identity if I came out.
I was recurrently taken back to the question – what does coming out mean? What does it mean about staying in the ‘closet’? Coming out is not restricted to one particular identity (which is otherwise associated with the queer identity), but coming out can be of different and multiple identities.
I don’t need to come out to everyone with all my identities. Nor do I want to. But I feel coming out is definitely not an occasion but a process, as I come out to myself with my different selves, which I explore and come across in the course of time. In this instance, I came out as a smoker, then queer, then an activist. Maybe with time, I would keep on coming out with more of my identities.
Featured Image Credit: Q Notes