Grieving in the Closet

It is February 2019, and I am so deep in the closet that my location is showing as Narnia. It is February 2019, and I just got a phone call on a wintry afternoon. It is February 2019, and my friend informs me that my partner has passed away – after six long years of trying to stay afloat, he has lost his battle with severe depression.

My best friend of four years, he and I started dating sometime in the beginning of 2018. He was my only queer friend at that time and the only person to whom I had come out. He had come out to his parents two years ago and was planning to undergo the surgical process to transition. He had changed his pronouns and was ecstatic to finally be himself. Since the day I came out to him, he referred to me by my preferred pronouns.

I was happy in our bubble of acceptance and inclusivity. But I was simultaneously trying to convince everyone around me that I was a cis-gender heterosexual woman. The need for me to conceal my gender identity and sexuality was so inherent that I fought with myself on a daily basis.

So, the day my partner passed away – the day after my college drama group won a major theatre competition – I pretended that I had lost my boyfriend. When a friend of mine politely asked to see a picture of him, I sent her a random picture of a man I found in my phone gallery.

I was faced by the mammoth grief of losing a loved one and the anxiety of outing myself. I wanted to share my grief and tell everyone about him. But I didn’t even dare to give him his real face. The anger and abandonment I felt couldn’t be shared with anyone. I garbed the grief with a series of lies because I didn’t want people to figure out our relationship. In hindsight, I could have said that I lost a queer friend. But associating with his queerness meant risking revealing my identity. Although he was out and proud, I was trying to cover up what seemed sinful to my social conditioning.

That’s what the closet did to me. It distanced me from the only person who made me feel safe.

Also read: Man? Woman? Khuki.

I know that there is no need to make a public spectacle out of loss. But sometimes the anger that accompanies personal grief becomes beyond containment. One cannot stop but think that if he was a cisgender heterosexual man, he wouldn’t have faced the dysphoria or the discrimination. Then he wouldn’t be pushed into the deep pits of depression with no hope of returning. My parents knew him by the gender he was assigned at birth and my friends considered him as a cisgender man from the narrative I put forth. I was publicly grieving two different people, neither of whom could do justice to his authentic self.

The urge to hold everyone accountable for their lack of acceptance and the hate they projected towards him, was curbed by the fear of revealing my own self. I was not only grieving him but also the things I could have done for him. The bliss of my closet was then swallowed by endless sessions of self-blame. I wanted to burst in rage and annihilate everyone who invalidated him. But the moment I peaked outside the closet even to shed a single tear, I would be scared of facing the same discrimination that he did. I had seen him suffer the ruthlessness of our queerphobic surrounding and I knew my experience wouldn’t be any different. So, I decided to bottle my grief and keep it aside.

The sorrow that I felt in the darkness of the night was not just from the distress of losing a loved one. It was the excruciating pain of grieving in the closet. I wanted to come out and tell everyone who I had lost, and how much he meant to me. But I didn’t. So, in the upcoming years I started grieving not him but the love and affection I could have shown him.

After three years now when I am officially out as a gender fluid pansexual person, I feel the need to clear the closet of grief. I am telling the truth finally to hold everyone accountable for not making a safe space for queer existence in our country. We closet our identities, our grief and our loss to be safe. We choose to be alone and helpless in our grievances because the alternative – coming out – is often dangerous and fatal.

I sometimes wish I had come out earlier. I wish I had told people sooner. I wish I had called people out before it was too late. But our society kills such wishful thinking. They scare you, threaten you and stuff you inside the closet where you drown in the bottomless ocean of grief. But today on February 2022, I am breaking the closet of secrets that is too queer for society to handle and am laying it bare for everyone to see.

Udhriti Sarkar is a postgraduate English Literature student at Calcutta University. When she is not obsessing over fictional characters, she tends to observe people and write about them. You can find her on Instagram @udhriti

Featured image: Claire Kelly/Unsplash