On Gay Identity: Onions & Dr Seuss

Mayank Teria

Imagine a tense spring in a pinball machine, coiled up and compacted, rearing to go; that’s what your body feels like when you’re in the closet: a pinball trigger. That is what my body felt like, constantly.

Every night when I went to bed, I had to consciously make an effort to relax. I had to loosen my face and soften my body before I could fall asleep. Yeah, the closet isn’t a pleasant place to be.

On the other hand, coming out isn’t the be all and end all that Hollywood tells you it is. Life isn’t suddenly all rainbows and sunshine. You don’t just waltz out and actualise the person you were meant to be. You don’t come out, fall in love, and live happily ever after. It’s more like peeling an onion. You can feel the dread of the process deep in your gut. But as you peel and chop, you know you’re preparing a fragrant addition to your cooking.

Coming out is only the start of a journey — a long, sometimes sun-drenched, sometimes treacherous voyage. There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to gay identity. We spend so much time obsessing over and hiding this secret that we never really pay attention to what happens if, and when we do, come out.

I came out almost three years ago. It was an assault of emotions: fear and anxiety followed by joy, freedom, and happiness, then some more fear, frustration, and anger. Everyone has their own process of coming out. For some it takes weeks, for others it’s a matter of months, and for others it takes years. Sadly, for some, it can be decades.

But, largely, everyone’s coming out journey is punctuated by certain universal experiences: The fear of rejection, the anxiety of revealing the secret, the joy of acceptance, the need for validation, and finally the maturity of experience. This maturity brings with it a sense of great comfort and calm.

Recently I went out for dinner, alone. Whilst I was promptly served, I was also told, “You could order half-tapas just for yourself.”

In my reaction, I was struck by how much I had grown since I came out. Three years later and I’m an entirely different person — calmer and more collected (a terrifying thought. Believe me).

Any newly-minted Arts student worth their salt would admit that, especially 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 had refused to acknowledge me the entire time we spent at the restaurant. One bottle of wine later, I was a bit drunk.

Considering my date was an older, whiter gentleman, I was fairly annoyed at being dismissed. I refused to let my date pay, despite his insistence. As a former (now rehabilitated) Arts student, he indulged me. I refused to pay the bill until I was acknowledged and directly addressed by the waiter, so I could order myself an espresso.

The moment of truth came. The waiter took my card, charged me, and returned it. He was completely indifferent. It was embarrassing that I let my insecurities take center stage.

My selfish need to be validated as an ‘emancipated’ member of an oppressed minority had unwittingly meant I made a fool of myself. Three years on I am sitting in a different restaurant, enjoying myself, sipping on wine — sans a single fuck to give about who thinks what of me.

That’s the power of coming out, and that’s the power of freedom. The closet is a toxic place that makes one loathe themselves, and live in constant fear of being ‘found out’. It’s a 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 you is incredibly freeing. If that means letting a few people down then so be it. I don’t live my life to satisfy someone else’s expectations. I live it for me. I’ve had to make hard choices and let go of loved ones, but in the grand scheme of things, I’ve never been happier.