Closets are Meant Solely for Clothes

Published by Sonal Sai on

“The things that make us different, those are our superpowers”, famous American screenwriter and producer and a known figure in the LGBTQ+ community, Lena Waithe says. But as I sit down and ponder about it, how are members of the LGBTQ+ different from anyone else? They breathe the same air, bleed the same blood, drink and eat the same water and food, and are pretty much human-like the non-members. So why is it that their lives are so different from the rest of ours’? We, humans, are a peculiar lot – for us, anything that does not align with our definition of “normal” is termed as “strange” or “bizarre”, and unfortunately, that is the biggest reason for the atrocities subjected towards the LGBTQ+ community. Despite that, it makes me happy when I see how many people have come out in the recent past of the 21st century. In a world where being queer is considered a crime in the minds of countless people, it takes courage to come out and proud as a queer person. What saddens me is the fact that there are still gazillions of people inside the closet, afraid of being judged, mistreated, and shunned by not just the society, but their near and dear ones as well, because as a society, even with all the activism and the activists in and around the LGBTQ+ community, we are yet to wrap our heads around the fact that queer people are perhaps more “normal” than “normal” people themselves.

As I share the coming out stories and experiences of some people whom I have known via social media or work, I hope it helps people who are still in the closet find their voice, and the courage to come out and speak up, as and when they are ready.
Adria Moral Perez
When our firm was celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month, I was reading an article, where I had a (virtual) encounter with Adria. It was what he had talked about at the beginning of the article that touched my heart. Fast forward to Pride Month, a few exchanges of emails later, and I am lucky enough to have Adria share his experience with us.
 
How easy or difficult was it for you to come out, and what made you finally do it?
“My work coming out history was completely accidental… To be honest, I didn’t feel confident/comfortable enough to share one of my most personal secrets with my other 3 work colleagues (I was working in a very small law firm at the time). One day we had to fill in an anonymous form from the Solicitors Regulation Authority which included a few diversity and inclusion questions. Obviously, on the form, I confirmed that I am gay. Once everybody had filled it in, I found out that the company had to publish the results on the website (anonymising the data of course) I was mortified. As you can imagine, the results were 3 straight people and 1 gay man. The cards were on top of the table and I was very scared of any reaction. Luckily for me, everybody had expected/guessed it already and I never had any issue.
When I changed my firm, I promised myself that I would not allow this to happen again. Being gay doesn’t affect my work (either for good or bad), but being able to talk about my fiancé (who is the most handsome Venezuelan man) and my private life when I feel appropriate (and I want to) gives me the comfort and confidence of being myself, and gives me room to reach my full potential.”
 
Your experience after coming out
“I am so glad that my current firm has been so supportive from the start. I do feel that we are all in the same boat and that gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. are not relevant at all.
 By being me, I can reach my full potential. I don’t feel like I need to pretend to be someone that I am not and I can focus all my energy and attention to what matters, performing at my best at work.”
Aleenah Ansari
I came across Aleenah via a social media post a few weeks ago. In the picture that was posted was a smiling Aleenah, and that smile of hers radiated an aura so warm and gentle, that I knew I wanted to get to know her, and about her. She dreams of empowering people and their stories with her writing, focussing more on those who somehow missed the otherwise eagle-sharp eyes of the media. Before you go on to read her story, let me warn you that some really cute photos are about to hit you! 
 
HHow easy or difficult was it for you to come out, and what made you finally do it?
“I used to assume that everybody knew that I was queer because my girlfriend is all over my social media, and I often introduce myself as a queer Pakistani woman in most of my bios. But every time I meet a new person or find myself in an unfamiliar context, I realize that I have to be the one to broach the topic of my sexuality. Oftentimes, this sparks an internal debate: should I mention my girlfriend in passing? Casually slip in my plans for Pride? Pinup a pride flag in my office or add a rainbow pin on my backpack? Whichever avenue I choose, it means that I’m living my truth instead of hiding it. It also means that I navigate my coming out journey daily, often weighing the pros and cons of starting a conversation about my queerness and how safe I feel at any given moment. Does the unconditional love and acceptance I experience online follow me outside of my corner of the internet? This is a question I keep asking myself for the rest of my life, and it comes with the territory. Still, I’ll do it every day because queerness has opened me up to unconditional, unmatched love – for that reason, it’s always worth it.”
 
