All through life, each one of us have to go through a lot of struggles and fight our own demons. Things could get especially tough if we suddenly realize that we are ‘different’ from the rest, that we might not fit into the ‘societal norms’. But what is it that keeps us strong and motivated? Is it our belief in ourselves? Is it the support of people who love us? How do we tackle the problems life throws at us? This is the story of Airish Barik, a Fashion Designer turned Makeup artist/model, who identifies as homosexual and how he fought against all odds and emerged out stronger, successful and super-confident.
Airish, 26, who is from Kolkata decided to share hos story in an exclusive interview with Fifty Shades Of Gay. Read on for some much needed motivation and inspiration to chase our dreams.
So Airish, tell us something about your gender identity. What was your coming out story?
I was a boarder all through my childhood; from lower nursery to class 10. And I was attracted to boys, but I was in my own bubble world. Its when I got back home, that somehow my mum figured out everything. Actually I used to write a diary, and everything was mentioned there from how things started, who I was in love with and what all used to happen in my boarding school. It was more like a closeted book.
One fine day, I had to go to the coaching and my mum was cleaning the house and she found that diary. In my head, no one could open that diary because it had a little lock, so I had all my ‘deepest, darkest secrets’ written in it! But anyways, my mum read everything, and the funniest thing was, there was a photo of John Abraham from the film Dostana, which recently came out at that time, stuck on the first page of the diary. So my mum read everything and that’s when the nightmare arrived. She tore all the pages and wrote a long note that ‘If you continue to live this life, then we’ll have to lose a son’ or something like that.
It was a really rough time for me. Until that point, I didn’t really know how to speak for myself. I also never really had the idea of taking permission for so an so. I used to take my call; whether its for my good or its for my bad; I’m the better judge for myself. So when she got to know and everything was haywire, I was really in a state of shock. People are so cool about talking about homosexuality right now, but it wasn’t the case back then around 2009,2010. My mum used to cry, started acting cold with me. All that family drama ensued, my phone was taken.
So, I decided to leave home.
I had somehow managed to take my phone with me. But I had just got back to Calcutta, so I didn’t have an idea about the roads; I was lost! I still remember I ended up in a church and it was really late at night. So, my cousin sister, my dad’s older brother’s (Bade Papa) daughter contacted me and told me that my mum was all sick and paranoid, which was a lie. But it got me all worried and feeling guilty.
So, I asked this cop to take me this place, 10 mins from my home and my bade papa would pick me up from there. When I entered my house, I saw my mum sitting on a sofa like absolutely fine. She hadn’t told anybody what really happened. She just said that because of school issues, like I’m not doing my Home Work properly, I left the house.
What happened next?
The next morning, I woke up to my mum sitting besides me and saying, this can’t be happening; We’ll go see a doctor. So, I didn’t go with her, but she went and thankfully, the psychiatrist there told mum that if you think this is something you know you can cure, or you want your son to be in a certain way, then sooner or later, you’re gonna lose him because you’re gonna pressurize him mentally. So, after that, we didn’t talk much. We gave each other time and space to let things sink in. I wasn’t very close to her for the next few weeks and things started going back to normal.
I wouldn’t really blame my mother. At that time she was in a space where she believed so-and-so things are not correct, or not meant to be. But now, I have my own voice and if I explain her something, she understands. And obviously, things are turning now. As I grow older, my mom dad are dependent on me and I’m taking the authority in the house. Regarding my sexuality, things were fine.
I remember in 2013 or 2014 Satyamev Jayate came up with an episode where Amir Khan interviewed a few LGBTQ+ people. I saw my mum watching it and taking interest. That made me really hopeful: that I could remove the sort of ‘hate’ from my mum’s mind. Later we used to watch Big Boss together and Lakshmi was a contestant. My mum always used to cheer for her, she liked how Lakshmi was so vocal about her opinions. Just 2 years ago, she tried taking me to a doctor, and now she’s appreciating someone from the community, it was a big deal for me and I felt really good.
