Garbed by the Shades of Masculinity: My Coming Out Story

Shades of Masculinity

The following post is originally published to and republished here (with minor edits from our Brown boy editors) with permission by the author.

To successfully distance yourself from the prevalent norms of the society that with every passing breath from childhood aspires to instill in you every single grain of prejudice is a herculean task that cannot be accomplished without any support and in isolation.

Being born in a middle-class Rajput family was not a choice I made. As a child in his own bliss of innocence and ignorant to the ways of society, I enjoyed basking in the glorious orbs of my ma’s jewelry and sarees. Unlike the other boys my age, speeding and force were never my gaming zones. The tenderness and beauty of dolls often lured me into playing with them; dressing them up as gorgeously as nani would find me with those heavy, dark locks and big, round eyes of mine that shimmered in the attire of a bride. Dressing up as the dulhan in the dulha-dulhan game, wearing masi’s dupatta as a hairpiece and dancing wholeheartedly without an ounce of care for the world to Madhuri Dixit’s Bollywood numbers opened the non-negotiable realm of society for me; an arena I would bargain for by giving up all I had if only I knew what lied ahead.

While growing up, I did not share a friendly relationship with my father. Like most father-son bonds, ours was also garbed by the shades of masculinity, where the proclamation of love and expression of feelings lied suppressed. To make a man out of his effeminate son (whose walk and words resonated with feminine tenderness rather than masculine toughness), papa resided into relentlessly beating me even at the slightest of my mistakes. He detested my speaking of Bhojpuri, our mother tongue as he felt it made me sound like a mauga (a Bhojpuri word for effeminacy). I was unknown to the amiable side of parenting for the most part of my childhood; it resurfaced only in certain instances when ma was around. Her working in a different district often stole this bliss away.

[Read Related: How Growing Up in Little India Molded My South Asian American Identity]

While I could find bits of peace at home when my mother was around, my life at school had detrimental effects on my mental peace and only added to the trauma of being different. Known to be a space for the formation of one’s identity and shaping of personality, school contributed in making me known as a chakka and hijra (labels loosely translating to “eunuch” but said offensively), thrown like daggers at me by my schoolmates in the utmost derogatory sense. The notion of your name reflecting as your identity became a blurred idea for me. There were very few days of my school life when I was not bullied or humiliated, and hence, it is hard to forget the rest, which had become “my normal” for not being normal.

An incident of one such day is still etched clearly in my memory: when a classmate sitting behind me had tainted my shirt with the letters “SIXER” (an insult for queer people). Each day, I pushed myself to move ahead, silently mustering the courage and strength I needed to keep going. The resilience that took an eternity to put together was shattered into tiny fragments, seemingly at an instant. I tried every possible strategy in order to never go to school again, eventually resorting to intentionally hurting my own leg, to no avail. 

For once, after years, I let down my shield of masculinity and cried in the warm and secure arms of ma, cursing my birth and my own existence. The torment of years could not be calmed with her wise words. So taking the onus on her to set it all right, she spoke to my class teacher about all that had been going on. This only worsened things. Everyone at school had stopped talking to me, and my existence had now disappeared. 

After matriculation, I took admission in humanities in a different school. My idiotic heart that clung to every false hope led me into believing that this change of place would mark a new beginning of acceptance, kindness, and warmth. Little did I know that humanities can only teach such notions but cannot force you into practicing them. All my aspirations to be known as “ADITYA” in this new setting, among new people, had burnt on the playground beneath the ravishing heat of the sun when a boy from my previous school called aloud to me “chakka, tu yahan!” I had decided not to succumb this time, so the “new” me did not let them humiliate me to my face, but that did not stop it from happening behind my back. Anonymously referring to me in those same slangs, they now sounded like teenage slurs from a distance.

To exist equally was now forgotten. The exuberance and flamboyancy about my personality had now been boxed forever. Insecure in my own skin, I had started to feel suffocated in my own body. Choking halfway by swallowing a piece of Motrin made me loathe myself for not having the cojones to free my own spirit. I started keeping to myself, an introvert who only found the resolve to breathe in the reality of my own identity either through comic books, TV series, or movies. At times, I danced in front of the mirror, in my dad’s dhoti wrapped around as a ghagra to live my veracity. It never felt as liberating, for the doors were always locked, and loneliness was my only audience.