Your experience after coming out?
“People think my existence as a queer Muslim is an anomaly – in some ways, being outspoken about being queer is an act of resistance. But even after coming out and coming to terms with my own identity, I’m not immune to homophobia or hateful comments. A few hours before writing this, I received a DM on Instagram saying that my beauty was wasted because I “choose to be a lesbian,” among other hateful things I’d prefer not to repeat here. I contemplated replying with something like “I get the sense that love is not in abundance in your life.” However, I didn’t want this person’s misplaced frustration to live rent-free in my mind, no matter how many comebacks I came up within the shower. But when faced with comments like this, the joy of living authentically cannot save me from the pain of knowing that some assume that my queerness is at odds with my identity as a Muslim and Pakistani woman. Ultimately, if my existence is resistance, then I’ll come out over and over to live my truth.”
Ashish Chopra
I have known Ashish for quite some time now on Instagram, and I have seen him evolve into an even more wonderful and successful person than he already was! As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, his passion and commitment towards helping other community members find their voice is one of a kind. Now let me stop blabbering so you can read more about him.

How easy or difficult was it for you to come out, and what made you finally do it?
“Coming out was not easy at all. I think it is one of the toughest decisions that one makes in their life. I still remember the first time I came out to my brother when I was 16 years old. My heart was racing so fast that I thought it might just pop out of my chest. But the second after I said the words out loud, it just felt so light. Like a heavy boulder was lifted off of my chest. It obviously did not end there. I then came out to some friends at school. There was a lot of bullying in school, so I think it wasn’t a great decision.
 When I went to college, I didn’t want to go through all of that again. So, I tried to hide it. Every time I would go to a gay party or on a date with a guy, I had to lie. One day, I got a little too fed up with lying all the time and decided to come out to my roommate. Luckily no one in college made fun of me and everyone was really understanding. 
 I had heard that people lose jobs, don’t get promoted and face a lot of discrimination at the workplace so I did not want to come out in my office. But some girls found out through my social media and luckily accepted me for who I am. I would say that I have been very lucky with the kind of people who have been around me.”
 
Your experience after coming out
“I think coming out completely changed me. I was a very shy and nervous introvert. Also, because I was lying so much to my family and friends and everyone around me, I had very little confidence. But after coming out, things changed. I became this strong man who doesn’t have to lie about anything and got a huge boost in my confidence. I suddenly became an extrovert who was out, loud and very proud of myself!”
Bee Vanunu
My interactions with Bee have more or less been about work. But she is hands down one of the sweetest people I have had a chance of talking to. When I reached out to her to share her story, she was the happiest to do so. So, go ahead, and know more about her! 

How easy or difficult was it for you to come out, and what made you finally do it?
“It was very, very difficult. I am from a religious family who believed that anything LGBT was contrary to the “right” way of living. My family had no education or knowledge around LGBT issues and didn’t know what to do or say and at first, they disapproved. My father would not speak to me for ten years! But eventually, they learned that there was nothing to be frightened of and although I may have looked different and used different pronouns, I was still the same person in lots of ways and still their child.”

Your experience after coming out
“I don’t think I’ve ever stopped coming out. Because I am a trans nut “pass” as non-trans, I feel like I often have to disclose to people whenever the conversation turns to issues like this. You don’t always know how people are going to react – they might be polite but then be thinking other things about you, but I’ve had people who don’t know I’m trans then they say terrible things about trans people. I would just encourage others who haven’t come out yet to take their time and figure out what is right for them. I had to stay sane and life became a lot easier in some ways but harder in others! I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong way to do it.”
Carl Tubbs
Carl is not just a colleague but has become a friend to me over time. When we are not discussing work, we often talk about the community, members of the community, and how things could work better if the society was tolerant. We also discuss the factors that affect the minds of people when it comes to accepting the fact that being queer is not a phase. Here’s Carl and his story.

How easy or difficult was it for you to come out, and what made you finally do it?
“I first came out at 16, as I didn’t want to hide who I was, or lie to others, I found the whole process difficult, as my family wasn’t accepting (at the time) and friends I thought I had didn’t want to know me after I came out. A single Wednesday evening of coming out changed everything for me – my friends walked away, my existential gravity started attracting bullies, and I had to spend some time away from my family because I was asked to. So there I was, 16, alone, and trying to complete my studies.”

Your experience after coming out
“The initial years were about me being a bit too hard on myself for things that were not my fault. I hated everything about myself and did not want to come to terms with who I was and accept my identity. Had I received even an iota of supposed, I would perhaps have known better that it wasn’t me, it was people who needed to broaden their horizons.
Looking back over the last 12 years, I am proud of the challenges that I overcame after coming out. I had a tough time coming to terms with who I was, but I have been able to do so much good, using my past experiences to push me to help others. At university, I started an LGBTQ+ society, and that gave me a sense of purpose. At work, I have been involved in the development of the LGBTQ+ network throughout the country. It’s great to finally feel a sense of belonging.”
Gellin Hughes
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being a panellist on an LGBTQ+ event in our firm. One of my co-panellists was Gellin Hughes. I have never met someone so soft-spoken as jovial in recent times, and hearing them speak was a different experience altogether. They answered some very important questions about people who identify themselves as gender non-binary and also busted quite a few myths about the LGBTQ+ community. Here’s where I stop talking, and you start reading more about Gellin.

