It’s never been easy for someone who faces resistance from society to stand up and speak their truth. Yet, many do, and bravely so. We speak to some members of the LGBTQ community who tell us about the impact some incidents have had on them.
It was in 1989 when I was doing a short course at FTII, and my close friend, Suhail, brought a copy of
Bombay Dost, India’s first LGBTQ magazine, which had just released. He mentioned that he was one of
the founders of the magazine along with Ashok Row Kavi. I felt extremely uncomfortable to even
touch the magazine because I was deeply closeted then. But when I took the magazine and read it in
the privacy of my room, I felt a tingling in my stomach. It was not like a bolt from the blue or shifting
of the earth from beneath my feet. It was like a whole set of butterflies set free within me, and
rushing outside to fly. I realised that the secret I had buried deep inside had to come out and be in
the open, I realised my personal has to be political, that I have to be out as a gay man.
From then on, I only moved forward. I joined Bombay Dost (1990), co-founded The Humsafar Trust (1994), set up Solaris Pictures (2001) to make LGBTQ+ focused films, and set up KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival (2010), as the first ever mainstream LGBTQ+ film festival in India. At every level, at every turn, my artistic identity and my political identity was always enmeshed with my sexual identity. I wear my rainbow on my sleeve.
It was my nani (maternal grandma) who sensed early on that I struggled with being different from
other boys. I must have been about eight or nine years old, when she started telling me that I was
special, that I had just one life, and that I should be true to myself in living it. I didn’t quite
understand it then, but I as I grew up, I realised that Nano — also known as Ismat Chughtai — the
Urdu feminist writer, was sowing the seeds of self-acceptance within me. After I graduated, I knew I
had to make choices, and face the uncomfortable reality of coming out at a more conservative time
when there were no real role models around me. I worried that my sexuality would work against me
and limit my professional growth.
It was also in my college bestie, the late film-maker Riyad Wadia, that I found a kindred spirit, and we both understood that we were privileged by our families, and that it was important to be out. As nervous as I was, I knew I could not cheat on Nano’s legacy and all that she had faced after writing Lihaaf, including being tried for obscenity. So I began the process of coming out to family, friends, and at work. It came as a little surprise, and I was encouraged to be who I was. Decades later, I wonder how I could ever have stayed in the closet, and how fortunate I was to be empowered by my friends. I feel blessed to have stayed true to Nano’s ethos.
The most life-changing moment was the day I came out to my parents. It was something I had been
dying to do for a while, and I didn’t know how to do it. It was building up a lot of angst and
anxiety within me, which finally erupted in me fighting with my mother about something that had
nothing to do with this. One thing led to the other, and finally, I blurted out that I was gay. It was just
me, my mother, and my father in the room. My father immediately hugged me, and he said that it doesn’t matter if I’m gay or straight, as long as I’m happy and as long as I’m living the life that I want.
My mother was sitting in a corner, she was quiet, and she was crying. Then she said to me that she’s
always known, and every mother usually always knows. She said that she’s very happy for me, but
she just needs a little bit of time to process the news, and hugged me. It was anticlimactic because
the moment was so beautiful, and my whole life I had been thinking that when this moment does
come, it will be really hysterical. But it wasn’t. It was actually really calm. When I walked out of the
room that night, my life had changed. Something stirred inside my soul, and I realised that I could
live truthfully for the first time in my life, and I could live my life honestly, with my head held high,
and that my parents were going to be right behind me, no matter what. Everything changed after
that moment and I’ve never, ever looked back.
The pandemic was challenging, and the first lockdown was a terror. But for me, the pandemic was
something that saved me. My turning point was the lockdown when I faced my fears, accepted my
reality, and understood that I need to transition. I always say that I come from privilege; the fact that
I have an illustrious career of 15 years behind me made my transition a lot easier than it is for most
trans women. Having said that, my battle and struggle was internal more than anything else.
There’s so much stigma surrounding trans women and what they go through, the fear that I would go through the same was one of the reasons why I was unable to accept my truth. So for me, honestly, the transition now is as difficult, but yes, before transitioning, the acceptance of it was a major challenge. I also had to understand that my public, social, and personal life, everything is at stake here. I didn’t know what the future would be like because there are few role models in this context to look up to. The only example I had was Gazal Dhaliwal, and she is truly an inspiration for me today as well. So I did it. The perception of people was never my concern as much as acceptance was. There are amazing trailblazers along with me who are proving that trans women are not caricatures, and we are breathing, successful human beings who are achieving so much in our respective careers. We need to be respected like any other person in society.
I was 16 when I went to America for my higher education, to a college in Pennsylvania. And luckily, I
was one of those few selected students in the wake of 9/11 to go to America on a scholarship
presented by the State Department of America. I remember it was my first trip to New York, and it
was a sort of a culture shock, especially when I took the subway. On my subway ride, I saw a couple.
Two women, in their late 40s, early 50s, one of them holding a pot of flowers, one of them holding
groceries, and they’re holding hands. I was supposed to get off at Grand Central, but I decided to
carry on in the train because I was just sitting in front of them and just looking at them, how
comfortable they were with each other. There was so much love. Nobody around them was batting
an eyelid, nobody was staring at them. Two people of the same sex, in love with each other, in a
public place, doing something so mundane — just regular day things, and heading home together.
And that just gave me so much hope as a queer person coming from India.
There’s this constant editing that people keep doing to you because they want you to fit into a certain mould that they have. It made 16-year-old Faraz believe that I, too, can have a love story. I still think about those women every time I feel cornered, every time I feel like I don’t have a place to be, it makes me feel like there’s hope for all of us.
There have been many turning points in my life but the one moment that changed everything was
when I went to MIT and wanted to hold a South Asian LGBTQ festival. At the time, the institute’s
Vice President, Kathyrn Wilmore, who happened to be lesbian, called me to her office and pointed
me to the resources and connections I would need to make it happen — and it did. As a queer
person, it felt wonderful that an institution and a leader wanted to get behind you to make a project
happen. This is something I now try to do myself with the younger generation of queers in our
country. How to guide, nurture, and mentor, and create infrastructures of possibility? There is so
much talent. I was from the pre-internet era, so obviously growing up, it was a bit difficult getting
access to information, and then there was the bullying and the usual stuff that most of our
With my books, I want to make sure that forthcoming generations learn about our
rich and multiple queer histories and that straight readers and companies also understand that
supporting, hiring, and empowering queer people is a win-win situation for all. Queer people
benefit, the organisations benefit, the country benefits. We become more innovative, and our GDP