When did you become comfortable with yourself?
Its when I started going to college, and learned to speak for myself, That I felt secure about myself. I used to do all the college fest and fashion shows etc., I was to be the one go-to person for such events. I begin working for Anamika Khanna, my pictures are still in her store in Calcutta; they were published in Vogue as well. I worked for Swarup Dutta too. My journey was very fluid. I did not have any complication apart from my mum and I’m such a person who doesn’t really think about what other people are gonna think. I’m very strong headed that way.
I stand out in the crowd not because of my sexuality, its because of what I do and what I’m good at. I can’t play my sexuality card to justify things. My talent is enough to justify my existence.
But I never used to be this person Before. Its only after I came out, that I felt confident enough to do my thing. I feel good and complete now.
But it really bothers me when, I don’t know if people do it knowingly, but I just HATE IT. Haaaate people when they say meet my ‘gay’ bestfriend. I can’t stand that label. It BOILS MY BLOOD in caps, honestly! I’m not your gay best friend, I’m your friend. When I enter a room, I won’t introduce them as my straight friends, or be like, “meet my straight parents”! How stupid that sounds! Maybe you can introduce me like, “meet my friend, he’s such a great makeup artist” that is sweet. Unknowingly or knowingly you can’t be addressing somebody’s sexuality as the first trump card! That is stupid. People might not mean it that way, but I think its high time that this style of “meet my gay bf” has to stop now.
So that is pretty much about my coming out and pretty much about my college and school days.
You have a really close connection to the fashion and makeup industry. Did it help you accept yourself?
Of course! When I was studying fashion, we had subjects like sex-ed and I figured out that sex and gender are both different things. We studied in fashion history that during World War, straight men started dressing up as women to avoid all the hard work; because back in the days, women were not allowed to do any physical labor and they used to just stay home. The men felt exhausted and begin dressing up like woman and that’s how crossdressing started after WW2.
So, my vision was very clear, and obviously it was a big push when I met people in college who were appreciating the kind of work I’m doing. It was also very fluid when I got into modelling. When I worked for Anamika Khanna, it was my first exposure, and when my picture came out on Vogue; it was like a dream come true! Like it was all coming together. So I was really hopeful!
How did you find your passion towards fashion and makeup?
I always used to paint; on walls etc., throughout my childhood. And when I was in class 4 or 5, I bought a 2 rupees copy and took it with me to the boarding. And I always used to sketch sitting in the corner: tops, scarfs etc. Nothing with hardcore shading and stuff, just the silhouettes. Till then I didn’t know this is something I can study. So, when I got back home and discovered Fashion TV; I realized that this is an industry and its something that can be studied. So that’s how decided that this is what I wanted to study and not anything like B.A., B,Sc. etc.
What do you think of people who say fashion and makeup is only for women?
I honestly feel that makeup and fashion are two sections that are just so fluid, you can always explore: What makes you feel good? If you go to a store and feel like “I want to pick up a top”, you’re most welcome. As long as it fits your purpose, and you feel good within, you’re most welcome to wear whatever you want to. And makeup again, doesn’t have a gender. Makeup is for everybody! Its just there to enhance your beautiful face and everything you have, not to please XYZ person. It just adds on a little bit of a confidence on your face. Same goes for filters. You put on a filter to make yourself feel good from within; not to justify how good you look or how good you are at makeup. It goes without saying that it doesn’t have any gender.
What would you say has been your greatest pillar of strength while coming out?
My belief! I’ve always believed in myself. I always tell people,
As long as you don’t love yourself, you can’t go further and beyond to discover what the future holds for you.
You have to have that trust in you, and belief in your thoughts. You have to know; what you believe in and what you know is for your own good! Obviously, I was also in that trap; I was under peer pressure; I smoked weed etc. But with time I figured out that it was not meant for me! This is not what I want. But now that I don’t, I feel much more relaxed, like I’m being myself. Just like that, Your pillar of strength has to be you! Nobody can be that for you. People will trust you only when you trust in yourself! Its that simple!
