When she was growing up, Shreya Shetty was aware of some “cues”, like how she would opt to be the man while playing ‘ghar-ghar‘, or how she was a part of “dramatic homoerotic female friendship dramas” in her teens.
Back then, she did not know what any of it meant. “I’d seen only one or maybe two members of the [LGBTQ] community. There wasn’t enough representation in this heteronormative society for my gender expression and sexuality to bloom,” she told indianexpress.com.
The 28-year-old Mumbai-based photographer, educator and HR professional identifies as a bisexual woman, whose pronouns are ‘she/her’.
When Shreya made it to her “dream college” — which was “inclusive, didn’t discriminate, was warm, welcoming, challenging, and filled with women” — she was able to drop her inhibitions and accept herself for who she had been all along.
“At 19, seeing my friend in a healthy same-sex relationship in college, I realised the possibility and admitted to myself that I could be in a same-sex relationship someday.”
‘My college girls were the first to know’
For Shreya, the realisation of her identity and the company of her then-partner was a “nerve-wracking and exciting feeling”, but she never “felt the need to specifically sit people down and tell them” she was bisexual.
“Besides, coming out is an everyday phenomenon. Bi-erasure is real. I believe my college girls were the first to know — they’re my inner-circle, my strength. And it was never ‘I am bisexual’; it was more like, ‘I’m now dating this person who is also of the same gender as I am’.”
‘I was outed by an ex-lover’
While it was her story to tell and her choice to make, Shreya was outed to her eldest sibling by a “bitter ex-lover”. She was still in the process of understanding who she was. Her sibling had responded by saying, “Who she is and what she does is her own personal choice.”
“That surely was extremely affirming. Glad to report, it was not a phase, nor an experiment,” Shreya shared with this outlet.
Breaking it to her family
Coming out was not easy. “There was way too much societal conditioning, homophobia, internalised homophobia to work through. Yet I was vocal and unafraid to be me, right from the start. I approached topics around my identity with my family in discussions, to gauge who was uncomfortable around them. I spoke about it often and tried to bring more awareness.”
‘If you were to marry a woman, I’d officiate your wedding’
Luckily for Shreya, her middle sibling made an encouraging offer. “[But] That wasn’t the case with every member in the family. Let’s just say, it was a long — and at times heartbreaking — journey with some extremely hurtful comments through many years. But today, I hang out with my family along with my girlfriend and all is good!”
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Out and proud
There was never really a moment in Shreya’s life when she hesitated before coming out. “Out and proud — this is who I am. Why should I be ashamed of that or made to feel lesser for it? If my sexual orientation makes someone else uncomfortable, they’ve got some thinking to do, not me.”
But that may not be the case with everyone. Shreya concurred. She said, “Coming out is a constant process, but it’s a personal choice. I’m more comfortable wearing my sexuality and choice of partners on my forehead.”
Over the years, through her constant evolution and understanding of self, her inner circle of friends and siblings stood by her side, offering their “rock solid support”.
“They may not have understood it, but always educated themselves and have been supportive throughout. If it weren’t for this current apocalypse, I would have walked the Mumbai Pride with my six-year-old niece and nephew!”
‘Find the courage to accept yourself first’
Offering her strength to other closeted members of the LGBTQ community, Shreya said: “Know that there is a whole community of individuals who will have and hold you with all the empathy and tenderness. We have shared traumas and experiences and glitter and glory all brought together only through self-acceptance. A chosen family is equally — if not more — important in our journeys. We will embrace you even when your relatives won’t. Find the courage to accept yourself first, and all else will eventually follow.”
While she is “still not officially out” to her father yet, her niece understands that “maasi likes boys and girls, and has a girlfriend”.
“Coming out is always a choice; you don’t owe this information to anybody, and you can hold onto it for as long as you need, to make sure you are in a safe environment and have the mental capacity to deal with what comes next,” she said.