For Kyara Vasudev (name changed on request), the closet is where one keeps clothes.
The 19-year-old second-year Sophia College student ‘outed’ herself as a bisexual on campus a year ago, but her friends still hang out with her at the canteen and cannot think of leaving her out of weekend getaways. The change, if at all, has been a leap of trust in her.
“Anonymously calling up on a queer helpline or writing to an ‘agony aunt’ column may help, but daily interaction will be with your friends. Telling them about your alternative sexuality makes you comfortable,” said Kyara, who has still not told her parents about her sexuality. “When friends know, it lends an air of normalcy to a homosexual relationship. When you hold your partner’s hand and none of your friends flinch, you begin to feel better about yourself.”
Kyara is part of silent, tentative but defining changes sweeping Mumbai’s colleges, say students, professors, counsellors and gay rights activists in the city. They say the stigma and violent rejection palpable even a couple of years ago are giving way to gentle understanding on campuses. Mental health professionals and culture commentators attribute this liberal depiction of homosexuality in more and more TV shows, news reports and films.
It was very different in the ’80s, says Professor Ashley Tellis (39), who has taught in Cambridge University, St Stephen’s College in Delhi and the University of Mumbai. “Right through school and college, I was subjected to derogatory remarks and was even threatened with molestation,” he recounted. “There now exists a ‘language of coming out’ and there are a few people who are trying to create an environment free of bias against any particular sexual minority. Although this group is small, it sets a precedent for generations to come.”