If you’re a gay student in India, should you come out? When? To Whom?

Being gay is tough. Being gay in India is even tougher. Which is why many gay people in India remain in the closet most of their lives.

However, I strongly believe every gay person should come out, at least to the people they’re closest to. Having to hide such an important part of one’s identity, from everybody, for one’s entire life, is unhealthy, dangerous, and not a situation I would wish anybody to have to go through.

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article in the Pune Mirror by Sanyukta Dharmadhakari, about openly gay students on Pune college campuses. I was quite happy to find out that there is increasing acceptance of gay students on our campuses.

So I began to wonder – if there is a closeted gay student, should he/she be encouraged to come out?

I have little or no expertise in this matter. I have at least 4 good friends who are gay, I stayed for 2 years with a housemate who was gay, and I have attended my friends’ lesbian wedding. So I am a little more informed than the average person in India – but, to get an answer to my question, I decided to get the help of experts.

Sorry, this article has become a little long, so here’s a helpful table of contents. You don’t have to read all the parts, and you don’t have to read them in order.

How do you first find out that you’re gay? What does it feel like? I asked my friend Venkatesh Iyengar, who grew up in India, and who’s now openly gay, to answer this question. This is his experience:

I discovered I was gay when I was about 10. In school, I found myself excited by the other boys in class, but before I could comment about this to anyone, I noticed other boys were similarly excited by the girls in our class, and this puzzled me greatly. This was my first sign that I was different. I withdrew into a shell and became an introvert for many years to follow – a great defense mechanism at the time. I’m glad I realized that I was different before I discussed the issue with anyone. Otherwise I would have been accidentally “outed” before I was ready for it, and that wouldn’t have been good for me.

Owing to societal reaction to homosexuality, more so in India, we go through a lot of intense emotions early on, and foremost among them is fear, intense loneliness, self-guilt, self-hate, a desperate need to feel a sense of belonging …. these are very normal feelings, and these behaviours are learnt and reinforced over many years. Consequently accepting one is gay usually takes just as long if not longer. It starts with first understanding that what you are is ‘different’, not ‘wrong’, and truly believing that. I repeat – truly believing that – because that is by far the most important part of acceptance. Truly believing enables you to forgive yourself for whatever transgressions you think you committed, to love yourself without feeling the need to apologize for it, to say “I am gay” loudly with your head held high, and looking others in the eye, and to really feel like you do belong in any group of people. All this does not happen overnight. In my opinion two things are very key to getting through this process – having friends and/or family that will love you regardless, and meeting other gay people and having role models who are also gay.

Nothing can replace knowing that someone else has been through what you are going through, and especially knowing there are both famous and not-so-famous people just like you. Telling people you are gay is just a part of the process, maybe even an optional part. While this is what people refer to when they talk of “coming out”, the real coming out is acceptance of yourself, and your ability to think of your sexual orientation as another personal quality, like, say, the colour of your eyes.

It will happen. With time. And there is help – you don’t have to deal with it alone. Talking to an LGBT group or counselor is the first step. It is not easy – it will likely include some inner turmoil and compromises but it always gets better after that. Accepting yourself and coming out is an incredibly liberating feeling, one that I think everyone should experience.

This is not necessarily the only way that you find out you’re gay. Also, the age when you’ll find out is more likely to be closer to 13-15. But the feelings – of confusion, turmoil, guilt, self-hate, intense loneliness, fear – are very common. Just remember, you are different, not wrong, and you’re not alone.

So, on to the main question of this article: If a gay student is closeted, would you encourage him/her to come out? Why or why not?

I asked this question to Bindumadhav Khire, gay rights activist, and founder of Samapathik Trust, an NGO that works on LGBT issues. Here are his answers:

The question is coming out to whom? To their friends? Family? Teachers? Public? My advice is that they should (when they become Adults) come out to some good NGO like Samapathik Trust (Pune) or The Humsafar Trust (Mumbai). Their confidentiality will be respected (they need not give their real name) and they will find LGBTI community members who have a +ve image of themselves. They can also then seek counseling on various issues.