How easy or difficult was it for you to come out, and what made you finally do it?
“I decided to come out as transgender because I went through a difficult time in both my personal and professional life, and it forced me to re-evaluate my priorities and refocus my time and energy on things that really matter to me. When the COVID-19 pandemic came to the US and I started working entirely from home, I found myself alone with my thoughts a lot more often and I realized how much I was holding myself back by covering up my identity.
I don’t think coming out was easy, but it’s hard for me to say because I know it can be so much harder than it was for me. I decided in one weekend that I was going to come out to my colleagues, my friends, and family all at once, so I typed up a professional email and a Facebook post with my new name and pronouns and an explanation of my gender identity. The post went up a few days later and the email went out with the support from my account lead the following week. Just like that, there was no going back.”

Your experience after coming out
“The vast majority of people in my life were supportive. I am especially lucky to have parents and a brother who understand and accept who I am. Not everyone understands my identity, but most people understand that I am still me. I have had to learn very quickly how to explain what my identity means in clear terms because I am the first out transgender person in many of my friends and family members’ lives.

I had no idea what to expect at work when I came out, and I am incredibly grateful for the positive response from leaders and colleagues at my firm. I have had the opportunity to get involved in several firm initiatives focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, and I am part of a group that advocates for transgender and non-binary practitioners. I have also received broad support from account leadership and my teammates, which has made my experience at work much more positive and fulfilling. Again, not everyone understands, but most people want to support.”
Sophia David
In the same event that I mentioned earlier, I had the chance to work with this immensely talented woman, Sophia. Elegant, powerful, resilient, and a fierce voice of the society, Sophia is everything that I aspire to be. “Ninnaku nee mathram ulluYou are all you have.” These are her grandmother’s words from years ago. They stayed with her since childhood and helped her brave through her life. Here’s more of Sophia. Oh, and her million-dollar smile is going to take your breath away!

How easy or difficult was it for you to come out, and what made you finally do it?
“Coming out happened at a stage when I didn’t even know what it meant. I “came out” to my grandmother after a gruesome incident at school. Something that shouldn’t happen to anyone, no matter how young or old they are. But as you grow up, the words of a child from the third grade are thrown out of the window and into the ocean. People either view you as they want to, or they push you around for the sheer fact that you are “different and powerless” from the rest. I contemplated my life ahead, and the dominance of negative thoughts in my mind was looming. Only my faith gave me the power to hold on to my life without doing something regretful. After surviving Stage 3 of Cancer, I knew it was God’s way of telling me that I deserved to live the life that he intended for me, that it was a gift, and I shouldn’t throw it away. So, I came out to my parents. The happy part was they had always been very supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. The sad part was that they didn’t want their child to be someone from that community. They came to the verge of losing their child to a fatal illness; they didn’t want to lose their child again.”

Your experience after coming out
“For quite some time after I came out, I wondered if I was gay. But my body, my mind, would tell me otherwise. I believe that gender identity is who you go to bed as. Whereas sexual orientation is who you go to bed with- I knew I was going to bed as a woman – my real self. Accepting myself was the first step, and then, there was no turning back.
I have grown to love myself and understood how my voice can help millions of others who have been wronged. So I work towards spreading awareness to help the LGBTQ+ community and Women. While it is a journey empowering them, I am grateful that it helps me be the woman I was destined to be. Life was scary and a roller-coaster ride, but if I beat Cancer, I can conquer anything now. Isn’t it? I know I say that defiantly, but the truth is with Cancer, I had a remarkable support system in my parents and family, but on this transition journey, I know I am alone. And that’s okay, because for most hard parts in life – You are all you have!”
While I hope that these stories help anyone seeking a voice find it, today I ask you – why should people who are no different than we are in their heart and soul have to suffer and fear just because they do not accept the physical identity that we assign them with or who they choose to love is different than what we would expect? People should not have to fear their own family and friends when it comes to talking about something so important about themselves and their lives. The world is already burning in the fire of a thousand hells, let’s not create another hell where we do not accept people and their reality. Let’s all come together as allies and stand with our friends in the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s ensure that someday, soon enough closets host only clothes, and not people.

Categories: Spotlight