It was the night Jojo, my cousin, lay groping me in his bedroom that I came to know for the first time that two men can actually share a bed and do things which give them pleasure other than smoking a joint and talking crap about their girlfriends. And I am, by some divine will, one of that kind. Although he wasn’t a character of much importance in my life after that day, but what Jojo had inducted me into stayed with me and it was much later that I realized that he didn’t make me what I am, rather showed me what I am.
I never had an official girlfriend. But while in school, there were rumors abound of me going around with different girls. It wasn’t rare that an innocent new girl choosing to sit beside me would send ripples of giggles through the classroom and my cheeks, as if to catalyze that reaction, would turn rosier than those of the girl herself. And then, it wouldn’t be long before she would become another of my ‘really good friends’.
For years, I was in complete denial to myself and was basking in the female attention showered on me. Guys in college never seemed to have a clue about what girls had so much to talk to me about. Their frustrations boosted the wannabe in me and made the prisoner inside me crawl deeper into the dungeons of denial. Not that I wasn’t friends with guys. But, of course, guys with whom I could feel comfortable, needed to have some preferred traits – non-intimidating, non-aggressive, not interested in sports or at least doesn’t give too much of a damn about it, and doesn’t try to show me pretty chicks on the streets and discuss their vital features. And, the only person who was all that, was Joy.
When Joy and I had first met, we barely had enough vocabulary to know words like ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’. We were neighbors and went to the same school. There was hardly anything common between us except for our lack of interest in sports and girls. But over the years, an inexplicable and inseparable bond grew between us. Then, one fine day he came and told me “Souvik, I have something to tell you which might shock you.” Well, these days a guy hearing this from his best friend is likely to have a better clue of what is coming next. But back then, in the nineties, life offered a lot more suspense.
“I am gay. I feel attracted to boys,” he finally said. If this were a masala fiction that I am writing, then at this point I would have probably jumped in delight and told him that I am gay too and then we would have immediately flung ourselves into the couch and had sex. But, reality is never as straight as fiction. I didn’t know how to react. So, I kept silent.
“I knew you would be shocked. But I had to tell you, since you are my best friend,” he said.
“I am not shocked. I don’t think it makes any difference to me. It doesn’t change anything between us,” the prisoner in me spoke out of turn.
“Oh, Souvik! I am so relieved to hear that. I always feared that I might lose you after telling you this,” he said and gave me a tight hug, happy that he had just come out to his best friend, who he thought was straight.
In the next four years, Joy shared every bit of his gay life with me – guys he hooked up with, his gay friend circle, parties he went to and colorful gossip about handsome Tollywood actors. He was rather amazed that I never felt awkward to hear all that, instead always expressed an uncanny interest. He didn’t know that in reality he was lending me a vision of the world I distantly belonged to, but still feared to step into. Meanwhile, I had fallen victim to the new invader of the human life – the internet – the most popular hideout among closeted gays. I had registered with every known gay website, was chatting round the clock with guys across the country and soon started hooking up with the ones from my city, most of whom I never saw afterwards. Joy, of course, had no idea about what his smiling, big-hearted, ever-understanding, homo-friendly straight buddy was up to.
Two more years passed by and college came to an end. I had landed a job on campus and was preparing to move out of Kolkata while Joy was about to move abroad for higher studies. All the girls who used to hang out with me were now committed to guys who had either cracked some touch competitive exam or had managed to satisfy them in ways I would never be able to.
It was the day before Joy took his flight out of Kolkata. We decided to go shopping .The busy streets of New Market are never lacking in sights that please the gay eye. As we entered City Mart, my eyes stopped on a guy in the Men’s section. Before long, I realized Joy was eyeing him too. What happened next, left me dumbfounded. The guy, who was apparently busy choosing T-shirts, suddenly looked straight at Joy and winked with a smile on his face. I looked at Joy and found him smiling in return.
“How did you do that?” I demanded as we came out of City Mart.
“What?” asked Joy.
“How did you figure him out?”
“That’s the gaydar,” he grinned.
“What’s a gaydar?” I was confused as a novice.
“Like radar. You send and receive signals. Comes with a bit of experience. If you were not here, I would have probably had him today.”
“Oh! You should have gone after him. I would never mind. You know that.”
“I know. Just that, I have never actually done such a thing in front of you and am not sure whether you would be comfortable witnessing it.”
I fell silent. For the first time, Joy talking to me under the assumption that I was only an understanding straight friend was killing me. I realized that it had been six years since he had come out to me and all this while I had been hiding my truth from him.
“Joy. Have you ever wondered how it is possible for someone like me to accept the fact that his best friend is gay and continue to love him the same way?”
“Yes, I have, often. In fact, when I told my gay friends about you they too were surprised. They kept asking me – ‘Are you sure he is not one of us?’ to which I said ‘Nonsense! He is not gay. He is very understanding and cares a lot about me. That’s why he wants to know every detail.’ Souvik, I want you to meet them, so that they get to know you better. ”
“May be they already do.”
“What are you saying? I know you for the past 14 years. You are not gay! Even if you were, you wouldn’t feel shy to tell me, would you?”
One of my greatest weaknesses is that of not being able to cry and let my heart out through tears. Because that was exactly what I wished I could do at the moment. “You will never forgive me if I tell you what I have been hiding from you all these years,” I said, “I am nothing compared to you, Joy. You have a much stronger heart and a lot more courage than I do. ”
I guess it took a while for Joy to absorb my words as he kept staring at me for a long time. His mouth remained wide open as he listened to the events of my life I had kept from him for six years. More than being surprised, I guess, he was wondering about the fate which had brought us together years ago when we were kids. He finally laughed and said, “But I still don’t understand why you took so long to come out to me, knowing that I am gay.”
“That’s probably because it took me that long to come out to myself”, I smiled.
Three years later, while I was working in the USA, I came to India on vacation. By now I had come out to my old buddies from college and a few colleagues who mattered. Not surprisingly, my sexual orientation made no difference to any of them. I had also made a pretty good circle of gay friends from various parts of India and abroad, many of whom were already out to their families. I knew it would take me a while to tell my parents that I am gay. But I needed to start somewhere. So finally, while on vacation, I told mom that if she had any hopes of getting me married then she better abandon them. “I don’t think I am capable of satisfying a girl either emotionally or physically,” I told her. Her first response to that was rather unexpected.
“Who do you think is going to take care of you after me? You can’t be alone all your life?” I had expected her to ask me to see a doctor immediately.
“Ma, I can take care of myself very well. Don’t worry about that,” I said.
“Well, I can see that!” the sarcasm clear in her voice.
But that was all. She made no fuss. She asked no questions. I found her crying to herself silently in her room later. I was a bit worried that she might fall ill. But the next day she was normal. And since that day she has never brought up the topic of marriage with me. I had myself asked her later, “Ma, are you worried about dealing with our relatives?”
“I have more important things to worry about,” she replied, “Like, you.”
I just hope that someday I would be able to put an end to her worries by telling her that there is someone to take care of me for the rest of my life. And I know I won’t lack the courage to tell her that. Because I learnt one thing the day I came out to Joy.
It takes the most courage to come out to yourself and not to others.