The process of change is not noticeable to the naked eye, nor is the human brain intelligent enough to register it until this change is visible outwardly. Standing on the stage in a long yellow skirt, resonating my faith in blurred gender roles and belief in masculinity beyond the idea of clothing, in an auditorium stuffed with people. I was not only accepting the award for topping the second year of college but also sinking in the realization of how the past three years in Delhi’s Ramjas College had empowered me to accept myself the way I am, to love myself beyond the horizon and to believe the notion that the sky can be your only limit. 

This realization and acceptance did not enter my system overnight but was rather a process of constant unlearning of what society had breathed in me since birth. I had to learn to put individuality beyond the flawed spectrum of prejudices and stereotypes. To say that it was a cakewalk would be utter nonsense and a lie.

For the three years until my graduation, I resided in Ramjas Boys Hostel. Initially, it was tough to be surrounded by men who constantly questioned my manhood and masculinity, causing me to feel vulnerable beyond my threshold. But the beautiful course I was enrolled in helped me understand how fragile the word “masculinity” is. The constant load and pressure it puts upon the males of our society to “become a man,” to be conditioned as insensitive creatures and to san all the discussions and talks about this normalized oppression and constraint as it would manifest their unseen, unknown side of femininity.

[Read Related: VICE x Truly: What Pride Means to me]

Understanding this helped me soothe my anger towards my father. It helped me see his unfortified concerns for his son and being the product of his times, he gave into the methods of his father’s upbringing. Of late, I have been vocal about my feelings, and this has mended our bond. Delhi, in all its colors, brought with it some angels who manifested in the form of the most understanding humans in my life. Without their support and irrevocable faith in me, I would have never dared to take such a big leap from the side of constant insecurity and loathing to undeterrable belief in myself to become whoever I wanted to be. 

With time and maturity of this enlightenment, I can now even comprehend the strength and beauty of my sexual orientation. I am a gay guy who happens to fall for the wrong men, always. To love them has always felt like “we” have never belonged to this tangible place and neither do our hearts. Yet, here we are. I am making love as we make love to life with no strings attached. This tantalizing fragrance of same-sex love has ephemerality and strength of petrichor — intense but short.

Every time I have fallen in love has been a different experience, just like the varied spectrum of sexuality. Still, the one thing that has been common to all is how easily a man can accept his vulnerability behind locked doors, but even his balls cannot help him do so in the outer world. Everyone is a little gay or has a “gayish” side to them that can be hidden well behind a façade. But, to portray it out boldly is to bathe in the unpretentious mirth of a unicorn ride over the slide of a rainbow. 

By Aditya Singh

Aditya Singh is a 22-year-old who identifies as a gay person and prefers to go by the pronouns (ze/hir/hirs/hirself). Ze … Read more ›

Pyar is Pyar: A Celebration of Queer Brown Love

An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.

The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.

[Read Related: Family, Friends, and Faith: The Evolution of Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies]

Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.


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Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.

“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”

“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.

Jain and Mehta are leading a legal effort to bring marriage equality to India, taking them to the country’s Supreme Court. The couple was denied recognition of their marriage in 2020, despite the country’s Foreign Marriage Act that allows the marriage of Indian citizens abroad to be recognized.

“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”

“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”

“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.

Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.

Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.

Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.

“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”

Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need. 

[Read Related: Allies to Advocates: Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies Empower Transformation]

“Your coming out in support of us is the pivotal shift that we need to change attitudes in our community,” she said.

Among the South Asian queer leaders and allies in attendance were actors Kal Penn and Sarita Choudhury, activist Alok Vaid-Menon, and the legendary DJ Rekha.

To learn more about Desi Rainbow, visit their website

Photo Courtesy of Lara Tedesco-Barker

By Stephen Jiwanmall

Born in Philadelphia, Stephen has family roots in India and Pakistan. He lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with his husband and … Read more ›

Reflection Comes From Within, not From Others

“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.

I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.

We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!

[Read Related: Uncovering the Brown Boy in Hiding Through Poetry]

Confessions to a Moonless Sky

Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.

If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.

But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.

[Read Related: ‘headspun’ — Bengali Muslim Boy’s Poetic Journey Through Himself]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

Chef Devan Rajkumar: Bringing Indo Caribbean Flavors to South Asia and Beyond

Chef Dev

Passion is something many claim to have, but few truly possess. Whether it’s hobbies, professions or romances, it’s the secret ingredient we all crave but is quite difficult to come by. But on meeting Chef Devan Rajkumar — aka Chef Dev — it takes just a few moments to understand true passion. For the Indo Guyanese chef from Toronto, passion has always been food and its power to connect, nourish, excite and represent. 

