Gay Times March 09 - Issue 366
In the Know - Manvendra Singh Gohil
Manvendra Singh Gohil, heir to the throne of the princely Indian state of Rajpipla, came out to the public in 2006, making him the first openly-gay Indian royal.
The day I came out there were protests in my town. People burnt effigies of me, and said I had brought shame and humiliation to the royal family, that I should be stripped of my title.
More from Gay Times March 09 - Issue 366
I love challenges. Coming out was a challenge.
As a person who advocates truthfulness, it was very hard keeping secrets and telling lies. These things are not easily hidden, either. That was one of the reasons I had a nervous breakdown.
I was expecting people to react negatively when I came out. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to open the Pandora’s Box.
In India, homosexuality is a taboo. I always felt the need for open discussion about it. Unless people are aware of it and sensitised towards it, the homophobia will remain.
I wasn’t shy about going back home. I didn’t want to act as if I had done something wrong. I decided to live in that homophobic society and teach people, rather than turning away from them.
After I was invited to be a guest on Oprah in October 2007, a lot of people who were homophobic changed their behaviour towards me. Oprah has a lot of fans in India.
I came out to my family through the psychiatrist who was treating me. They refused to believe that I could be gay. They said, “He had so many girlfriends in school, so how could he be gay?”
I was born gay – no doubt about that.
My parents were very worried that the secret would come out. I had founded the Lakshya Trust, an organisation to work for HIV prevention and other support systems for gay men in India. They said I would have to resign from Lakshya. I said, “It’s not possible. I gave birth to Lakshya. How can I desert my child?”
I have a staff of almost 100 people working in the organisation. It’s called a ‘trust’, but I call it a family. The Lakshya Family. And Lakshya is supported and funded by the government. That recognition is strongly in our favour.
I may be the first member of a royal family to come out as gay, but I’m not the only one. There are plenty of LGBTs in the royal families – I know of them. My coming out worried them; they were thinking, “He’s shameless, he might out us as well.”
My parents were pressured into publicly disinheriting me. They disowned me to curtail my interviews but, instead, my contact with the press exploded. Their whole purpose was foiled. So they reversed their decision.
My father himself gave an interview in the newspaper. The headline was, “I Acted in Anger”.
My mother is not accepting, but she isn’t against me either. She keeps a low profile.
I was never attached to my biological family. Children are brought up by a governess or nanny. I grew up thinking my nanny was my mother.
I have missed the love, affection and attachment to parents in my life. Who else would be closer to you than your own mother? And if she doesn’t give you that love, where will you get it?
If you are born in the royal family you have both advantages and disadvantages.
I declared that I would like to adopt, because I want somebody to carry on our 650-year-old dynasty. I’m the 39th in the line, so I definitely want a 40th person to carry on our rich cultural heritage.
Now my people respect me more than ever. They think that speaking the truth is very uncommon. They say that whether their prince is gay or not is not an issue. The fact that he has spoken the truth is cause for respect.
I have a huge non-biological family in the gay community. In India we have what we call ‘pseudo-relations’. We are mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers within the gay community.
I call Ashok Row Kavi, India’s first gay activist, my godmother. He brought me into the gay world. He inspired me and helped me form Lakshya. I owe my coming out to him.
I don’t celebrate Independence Day in India. India got independence in 1947, but gay India lost its independence in 1860.
My coming out has made people bolder. We’ve had occasions of people coming out in the media, to their families, and resisting pressure to get married. Most gay men have been forced to marry women – almost 80%. But the situation is changing.
We should not always think about ourselves. Once you are self-sufficient and satisfied with your lifestyle, there’s so much you can do for society.
I’ve had people take advantage of my status. I rarely know whether attraction is genuine, or whether the person concerned is looking at me or my princely fortunes and status.
You do need a companion in your life. As you grow older, you need that feeling of security.
My biggest regret would be coming out so late. I could have come out earlier. I could have saved more lives, but better late than never.
By occupation, I’m an organic farmer. I breed hermaphrodites – that’s earthworms.
Words: Hugh Armitage