How I survived lockdown with my parents after coming out to them as trans

As India battled through yet another wave of COVID-19 outbreaks and I couldn’t leave home, I told my family who I really am

Ritarpan has lived in Kolkata, India, with their parents all their life. They came out as a trans man to their parents last year in the middle of a pandemic, unable to leave home and the threat of violence. (We’ve changed Ritarpan’s name to protect their identity and safety.) In this conversation with Xtra, the 33-year-old recounts the deeply personal memory of growing up in a body that never belonged to them and battling their own deeply ingrained sense of homophobia and transphobia that is rooted in the cultural milieu of their upbringing. Today, they aspire to be the person they wish they had around as a child, educating themselves about gender dysphoria and trans rights and seeking new refuge for a new relationship—“perhaps in a country where I feel accepted, not judged.”

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of dysphoria.  

I remember the year I started to develop breasts. They made me uncomfortable, like they weren’t a part of me, like they did not belong. I would wear tight vests to mask their presence.

The vestiges of discomfort seeped out of unfamiliar recesses in my mind and into nooks and crannies of my body. Like the clothes I’d often be forced into by my parents—skinny jeans that curved around the hip, heels that showed off my legs—they were too snug for comfort. I had been born into the biology of women I saw around me, and yet, nothing felt further from the truth.

I’d hear people call me a tomboy when I was growing up in Kolkata, older people indulgently telling my parents I’d “grow out of it” soon—how, I could not fathom. I remember feeling constant angst, always struggling to come to terms with who I was. When I’d play with my cousins, I would insist on being the boy; when we played house, I wanted to be the father or husband or brother.

I watched people put others into boxes of heteronormativity; they would say women behaved this way, men behaved another. I felt afraid. I worried that if I did not hide who I was, I would be rejected. I think I always had an inkling of how I should self-identify, though I never quite got there. I would watch how trans people were treated, even in a bustling metropolis like Kolkata: begging for alms on trains and being ridiculed. 

It was only three years ago that the Supreme Court of India read down the colonial-era law— Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code—effectively decriminalizing consensual homosexual intercourse. But many legal protections, including same-sex marriage, were not accounted for. In 2019, yet another law, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, was passed; the legislation did away with the criminalization of begging—an act that many trans people, such as the hijra community, perform as part of their rituals and in a bid to earn livelihood. But yet again the law fell short, failing to safeguard other rights, such as trans people’s right to declare their self-perceived gender identity or offer them job protections. It was met with vociferous protests by trans people and allies, who called the day of its passing a “black day.”


“I watched people put others into boxes of heteronormativity; they would say women behaved this way, men behaved another.”

Beyond the law, I also felt great terror at the thought of not being acknowledged by my parents, who matter to me most. What if they watched me get bullied, cornered, harassed? As a result, I never grew up to love or accept myself.

But slowly, in the last few years, things have changed for me. I met people who proudly accepted their individuality, who spoke about belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. I found them far more empathetic toward me than I had ever been to myself. It helped break my own shackles of homophobia and transphobia. Gradually, I came out to some of my close friends, too. I started watching more videos, reading more articles and learning about myself. I stopped boxing people into gender binaries.

When I met my current partner, her constant support on my journey of self-discovery broadened my view. I’ve known her for years—she is the daughter of a family friend. And yet, it was only two years ago that I found the courage to tell her how I felt. 

Our two families had gone on a beach vacation, and we found ourselves thrown together. I knew I liked her, but I was confused; she broached the topic of our feelings first and was really quite unabashed about it. We took a lot of walks and talked about our feelings. I had met her so many times before that vacation, but something was different this time—I couldn’t deny how I felt about her anymore. I knew she was special. 

Short of hyperbole, my partner came into my life at a time when I needed her the most. She offered the solidarity I needed and built in me the strength to fight against all odds. 

“As COVID-19 locked the three of us into life in close quarters, I felt a dam burst: I told them who I was.”

But it was a fearful pandemic that engendered the greatest change in my life: Early in 2020, I came out to my parents. I still lived at home with them, and I knew I couldn’t keep it a secret much longer. I also knew it was going to be hard because they are conformists, terrified of going against the grain. They’ve always told me to be mindful of what other people say, to toe the line so that people don’t whisper salacious things behind my back. Growing up, I would also see how they would laugh at Hindi movie scenes caricaturing gay people. That made me live in denial for years around them. 

But not anymore. As COVID-19 locked the three of us into life in close quarters, I felt a dam burst: I told them who I was. 

I meant to make it only about me, not my partner. But my parents had their suspicions. They had seen the change in me after I’d fallen in love: the spurt in confidence, the long phone calls and conversations with her. Instead of listening to what I’d endured for years, they turned my coming out into a vicious blame game, accusing “that girl” of feeding me “abnormal” notions and spiriting me away. I was normal, they said, until the moment I came out to them—now, they decreed, I was abnormal. My mother cried that I’d been influenced by pornography; my father expressed his “grave disappointment” in who I had become. 

The past year, stuck at home with them with little respite from their threats, has been difficult. I’ve tried appealing to them to see things my way to no avail. Periodically, they ask me to move out—sometimes, they’ll ask me sarcastically why I haven’t looked into gender-affirmation procedures yet. They throw words at me hoping something will stick and that things will go back to when they were comfortable. 

When I went out to see my partner on her birthday recently, I burned bridges with my family. My father has since stopped speaking to me, as though I have committed a crime. My mother has only hurled verbal imprecations my way, threatening to break into my room if I’ve locked the door. Meanwhile, my mental health has suffered. Moving out is not an option yet—my partner and I would like to do this together, to cohabit in a place where we face no judgement, and we’re biding our time.

I’ve lived with low self-esteem all my life, but I am more anxious now than I’ve ever been. Sometimes, I’ll feel a great surge of panic well up in me, paralyzing me to my bed in the room of the house I still share with my parents. I feel my stomach churn. I breathe. Long, deep breaths, steadying myself. Reading stories, watching clips of people who own their gender identity. The panic passes. I feel calmer, stronger. 

“The Supreme Court may have read down some sections of Section 377, but many other aspects are still waiting to be addressed.”

When I think about how things were in my childhood compared to now, three decades later, I can feel reassured that some things have changed. My peers in the sociocultural milieu that I have grown up in do not judge. But things have changed only in fragments; even in the Indian city, many turn a deaf ear, blind eye. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Some sections of the law have changed, but there is much still to be done. The Supreme Court may have read down some sections of Section 377, but many other aspects—physical and mental health care, marriage, political freedoms, police support—are still waiting to be addressed.

In the past couple of years, my partner has showered me with unprecedented, heartwarming love and mental peace. Some friends make life worth living. I’ve been educating myself on gender dysphoria over time, determined to make my own choices. My current professional status and financial stability augment the possibility that I shall soon be able to change my situation—abandoning my current microcosm, if need be, for a people and city or country where I may live without censure.

The pandemic has been terrible for all of us. And yet, somehow, the lockdown and spending so much time with myself catapulted me out of my shell. I suddenly had vast swathes of time where I had no choice but to look at myself, dissociating entirely from society’s view of me. I remember reading Elliot Page’s story with a lot of hope. My partner will often help in this process, asking gentle, probing questions, and I’m glad she does.

I also look at myself now through my own eyes—rather than someone else’s. And I love what I see.

Urmi Bhattacheryya is an independent journalist based in New Delhi. She is the author of the book After I Was Raped, published by Pan Macmillan.

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