A self-confessed former homophobe in India has written of his journey to accepting LGBTI people and wanting to fight for their rights in an article published by ‘mouthpiece for the youth’ publication Youth Ki Awaaz.
‘I am writing this today neither to condemn nor support you in your struggles. I write today to talk about a universal cause that both you and I are equally part of,’ Vishesh Jain wrote in his open letter to the LGBTI community in India.
‘My story started out like the very people who oppose you. I was a homophobe for as long as I could remember. I grew up laughing and mocking homosexual men.
‘To me, who had been fed piles of cultural and social dogma while growing up, you were weird and abnormal. I remember how my father told me how ashamed he would be if I ever told him I was “one of you.”
‘The truth is, I hated you so much, not because you are wrong or immoral, but because deep down somewhere I feared you. I feared that hanging out with you might make me like you. I feared what the world would think of me; I feared losing my ‘masculinity,’ my reputation, and social rejection and abandonment by associating with you, so I kept my distance.’
However Jain wrote that he was forced to rethink his attitudes when his sister told him that one of her close friends was gay.
‘Initially, I was shocked, because I loved hanging out with him and had never suspected him of being gay,’ Jain wrote.
‘My sister reproached me for telling her never to bring him home and being so narrow-minded. Out of love for my older sister, I met him cordially albeit uncomfortably. Within an hour of chilling with them, I was back to being comfortable, and I had completely forgotten about his sexuality.’
Jain wrote that this had been a turning point for him and thereafter he wanted to educate himself about LGBTI issues.
‘Suddenly, I found myself curious to know more and form my own opinion. I read about homosexual references in biology, literature, history, mythology, and in other cultures. Through my sister’s friend I met some of his friends who were activists and realized how wrong I was to misjudge you. In time, I grew to empathize your cause and became a supporter of equal rights.’
However it was only when he became friends with a gay colleague at work that he realized that they weren’t so different after all.
‘He was bullied for being “girly,” and I for being “fat.” Both of us craved for our parents to accept us as we were – he for his sexual orientation and I for my career choices and liberal religious beliefs,’ Jain wrote.
‘Most of all, both of us struggled to find a sense of belonging in a world where we feared we would be shunned at every step. We were both same and different, and it was this respect for our differences and empathy for our struggles that had made us the best of friends.’
Jain wrote that everybody felt in some way compelled to live up to the expectations of others rather than living as themselves and for that reason LGBTI equality was a fight for everybody’s personal freedom.
‘You fight for the rights of all those people who fear to express who they are in a conformist, intolerant, and condemning society,’ Jain wrote.
‘You fight to break the ideals of culture as being rigid and predefined rather than fluid and evolving, an amalgamation of the impressions left behind by its people – past and present. You fight against the worship of a god that creates only to condemn our differences vis-a-vis a god who creates to celebrate them.
‘But most of all you, for the most fundamental and basic universal right of freedom – to live unapologetic, unbowed, undisguised as who we are and how we wish to express ourselves. Somewhere today, all of us are living in someone else’s idea of reality – our parents, peers, political leaders, or society’s, the only reality we know of. We fit ourselves into someone else’s notion of what is acceptable and not, of who we are and who we should be. And in the process, we lose out on the one thing, which is most dear to us – our individuality.
‘Which is why this cause isn’t just your cause, it is our cause. It is our cause of freedom to love – ourselves as we are and those who we choose, without discrimination of caste, creed, sex, or religion. And finally, it is our cause to create a future generation of denizens who can grow up accepting and respecting our individual choices vis-a-vis ridiculing them. Which is why, we should keep fighting… all of us.’
You can read the whole of Vishesh Jain’s open letter here