I belong to a middle-class family from Model Town (North West Delhi) and went to St. Xavier's School. We lived in a joint family with numerous uncles, aunts and cousins under one roof. I realized I was different from other boys at an early age and often felt alienated because of these differences. I have a clear memory of being taunted by my classmates. One particular instance that is seared in my mind is when we had to elect class monitors -- one male, one female. I would put my head down in dread knowing that, when calls came for nominating the female monitor, some of my classmates would shout out my name. It was the humiliation of choice for so many bullies to call me a girl. As it turns out, I have grown up to find that women and girls are among my best friends, my greatest champions and the strongest people I know.
I realized I was gay around 12 when I started feeling attracted to other boys in my school. I was very confused by these feelings. Therefore, I began my 15-year sentence in the closet. I didn't have a label for it at the time, but I knew enough to understand that it would not be widely accepted and should be kept hidden.
I Pretended To Be Heterosexual Infront Of Family and Friends
I couldn't be out in India. I didn't feel like I could confide in anyone among my family and friends. So I kept it hidden from everyone and tried to suppress the truth until the end of high school. I was leading a double life -- pretending to be a heterosexual guy around friends and family. But, on the inside, I was not too fond of this aspect of myself and prayed that it would go away. Religion became important to me. I'd go to my local Jain mandir and pray for God to make me normal. I never knew that God had already put in a far better plan in place for me- a life of love, happiness and acceptance.
After moving to Bengaluru, I convinced my college friends that I had a long-distance relationship with a girl in Delhi. Whenever I returned home to Delhi, I would tell my school friends that I was dating a girl in Bengaluru. I would spend a lot of time dodging questions like, "Why don't you have a girlfriend? Why don't you play cricket? Why do you walk like a girl?"
My parents have always been very supportive and loving. They trusted me and never questioned my decisions in life. But living with a secret was eating me from within, and I was desperate to tell them my truth, but I didn't find the courage to do that until I met Parag (my now husband). When I started dating Parag in 2012, I was living in the U.S. and knew he was very public about his sexual orientation and that if I wanted to build a relationship with him, I could not remain in the closet.
We were deeply in love, travelling all over the world and making new memories. As we posted our pictures together on social media, some of my family members started to suspect that something was going on between us. I knew that rumours of me being gay would eventually reach my parents. Parag counselled me on this. He told me that it would be best if my parents got to terms with reality through me. So, I decided to come out to my parents (share my sexuality) in the summer of 2013. Fortunately, the same year, I got selected for a summer fellowship at the World Health Organization (WHO) 's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. My parents and family members were beaming with pride on this achievement, but what I secretly hoped was that they would beam with the same pride when I shared my truth with them.
I Slept Like A Baby After Telling My Parents
My parents visited me in Switzerland, and I decided to make a trip out of their visit. The three of us travelled all over Switzerland and France, ending up on July 20 in the city of Zurich. I still remember when I took them to the WHO for the first time and saw tears of joy streaming down their faces -- they were truly happy for all that I had achieved. As we were finishing the trip, I was also getting ready to have the "talk" with them. I should point out that Parag came out to his parents more than a decade before I did, and he had a few pointers for me on how to do it right. He instructed me to do it at the moment in time when my parents were incredibly proud and happy of my achievement(s). He shared that I should share it with conviction in my voice and no fear in my heart when I tell them. He told me to be completely honest with them and not leave a shred of doubt in their minds about who I was. Finally, he told me to be strong.
So, on the night of July 20, 2013, I was in my parents' hotel room helping them pack for their return to India. I was getting emotional to see them leave; so, I took a moment and sat on their bed. My eyes welled up, and papa noticed it. He came to me, patted my head and asked what was going on. I said nothing and started weeping (I wish I hadn't!). My parents asked what was going on, and I said I wanted to share something with them. First, I told them that I did not want to get married and that I didn't like girls.
Mummy said that it was okay, and so many people wish to remain bachelor's -- nothing to worry about. I explained that wasn't the case; I told them that I was gay and attracted to men. This news sent chills down their spines, and they were visibly shocked. My mother froze in shock, but my dad took only a few minutes to reach out to me. He reassured me of his love and told me that everything will be okay. And so began a series of uncomfortable questions, but as uncomfortable or frustrated I felt, I remembered what Parag had told me once: I had 27 years to understand my sexuality and come to terms with my truth. In fairness, I shouldn't expect my parents to come to terms with it in 27 minutes, 27 hours or even 27 days. So, I sat with them until the early hours of the night, explained everything that needed to be explained, and made sure that not a shred of doubt remained in their minds. But I also made sure that they knew that I was normal and I needed no cure. Homosexuality was not a disease, something I didn't have control over and was irreversible.
A lot happened during "the talk" – tears, questions, discomfort, shock and yes, sadness. But the thing that sticks out to me all these years later is when they said they had failed as parents. "Because I turned out gay?" I asked. "No," they replied. "Because it took you so many years to tell us your truth. You suffered alone because you were worried about us. But it's our jobs as parents to be the ones who worry about you." That's when I knew everything would be all right. It took time and lots of conversations, and patience. But on that night – when they couldn't sleep, I slept like a baby knowing that the weight of the universe had finally lifted off my shoulders, that I would never be without their unconditional love. Our journey as a family has not been easy. But we reached a great place of understanding and respect.
