By Mayank Teria
Imagine a tense spring in a pinball machine, all coiled up and compacted, rearing to go. That’s what your body feels like, a pinball trigger, when you’re in the closet. That is what my body felt like when I was in the closet.
Every night when I would go to bed, I would consciously make an effort to relax. I would feel my face loosen up, and my body let go before I could fall asleep. Yeah, the closet isn’t a pleasant place.
On the other hand, coming out isn’t the be all and end all Hollywood tells you it is. Suddenly, life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. You don’t just waltz out to actualize the person you were meant to be. You don’t just come out, fall in love, and it’s happily ever after. It’s like peeling an onion. You feel the dread of the process deep in your gut. But, as you peel, and chop it up, you know you’re preparing a solid set of flavors for your salad. It was the same for me.
Coming out is only the start of a journey. There’s a lot to unpack with gay identity. We spend so much time obsessing over hiding this secret, we never really pay any attention to what happens if and when we do come out.
I came out almost three years ago. It was an assault of emotions at first: fear, anxiety, followed by joy, freedom, and happiness, followed by some more fear, frustration, and anger. Everyone has their own process of coming out. For some it’s a matter of weeks, for some it’s a matter of months, and for some it’s a matter of years and perhaps, sadly, decades.
But, largely, everyone’s journey is punctuated by certain universal experiences. The fear of rejection, the anxiety of coming out, the hurt of rejection, the joy of acceptance, the need for validation from everyone, and then finally, the maturity of experience. This maturity brings with it a sense of great comfort and calm.
I recently sat down to dinner alone.
Whilst I was promptly served, I was also told, “You could order half-tapas just for yourself.”
What struck me the most was how far I had come along since I came out. Three years on, and I was an entirely different person. I was much calmer and that’s a terrifying thought. Believe me.
Any newly minted Arts student worth their salt would admit, after coming out, we rail against the patriarchy. On one such crusade against the establishment, I went on a power trip. I was on a date and the waiter refused to acknowledge me the entire time at the restaurant. A bottle of wine later, I was a bit drunk.
Considering my date was an older, whiter gentleman, the dismissal had me fairly annoyed. I refused to let my date pay the bill, despite his insistence. As a former rehabilitated Arts student, he indulged me. I refused to pay the bill until I was acknowledged and I was directly addressed, so I could order myself a shot of espresso.
The moment of truth came when the waiter blandly took my card, charged me, and returned it. He was indifferent as to who paid. It was rather embarrassing to have let my insecurities take center stage.
My selfish need to be validated as an ‘emancipated’ member of an oppressed minority had unwittingly let me make a fool of myself, on a date with a charming man.
Three years on, I am sitting in this restaurant, enjoying myself, sipping on wine, sans a date and single fuck to give about who thinks what of me.
That’s the power of coming out, that’s the power of freedom. The closet is a toxic place that makes one loathe themselves, and be constantly paranoid about being discovered. It’s a very lonely, miserable, and exhausting existence.
I was very young when Dr. Seuss told me the following:
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you. Shout aloud, I am glad to be what I am. Thank goodness I’m not a ham, or a clam, or a dusty old jar of gooseberry jam. I am what I am, what a great thing to be. If I say so myself, happy everyday to me!”. -Dr Seuss
I believed him then, and I believe him now. Living as yourself is incredibly freeing and if that means letting a few people down then so be it. I don’t live my life to satisfy someone’s expectations of me. I live it for me. I have had to make hard choices and let go of a few loved ones but in the grand scheme of things I’ve never felt happier.
Feature image by Charlotte Butcher, unsplash.com
When Mayank isn’t hunting for dessert to support his sugar habit, he works as a wise-cracking public relations specialist. He is a thought provocateur who believes in subverting the norm and overthrowing the patriarchy. Generally found in his natural habitat of local art markets and best approached with caution.