monologues Society

Andy Silveira details going from priesthood to LGBTQ activism

“My coming out took 29 long years. I was in a religious order with the Jesuits for about 11 years in the training for the priesthood. I think when I was in school itself, at the age of 11, I recall sitting in chemistry class and looking at the teacher and just admiring how beautiful of a man he was, while he was talking about oxygen and nitrogen. At that time we didn’t even have access to words like ‘gay’ or ‘homosexuality,’ and coming from a very deeply-Catholic background and family, these words were unutterable. I chose a life of celibacy for eleven long years.

Ensconced within my own pseudo-religious closet cocoon, I had admitted only within the confines of the confessional as well as over some pins-and- needles sharing sessions with some of my closest friends that I was attracted to men.

Growing up, there was no real space where there was access to such discourse. I come from a remote village in Goa, so the only book I had to access such language was the dictionary. I knew from a young age that I didn’t want to get married but I also didn’t know the notions of a ‘gay lifestyle.’ So I concluded that I should join a religious order; I also genuinely believed that it was a beautiful life to live.

On an afternoon I was packing for my Masters in Philosophy in Loyola College in Chennai, something changed the course of everything; nothing prepared me for the day when my own 20 year-old sister Ancy attempted to share her life with me. She said she never wanted to get married and I had always known where my sister’s leaning were towards. Her sexuality was conspicuous, though none of us in the family dared to admit it.

I told her, “Why would you say that? Perhaps you’re confused!” I could see the light of hope waning in her eyes. The yearning of wanting to open up to somebody getting bleaker by the moment. She looked crushed. And yet, through the moments of silence between our words, I knew she hoped this conversation would end differently.

After a while, she gave me a smile, playfully mischievous. She had me believe that things will get better. I can never fully fathom what must have gone through her mind those few hours when she decided that everything was over for her. Planning every little detail of her last minutes of life, Ancy had managed to take her own life by taking her last breath in the river where she often swam in. Like Virgina Woolf, she had stones on her lifeless body when it was recovered hours later.

This incident made me recollect the true power of faith in our lives; sometimes religion excludes more people than it includes.

That’s when I came to Hyderabad to do my second Masters in English Literature at EFLU. I was engaging with writers like Shakespeare who were critiquing institutions; interactions with fellow campus-mates also opened my mind to the perspective I held in terms of religion.

If I have one life to live, it cannot be in the church because it ostracises a whole spectrum of identities — so I left. If I were to do any service, I knew it had to be among the LGBTQ community.

I was working with an organisation for a year and occasionally, I felt suicidal and isolated, wondering what the meaning of life was. I knew there were gay people in Mumbai and a lot of people in the United States. I considered moving there to meet other gay people. My friends around me were dating and falling in love.

Amid these thoughts, I found myself truly feeling good in the realm of academia — back into which I threw myself, which is kind of financial suicide. It’s better to live some days happy than a whole life miserable.

That was when I got into the M.Phil of English Literature at EFLU in August 2009. One thing I found myself able to recognise intimacy in the pages of a novel, even the slightest trace; that was a sense of validation. And somehow I still wasn’t able to accept myself. Earlier in July, the Delhi High Court judgement happened and that’s when the LGBTQ community started appearing in the media. I was really surprised.

During my M.Phil I wanted to refer to a gay author so that I didn’t have to refer to anything as outright gay myself. Eventually, when I started my reading on Jean Genet, I spoke to an assistant professor and sandwiched the word ‘queer’ into the conversation. When we spoke again, he said, “Why not work with me; I’ll be your guide. Title your thesis ‘Queering Genet.’” I was taken aback by the acceptance but said yes.

Through readings I learned about the Stonewall Movement of 1969, and how the first queer people threw stones at the police. Then I was struck by the thought of ‘why am I feeling ashamed by the very thing I’m meant to be proud of?’

So through more conversations with my guide and my peers, I was able to come out and live my true self. I knew sharing something in a university campus is like a throwing a lighted matchstick onto a pile of hay.

But I was so elevated then I just didn’t care; I was on fire.

A moment of silence

One event that directly underscored the topics of homosexuality and queerness was the suicide of a PhD student, Mudasir Kamran on March 2, 2013. Despite the efforts towards queer sensitisation that happened on campus by some queer students, there was a gap between what was being done among students and possibly the administration’s ignorance on such conversations. The institution failed a student at a crucial moment! Mudasir, who was deeply attached to another male student on campus, had been sent to jail for accosting him. Rather than handling the issue within the campus, the Proctor handed him to the police for being ‘mentally disordered.’

The feeling of deep shame eventually led to Mudasir’s suicide. After his death, the indignant student community spoke about his Kashimiri and Muslim identity, and were quite apprehensive about addressing his queerness. It was then that some students felt the need to address notions of homosexuality and queerness on campus. Tonisha Guin, a student from EFLU then, observed, “We don't know yet whether Mudasir's suicide will become one of the first articulated cases of institutionalised gay discrimination in an Indian university spaces, or whether, in terms of the discussions garnering around it, will emerge as one of the watershed moments in the struggle against the quiet, covert discriminations meted out to Kashmiri Muslim scholars outside Kashmir.”

The students body had organized themselves towards forming a group that fought for the justice of Mudasir. There were student protests despite the strict police security presence on campus. One morning, several walls on the campus had graffiti homosexuality and queerness: “So what if Mudasir was homosexual? Homosexuality is not a disease. Homophobia down, down.” “Homosexuality is not a disease.” “We are here. We are queer. Get used to it.” “Let’s get one thing straight. Some of us are not.” Queer students within the campus made their voices heard! Posters stating, “Be sensitive towards Homosexuals and Bisexuals on campus” made their presence amongst the student protests, despite the discomfort of some students. One evening, local LGBTQ identifying people came as a group to meet the administration and to demonstrate their support with the student body who would have daily songs and events to sustain the movement for justice. There were posters created around queerness and sexuality to sensitize the student body. Questions around mental disorder and homosexuality needed to be addressed. There was a growing awareness on the campus that conversations on sexuality needed to happen more frequently and carefully.”

As told to Divya Kala Bhavani

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 4:01:04 PM |

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