“If a man wants to be a queen, let him be a queen!”

As a teenager, I would see my friends asking girls out, holding their hands but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it; it felt unnatural. Instead, I found the boys in my class cute– that confused me. The movies we saw had a boy and girl fall in love; the books we read had the prince and princess walking into ‘forever’. No one spoke about a boy wanting to hold another boy’s hand… I felt like the odd one out.

Believe it or not, the only way I found clarity was when I created an Orkut account on my 18th birthday– it was my doorway to a new world. I spoke to like-minded people, joined groups; I even met someone who patiently guided me through my confusion. It was a lengthy process of unlearning and learning but by the end, I identified myself as gay.

Once the acceptance came from within, I came clean to Amma. She hugged me and said, ‘I’m happy you’re finally at peace.’ That day, we both cried. After that, I started expressing myself freely– it showed in my dressing. I felt comfortable in a saree and sexy in a skirt. But the people around me didn’t take it well; they started labelling me as a hijra. Relatives demeaningly asked, ‘Tumhare didi ki shaadi kaise hogi?’ and Didi was ashamed to be seen with me in public. But I didn’t care. If a saree is graceful on a woman, why does it have to be offensive on a man?

So instead of focusing on the negative, I started accessorising– jhumkas, rings, nathnis; I wore them all. My girl friends supported me and even took me to my first pride parade in Kolkata.

It was surreal– the colours, flamboyantly dressed people. I loved it… so much so that I travelled across India and attended 54 pride parades! People recognised me as the ‘bearded man with a nathni’

Amma started accompanying me as well. For one parade, she made a sign that read, ‘I love my son, love you all!’ She received so much love!

Just as I was getting comfortable with my privilege, I chanced upon a girl who was locked in her room for 10 days with a different boy every day because her family wanted to ‘turn her straight’. She ran away on the 11th day and contacted me.

So I brought her home; she stayed with us for a week, after which I directed her to an organisation. But her trauma stayed with me. I realised the need to sensitize people, so I started hosting live sessions and taking seminars in colleges across India. I want people to be mindful of their actions; to think before labelling someone in the name of ‘mazak’ because that ‘mazak’ could crush someone’s confidence.

It’s 2020, the least one can do is be sensitive towards people’s feelings. If a man wants to be a queen, let him be a queen!”

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