[Read Related: 5 Indo Caribbean Food Experts you Need to Know This Winter Season]

It was there, as a child, when he followed his mother and grandmother around the temple, getting daal stains on his kurtas

Today, he’s used it to become a TV personality on Canada’s “Cityline” and Food Network Canada’s “Fire Masters,” to collaborate with renowned caterers The Food Dudes, develop his own line of signature soups and host pop-up events around the world. 


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A post shared by Devan Rajkumar (@chefdevan)

Whatever the outlet, Rajkumar feeds his mission to be an ambassador for modern, West and East Indian cuisine. I recently sat down with him to talk about this and the experience of bringing Indo Caribbean flavors to South Asia and beyond.

Feeding a passion for food

“The sights, the sounds, the aromatics. The excitement of the kitchen has just always appealed to me,” he began. “Food moves me in a certain way. I want to nurture and nourish. I’ve just always wanted to do for others.”

As he sat back in a ‘Guyana vs. the world’ tank top, Rajkumar’s energy was palpable.

“I’ve always lived and breathed food, all day, all night. Like I’m talking about food right now. I’m constantly talking about food.”

To Rajkumar, food is education — one of the best (and most enjoyable) ways to learn, teach and explore the world — and he credits his older brother Jai for inspiring this mindset. Jai was the first to introduce him to different cuisines, teach him to be curious about the world and show him how to challenge the norms of a “typical brown kid.”

Despite this encouragement, however, a culinary career wasn’t Rajkumar’s first instinct. The son of a businessman, he initially jumped around universities and career paths. He also struggled with substance abuse and grief after Jai’s passing. Through all the challenges, food remained a constant, and the sense of community it created was a powerful draw.  

“At a very young age, I recognized how food made me feel if I was in a bad mood and how it made others feel,” he shared. 

He’s always looked forward to sitting around a table with friends and family, enjoying a nice meal, and how everybody could share their stories or just forget their troubles.

“Food is a very powerful vehicle for transporting someone.”  

In 2009, Rajkumar finally followed his passion and joined a culinary school. He realized he had a knack for creating this experience for others.

“I realized I had the power and the gift to nourish and nurture someone else in this way,” and it became irresistible. 

A cook with no boundaries, Rajkumar didn’t want to limit the number of people he reached to just those in Canada. 


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For many, success in the culinary world is having a thriving restaurant, but after spending six months opening one with The Food Dudes in 2015, Rajkumar realized this route wasn’t for him. 

“I wanted more culture,” he explained. “I wanted to learn and not so much get my ass kicked, but to be a sponge. I knew I needed to travel to broaden my horizons.”

So he did. Rajkumar spent months cooking in India, London, Peru and Dubai. He shared his experiences on social media and people back home took note.

“When I returned to Toronto,” he continued, “that trip had established me as a cook who had no boundaries. As someone who wasn’t afraid to explore and get out of their comfort zone.” 

And get out of his comfort zone he did. 

“From catering to a pop-up abroad to filming ‘Cityline and speaking engagements, every day is different,” he explained. “I’ve had my bouts with imposter syndrome, but ultimately, I’ve gotten to make more of an impact than just opening a restaurant.” 

That impact has especially been prominent in South Asia. 


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A post shared by Devan Rajkumar (@chefdevan)

“Mad Love” in the Motherlands

Rajkumar embraces not only his Caribbean culture, but his South Asian roots as well. 

The temple he grew up in was a blend of Guyanese and East Indians, so he knew foods from a typical Guyanese household like alu curry and saijan but also East Indian favorites like dhokla and malai kofta

“Ultimately, we came from India,” he declared. “I embrace the culture and I am very comfortable leaning back and forth into it. It’s in me. It’s who I am.”

In fact, Rajkumar noted his career became much more defined and successful when he really began to identify as not just a chef, but as an Indo Guyanese Canadian chef. 

Hearing this, it was no surprise that Guyana, India and Pakistan stand out as some of  his favorite destinations. 

“Guyana is hugely impactful for me,” he shared, having visited his parents’ homeland frequently. “As soon as that door opens [at the airport], you smell Guyana. You smell the sugarcane burning from rum factories. I have all these wonderful sights, sounds, smells and flavors from those trips.”

