“But, you don’t look like a lesbian? Are you sure you are a lesbian?” I was asked by a very alpha male friend.
I looked at him, and with a straight face (yeah, the only thing straight about me) asked, ‘So, what do lesbians look like’?
He responded, ‘array, you know. They have short hair, they dress up like men, they also behave like men’. I said, ‘You mean, the butch women‘? He said, ‘okay, perhaps, if that is what they are called’.
I was curious, I asked. ‘So, you think I am not a lesbian, because I don’t fit into your stereotype of what a lesbian should look like?”.
He looked a wee bit uncomfortable as he said, ‘I mean, look at you. I have often seen you in a sari, you wear dresses, you don’t have a typical boy cut, you wear lipstick and make up. That’s why I wondered if you were a lesbian‘. I waited for him to finish.
‘Do you know that being a lesbian is about being attracted to another woman?. How one self expresses is not about our sexual orientation. What we wear, our look is just an expression of ourselves‘.
He said, ‘Oh! But you can be feminine and still love another woman‘?
I had to smile at this, and said gently to him, “Yes, my dear friend. I am attracted to women emotionally and physically, regardless of whether I seem feminine or butch. Does that make sense’?
He said sheepishly, ‘Oh and here I was hoping you got it wrong. I thought perhaps you had not met the right man‘ …..
I looked straight at this man, and said, “And you thought you were THAT man?“.
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Let me start with a story …
My partner and I were invited to a party couple of years ago, in India. The party had people from the events industry, mostly. It was one of those parties where booze and food was flowing. Our ‘coming out’ story had been recently shared on Humans of Bombay and Brut India, both platforms with extremely wide reach in India. We had received numerous messages from our industry colleagues and that story. So we were prepared in a way to get some reaction. We decided to dress up a bit that night – and we walked in to the party to many stares. People hugged us and overall there was a sense of celebration.
Then we bumped into someone who we had known for a while, who joined into a conversation we were in the midst of with another colleague. She said to us, ‘Oh,Raga, Nicola!! You ladies look gorgeous today!‘. We thanked her graciously. In that moment, our colleague said, ‘oh all you three ladies look gorgeous’. Someone else came along to chat to us, and she thought I was distracted and not listening. I heard her say, ‘Oh please don’t include me in with these two! I am not one of them‘.
That’s a FAKE ally! And a pathetic human!
There is this one person I know, who will talk constantly about having gay friends. But, quickly behind their back, refer to them as ‘homos’ or ‘that gay person’ in a derogatory manner.
One of the things I do best is ‘observe’. My favourite thing to do is sit with a a cup of coffee in a cafe and ‘people watch’. It is interesting how much people reveal.
These days, due to lockdown, the past few months have been spent in virtual mode, mostly. These days, I have extended my favourite hobby to ‘people watch’ online. I now realise, we reveal much more of ourselves online than offline!! Interesting eh!
Anyway, that is not the point of writing this. The real point is my observation about those we call allies to the #LGBTQ community. Firstly, thank you for being allies. It means a lot to me, personally and to us in the community. But as we know, the world has real people and then it has the fake ones. The fake ones spoil it for the real allies, right?
How do we spot a fake ally? Let me list a few from my personal observation. Perhaps, you have some more to add to this?
- The are the tick-in-the-box allies:They become visible only during #PrideMonth. Rest of the year, they have other boxes to tick!
- Association by Social Media : They will share disparaging comments about the community behind our backs, but will show their support on social media: You do not have to delve too deep and you will find many such folks! I have known many who have passed snide comments about us and now show their allyship online by sharing their expertise on LGBT. Why? To leverage. Such associations bring more likes, more followers. After all, we are the flavour of the month.
- Free talk please: They will send you a personal message ONLY when they want a free talk from you: These allies will write generous, copious amounts of text telling you how inspired they are by you, and will send you a message and then end it with ‘You are the best, and we need you to share your experiences with us, but, we do NOT have the budget for this’. I am only talking about those from the corporate space.
- Budget hai? They will NOT respond the moment you ask for a budget: They love you until you ask for their budget. Then, they disappear without even having the courtesy of responding. Yes, it’s a true story. I get this all the time
- Most Fake ones will promote themselves, more than the cause: Watch them – they will be sharing how much of a great ally they are, instead of promoting the cause. Spot the difference.
- Allies who support homophobic companies and brands: They say they are allies, yet, they will not call out and openly support a brand that is outwardly homophobic.
If you are true ally, you don’t need validation that you are an ally. Just be. Support others without really promoting yourself – we are not a campaign that you have to promote!
Enjoy the joy of being a kind and compassionate human. Being an ally is all about creating a safe place for all through your genuine actions. All else is self promotion!!
Now ask yourself, are you a REAL ALLY or a FAKE ONE!
P.S: I love those who support us, and I thank all of you who do.
I wake up most mornings to a few dozen messages on my various social handles. Some of them are simply congratulating me on my Tedx Talk enquiries to engage me for talks or to put forward my views/opinion pieces and some are deeply personal messages, often painful to read.
“I don’t know what to do anymore. I think the only option is to kill myself”.
“Sometimes, I feel like my life is over and this is how it will be for me. Darkness”
“There are times, I am tempted to kill my family and end it all. For me and them”.
“I am imprisoned by my own husband. I want out. What do I do?’
I talk, chat, mentor, offer support, find them the appropriate help – but it leaves its mark. Deep marks in fact.
It brings me back to my days when it was painfully, tragically hard when I had come out. I felt alone. I felt this was it, and there would be no light in my life ever again. I felt fear. I felt pain. I felt despair. But mostly I felt, hopelessness.
Today, in 2021 as we all celebrate #PrideMonth and celebrate #ally-ship and celebrate the courageous stories of all our journeys, please do not forget to pray for those who are still struggling or are put through very horrible, inhuman emotional, physical, mental abuse, simply because our loved ones do not understand us and are not willing to educate themselves and accept. There are families who put our community through inhuman #conversiontherapy in the name of ‘curing’ us.
Please hold out a hand to those who reach out to you – by supporting a person from #LGBTQ+ community, you will not become ‘gay’ I promise you.
But, you will make a queer person feel loved and accepted and that would be enough for many of us.
Our ‘Coming Out Stories From India’ series was launched to create positive role models of people with lived experiences. Please do subscribe, watch and share. We need to change this narrative. It is our collective responsibility. One story at a time.