Inclusion on purpose* looks like honesty and feels like shared humanity. I am gay. If this comes as a surprise, here is what to say and, more importantly, what not to say to me.

My partner tells me I haven’t been out long enough to really get the wear and tear of the daily agressions and she maybe be right. And, possibly, this is precisely one of my biggest advantages, the reason I feel absolutely no shame or regret that I am different than most people around me. I am extremely lucky to feel so much at home in who I am today. I guess this is what 35 years of turmoil leaves as a gift on your doorstep.

***

For 35 years I “lived” convinced that something essential was “wrong” with me. I was deeply unhappy and afraid – fear is in fact the memory that has been with me the longest. I was a child, a young teenager and a young woman who barely held the line between extreme anxiety and deep depression. Who faked almost every single day of her life, striving to be the good girl, the dedicated wife, the hard worker. And dying a little inside every day. The struggle to please the ones around me and, at the same time, understand what was wrong with me was palpable (I have a box of journals to prove it). It was always me who came up short: it was me, I was wrong, I was too bitter, I was too moody, I was too … too … and too … . And never, ever enough.

I fell inlove at 15 and looking back I realize that it was just another obstinate search for what I felt I needed deep down. It was another escape – maybe this is the missing piece. I lived my love story mostly in my head, turned to music and writing when I was lonely (which was very often) and went back to searching for the missing piece. It did not really help that I had no idea what the missing piece was. I could just feel this intense longing, sometimes so painful that I created stories in my mind to make myself cry, releasing the pressure I felt was driving me mad.

I was a junior in high school when I understood from my group of friends that I had to sleep with my boyfriend if I was to fit in. Sex had become a prerequisite for emancipation, for being cool. For belonging. There was no desire, just anxiety and a deep, deep need to belong. I remember listening to the stories my classmates told and noticing someone say they had wine before sex. So, the next time I met my boyfriend I decided to do just that. I had a bottle. And never wondered why I needed alchohol to be intimate with someone who was supposedly my lover.

And then religion tricked me into thinking that salvation was the missing piece. And since I had had sex outside of marriage, I needed to marry the guy. For our salvation (did you know the church puts this on the woman’s shoulders too?). So, I got married. And stayed married to him for 12 years. I realized around the second day of our marriage that this was not the missing piece either. So I embarked on my desperate pursuit to be a mother. Seven years of infertility treatments brought me the best gift my life of 30 years could have given me: our beautiful son. And with him, an invitation to be myself. Wherever would I find that? Who was that? I had no idea … . My son was not the piece of the puzzle but he lit the way to it: his innocent eyes, his total dependence on me when he was a baby, his wholehearted trust in me said: I am looking at you to learn how to do life. Mommy, you know what you are doing, right? I lasted in the fake for another year and a half. The fear of losing myself completely now when I was a mother burst the bubble.

I found the missing puzzle piece when my beloved touched my hand for the very first time after confessing to me that she was inlove with me. We had been best friends for a decade and I had been completely blind to the truth of me and us. I had no idea. I had been looking for a knight in shining armor for all of that time because that is what society tells us, women, we are supposed to look for. I never looked for a quiet, smart and committed queen. I guess I needed to be ripe for my truth. The moment she held my hand everything, absolutely everything, fell into place. It has been 12 years and spending this time alongside the love of my life has helped me re-write some of the something-is-wrongwith-me conclusions about my previous self. Looking back to so many instances where I felt different, I now understand what was “the matter”: I was gay.

***

I do not present gay and so people who see a wedding ring on my finger assume I am married to a man. Relatives and older friends who have known me for a long time, who know I was married to a man and that I have a child are surprised (some are repulsed) by the knowledge that my current partner is a woman. Some show it openly, some whisper it in the corners (I prefer the former). What is unbelievable to me every single day is how amazingly at peace I feel in my skin and alongside my beloved (even in this deeply homophobic country). And this is news to me – at 46.

It is from the comfort of my true self that I share with absolutely anyone that I am gay. This is me. Take it or leave it. I am not interested in being changed, I am not interested in your opinion if you are not ready to celebrate me and my family. Not accept. Not tolerate. Celebrate. The verb was chosen on purpose.

If you are surprised by the above and you meet me, or any other gay person for that matter, refrain from making statements such as these (all of these are examples of reactions people have had to my coming out to them):

That is ok, I don’t have a problem with gay people. – This is insulting on so many levels. It precisely indicates that you had and most probably still have a problem with gay people. That this feels out of ordinary and you are trying to shove it down your own throat and make it look like you are enjoying it. Oh, and there is never a moment when we are asking for permision to be gay so, being “ok with it” doesn’t really matter.

That’s ok, I have a neighbor / friend / colleague who is gay. – Meaning? That you can live / work in the vicinity of people who have a different sexual orientation than you? Well, good for them. Or you. I really don’t care, this means nothing to me. Except that maybe you are trying too hard to normalize something which feels weird to you.

Oh, that’s ok, I had a sexual experience with someone of the same sex and it was great. – Truly, this doesn’t even qualify for a comment. But it is important to know people can be this crude. I can’t imagine I remained in the same room with this person for another hour after she said this.

Ok. Let’s just keep this between us. – I just trusted you with something important and what you’re basically telling me is that you are ashamed to share this with others. No, thank you!

So what? – While I get how this comes from a good place (maybe), I am still sharing something important so … maybe just thank me for telling you.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that, to some people, this comes as a surprise. I realize that there are people who firmly believe my family is doomed to hell because of our “choice” (but hey, we will be listening to Freddy Mercury, George Michael and Elton, when the time comes). I respect that these beliefs exist and that there are people who are absolutely convinced of this.

If you however would like to have a reaction that is human and kind, invite you to go more towards authenticity. What is absolutely ok to say are things like:

Thank you for telling me. I had not realized. or I didn’t know.

Thank you for telling me. I am curious about some things. May I ask? (be prepared for the answer to be no.)

Thank you for telling me. I don’t understand this very well, I am not ready to talk about this right now, I need a minute. Can we circle back later?

Thank you for telling me. I am actually quite surprised to hear, my strong religious beliefs truly stand in the way of us continuing to be friends.

There is so much talk these days about inclusivity and diversity and equity. But the practice feels quite differently, especially in countries like the one I was born in and still reside in for a little while. To be inclusive doesn’t only mean to like, share and post on social media. That has its role, of course. More than anything else it means to look another person in the eye and see another human. And behave accordingly.

*Inspired by the work of Ms. Ruchika Tulshyan

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

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