When I first came out of the closet in my freshman year of high school, my friends and peers were enthusiastically supportive, but my parents were not. My parents, immigrants from Sri Lanka, feared homophobia from our family members and Sri Lankan friends. So they told me to keep my sexuality a secret, to keep my personal life private. For the first time, I was given the false choice between my Sri Lankan heritage and my sexuality.
I chose to ignore my parents and remained out. I learned more about the LGBTQIA+ community and began to question society's gender norms. In sophomore year, I started wearing nail polish. It was a quiet rebellion; but for me, a feminine gay guy who is also a Sri Lankan American, the personal is political.
My parents have become much more understanding over the years, but tensions still remain. I have to take off my nail polish whenever our Sri Lankan family friends come over. There are still many Sri Lankan adults who don't know that I'm gay. My parents have been worried about my grandmother finding out.
My parents don't personally have a problem with me being gay, but they still care a lot about what other people think and they worry that being out will lead to me facing discrimination in employment. In their mind, I already have one strike against me because I'm not white and now I'm making it even harder for myself by being openly gay.
This is a difficult issue to navigate and I'm still figuring out how to balance my desire for individual freedom with the need to accommodate my parents' desires. I understand where my parents are coming from, but I fundamentally disagree with the perspective of their analysis. I know full well that even in 2019 homophobia exists, but to me, this is the most important reason to be out of the closet.
Coming out is a political act.
The gay rights movement has been so successful precisely because more and more queer people have come out and straight people have realized that gay people are not some abstract Other; we are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, your cousins, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers. And it is much harder to deny the humanity of people you know and love. So being openly gay is a revolutionary act and an important tool for fighting against homophobia.
I hope that if and when our Sri Lankan family friends find out I am gay, they will love me as they have always loved me. They may not approve of me being gay, they may not understand it, but I hope that they will still love me because I may be gay but I am still Nimesh. I am gay and I am also Buddhist and Sri Lankan and so much more.
All of these aspects of my identity combine to make me who I am. I want to be surrounded by people who really love me for who I am; so I can't pretend to be someone I am not. I refuse to mold myself into someone else's image of who I should be, and that includes my parents. I'm going to be myself even if it makes people uncomfortable, even if other people don't like it; because this is my life, not anyone else's.
I will not waste my time worrying about what other people will think. I will focus on being my authentic self, being completely honest about who I am and working towards being the best version of myself. If they really love me, they will love me regardless of my sexuality.
I understand that homophobia in the Sri Lankan community is rooted in issues of culture. But as Chimamanda Adichie has so eloquently pointed out, culture is not some impersonal force that makes us. We make culture. If acknowledging the full humanity and dignity of queer people isn't part of Sri Lankan culture, we must make it part of our culture.
Perhaps it is naive or idealistic of me to focus so much on how the world should be instead of how the world really is. Of course, homophobia is a pervasive issue that has caused the deterioration of family relationships and there will be people who don't understand homosexuality, who disapprove of "the gay lifestyle", who see us as fundamentally broken.
Yet I think it is important for us to recognize the horrors and injustice of the world and still imagine something better. We cannot accept the status quo. Once we recognize systems of oppression, we must work to dismantle them. We must dream of a better world and then work tirelessly towards achieving that goal.
I don't think the arc of history will naturally bend towards justice; it is our duty, the responsibility of each and every one of us to help build a more just world. We may be insignificant in the grand cosmic scale of space and time, we may just be a brief candle in the vastness of eternity, but in the here and now we are alive and we can make a difference.
By being our authentic selves, by stepping out of the darkness of the closet and into the light, by living our truth with courage and pride each and every day, I believe that we can change hearts and minds.
So, Mom and Dad, I'm sorry but I'm not going to keep my sexuality a secret from anyone. I will be openly gay with the hope and faith that the people who love me will still love me for who I am, with the belief that people can change their opinions.
People can often be ignorant and hateful. But I believe people are fundamentally good. So here's to believing in our better angels and building a better world.