My eight year old self was an aspiring poet. Often I would find a pair of words that would rhyme, and that would be enough inspiration to pen down a few lines on how ‘I loved the flowers, in the April showers’; or how ‘the cat sat on the mat and always wanted a pat’. One day, I came across the word ‘gay’ in an Enid Blyton book, and my eyes lit up with the thought of the several words I could use to rhyme with ‘gay’. To be ‘gay’ meant to be happy and merry, and I found numerous places for it in my poems. Simply ‘being gay in the month of may’, or ‘feeling gay when I see hay’, the possibilities were endless. The word was a gold mine to an eight year old, (lets face it, not so creative) ambitious poet.
I decided to recite one of my poems to my mother. When I proudly uttered the word ‘gay’, the word I was convinced would take my poem places, her expression shifted, and not for the better. She very uncomfortably told me to find another word for ‘gay’. Replace ‘gay’?!! But did she know how instrumental that word had become in my poems?! I would never find an easier word to rhyme with!! I had found THE word. She awkwardly explained to me that gay no longer meant happy or merry and had a different meaning now. When I asked her what it meant she shrugged and repeated that it meant something else, she wasn’t sure what.
Fast forward four years, to my twelve year old self and my best friend, sipping smoothies, gossiping about serious preteen issues such as the new ‘Wizards of Waverley’ episode. My friend was narrating to me about how a boy in her class read the palms of other students, and told them their future. The skeptic in me had not yet been born, and hence I was in awe of this mysterious future boy. He had said that my friend was destined for fame and another boy in her class was to be gay.
For the second time in my life I had heard that word. It brought back the memory of my failed poetic ambition. ‘Gay??’ I asked her. I still didn’t know what it meant. She giggled and said ‘gay is when two boys kiss’, and that was my first understanding of what ‘gay’ meant.
In the years that followed, the word ‘gay’ gradually became a word we heard very often. But always, with no exception, it was used as an insult. The word had replaced every cuss word in our dictionary. Somehow, the word ‘gay’ encompassed every possible insult we wished to throw at a person. Mean, bitchy, weird, stupid, cowardly, all found their meaning in the word ‘gay’.
At the age of sixteen, my usage of the internet had increased a significant amount. Through movies and YouTube, I finally became aware of what being gay, being a lesbian, and being a bisexual meant. It wasnt an overnight process or an event of sudden enlightenment, it was an understanding that built up over time.
I’m eighteen years old now. Looking back, it disheartens me to my very core, when I think about my entire understanding of it. Moreover, I wish it didn’t have to be something that ‘needed understanding’. I wish it was as much as a part of my growing up, as heterosexuality was. Through my entire childhood, heterosexuality as the only sexuality one can have was a concept ingrained by everything around me. I never thought about homosexuality because you simply don’t think about something you’ve never heard of.
I could say that I come from a country where a majority of people are homophobic. But a truer statement would be that I come from a country where people pretend homosexuality doesn’t exist.