Illustration by Emily Whittingham for Varsity

A couple of weeks before I turned 18, I dragged my parents into the kitchen and finally told them the big news: I wanted to take all my friends out to this really nice Indian restaurant for my birthday. They loved the idea, proud of me for sticking to my roots. I decided to open with that right before telling them that I was gay for a very good reason: there’s nothing better than a curry to butter up an awkward conversation.

But I’ll come back to that. My parents were born in two small villages a few miles apart from each other in the north of India. Like many other Sikh Punjabi families in the sixties, my grandparents decided to pack their suitcases and move to England for work and better opportunities for their children. Over 50 years later, my parents are married and have three children, the youngest being myself.

As I grew up, sexual orientation was never something that was really brought up in the household. That isn’t to say that my parents were actively trying to shield me from these kinds of conversations, but anything that strayed from the Indian heteronormative ideals I was accustomed to didn’t ever seem like a viable option. So, when I was 12 and I started to realise that I was thinking in ways that perhaps didn’t conform to these ideals, I was confused and, frankly, terrified.

“I was two hours deep in coming out videos on YouTube that the dots started to properly connect, and I had my realisation. My ‘gaypiphany’”

For the next few years, I kept this to myself, strongly under the impression that this was just a phase I would grow out of. It wasn’t until just before I turned 16 and I was two hours deep in coming out videos on YouTube that the dots started to properly connect, and I had my realisation. My ‘gaypiphany’, if you will. It stays with me as one of the most exhilarating and bewildering feelings I have ever experienced. I remember saying it aloud and then grabbing a notebook and writing down everything that was going through my head.

It was then that I decided to close the notebook and hide it away. I didn’t feel ready for anyone to know and I assumed that I would be just fine if I didn’t tell anyone for at least a few years. However, having admitted that I was gay to myself only made me feel far more aware that I was actively hiding something from the people around me. Around five months later, it had gotten to the point where I just needed to talk to someone about it and I ended up confiding in a close friend over text. It was relieving to see how positively she reacted, but it didn’t suppress my worries for how my other friends and how my family would react.

As it turns out, I would be able to witness my family’s reaction only days later, when my older brother, aged 23 at the time, came out as gay to my parents. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were supportive, and saddened by the fact that he has been dealing with such a burden for so long. I specifically remember my mum speaking to me later in the day about what had happened, and how she felt more at ease with the situation having realised that homosexuality is neither condemned nor dismissed in the Sikh religion that my parents had been brought up with.

“I didn’t want my parents to have to deal with being viewed as the family that had raised two gay sons; two sons that would never be able to fit the ‘Indian stereotype’”

You would think that my brother coming out and my parents’ reassuring response would have made me feel relieved, and so it should have. But in my naivety, I thought that my brother being gay only worsened my predicament. I didn’t want my parents to have to deal with being viewed as the family that had raised two gay sons; two sons that would never be able to fit the ‘Indian stereotype’. Looking back now, I realise how ridiculous this was, but my pessimism wasn’t helped by the ensuing, slightly stressful process of my brother and my parents having to inform other close family members of the news.

At the time, I found the fact that they had to do this to be quite dramatic, but now I can see that I was completely missing the point. My brother was one of first people in my extended family to come out as gay, so there wasn’t really a set way to go about the situation. In fact, his bravery to have these conversations so openly ended up meaning that there would less confusion and fewer raised eyebrows when it came to me discussing my own sexuality.

After starting sixth form, I began coming out to more of my friends, and it wasn’t long before I told my brother and my sister. The more people I told, the more confident I grew in myself, and the less I worried about how my family would react. I avoided telling my parents for a while, thinking that I probably wouldn’t have told them if I was seeing a girl, so there wasn’t any need for me to tell them that I was attracted to guys just yet.

But I knew that it had to happen eventually, and there were so many possible scenarios that went through my head. My personal favourite involved me shouting out ‘By the way, I’m gay!’ from the window of my new room as they walked back to the car after leaving me at university.


Mountain View

Out in Cambridge, but in the closet back home

Alas, I decided on the curry conversation, a spontaneous decision I had made only hours before. When I told my parents, yes, it was awkward, but they were accepting and only slightly disheartened that I had told so many people before them (in all honesty, I do regret this). Before long, everything was back to normal, but I felt so much happier knowing that I was no longer hiding an important part of my life from two of the people that I care most about.

Coming from an Indian family, I understand how incredibly fortunate I am for the lack of adversity I have faced in my coming out experience. This hit home when I returned to India with my family for the first time in six years this past Christmas for a wedding. Visiting my dad’s village, I began to imagine how different both mine and my brother’s lives would have been if our grandparents hadn’t moved to England half a century ago.

There is still so much progress to be made to overcome the taboo that is deeply instilled in the country’s culture. That being said, I felt an immense amount of pride being able to come back to India after homosexuality was legalised in September of last year: a moment that made two integral parts of my identity feel closer than ever.

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