I feel they should not come out to their friends/family/teachers/public till their studies are over and they get a good job and become financially independent. In case they come out too early, and they are rejected by the family, they have nothing to fall back on. At a young age they are more vulnerable to blackmail, sexual exploitation, unsafe sex, alcohol/drug use, etc. as they have no support systems for them to help them cope with their sexuality. They also have no role models hence they are very vulnerable. The Trust is a good support system for them and they should avail of it.

If they insist on coming out, they should not come out till they are at least 18 years complete. As an adult they are legally in charge of their lifestyles.

In case he/she needs help, or information, or counseling, or therapy, what resources exist in Pune?

They can approach Samapathik Trust and based on their needs (e.g. depression etc.) we can refer them to a gay-friendly psychiatrist. In case they have been into unsafe sexual practices we can – with their consent – get them tested for HIV; if they have acquired Sexually Transmitted Infections we can provide medicines to them (as per advice of the doctor). If they have been sexually assaulted we can assist them to approach the police.

Where should he/she go for more information.

In Bombay, get in touch with Humsafar Trust.

Venkatesh Iyengar adds: In Bangalore, Good As You is a wonderful resource. They have a terrible website that doesn’t even load most of the time, so the best thing to do is go to a meeting and then get added to their Facebook group, which, for obvious reasons, is not searchable. There is also a YahooGroups group, and an email id that is monitored regularly – goodasyoublr@googlemail.com

I further asked Bhooshan Shukla, child psychiatrist, whether he would like to add to what Bindu said, and here is his response:

I agree with Bindu on most issues. My take is –

Coming out is a long and layered process. First is coming out to oneself. Accepting own sexuality, gathering data about it from safe sources like Samapathik trust and the internet. Once the person is okay to a reasonable extent, they should look for friends / family sources who can understand them better. Fortunately, this subject is all over the media so there are ample chances of discussion and knowing people’s views. When in doubt hold back, would me my rule of thumb because coming out is irreversible.

Another important issue is to recognize that sexuality is one part of life and difficulties in one part can not be allowed to take over whole life. Getting counseling help for distress is important.

Financial independence is very important and becomes supreme in a homophobic culture like ours.

Not jumping into indiscriminate sexual adventures is also important. I see many gay adolescents and youngsters exploring their sexuality prematurely. Leaving themselves exposed to ridicule, blackmail, abuse, and even mental slavery.

Lastly, after coming out to family and finding non-acceptance there, do not get into angry self destructive mode or even trying to shock and shame the family by behaviour that is embarrassing for close family members, especially mothers. It is important to realize that the family really struggles to come to terms with minority sexualities and needs a lot of time. Severing ties with the family makes one vulnerable to temporary and exploitative relationships.

Coming out is a process stretched over almost 10 years, i.e. from age of 13-15 to almost 25. It needs to be paced properly. This is the price one is forced to pay in our society. It is unfair but that is how it is.

So, here’s the simplified summary:

  • First, come out to yourself. Accept your sexuality.
  • Then, come out to a good NGO, (in Pune: Samapathik Trust, in Mumbai: Humsafar, in Bangalore: Good As You), and/or a gay-friendly psychiatrist
  • Then, with the help of the above, figure out the right time to come out to the others, including your family, friends, and others.
  • Be careful. People can be cruel; you’re vulnerable and easily exploitable

Being gay is difficult. Don’t do it without help.

I don’t have all the answers. Neither does anyone else. But asking the questions, exploring the possibilities, and having a discussion helps.

Please give your thoughts, suggestions, questions in the comments section below. If you have a question, ask in the comments section below and I’ll ensure that one of the experts featured above will answer it.

I know this is a sensitive topic, so please feel free to leave a comment anonymously. (Just pick a random username, and set your email address to <your_random_username>@example.com – you can also use your real email address, in which case, I will see it, but nobody else will see that email address so your identity will still remain hidden.) Or you can get in touch with Bindumadhav Khire via the Samapathik trust or the help line (details above), Dr. Bhooshan Shukla via his clinic, or Venkatesh Iyengar via email – they’ll all be happy to help, while respecting your confidentiality.

