Growing up, my parents showed me plenty of love and care. But outside of home, people treated me differently. I was told I was dark and was bullied. They used to call me Kala, Kalia or Blackie, and make me feel bad.
On top of this, from a very young age, I figured out that I was different from the other boys at school. My behavior and mannerisms were feminine. I was picked upon. I was called chakka, hijra, ombathu.
There were many times when I wanted to not live anymore. I tried to kill myself three times. After the third attempt, I vowed never again.
Along with this, I had feelings for boys. I was not sure why. I could see the other boys were having feelings for girls. Scared, I was careful to ensure these feelings didn’t come out in the open. This confusion continued all the way to college.
Living a dual life in India
Thanks to the internet, I was able to figure that I wasn’t the only man in this world with an attraction for guys. One evening, during conversations with one of the guys I met online, I realized I was gay. Walking back to my hostel room, I actually said to myself, ‘I am gay’. It felt good. The impact those words had on me took me by surprise.
After college, at work, I made friends with my colleagues. During my working days, I was pretty much gay during the weekends and in weekdays, I constantly made sure I hid my gayness, thinking it shouldn’t affect my career.
I lived a frustrating dual life. My colleagues used to crack gay jokes over dinner or drinks. I laughed along, but inside, I felt bad. This hiding continued for a couple of years. I decided to come out on New Year’s Eve 2006.
An hour after midnight, after a stiff vodka, I broke the news to them. The two guys present were a bit surprised and upset – mainly because I hadn’t trusted them enough to tell them before.
However, the two girls were thrilled and happy for me. They said they always knew that something was different about me which they were absolutely fine with that. They were also very proud that I took such a bold step to be who I am and live my life.
Coming out to my parents
By the time I came out to my parents, I was very comfortable with my sexuality. That didn’t make telling them any easier. Around four years before coming out, my parents had started seeing girls for me, thinking it would take time to find the right match for me.
During those days, I used to tell my mom that I didn’t want to get married. They thought I was avoiding taking on responsibilities. My close friends started getting married and this added further pressure.
The matchmaking process went on and on. They could not find a girl whose horoscope matched mine. I told my mum this was perhaps God’s decision.
However, I could see my parents getting worried about it all. I asked the opinion of girlfriends who were married: Could I marry a girl for my parent’s sake? After speaking to them, I made a decision: I could never marry a girl and ruin her life to keep someone else happy.
Finally, the day that I dreaded arrived. My parents told me that they had found a girl whose horoscope matched with mine. They were relieved. I was stunned and shocked.
The next day, I called my parents into my room and told them I would not marry. When they asked me why, I said, ‘I’m gay.’
My dad was like, ‘What’s gay?’
Refusing to marry a woman
My heart sank further realizing how naive my parents are. The next couple of hours were really difficult. I had to explain to them about many things. They were angry, upset, shocked and sobbing. I maintained my composure but couldn’t avoid crying at times. It was hard to see my parents upset because of me.
I also decided not to give in to their emotional blackmail. Instead, I tried reverse psychology. I told them they taught me to be truthful and honest. I told them that I would not be happy if I marry a girl as I can’t love a girl.
And I even said, if they want me to get married to make them happy, I will get married. But I won’t be happy at all. That shocked them even more, as they said they wanted me to be happy.
Inside, despite the drama, I felt great relief and happiness at having told them.
While I was sure about my sexual orientation, I was yearning for love and a partner. I had dated a few guys, but nothing went beyond three months. So, I left it to fate and even contemplated that a partner might not be for me. In that was to be the case, I made bucket lists of things I wanted to get done instead.
Then, in June 2016, I met a guy for a coffee after weeks of chatting on a gay dating app.
I was older (I am now 37 and Soham is 27), and darker. People in India often prefer fair skinned people and discriminate against those with dark skin. However, we got on well. Our first date was magical and beautiful.
After that day, we met each other whenever we could. My feelings for him grew stronger and I started to fall in love. We are making our lives better and supporting each other to achieve our goals and dreams.
With him by my side, I wanted to do more for the community. I became the cofounder of a group called Working With Pride. This works to helping companies create LGBTQ employee resource groups make workplaces more inclusive. We also started a Leadership program called Leading With Pride.
Mr Gay World India
In July 2018, I read about the Mr Gay World India competition. I didn’t think I’d have any chance in it, but thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to reach out to many more people and break stereotypes like age, color, working profession and region (as I am a South Indian).
So I applied for it. I gave it my all and had a great time in those three days – and I won the title. I take great pride to be the winner and with this attention I want to do more for the community.
Afterwards, I then represented India at the Mr Gay World 2019 event in Cape Town, South Africa. I was placed among the top 10 finalists.
Now, I spend time attending various events, workshops and raising awareness about the LGBTQ community. Highlighting the challenges facing transgender people is of particular importance to me, as they need our support more than ever.
My parents are still going through the process of acceptance. They know that I won the Mr. Gay World India title and were alright with it as it wasn’t publicized too much in newspapers. They have met my boyfriend and know we are in a relationship. They continue to come to terms with my sexuality.