I am the only boy in a generation of girls. Sibling or first cousins. I have been surrounded by women of four generations. I have been loved by all of them. I realised I was gay by the age of 11 or 12 and I was out by 16.
My childhood was spent happy. Adored by my grandmother and my buas (my father’s sisters). My maasi (mom’s sister) loved me incredibly too. As I grew, I realised that it could be the gender discrimination that made my sisters resentful of me as I grew up. But through the years I was growing up, I thought I was being loved because I was who I was and gender was a moot point. At that age, I was not really aware that they saw me as different from them because I was a boy. I always felt like one of the girls.
The day before, my cousin sister visited and we had a discussion on why I was loved. She attributed all of the love I received to the fact that I was a male child in an Indian family. Though it could have been partly true, she completely disregarded the fact that I am a good person. I have never been vicious or mean-spirited. I have never felt entitled to anything that wasn’t mine. Not even love.
When I was 12, my mother moved away from the joint family, dominated by towering women figures. I was brought to live in a home with my mother’s side of the family, that didn’t think much of me. They already had a grand-child to love and were mostly around to help my mother settle in a new house she had built in her own.
I suppose it was karmic that I was taken away by the women I loved and placed in close proximity of the only male figure I was averse to. My father. He was the only one who had followed us from his family to the new home. The abuse began shortly. There was no one around to protect a pre-pubescent child as he made his way to a home he resented, filled with the alcohol imbued father – figure.
The physical beatings didn’t begin immediately. It was a man’s frustration at life poured out on walls and floors by beating fists. Doors would slam and food was thrown. The beatings began slightly. It was a grip over the shoulder that tightened as I said no. The sharp wraps on the back of the head as I began understanding my sexuality. Through it all, I tried hard to understand why the man I loved didn’t love me back. The love deteriorated with every hateful glance thrown at me.
The sharp knocks became blows. Sometimes over the back and sometimes over the chest. I wonder if all the pampering I got from the women made me deserve the beatings. As my cousin sister said flippantly, “it was just one person who didn’t pamper you, everyone else did.”
I won’t make excuses for my father. I will say he was the first homophobe I encountered in my life. The man who was supposed to protect his son became his first abuser, teaching him how the world would be. My first encounters with a man were violent. It framed my idea about men in general. And ironically, I am gay. What a laugh.
Eventually, it would happen that I would be saved by the same people who thought I was making things up. My sister was the one who called for help as I was being strangled on my bed. My parents divorced after 24 years of being together. I won’t get into the details of what happened then.
Once again, I was surrounded by women.
But one must remember it wasn’t only my dad that brought about a sense of abandonment. My cousin noticed the love I received from her mother and my paternal grandmother. She failed to notice three things.
The first was that I didn’t receive the same love and affection that was bestowed upon my sister by my mom. Since, my mom thought I was being loved enough by my dad’s family, my sister received most of her limited time and affection. My mom was a hard-working, single mom. She had a limited knowledge of the world and its variety. But she also has a Boomer’s idea of what a “man” should be. There’s always that “behave like a man” thought process that prevented me from being honest with her.
I read somewhere, “It can clear up a lot of confusion around childhood trauma, when you realize abandonment is not only when someone walks away. It’s also when someone who is meant to protect you, allows others to hurt you.” That is what happened when she moved away from the joint family and left me to fend against my dad alone. It wasn’t just abuse at home that birthed my anxiety. It was the environment in school. The bullying and the ostracism for being femme got to me in a great degree. Pampered
As I grew, I learned behaviour. I adapted to what the world wanted me to become. I walked straight, I controlled my voice, I didn’t talk much about my interests or my sexuality. It really didn’t help. People could tell I was different. And I was always surrounded by women, they just tended to like who I was. I made them feel comfortable. Something straight men cant really do.
The second thing my cousin failed to remember is that I was taken away from a safe environment at the age of 12. My entire teenage years I spent shielding myself from a cruel parent and hoping to gain the attention of the absent one.
The third thing that my cousin failed to understand is that being loved and then being abused fractured my sense of well-being. It happened at a time when I was also figuring out my own sexuality – a problem which none of my sisters had to deal with. I had the mind-numbing terror of being cast out for being different. And ironically, it was the ones who pampered me that I came out to first. My aunts. I didn’t come out to my mom first. She I came out to when I was assured by my aunts that they loved me no matter who I would love.
Through the years as I grew and understood who I was as a gay man, I never felt entitled to more than what was my due. In fact, in more ways than one, I have settled for less. I have only ever wanted to compensate for the fact that I never had a guy love me for who I am. Any and every one who came to me with their love wanted something from me. And all I ever wanted was from a man to love me – with all the baggage that I carry from what my sister calls a “pampering”.