2019 American Music Awards

Pop Singer Vardaan Arora Reflects on India's Decision To Legalize Gay Sex: 'My Heart Beats With Excitement' (Guest Essay)

Alex Pigeon
Vardaan Arora

Today is special. I sit here, overwhelmed by my own thoughts as I usually am, trying to come up with a way to turn them into words. The day is Thursday, September 6, 2018. India, my country of birth, has legalized gay sex in a monumental Supreme Court hearing. My social media feeds are filled with joy and excitement. My phone is flooded with congratulatory text messages. My heart is full.

The "closet" is a bizarre construct. Who am I? What if people find out? Am I a bad person? Why am I like this? These questions aren’t foreign to members of the LGBTQ+ community, regardless of where they’re from. It feeds the need to announce, and almost confess to a sexuality that isn’t heteronormative.

Growing up in India, the word "gay" came with a plethora of negative connotations. It insinuated that a person was less than. A "freak," if you will. Before I even knew what "gay" meant, I was bullied for being effeminate. It didn’t help that I wasn’t interested in sports. I was just 10 years old when the nickname "sissy boy" stuck. The memories don’t leave you. I still remember coming home from school in seventh grade, bawling my eyes out while hugging my mother because I didn’t know what I had done to deserve the treatment I was getting. We made the decision to transfer me to another school. “It’ll get better,” I thought to myself.

Much like any young gay boy, my obsession with pop music (specifically Hilary Duff and Britney Spears, in case you’re interested) reached its peak when I entered into high school. This didn’t go over well with my peers. I tried to convince everyone that I had crushes on these female celebrities, but I don’t think anyone believed me. People deciding your sexuality for you before you’re ready to realize it for yourself feels like being the punch line of a joke that everyone except you is in on.

In 2010, I was lucky enough to escape to New York for college. All of a sudden, I was exposed to a beautiful, vibrant and diverse community of like-minded individuals. As cliché as it’s going to sound, it changed my life forever. "Gay" didn’t feel like an insult anymore. I wasn’t worried about my physicality appearing too feminine. I began to embrace myself in a way that I didn’t know was possible. A gigantic weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I could breathe. I had to move halfway across the world to be able to find comfort in my own skin. That may not be the only option for LGBTQ+ youth in India today.

As of just a few hours ago, India has publicly decriminalized a colonial law that was originally instituted in the 1860s. It’s on every news channel. Every major publication will cover it. Families all over the country are reading about how there is beauty and bravery in being your true self; how you can love whomever you choose to love without feeling ashamed. That all the ‘sissy boys’ out there are actually fearless warriors. My heart beats with excitement for the next generation of LGBTQ+ kids growing up in India like I did. It is a huge step in the right direction. Today, I am proud to be an Indian.

I’d like to end with a short note to other Indians in the LGBTQ+ community: You’re going to be okay. I’m proud of you. You are enough. You’re going to take all the qualities you thought were weaknesses and turn them into strengths. I’m going to fight for you. I’m going to continue making music for you. There will be ups and downs, but as today showed us all -- it did get better.

Vardaan Arora is an India-born, NYC-based independent pop singer/songwriter. 

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