Also, my mom; for being so loving and never stopping me from doing anything. Apart from the time when she figured about my sexuality. And that wasn’t really her fault I was lucky that she tried to educate herself and fill her empty space with all positive things from life and from the LGBTQ+ community.
She was my biggest strength and she will be till I live. As a woman and not only my mother every mother sacrifices for her kids and family. Hence our mothers should be our superheroes and they aren’t difficult to talk to about any problem. Rather they are the first person you should open up to.
What about your love life? Are you currently dating anyone?
No, I’m not!
I don’t think I’m so lucky in that department. lt’s very weird, I never really dated anyone from the LGBTQ+ community. Somehow, I always bump into, and end up with somebody from the heterosexual community! I guess, if you’re a woman, and you are interested in women, its just that! Its not like you’re interested in lesbians or something. So, it can go either way or it can go one way. And if its one way, the other person has to make themselves very clear. If you’re unknowingly in love with a heterosexual person, that person has to just make it a little clear for your interest. So, its just that I’m just plain interested in boys!
Coming in terms with your own self is a great feat, so how did you mage to believe in yourself and stay strong?
I’ve always been a sucker for aesthetics, when it comes to hair, makeup everything. Something that Swarup Dutta told me: ‘I’m such a head turner’. What he meant was, that people always look at me but don’t make fun of me! Because I give out a very strong vibe. I think from the very beginning, I was always very clear in my head as to how I want to keep myself.
When you’re different from the crowd, people notice. I feel when you’re walking on the road, and someone passes a rude comment, you feel intimidated, you start to doubt yourself. So, touchwood, all that never really happened to me and I was always a little strong headed also. If someone smirks at me or gives a mock face, I would rather stand there and look at that person. “Do that when I’m right in front of you and not just pass your sly judgmental look behind my back.” It doesn’t really bother me. That’s how I was more comfortable when I came out of the closet.
What do you think of platforms such as FSOG?
I think it’s a good deal! Everything is going digital now in 2020 and its better this way. Had it been a magazine or something, very handful of people would read the article; but now that everything is digital, its just a matter of sharing a link. A lot of people would read my story. And it might not be so life changing or inspiring, but I would say, every story matters and every story counts. It’s not about being hardcore or dramatic, its about you coming out in terms of who you are. So every smallest of story matters to a lot of people.
For my story, when it goes live, I would say that people would take a lot of confidence; to be okay with yourself and how not to give a flying f**k about what other people think. You might be from a very very difficult family, but you should always have that trust in you that everything will be fine and you are fine, most importantly!
Belief and trust in yourself is something people would take from my interview and my story might not be too dramatic but it has passion and it has my belief. And I did follow what I believed in and I did achieve it.
Platform like you guys, you’re publishing so many stories that must be so inspiring for a lot of people who are going to read all this. They’re at least gonna smile reading it. Its like when u count 99 and from nowhere one person steps in the room and it becomes a 100, so its about that! I believe I’m just adding another feather to your achievements!
Any message to the straight/cis-gendered people out there with regards to the community?
Just spread love and be kind to each other. And for the new generation getting married, please be kind to your kids, don’t be a prisoner for your kids, just let them be who they want to be and don’t keep them in a box. Ask them what pronouns they prefer once they grow up or just what they want to be. Its gonna make things much much easier to believe together and live together.
And any advice to the people who are still trying to come out of the closet and accept themselves?
I would say that I know the struggle, I know how it feels like to be in a closet. Maybe I was lucky enough to fight and things were okay at my end, but they may not be okay for everybody. But its your battle and you have to speak for yourself. There are so many people, so many counsellors, who you can reach out to, but unless you come to terms with yourself and your belief, nobody will be able to get you out of that grave.
And its nothing to be ashamed of! Actually its just nothing. When you believe its nothing, then only you can come out of your shelter. You have to believe in yourself; You are bound to break all the norms, and fly high! So just have faith and trust in yourself and just know when to open the door and you’re a free bird to explore the world!