Appendix: Definitions, Misconceptions, and Clarifications

This section is not a part of the main article, so please feel free to skip to the comments section below.

Not everyone is familiar with the various concepts and terms related
to homosexuality, and I’ve noticed that often people have
misconceptions so here are some basics:

  • A homosexual or a gay person is someone who is sexually/romantically attracted to others of the same gender.
  • A homosexual who has not yet disclosed his/her homosexuality is said to be “closeted” or “in the closet”.
  • A homosexual who (voluntarily) discloses his/her sexual orientation is said to “come out”. Most homosexuals who come out, come out in stages – _i.e._ they initially disclose their sexuality to only a few people, and then over the course of many years, might disclose it to more and more people (or not). So for example, a gay person might first only come out to a psychologist/therapist/counselor, then later he might come out to a few close friends, then they might come out to their parents, _etc._ Some homosexuals never come out at all.
  • Both males and females can be gay/homosexual. A female homosexual is called a lesbian. There is no separate term for a male homosexual.
  • Feminine behavior is not necessarily an indicator of male homosexuality. It is not necessary that necessary that someone exhibiting feminine behavior is gay, nor is it necessary that a gay man will exhibit feminine behavior.
  • Lots of people in India, especially those without much exposure to gay people, are convinced that they can easily identify who is “a gay”. My belief is that these people are completely mistaken and are usually those who confuse effeminacy with homosexuality.
  • There is no reason for you to be uncomfortable/awkward around a gay person. There is no problem with shaking hands with him, or hugging him. Just because someone is gay, doesn’t mean that he wants to have sex with you. As Harish Iyer once memorably told one of my friends, “Daro mat, yeh chhoone se nahiN failta hai!” (Don’t worry, this does not spread through touch.)
  • The word gay is an adjective. Thus, “He is gay” is correct English, while “He is a gay” is wrong. Similarly, you can say “gay people” but not “the gays”.
  • Being gay is not a choice. It is not a psychological problem that can be fixed by counseling/therapy. It is not a “mental illness” that can be treated. When I hear of people (typically, parents of gay children) talking about a “cure” for homosexuality, I think of one of my friends – being gay has caused so much torment in his life that he would give anything to not be gay, just so he can have a normal life. But he can’t. (Yes, he’s been through multiple rounds of the so-called cures and treatments, with multiple doctors, and no, he hasn’t been “cured.”)
  • Being gay in India is not illegal! Technically, according to Section 377 of our IPC, gay sex is illegal, but this is rarely enforced – unless someone with the right connections wants to take advantage of a gay person for some other unrelated reason. Then Section 377 becomes a handy weapon of blackmail/manipulation. (Update: On 6/9/2018, the Supreme Court of India struck down Section 377 effectively decriminalizing gay sex, and other forms of unnatural sex between consenting adults. So that’s one problem solved.)
  • Being gay is just one of the possible ways in which a person’s gender/sexuality can differ from the mainstream. Physical body, mental gender, and sexual orientation are independent things. Mental gender is whether you think of yourself as a male or female, irrespective of what physical body you have. Sexual orientation is which sex(es) you find attractive, irrespective of your physical body and your mental gender.
  • There are many variations of what a person can be: bisexual, transsexual (or transgender), intersex, hijra, and more… but a discussion of that is way beyond the scope of this article.
  • The term LGBT is sometimes used in this context, and stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. Sometimes, Intersex is added to this, so you get LGBTI. In India, sometimes, Hijra is added to this, to give LGBTIH.

Data about birth-control in India: Myths and Realities

The Asian Age has an interesting article with data on India’s birth-rates and efficacy of our birth-control programs

Here are some interesting excerpts:

good news is that the increase in contraceptive prevalence has been larger and faster among illiterate and uneducated women than those with schooling.

According to the International Institute of Population Sciences (EPW Arokiasamy 2009), more than two fifths of the reduction in Total Fertility Rate country-wide is attributable to illiterate women. The study calls it “remarkable demographic behaviour which has given significant direct health benefits to women and children — almost equal to what educational improvement has done for progress in human development.”

