Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Coming Out II: to close friends

This is the second part of a three-part article. Check out the previous one first.
Kerstin was a postdoc in a neighbouring lab in Tübingen, and one of the smartest girls I have met in Europe. She was nice, although she could be quite bitchy. She was openly lesbian, and I had met her girlfriend too. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn't come out to her. Bitchy or not, gossipy or not, she'd have helped me, and may even have introduced me to a lot of people. In fact she may have taken me for a bit of a homophobe from some of my comments.

In June 1999, I had finished an important piece of work, that I had been struggling with for a while, and my supervisor insisted that I take a holiday. So I decided to visit H. in Berlin again. I heard that Kerstin was going to Berlin for the same weekend. When she came to know about my plans of visiting that weekend too, she was very curious about the reason of my visit.
That Saturday, H., a friend of his, and I were loitering around Berlin, and came across a huge parade. Noisy, crowded, outrageous costumes.. or nothing (or nothing much) on at all. A girl even asked me whether she could take my photo, and I "posed". None of the three of us desis spoke much German at that time, so we couldn't figure out what it was. H. said he'd heard of the Love Parade and this could be it. We didn't stay to watch, but moved on to the sights of Berlin. Later, a friend of his told us that it was the Gay Parade. Wow! My first encounter with a Gay Parade, one of the most famous Gay Parades of the world, and it didn't even register! The reason why Kerstin was in Berlin and her curiosity about my visit also clicked. I told H. that I'd tell her that we'd come across the "Love Parade" and see what she says. H. said he thought that'd be horribly nasty of me. If Kerstin is lesbian, that is her business. There was nothing wrong in being lesbian. Why should I make fun of her? Mentally, I stopped in my tracks. I was the gay guy, and I was being homophobic. The pretense was taking me too far. It had to be a straight guy who had to point this out to me. [Kerstin did ask me whether I saw the parade, and I truthfully answered that yes, we did, but we'd initially thought that it was the Love Parade. She got a bit agitated and explained that while the Love Parade had no significance, the Gay Parade had a lot. This was my first lesson in gay history. But I still didn't come out to her. How far can paranoia and plain stupidity take one!]

This episode got me thinking about my pretense bordering on homophobia, and also about why I'd need to pretend at all with people like H. Why would I have to pretend at all with people who are friends? They are not friends because they think I am straight! And to assume that would be to insult them and their affection for me. If someone did have a problem with my not being straight, would this person deserve being my friend at all?
When H. called up in Mar 2000 to wish me on my 26th birthday, I came out to him. I was terribly nervous, trembling, dry-mouthed, scared. Stupid, because I knew H., knew him well, and had decided to come out because of his correcting me! Nevertheless, the first coming out is never easy. He was shocked, but very supportive. I felt as if a huge burden had been lifted over my shoulders. [Interestingly enough, one of his first questions was about my behaviour in the Kerstin episode.]
From then on, coming out was like an addiction. I had targetted six of my close friends, scattered around the world, and one by one I came out to them. The circle widened. The reactions were varying. Most of these people were shocked, dumbstruck, some thought I was playing one of my tricks that I used to be notorious for. One argued with me that it was "not natural" and took his time to come to terms to this information, although at no point did he shut me out. I am really proud of the bunch of friends I have collected over the years-- proud of them, and proud of myself.

Chris was the fifth of the original six, the only non-Indian in this lot, and the only one I came out to in person at that time (all the other five were on the telephone as they didn't live in the town/country/continent). He was studying in Würzburg and had spent a summer in a neighbouring lab when we became very good friends. We visited each other in Tübingen (later Heidelberg) and Würzburg respectively a few times, and he introduced me to German history and we often travelled together to historical places. I felt myself falling in love with him (to this day, I think if he'd been gay, he'd be Mr. Perfect for me... and I'm not talking about looks here). I didn't want another "is he? he's not!", and other case of my fucking up a friendship. So once, just before returning from a visit, I came out to him in a rather roundabout manner. He was of course ok with it.

My brother's reaction was a classic one. I was in Heidelberg and writing my thesis, meaning I was spending (read: wasting) a lot of time on the computer and the internet on that pretext. During one of our long conversations on Yahoo Messenger, I came out. I asked him if he had a problem with it, whether he was shocked. This offended him, because he'd have thought I'd known him by now and that he is unshockable.

Of the girls that have been romantically interested in me, SM was one, though she insists that this is not true. Her initial reaction was of shock and complete disbelief when I came out to her (on the phone). I was already in Vienna, and it was a week or so before her PhD defence in Tübingen... she never fails to point out how inappropriate my timing for coming out to her was, and I do plead guilty. Later before moving to the US, she visited me in Vienna for the New Year (Dec 2003-Jan 2004) and she wanted to visit a gay bar. I had introduced her to Vijay, and she keeps repeating that if he'd not been gay, he'd be her Mr. Perfect. So Vijay and I took her to Cafe Willendorf at the Rosa Lila Villa. She liked it, of course, like most people do, but she found it no different from a regular cafe. And that's right too. We should have taken her to some place that's "more gay".

Once our Indian friends in Europe and I were visiting H. in Berlin for Christmas (2001). We had all gone for a movie, when H. who was sitting next to me told me he liked the girl in the trailer. Then suddenly he whispered that we'd always talked about the actresses he fancied, but it was silly he'd never asked me about the actors I liked. So who were they?
If I had to give just one reason for having come out to friends, it'd be this.
This is the second part of a three-part article. Check out the next one.

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