Arnab is a professional accountant and a lifestyle blogger. He was born and brought up in Kolkata and raised in an orthodox environment. His mother being a single parent was overtly conscious of raising him with correct values and when he later came out as a gay person, she was quite shocked. Eventually she became Arnab's biggest pillar of support.
The repeated discrimination and harassment owing to gender identity made him realise that the problem is not really skin deep but soul deep. This led him to start blogging about LGBTI issues in India, and he gained huge popularity over the years because he gave the marginalised a voice -
"I did not really do anything extraordinary, but I became vocal of the issues faced by any member of the community on a day to day basis and refused to give up."
When did you have that “a-ha” moment and realise you were different?
I realised quite early on. I was attracted to other boys when I was in 9th standard and I could understand I am reacting in a different way compared to others. While most of them were interested in girls I was not. There were classmates whose proximity would make me feel good. I tried making girl friends just to fit in, but eventually gave up.
How would you describe your experience of coming out?
I came out first to my mother. It was dramatic, because she had no clue about the existence of this community and my coming out gave her the opportunity to blame my then boyfriend. She not only thought him as the external influence, I was also taken to a child specialist to find cure. Astrologer was consulted and I was also outed to the entire joint family. Things got better soon, because she was unaware, not cruel. She started reading and soon realised that she has to be understanding and open minded.
Coming out is a continuous process in India. Every time you meet someone, the expectations are stereotypical. Neighbours, relatives, gym mates , colleagues everyone expects you to have a wife unless you are out and vocal. It can get depressing unless you have accepteyourself and proud about your own identity. Now a days I don’t really come out but expect the other person to be accepting when I talk about my regular life. No wonder this leads to shocks and multiple irrelevant questions.
How did your childhood and family background impact both the timing and the way you came out?
My mother is a single parent as my father expired a month after my birth. She told me my coming out was the second biggest shock of her life. No child wants to see their parents sad. This definitely made me extremely depressed and lonely.
I come from an orthodox joint family in Kolkata. The only saviour was they are all well read and educated. Initially it was tough for them to accept , but they didnot really become offensive. They would ask loads of questions and expected me to marry over time as they thought this as “passing phase”
I came out in 2003, in a country like India where talking sex is a taboo, imagine the reactions when I came out as a gay person. There were gossips, side talks etc. I probably would have not come out that early if my mother didnot raise questions about my proximity with my the then boyfriend. I came out because I couldn’t live a lie.
What would your advice to anyone trying to come out?
There is no rule or compulsion to come out. Ideally it’s the responsibility of the society to be aware and accepting. So don’t create unnecessary pressure in your mind. Be aware of your circumstances, society you live in, economic independence and choose the right set of people before you come out. Come out in steps.
What was the most difficult experience you faced in your life because of your sexual orientation / gender identity? How did you handle it?
There is immense discrimination if you are an outlier. The moment your body language and the way you talk or dress up donot match traditional heteronormative definitions you are bullied.
My biggest challenge was my school days. I was bullied not only by my classmates ( I don’t use the term friends) , I was harassed by my biology teacher. She asked me uncomfortable questions in front of the entire class. I can’t forget that day. It has haunted me all my life how my gender was questioned in front of 80 people who were laughing at me for a cause I was unaware then.
Who is the most important role model in your life and why?
If there is a will there is a way. My mother was completely unaware, she had no clue about the LGBTIQA+ community. She had to learn and unlearn multiple times to reach a stage where I can proudly say she is the biggest ally to the entire community. It was a journey. That inspires me to be a better human.
A few of my close friends also motivate and inspire me. I met them really young in my growing up years. They were confident and comfortable about their sexual orientation.That definitely had an impact in shaping me up as a person today.
Now broadening our horizon, describe your experience being a member of the LGBTQ community at work? In your industry?
The workspace environment is changing but often I believe is owing to compulsion and corporate policies. It needs a lot more effort to be truly inclusive. I have faced dozens of questions in the past which can be categorised as bullying, but I learnt the art of laughing it off most of the times, unless something relates to violence and severe discrimination. Very few people are out and open in the finance industry, this also creates a false perception that people who identify themselves as a member of the community are only good at fine arts. It’s a myth. We are everywhere- some talk about it some dont.
Visible role models are extremely important to remind people the existence of LGBTI people in the society and spreae awareness of their problems and challenges. It also gives comfort to other members of the community, creates a sense of belonging.
And, what could make the biggest positive impact for the LGBTQ community?
Introduction of LGBTI studies at schools. Awareness at an young age makes a person much more liberal, and though it would take time but it can create a huge difference in the mindset by breaking stereotypes in the long run.
Finally and on a less serious note, what stereotype do you love the most about the LGBTQ community?
We wear flamboyant clothes! I believe I am quite happy the way I am. And if there is something called rebirth I would want to be gay again. <PHOTO TO ILLUSTRATE>
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