Out of the closet and into the world

Coming out requires the careful confluence of many an element, especially in our here and now that accords far too much importance to external approval.

Published: 13th June 2022 10:53 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th June 2022 05:52 AM   |  A+A-

SwethaShri and Alex Murugaboopathy at the ‘coming out’ workshop | Martin Louis

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Coming out requires the careful confluence of many an element, especially in our here and now that accords far too much importance to external approval. Yet, when every element falls in place, coming out can offer the means to a healthy ‘happily ever after’, for the one coming out and those around them. Constructing such an ideal outcome, however, doesn’t come all that easily.

How often does a gay man get to learn from the experience of a fellow homosexual? Do parents of non-binary or gender non-conforming people know enough to engage their children in a meaningful discussion? How many of us know where to look for some support, reliable information or even appropriate counselling? On the occasion of Pride Month, LGBTQIA+ collectives, Orinam and Thozhi, decided to address this gap with their Coming Out workshop.

A starting point
“Many individuals are battling with their identities but don’t know how to proceed further. This workshop aims to establish the importance of coming out,” said SwethaShri, one of the organisers. She did so by sharing her pers o n a l experiences with the process as a transwoman, pointing out that coming out to oneself is just as important as coming out to the society.

“I think coming out can help boost one’s selfconfidence as acceptance makes one feel more comfortable in their skin. I could see it firsthand when I came out in my workplace; there was a drastic change in my performance after coming out. My mental health also changed for the better,” she recounted. Fellow organiser Alex Murugaboopathy, a non-binary gay person, had his experience to share as well. He credits self-expression as the key to everything.

“Not being able to express oneself is the root of all problems. Many individuals who are unable to express their gender or sexual identity are pushed into depression because of the stigma surrounding the topic, which then affects their work and personal lives,” he pointed out. These conversations are a result of years of work put in by their predecessors, he reasoned, recounting the start of Orinam.

A group of people came together in 2003 in a famous ice cream p a rl our i n Chennai for the first time to start the conversation about the LGBTQIA+ community and formed Orinam. It is their efforts that have brought us here today. If that organisation hadn’t started then, we wouldn’t have had an opportunity to talk on this platform now,” he said.

Driving the conversation
It was a panel of LGBTQIA+ people and their allies who then offered insights on other aspects of coming out. Hamsavalli, a proud mother of a gay man, talked about the expectations she had of her parents. “Growing up, I had many questions about various things but very few answers. So, when my son told me he was gay, though I had no awareness of what LGBTQIA+ meant, my first instinct was to find out more about it. Not accepting him was never an option,” she shared.

Her son Janmesh took it upon himself to inform her about what it means to be a part of the community, the prejudice they face. “For example, I tell her how no one listens to women or members of the LGBTQIA+ community whenever we put our views forward, which helps her understand better.” This is where Namithaa attested to the importance of a chosen family. “I came out to my parents 28 times, but they still haven’t grasped the concept that I’m non-binary. It led me to seek a strong, chosen family of my own.”

Janmesh talked about coming out to his friend first, and at the school at large. While he came out of it being shunned and bullied, it was years later, through Instagram that he found allies from his past. “When I posted on Instagram that I’m queer, most of my class girls were very supportive; slowly people started becoming more accepting. Now, many of the kids in school have started identifying themselves on the spectrum and that makes me happy,” he shared.

A question for the future
Acknowledging that coming out requires a certain amount of privilege and labelling it a social construct, Steve Rogers* reminded everyone that it is important to be able to put oneself first. “Self-preservation is key,” he declared, concluding the event on a note of encouragement for future ‘coming out’ events. That this event was held at a school — St Dominic’s AIHSS — offers yet another layer of reassurance of a more accepting and nurturing society.

*Name changed


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