“Tony and Tania — I am both,” says a voice on the phone. He speaks in a frank and fearless tone. Frank because it took him 20 years of denial to finally come out before the world to announce his sexual orientation as gay. Fearless because he enjoys ample support from his family, colleagues, friends, queer peers and the church too.
Coming out hasn’t been easy for 33-year-old Tony Christopher. “I was breaking two decades of silence. It took time to come to terms with my sexual orientation.
Like many, I was the victim of a misconception that homosexuality is a result of sexual abuse as a child. I lived in guilt and pain for years,” he recalls.
A person with feminine traits since childhood, Tony was raised in a religious Catholic family in Kollam, Kerala. “Even as a child, I secretly enjoyed dressing up in my mother’s sari and putting on her make-up. In school, I was teased for my girly mannerisms. At family functions, I was advised to behave like a boy. My parents and relatives constantly tried to ‘correct’ me,” he shares.
Family functions were not easy. “During a wedding when all the boys danced to Mukkala Mukkabla, I danced to Nimbuda Nimbuda. My parents were embarrassed. I loved dancing, but the response hurt,” he says.
Later, when he moved to Mumbai as a techie, he came in contact with queer support groups and NGOs. “It was a revelation that there are homosexuals who have not gone through childhood abuse. Once a person I declined to date started putting my pictures and details online as a homosexual person. I was scared that it would affect me or someone would file a case against me under Section 377.”
Unable to take it all, Tony left to Bengaluru and took a sabbatical from his identity and tried “cleansing” and “curing” himself as advised by religious counsellors and priests. “For seven years, I stayed out of NGOs, queer support groups and activities. I brainwashed myself. I confessed all my sins, even if I watched videos with sexual content. I lost confidence and slipped into depression,” says Tony, who couldn’t take it anymore and decided to speak to his family.
“I first spoke to my mother, then dad, friends and extended family. There was resistance initially. For a while, I stayed away from family. Surprisingly, a few young cousins talked to them and made them aware that I couldn’t be treated for my sexual orientation,” he says.
Tony’s parents’ acceptance was quick. However, the most surprising response came from his parish. “I am religious and go to church regularly. When I talked to priests about my orientation, all they said was ‘lead a good life’. No one forced me out of my parish. I’m glad that the Church is slowly accepting us. Church congregations hold conferences to understand homosexuality. It’s a slow but steady process of inclusion,” says a hopeful Tony.
Sexuality hasn’t hampered his career. “Western countries are a lot more welcoming of talent irrespective of sexual identities. However, my company too has a queer support group and I can raise complaints if harassed.”
There have been unwelcome sexual approaches too. “Recently, I was groped. Even at 33, I live under threat and only a handful from our community admit to such harassment because of the stigma and the law.”
Tony has been vocal against his disapproval for Section 377, which criminalises homosexuality. “Even if a man is raped, a case can be registered only under this Section, which makes both the culprit and the victim —including minors — criminals. They are all punished inhumanely. The jail term is more than what rapists get,” he adds. Tony strongly advocates for an amendment to Section 377, calling it archaic.
Meanwhile, he is yet to decide on choosing between Tony and Tania for his identity. He explains, “I am in a gender dysphoria stage. I have a feminine side and am still undergoing a psychological analysis. I am scared of going for gender reassignment because transgenders are often attacked, raped and murdered.”
Amidst it all, Tony is ready for love. “I need to marry and adopt a child. I might consider moving to Canada or Australia since India doesn’t favour same-sex marriages. But I’d love to stay in India with my parents. If the Supreme Court takes a favourable decision, I might find a suitable boy and live here, working for my people and live happily ever after,” he concludes.