Coming out with Karan

If the LGBTQ community could come this far without a celeb steering the movement, does someone having privileges change it now?

On 2nd February 2016, many people from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community celebrated a little ray of hope in their lives.

Nearly a year has passed since that day when the Supreme Court stated that they will debate the legality of Section 377 that deems sexual activities (“carnal intercourse”) between homosexuals as an “unnatural” and punishable offence.

In his upcoming autobiography, An Unsuitable Boy, Bollywood filmmaker Karan Johar has addressed the issue of his sexual orientation without actually saying the three words “that possibly everybody knows about me”. Is this revelation another moment that will widen horizons for gay rights and extend that flicker of hope for all those who have been hiding themselves from the obvious?

Is coming out the need of the hour for the LGBTQ community to enjoy equal rights and live a life of dignity?

“Coming out can never be the need of the hour”, says Dhrubo Jyoti, a LGBTQ activist. “We have to reject this notion of coming out as necessary to our fight for dignity and justice.” This is a far cry from how a leading website has put it, “for the gay movement to steer ahead, we need more people to come out.”

In fact, Jyoti believes that the onus of changing an entire community’s life for the better does not lie on that one person who decides to come out.

There are online spaces like Gaysi and LGBTQ magazines like Gaylaxy that offer the much-needed support and an open forum for queer people to express their choices and identities without the restrictions that their families otherwise impose. This way they also get to share their versatile but important experiences. Jyoti too had taken the aid of social media to interact and collaborate with other queer folks – a platform that offered him a sense of social belongingness. Although coming out is courageous for many, for others, he says, that bravery is in the everyday living with queerness.

“Coming out is never an effective way to think about queer lives. One can never be forced or emotionally bullied into coming out,” Jyoti claims. Certainly not to set an example for others or portray their newly-found courage!

Jyoti’s mother and grandmother, who brought him up in a world unfriendly for queer, are his biggest sources of inspiration. But what inspires him even more are the many queer people themselves, who have shown new ways of care-giving, offered him a chance to know different types of families, and made him believe that an alternate life is possible. They are his heroes; they symbolise bravery for him.

Yet, he is not “brave” enough to come out. Wonder why? The people that he cares about already know that he is queer, and that is enough for him.  He also does not believe in dividing his life into pre- and post-coming-out phases.

For someone who has lived his life as a queer, Jyoti is willing to take Johar’s word for it and not judge him for not coming out of the closet. However, he believes that queer issues should be addressed and queers represented in Bollywood. “Everyone should be more upfront about it. Not just Johar.”

What needs to really change is the colonial mindset of our legal system that has been trying to repeal Section 377 since 1991. In the 90s, the environment might not have been conducive to having open discussions on homosexuality. Celebs coming out the would have been unimaginable. But 26 years since, the struggle is still on. If the LGBTQ community could come this far without a celeb steering the movement, how does someone having privileges change it now?

In fact, Jyoti is hopeful that in a few years, the law will be repealed. “The time for the law is long up, as the society has changed. And, we aren’t willing to go back,” he says.


Originally written for The Bayside Journal

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