There is no conversation quite like the one that involves you telling your mom and dad that you’re gay. Growing up queer often means not just making peace with the gender of the person(s) making you weak in the knees but also with the idea that you might be breaking your family’s homophobic heart. It’s 2019, and more people around the world are gathering the courage to come out—especially as they enjoy more legal rights and visibility than ever before. But still, living with internalised homophobia and rejection at your doorstep often means having to make difficult choices.
I first came out to my family back in 2015 and after a few intense debates, they made an effort to understand my life. But when I finally fell in love with someone I found fit enough to bring home for dinner, all hell broke loose. My meddling cousins got involved and a photograph of ours got me kicked out of my house, all of this happening within a week’s time earlier this month. I was always aware that I would never be able to live up to the ideals my family had set for me. I have two older sisters, and they got everything right in my parents’ books: from marrying men of the same caste as my family’s to bearing children—a girl and a boy each. But me? I was the rainbow sheep of my family.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt by the sudden departure my family took from being supportive and understanding. But deep down, I always knew this would come to pass. I had been planning my exit from the family for years, and after thinking about it for over six years, it was my mother who decided that I should leave. In many ways, it worked out because I can now settle in my own little queer paradise with my partner. As much as we would want our families to recognise that love is love, sometimes, it’s just not an option. Honestly, if I am to face homophobic slurs anyway, I’d rather do it from strangers than my own father. So, if you are considering getting out as well, let me and a few of my queer friends help you prepare for the inevitable: surviving on your own.
Step 1: Try to make it work at home
First off, don’t just assume your folks are going to hate you, and plan your exit without ever letting them know. I understand that for many people, not coming out is also a decision they’ve made, and I respect that. But if you want to live a life which stays true to your sexuality, start with what I call ‘the hinting game’ to test the waters. There’s a lot of queer media available today that can help ease the conversation around homosexuality, at home. I remember using this episode of popular Indian TV show Satyameva Jayate on accepting alternative sexualities, as an excuse to tease the conversation. Divya Roop, a make-up artist and a gender non-conforming model, says, “One must try to understand what their family thinks about LGBT first. You can do that by bringing LGBT-related topics into discussions—be it celebrity marriages or queer politics or issues that queer people face. When you're sure that your family is supportive, you should try to break it to them but try not to be very direct at first. It may not be easy for them even if they are supportive. But if you feel that your family isn't supportive, shift your focus on your education and building a career first.” Give your folks some time to come around without expecting them to go for 0 to 60 instantly. Help them see how happy and healthy you are, and get them educational resources to know what being queer entails. Try to make it work, but if life gets sucky, then it’s time to plan an exit.
Step 2: Save some money
If there’s one arm-twisting method parents might use to extort the gay out of their kids, it’s the threat of cutting away their money supply. To that, I have a simple solution: Get a bank account. It’s not that difficult and won’t be looked upon as a shameful act either. Get to earning on the side whatever little you can, and add it to the account for a rainy day when the rainbow is out. Trust me, there’s a whole different level of confidence that being self-dependent brings. Prachi* had to elope six times with her partner, but then returned home, before finally coming to a stage where she and her partner could support themselves financially. “We didn’t have any money when we first ran away,” she says. “Whatever little we had, we tried to make do with it. But it’s better to prepare before you start on a new life.” Bollywood has famously glorified running away as an elaborate foray into adulting, but not everyone gets lucky. If you’re a student, consider holding your coming out till you are financially independent.
Step 3: Create a back-up plan
Rajshri* resides with her partner in New York. She has known her partner for almost 20 years and before moving to NYC where they do not have to keep their love under wraps, they tried living together in Mumbai. But India’s deep-seated homophobia meant that the duo—like many other queer desis—found their safe space in another country. Now, your back-up plan need not be going through an extensive immigration process and starting life from scratch in a new place. But just create a road map of sorts that outlines where you want to go in life—with family by your side or not. Sometimes, moving cities to get away from people you love but who just cannot accept your sexuality, might be a good idea. And sometimes, just stepping out of the home can be enough.
Step 4: Gather your #FriendsLikeFamily
For me, my friends are EVERYTHING. I’m not even exaggerating. They’ve let me crash on their couch, cooked me dinners, and just generally been there for me. Rally your closest friends when you’ve decided to come out—your friends, siblings, teachers, colleagues, bosses… the sorts you know you can lean on when things get bad. That’s what Divya Roop did too. “When I left home, my first thought was: How am I going to survive this? I had to leave my college mid-way, so I had no qualification, no degree, no professional skill set. I immediately contacted my friends because they were my support system. They even threw me a housewarming party when I found a little place to live in, and came over with everything I would need to make it a home.” A “chosen family” is many things to many people—but for homeless queer folks, they might be the most important.
Step 5: Work your ass off if you have to
Getting out and finding couches to crash on is not the tough part. Paying for everything by yourself, on the other hand, will awaken the math and budgeting genius in you that you never knew existed. All three of my friends with whom I spoke for this piece have been working their butts off to make sure they survive. You also feel less lonely when your head is in the game. I work as a comedian, writer, podcaster and also do a couple of acting gigs to keep myself afloat. Prachi now works as a marketing professional and was able to land on her feet thanks to a supportive boss. Rajshri is an event coordinator in New York and lives in a cute little place with her girlfriend. Divya Roop is changing the game with his modelling. He’s still struggling to make his way into the mainstream fashion industry but on his way there, he’s shattering gender norms and roles. This is not limited to simply queer people moving out, but to anyone who does not have the kind of support they want, back home. Often, money is power and when you rely on someone else to make that money for you, you are handing them the power on your life. Reclaim that power.
Step 6: Stop and smell those flowers
Amidst all this, it’s also imperative that you enjoy the simple joys that life offers. You are now fully queering your way through life and there’s no one stopping you. Those countless nights of being unsure and in agony will have their pay-offs. Just hang in there.
*Names changed on request
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