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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Pride Month: ‘I came out to my father in a tapri’

"I handed him the letter, and watched as his expressions changed page-by-page..."

Written by Prerna Mittra | New Delhi |
Updated: June 18, 2021 12:45:36 pm
Pride Month, Pride Month stories, coming out stories, LGBTQ community, Ankita Mehra, Ankita Mehra's coming out story, indian express newsIt took Ankita's father 45 minutes to finish reading the letter she wrote to him. By the end of it, they were both in tears. (Photo: Ankita Mehra)

It took Ankita Mehra 19 brave years to finally come out with the truth with which she had lived her entire life; it was her identity. And yet, it was something that pained her, as opposed to liberating her.

She mustered some courage and spoke about it on national television, in a popular youth reality show. But before the episode aired, Ankita had another daunting task: she had to break it to her parents. In the months that followed, she struggled with her mental health as well, until she decided it was time for her parents to learn the truth: she was a lesbian, and had been aware of it since she was 14.

‘First, I had to come out to myself’

Ankita knew nothing about what it meant to be a lesbian. “Before my ninth grade, I was not aware of it. I used to think I am the only person in the world who feels this way [towards the same sex]. I first told my sister about it. She told me I may be a lesbian, or a bisexual person. That was the first time I heard those terms, because there was a lack of representation [of the LGBTQ community] in films, and we didn’t have smartphones back then.”

It took Ankita four years to embrace her own self.

Coming out to friends

A few of her friends, upon finding out about her orientation, supported her, but a few others snapped ties. “It was difficult to convince them; some thought that because I was sharing it with them, I was interested [romantically].”

Pride Month, Pride Month stories, coming out stories, LGBTQ community, Ankita Mehra, Ankita Mehra's coming out story, indian express news Growing up, Ankita had no idea what it meant to be a lesbian. (Photo: Ankita Mehra)

In college, Ankita was called names. “I was bullied for my gender expression. I would dress up in a masculine way, and some seniors would say, ‘jaa ladkiyon jaisi tayyar hoke aa (go and dress like a girl)’. They would call me ‘chhakki‘ and treat it like an insult when, in fact, I think it is an appreciative remark.”

Coming out to the world

Amid all this, Ankita decided to participate in a reality show. “I went for the auditions and refused to project myself as a heterosexual person. I was in my final year, and was not afraid of anything; I knew I had my sister’s support. That was the first time I shared with the world that I was a lesbian — it happened on TV!”

The auditions happened in November 2016, and the episode was to air in February 2017. In between, Ankita was terrified of how her truth would be received. There came a point when she even contemplated suicide. “I went over to my parents’ place in Nagpur and told them about my mental health. I met with therapists and some of them told me that it is ‘just a phase’ and that I must ‘try it out with a boy’.”

Ankita was naturally livid, but she also felt helpless. Finally, she met the right therapist, who helped her on her journey of coming out to her parents.

Pride Month, Pride Month stories, coming out stories, LGBTQ community, Ankita Mehra, Ankita Mehra's coming out story, indian express news “People change after they get married; but not my sister. Her support has been consistent and I have even found an ally in my brother-in-law,” said Ankita. (Photo: Ankita Mehra)

‘I wrote a 16-page letter to my father’

In January 2017, Ankita and her father were in Mumbai. She wrote a 16-page letter to him, detailing everything that she had faced since childhood, including all the bullying, and how she had confided in her elder sister.

“I did not have the strength to talk. I also feared I would miss out on many things. So, I figured writing would be the best option. I asked my father to come to Mumbai; I was attending my first Pride Month there.

“We were sitting in a tapri (a shanty tea stall), and I handed him the letter. I watched as his expressions changed page-by-page. By the time he turned the fourth page, my father had started to cry. By the 16th page, he had cried his heart out,” Ankita said.

It took her father 45 uncertain minutes to finish reading the letter. Ankita — who was next to him on a stool — recalled feeling disillusioned about her future. “I did not have a job back then.”

Pride Month, Pride Month stories, coming out stories, LGBTQ community, Ankita Mehra, Ankita Mehra's coming out story, indian express news Ankita’s father (second from right) told her he would accept her for who she is, and whoever she loves. (Photo: Ankita Mehra)

After he was done reading, Ankita’s father looked at her, eyes brimming with tears. “He asked me if I wanted gender reassignment surgery,” she laughed. “I told him I was a girl and was happy being one; just that I was not interested in boys.”

‘You are going to change the world’

This is what Ankita’s father said to her. He told her he would accept her for who she is, and whoever she loves. “We cried some more and hugged each other — all of it happened in the tapri!”

In that moment, her entire life changed. She became a different person, the real version of herself.

Ankita is 24 years old today, and lives and works in Bengaluru.

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