The reality of coming out

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This January, after five years in the closet, I accidentally came out as bisexual to my Indian parents in the middle of an argument. 

It was after five years of “oh, I think I like boys and girls”; five years of cringing at the mention of arranged marriage; five years of testing the waters by hesitantly referencing queer news around my parents; five years of being terrified that my parents would reject me once they found out; five years of yearning for queer Indian representation; five years of “oh, I’m just a really passionate ally” to my family.

Five years burst into flames, but I didn’t emerge from their ashes as a brand-new Tarunika. 

Barely anything has changed in my life now that my parents know that I’m queer, especially considering that I had been blatantly out to most of my friends and acquaintances for a few years. 

All of this led me to consider just how overrated “coming out” is. Like, yes, it’s a monumental stage in a queer person’s life, to entrust people who (hopefully) love and care about them with their true self. But it’s also blown way out of proportion — especially in Hollywood.

Coming out isn’t the end of a queer person’s story: It’s only part of the beginning. 

In terms of immediate changes, I feel a little freer to be openly queer at home and to discuss what I want in my future, but only a little. Prior to coming out, I’d hid a bisexual pride flag on my desk, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice. I’d watched one of the first mainstream queer Bollywood movies with my entire family, examining their reactions carefully. I had sat down with my mom and attempted to explain gender identity to her after a mention of a nonbinary friend. 

Despite my parents’ general positive reactions in the past few years, I still vividly recalled quarreling with my dad over queer rights and why we should care when I was 14 before I was even out to myself. 

In contrast, this March, I managed to sit down with my mom and have her read a short story I had written about an Indian mother’s struggles to accept her queer daughter in the face of her daughter’s wedding to a woman. It had felt like an honest moment between my tearful mother and me, a genuine connection and understanding after years of me being slippery and evasive about my queerness.

But after all, it had only been one moment.

Then there’s also a difference between being out of the closet to supportive parents and being queer yourself. When I came out to my close friends in high school, several of whom are still my friends now, most of them didn’t really seem to understand; even now, many of them look at me with bewilderment when I reference something from queer culture. Even my older sister, whom I’ve been out to since I was 16, doesn’t really get it.

Luckily, I have some queer friends and a pretty good circle of online queer friends to support me, but that disconnect with family and friends can be hard.

Despite that moment with my mom, I can’t imagine sitting her — or my dad — down for a discussion about my future. 

I can’t imagine telling them about my desire for a traditional Hindu wedding — less tradition, more culture — my yearning to take my saat phere with a bride in a red lehenga by my side. It’s difficult to imagine myself surrounded by my cousins, my aunts and uncles and my grandfather when I can’t even know that they’ll accept me as my parents have.

I can’t imagine telling them that sometimes I just want to flash forward to being older, to be settled and firm in my queerness while also knowing that queer identity is fluid and often still developing for many.

I can’t imagine telling them that my own queerness is still developing, that I’ve been feeling outside the gender binary lately and trying new pronouns, that I think I feel sexual attraction somewhere on the asexuality spectrum.

I can’t imagine telling them any of this. They might not understand, not for a lack of trying. But then again, I never really imagined coming out to my parents, to begin with, so who really knows?

It’s all a matter of exposure and openness, I suppose. Gender and sexuality were never really discussed in our household before. Until I was 13 or 14, I wasn’t even aware there were options outside of heteronormativity because heteronormativity was all I had ever seen. 

Everything I’ve learned about queerness, I’ve had to learn by myself.

Most Hollywood movies and shows I’ve seen — with “Love, Simon” coming to mind the most — that depict a character reckoning with their queerness always leads to a coming out. A coming out and a “the end.” The character’s parents have accepted them for who they are, and now, they’re going to prom with their crush.

There’s almost always the white, cisgender, straight-sized protagonist and their exploration of their queerness, all packed with a nice little bow and colorful pop music. There’s never a plus-size, anxious, brown bisexual floundering in college. There’s never a Tarunika. 

But then again, I guess there won’t be. Queerness is not a one-size-fits-all, nor is there an automatic understanding of who you are and who you will be. I just wish Hollywood would stop selling its popcorn flick fantasy of “coming out” as the happy ending. 

Coming out? That’s just step one.

Tarunika Kapoor is a student at UC Berkeley. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.