His sentiments for India are similar.

“Incredible India is incredible India,” he referred to the country’s tourism slogan. “Every 100-200 kilometers, the menus can change completely. I can live in India for the rest of my life and never see it all.”

Pakistan, however, is in a class all its own.

“There’s something special about Lahore,” Chef Dev explained. “I was told Lahori hospitality rivals the best in the world and I got to experience that. I was interviewed on national television by Mustafa Shah. I explored Old Lahore with Ali Rehman. I got to cook my own chicken karahi at Butt Karahi. Anything I needed, I had. I’ve never met kinder people in my life.” 


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Rajkumar’s first trip in 2020 was only nine days long, but its impact stayed with him. 

He couldn’t have been more excited to return for a month, earlier this year, and host what his friends there dubbed the “Mad Love Pop-Up,” after one of his signature sayings. 

He filled the menu for the 18-day event with global dishes like ceviche and scotch eggs but infused them with West and East Indian flavors like masala, jerk and cassareep — a rich extract of the bitter cassava native to Guyana. Before he left, he even prepared Guyana’s national dish of pepper pot, a hearty meat stew, for the staff meal. 

“My whole thought process was ‘let me give these people — my family there — an experience they’ve never had before,” he detailed. “Any time I give someone pepper pot or cassareep, they’re just so shocked. It’s so unique.”

Rajkumar is always excited to share the flavors and culture of Guyana with new people, but with his roots in South Asia, bringing them to Pakistan was that much more profound. 

“In India, maybe it’s different, but in Lahore, most people don’t know about Guyana or where it is. That’s another reason why I did this. That’s why I do all the things I do. That’s why I’m wearing this tank top — to raise awareness about my culture and how beautiful it is,” he said. 

Time in South Asia has also helped Rajkumar gain a deeper appreciation for the origins of many Indo Caribbean dishes and reinforced his love for them.   

“Guyanese cuisine doesn’t just have Indian influence, but so many dishes in some way, shape, or form come from there. Like when I’m eating sada roti, I can tie it back to which type of flatbread it came from in India. I feel like a better-equipped chef at the end of the day. I’m more connected to my Guyanese roots and to the culture overall.” 

Rajkumar wants to foster a deeper understanding and relationship between both heritages. He wants his food to build connections, not disparity. 

Bringing the world back home

Rajkumar has visited over 20 countries, but Pakistan remains one place he’ll cherish his entire life. He is grateful not only for the opportunities he’s had there, but also for the chance to offer a fresh, alternative view of the country from what is often shown by the media.  

Chef Dev Rajkumar
Chef Devan Rajkumar wants to use his culinary skills and experiences to bring people together.

“When people saw me posting content from Lahore, they were like, ‘Oh my God, this is Pakistan?’ This is not what we expected. This is not what we thought we’d see.’ They were shocked at how beautiful, kind, and welcoming everyone was.”

Reactions like these are Rajkumar’s ultimate goal.

A cookbook is due next year. He has aspirations of launching merchandise and cookware, traveling to South East Asia, and continuing his pop-ups, but ultimately, he concludes,

“I just want to stand for something. I want to continue to learn, remain humble, represent my Western and Eastern cultures and spread mad love. I want to be an ambassador to that world and be someone who’s dedicated to his craft, bettering himself and those around him.” 

“I just want to continue to grow as a person,” he added with sincerity as he touched on his sobriety and what it’s taught him about achieving your goals. 

“That might sound cliche, but it’s new to me. I’ve spent the last two years learning about myself and being vulnerable about how I feel, my healing journey and what I’m going through. If I excel and continue to invest time and discipline in that arena, everything else around me will flourish. I believe that goes for anyone.”

Rajkumar is going far literally and figuratively, but no matter where he lands, you can be sure he’ll bring something back for his supporters, whether it be a new view of the world or a concoction like a ceviche pani puri on one of his menus. 

“That’s my travels to India, Pakistan and Peru all in one bite!” he exclaimed. 

Chef Dev’s journey has not always been an easy one, but it’s a powerful example of the success one can taste with hard work, embracing authenticity and following true passion. 

To learn more about his work visit his website or follow his Instagram for real-time updates, recipes, and all the ‘mad love.’ 

Photos Credit: Alec Luna

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By Ramona Sukhraj

With a B.S. in Marketing from the UCONN School of Business, Ramona has made a name for herself publishing over … Read more ›