How I Met Parag For The First Time?
Our first meeting was quite exciting and a lot like a Bollywood movie. On June 12, 2012, our first date was in Washington, DC, at a Thai restaurant. Little did we know, the food would turn out wrong, but a fantastic conversation that lasted for several hours. It started to rain just as Parag offered to walk with me to apartment. We quickly found shelter under a nearby building and started chatting some more about one of our many shared interests -- Bollywood. We talked about our favourite movies and songs, and then I started to sing one of my favourite old-timey Mohammed Rafi songs - he claims that he was mesmerized. Our first date lasted almost 6 hours, and we still didn't want to leave and go home. That was when we knew we were meant to be together.
We decided to get married in September 2016 during a trip to New Mexico. We were over four years into our relationship, and my parents and some extended family were also aware -- so the obvious next step was getting married. We bought engagement bands together but were playing a game of chicken -- he was waiting for me to propose, and I was waiting for him to propose. When Parag's two best friends and I surprised him for his 40th birthday with a surprise trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, things were finally seemed to settle.
We had a great time celebrating Paragon his milestone birthday, but little did I know that he was planning his surprise -- which was to propose to me at sunrise on the next day. He said he wanted to begin his fourth decade on Earth the right way -- with me as his life partner. So, as we all went to view a breathtaking sunrise on a hilltop in Santa Fe, he turned on Facebook LIVE and began to film his surprise proposal to me. Thousands of our friends, family and strangers around the world watched this intimate moment in real-time. We both exchanged engagement rings and committed to spending our lives together. When he was done proposing, and the cameras were off, I said, "Oh my God! We have to start calling everyone to share the news!" Parag nodded his head and said, "No, we don't. Almost everyone we know and love just saw this happen." I love Parag for many reasons, But his cleverness and efficient approach to a romantic moment is high on the list!
Our Wedding Happened In The Most Traditional Way
The main wedding ceremony took place on the morning of March 30. Since this wedding had two dulhas (grooms), we had to have two baraats. So, both Parag and I rode in on two separate horse chariots and came to the venue simultaneously from opposite directions. Each baraat had its dhol player, and our DJ set up speakers on both routes and played music for folks to dance. Upon reaching the venue entrance, both the dulhaas were simultaneously welcomed by both mothers -- who did tilak and aarti for their soon-to-be sons-in-law. The ceremony was performed according to Jain and Vedic traditions by a Jain pundit (officiant). Since Jain and Vedic ceremonies are quite gender-specific, we made a few modifications to make them gender-neutral. The ceremony included a Jai mala, four pheras around the sacred fire -- Vaibhav led two pheras, and Parag also led two pheras. Since there was no bride, we changed the traditional kanyadaan to a var daan -- two words which, separately, translate to "giving of the groom". When combined into one word, 'vardaan' also means 'God's reward or blessings' befitting the occasion. Both sets of our parents individually gave us a way to the other family during this ceremony. After the formal ceremony concluded, we invited one married gay couple and one married lesbian couple -- who are our close friends -- to share marital advice as a substitute for the saubhagyavati bhava. We called it Chiranjeevi bhava.
The best moments from the wedding were when we were in the mandap and took the pheras around the fire. As I took the first phera for dharma, it dawned on me that God has finally given me what I constantly desired -- a loving partner, a supportive family and a community that will move day and night to stand by my side. And I'm finally getting to marry my love most traditionally, with my community and my God as witnesses. Seeing the smiles and tears of joy in my parents' eyes was another decisive moment for me -- the fact that they have come such a long way in these five years since I told them that I was gay.
This is a question often asked of us and confused a lot of people. So, let me clarify: please remember that this is a same-sex relationship, so there's no "wife" in the equation. We are both husbands, and we equally divide household and professional responsibilities. We both have full-time jobs, so we both contribute to the household budget and pay the bills. After finishing work, we also cook together, clean the house, do the dishes, and finish the laundry. We constantly remind ourselves that it's a relationship of equals, and we are equally responsible for our household and the well-being of each other. Also, we have to get over these traditional roles for men vs women. The world is changing, and these notions are out of date. Every individual, every couple and every family should be free to organize themselves in the way that makes the most sense to them. It's not for others to wonder or worry why?
How I Feel Parents Should Deal With Their Children?
It's simple: Love your kids. Support your kids. Parents have one job: to raise happy, healthy and well-adjusted children. The way to do that is through unconditional love. That's what children crave most from their parents. They want to know that their parents will always love them, protect them and defend them.
We have to stop worrying so much about what society thinks. We have to stop being afraid of the unknown. And we have to remember that God does not make mistakes. We are, all of us, born perfect. My wish for all parents is to create a loving and nurturing environment where their kids feel safe and protected and know that they can be honest about whatever is going on in their lives. The children should be confident that they will never be judged or condemned by the people closest to them.
Every person on this planet -- regardless of who they are, how they worship, where they live or whom they love -- deserves the love Parag and I experienced. My religion (Jainism) teaches me that there is divinity in every life form, from the amoeba to the human animal. That means that every life is a manifestation of God. So, when you look at your child, please remember that this is God's child first and last. As a parent, you are a temporary guardian of this life. Treat your child like the divine gift that they are.
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