The pageant Mr. Gay World India has risen to popularity in the past few years. This year, the winner was Suresh Ramdas, a Bengaluru-based techie. We spoke to him about his success, his thoughts on the Section 377 ruling, and his future plans:
What kind of a childhood did you have? Did you grow up in Bengaluru?
SR: My parents are from a town in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu. But I was born in Mumbai and raised in different parts of Karnataka. I am the second child to my parents, so I was a little spoilt with love, care and support at home. I was a good kid at school. But as I was growing up I could see the changes in my desires and likings, which were not the same as the boys. I enjoyed spending time with girls, and preferred playing and chatting with them rather than the boys. I started being bullied and teased at school for my behavior, which wasn’t like the rest of the boys in my class, and also because of my skin color. I used to get very upset and cry a lot. I would get into arguments with others quite often when they said something nasty to me. Those were difficult times for me. It got to a point of frustration and annoying that I couldn’t handle myself and tried to commit suicide, not once, but three times. For the ways that I tried to kill myself, I couldn’t. After the third failed attempt, a realization dawned upon me and I decided never to do this. I also felt that there was something that I needed to do in life which I wasn’t sure at that time. After that, I took it on whatever challenges life threw at me and moved on, be it my behavior or my skin color. So to sum up the kind of childhood I had, it was loving, suicidal, resilient and life changing.
Congrats on winning Mr. Gay World India 2019! How did you decide to participate, and how was your experience?
SR: Thank you for your wishes. I had many reasons for participating in the competition. From a very young age, I wanted to be a part of a pageant. But in the last couple of years, I have been following MGWI and wanted to see ways in which I can bring more visibility, acceptance and awareness about the LGBTQ community in the society. I also wanted to participate to break stereotypes such as age and colour.
How did you manage it along with being an IT executive?
SR: My organization has been very supportive and helpful. As an out gay man in my organization, I head the LGBTQ Chapter along with my day job as a Global Facilitator for Customer Support. My employers were very supportive of my personal desire, passion and wanting to do more work for the LGBTQ community. My manager was extremely supportive of this, and made sure my work wasn’t affected. She and my team were rooting and motivating me right from the time I said I will participate.
Are gay beauty pageants more inclusive, in terms of size, height, etc.?
SR: I initially thought they might be like the regular beauty pageants. But when I applied, I was blown away by their response. All they wanted to check was if I was an Indian & identified as gay who is out. They asked for no information about age, color, physique, etc. They said they don’t look at all that.
So here I was at 37, dark skinned, bald, with an average physique from South India, and my application was accepted for the next round.
Do you think colour-based discrimination is strong in the LGBT+ community? Within a sexual minority, how does one address the discrimination faced by this sub-category?
SR: Yes, very much. Irrespective of one’s sexual orientation, color based discrimination is very much in India. Why else do you think the fairness cream market is making billions of dollars? Every person who is not fair-skinned has been made to feel low about their skin tone through media in all forms of media. It is also evident in the way people pick and choose friends and partners.
In the LGBTQ community, I found it to be very prevalent during my initial growing up years. I was being rejected immediately when I mentioned I was dark skinned in any of the chat rooms for the gay men. When I attended parties, none of them (Indians) wanted to have a conversation.
At this point, my self-confidence was very low. The only ones who really took interest in me were people from abroad, who were visitors here. I once had the opportunity to meet an amazing gay couple, who said they would love to swap my skin color with theirs. I still remember their reasoning behind this. They felt they were like chameleons, changing colours every time. Their skin tone changed when they went outside, when they fell ill, and even the sun affects their skin so much. My colour remained pretty much the same all through. That one conversation ended up boosting my confidence levels. I turned my weakness into my superpower, and now I am the Tall Dark Handsome guy who won the Mr. Gay World India Title in 2019.
What was your first experience like, walking down a ramp?
SR: It was indeed amazing with all eyes and the light shining on you.
After the Section 377 verdict, what do you think are the next steps for the queer community?
SR: With Sec 377 out, we can now have more open awareness programs across the country and sensitize school and college students. Sensitizing the corporate sector and politicians is also essential as we can push for better laws/policies to protect the queer community, especially the transgender community and the TG Bill Marriage Equality.
How important is it for more people to be out of the closet?
SR: I personally think and advocate, everyone should come out of THEIR OWN closet to be their authentic self. Coming out to others like parents, friends and the whole world is their choice and everyone has their journey or process.
When I was in the closet there were many things that didn’t go right. I used to lie a lot, which I don’t like. I was bothered about what others would say about me, so I became a people pleaser. I put others before me so my self-worth depended on others.
But when I decided to come out, all of these things went out the window. I didn’t have to lie, be ashamed of myself and gave more value to myself. I found my voice during that time. And then it dawned to me that with my coming out and the work that I am doing I can be the “VOICE TO THE VOICELESS” by motivating others to be their authentic self.
I also feel my queer community people are very strong and bold in their own ways. So finding that inner strength to come out will help themselves and many others. I urge everyone to find their voice and once you have found it, there is no stopping yourself.
Are there any lessons you can share from your story of coming out?
SR: Each one has a journey to go through. Learning from others is good but find out the answers from within, which are more authentic and powerful. My coming out story’s biggest lesson are: “never, ever give up”, “resilience”, “even a baby step forward is a step towards progress”, “self-worth” and “love yourself first and then you will be able to love others”
Your story of coming out has helped other individuals too. How do you cope with the negative feedback?
SR: Yes, a lot of them have given me love and support with my coming out and being myself. Many also mentioned they have been inspired and motivated to be their authentic self. Like the saying goes – with good comes bad & likewise with positivity attracts negativity. One can choose to accept it or not. And I chose to see, feel and have positivity around. At times I try to see the negative feedbacks from a place of opportunity for me to improve. If none, then I feel it’s more about the other person than me and ignore.
What are your future plans?
SR: My immediate plan is to prepare for Mr. Gay World and make sure that I give it my best. I would also like to collaborate with various organizations in India and abroad to spread more awareness in public on a grass root level, work with schools and colleges. I am starting with the school and colleges that I went to. I also want to work on queer inclusion in the corporate sector, especially for the trans community. I am working on a program called Leading with Pride where I am co-facilitating with a dear friend of mine on building leaders in the corporate sector to be the change makers of the future from the queer community.
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