Embracing My Sexuality as an Indian Teenager
Human beings fear differences and are often afraid of being dissimilar to others. Changes make us feel powerless with no control of ourselves and our surroundings. Self-acceptance refers to the act of loving yourself as the way you are, accepting your circumstances and preventing to get annoyed by them.
Going through the stage of realizing one’s own sexuality is not a piece of cake and the path to self-acceptance is even more prolonged and demanding. When I discovered my sexuality at the age of 16, it felt as if the floodgates of a dam that had been shut throughout my life were finally open, but I was still drowning in the high current waters. My mind was unable to handle the weight of this “change” and was filled with the feeling of confusion and mental dilemma- “How did this happen? How did I let this happen?”.
More often, members of the LGBTQ+ community are faced with internalized homophobia where the first instinct is the feeling of being flawed. They develop hostility and aggression against their very own being. Residing in India, a conservative developing nation, we are taught since our childhood that heterosexuality is the only default while everything else is unnatural. There is a prevailing disgust against gay men and transgender people, extreme sexualization of lesbians and stereotypical notions against bisexuals. Although I had always been an avid supporter of the community, the thought of being a part of it brought in its own fears and challenges.
For about a year, I was in complete denial of my sexuality and believed it was something I could change with time. Familial rejection even forced me to try to be straight. The fear of being disowned by your parents or the constant apprehension of bringing shame to your nurturing family is not something I would wish even upon my enemies. There was a dread lurking in my mind 24×7, the dread of being known as just “the lesbian” and nothing else. I distanced myself from all my friends since I was afraid of developing a liking for any of my female peer. This aloofness from friends and family paved the way for my anxiety disorder in grade 11th.
The mental and physical assault caused to an LGBTQ+ teenager by themselves and by others leads to strikingly high mental illness rate in general. The Trevor project, a US based organization reports that LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide as heterosexual youth while somewhere between 30 and 60 percent of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transgender people deal with anxiety and depression at some point of their lives. That rate is 1.5 to 2.5 times higher than that of their straight or gender-conforming counterparts.
A country where sexual acts with a person of the same sex were criminalized till 2018, where conversion therapy is still legal and active and where the belief that homosexuality is a disease which can be cured with medical help is still predominant, the very first aspect we need to work on is changing the mentality of people and normalizing homosexuality.
Meeting the most benevolent and welcoming members of the LGBTQ+ community online played a huge role in my journey of self-acceptance. Movies like “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga”, even if not the best, are definitely a potent start towards correct representation in our society as it helps people to become aware of the fact that they’re neither abnormal nor alone.
However, the utmost essential aspect of this path to self-love is knowing that you are so much more than this, your abilities and outlook towards life is what defines you, not the gender you love. If I could give any advice to my younger self, I’d tell her that it gets better once you start feeling comfortable with yourself, sexual orientation becomes easier along with some compassion for oneself. Homosexuality is not something that can be changed and I believe I’m speaking from a position of privilege when I say once you love and accept yourself, others will too.