But all is not good:

Now some disappointments: States which continue to lag behind are the same — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan — some 284 problem districts account for nearly half India’s population and 60 per cent of the yearly births countrywide.


Among 18 to 24-year-old couples the contraceptive prevalence rate is not even 19 per cent. In many districts it is as low as 10 per cent. According to NFHS -3 and the latest Annual Health Survey, in Bihar more than half the women in the child bearing group are not using any family planning method.

and the worst part is:

In India, female sterilization continues to be the most dominant method of birth control even though women overwhelmingly favour non-invasive options.


In the absence of tools that do not depend on partner-co-operation (condoms) or adherence to rigid regimens (pills), a poor woman confronts the prospect of an unwanted pregnancies every month, until somebody agrees to escort her for an operation.

Do Muslims procreate much more than Hindus? Apparently, Muslims are a little worse off in this aspect, but not as bad as is widely believed. Here is the data:

That brings one to a widespread myth relating to the practice of contraception by religion. Professor P.M. Kulkarni at JNU who has researched differentials in population growth among Hindus and Muslims (using NFHS data) says that all religious communities have experienced substantial fertility decline and contraceptive practice has been well accepted by all. Within religious faiths, 85 per cent of Hindu women would like to limit the family to two children whereas in the case of Muslim women, the figure is 66 per cent.


The belief that religion and religious fiats discourage contraception among Muslims is not borne out by statistics.

An even more significant aspect of his analysis of NFHS data shows that the unmet need for family planning is one and a half times more among Muslim women than Hindu women.

Another interesting aspect is that the kinds of contraceptives preferred by Muslim women is different from that of Hindus:

In terms of contraceptive use, Muslim women’s use of the pill is almost twice that of Hindu women and the use of IUD is also higher compared to Hindu women. Two things can be concluded: First that among the rural poor, the difference in fertility between Hindus and Muslims is not as marked as is usually supposed.

Second: there is a perceptible difference in the preferred method of contraception: Muslim women seem to be more open to the use of it.

Read the full article for more details.

From Poverty to Power: Rise of Somaliland challenges conventional wisdom

Oxfam Blogs has an extremely interesting article that compares the rise of Somaliland vs. the fall of its neighbor Somalia, and points out how this completely upends conventional wisdom regarding foreign aid and other aspects of building a country.

Here are some excerpts:

The peace process was almost entirely locally funded, due to Somaliland’s unrecognized status (so no bilateral aid or loans were available). That produced a strong sense of local ownership (literally). In the words of one minister, when asked by Phillips about aid ‘Aid is not what we desire because [then] they decide for us what we need’.

And, in some aspects of country-building, there was no pretense at “democracy” or fairness, ideas that would have been imposed by outside in case of foreign aid. For example, consider this:

The second president used private loans to demobilise about 5,000 militia fighters. He offered stability (and tax breaks) to the business elite in exchange for funding demobilisation and the nascent state institutions. This was effective but certainly not inclusive – the elite came mainly from the President’s own clan. But according to Phillips, Somalilanders generally still see it as a legitimate process – that’s what leaders do.

And the most revealing aspect, for me, was the approach to education. Elite education available to only a few was found to be more important than universal elementary education:

The paper highlights the critical political importance of elite secondary schools in forging leadership. Available to a relatively small group of often privileged Somalilanders, this is in stark contrast to the donor emphasis on universal primary education. In particular, many of Phillips’ interviews led to the Sheekh Secondary School, set up by Richard Darlington, who fought in WWII as the commander of the Somaliland Protectorate contingent. Sheekh took only 50 kids a year and trained them in leadership, critical thought and standard (Darlington borrowed from the curriculum of his old school, Harrow). Sheekh provided 3 out of 4 presidents, plus any number of vice presidents, cabinet members etc. And no it isn’t a weird Somaliland version of Eton and Harrow (I asked) – it stressed student intake from all clans, especially from the more marginalized ones.

Read the full article – it’s quite short, and must read if this is an area of interest for you.

Source: @makarand_s