Venue: Liquid Lounge, Charni Road, Mumbai
Date: January 20, 2013
Time: 4:15pm – 7:15pm
Parents and Relatives: Mothers 5 (including 1 in the audience apart from the 4 on stage), 1 father, 1 aunt.
Language: Hindi and English.
We had 15 first timers at the meet. Umang began by setting them at ease, saying that they would not be asked any questions that they were not comfortable answering, and that they could come and go as they chose. Of the attendees, 8 wanted to come out, and 30 were already out.
This meet featured a surprise: 3 role plays of coming-out scenarios by Umang as a gay son, with the wonderful Mrs. Doshi as a parent.
Mother and Son: Role play 1:
It was a moving exploration of how an Indian son searches for ways and terms to explain his sexuality to his perplexed traditional parent. It touched upon attraction, sex, love, marriage and psychiatry. Denial, ignorance, fear, anger, secrecy show up in parental reactions. they went on to show how to access support like Parents Meets and meeting other members of the LGBT community.
Mother and Son: Role Play 2:
This was a modern parent. They spoke openly and in a friendly way. The son tried to explain his sexuality with a film as an example. Here the mother was shocked but knew about the gay identity already as against the previous example where it was all completely new. Here again doctors, invoking religion, blaming cinema and company, persuading the son to change were motifs. It ended with a sort of barter where the son says if you take me to a doctor, you have to meet my friends. Here the mother is inquisitive and curious to meet another parent of a gay man.
Mother and Son: Role Play 3:
The third mother was ultramodern and urban. The son asks the mother to guess why he is not getting married: she thinks he is not ready, not wanting to take responsibility, that he may do it maybe later when he is ready. On being probed, about anything being amiss or wrong she talked about him being alone, and not playing cricket while growing up. When the son comes out, she does not find anything wrong in it but asks if it is just a phase.
Mother, Son and Doctor: Role Play 4: Umang as gay son, Mrs. Doshi as the mother and Mrs. Dash (who is a retired psychiatrist), as a psychiatrist.
Mother: “He told me he is gay, I don’t know what you mean by gay.”
Doctor: “It means that his sexual orientation is towards the same sex. As we grow and reach puberty, there is a normal attraction to opposite sex, in some children, towards the same sex. Usually a boy of 16 interested in girls, but a gay person, would be more interested in guys, e.g. In John Abraham rather than Kareena Kapoor in a movie.”
Mother: “Will his sexuality change? Will he be attracted to women also?”
Doctor: “There are many ways of homosexuality – one is situational homosexuality, like hostels or jails, a person may have relations with the same sex. But in most other cases, the cause is genetic in nature. Up to the age of 12-13 most children behave similarly and are not aware of sex, but as they attend puberty, certain hormones start circulating: pituitary, adrenaline, testes or ovary, and behaviour changes. In girls, oestrogen and progesterone are more. In boys testosterone and steroids more. Sometimes due to different wiring, hormonal differences are present.”
“Am I responsible for him being gay?”
“Absolutely not. Many parents feel guilt about not imparting correct values, leaving children unsupervised. Even children themselves do not make a choice. Everyone would want to go to mainstream if they could. It is not a chosen behaviour, they are made like that.”
“How will I explain all this to his father even I have understood all this myself?”
“For fathers, who may not as easily demonstrate a mother’s unconditional love, become sensitive to anything that affects their social prestige.
“How will I face the society?”
“It’s a question of educating society. We have seen so many gay people, who achieve very much, and they have positive characteristics attributable to men and women, and so reach top of their profession and are respected in society very much.
“What about my other children? How they will get married?”
“Why should it affect anybody? Children have different intelligences and we accept them. Homosexuality is not an anti-social behaviour. It is how God has made somebody, so you have to accept it.”
Moms: Role Play 5: The mother introduced to 2 other moms: Harwant Bua and Mrs. Iyer.
“Is your son gay as well? Have you accepted him?”
“Do you know everything about it?”
“I learnt a lot.”
“Are they saying the right thing?”
“Will they have troubles in their future lives?”
“There will be troubles, but lets see.”
“I feel he will do the right thing in the future. But how will I face society, how will my other children get married?”
“I have the same confidence. Even now my husband has not accepted it but has given us permission to live our lives.”
“Those who can understand, you can tell them. Its not necessary to tell all. Say my son doesn’t want to get married as yet.”
“What about taking care of him in his old age?”
“I am a widow without children. Nobody is taking care of me, you have to take care of yourself.”
Son with other moms: Role Play 6:
“My mom wants me to go to god-men.”
“This will not change by accessing god-men or rituals. If you don’t accept him, others won’t. This will be even more difficult.”
“I want her to meet my boyfriend.”
“Wait for some time, give her time.”
“What about making me see girls?”
“You take many years in accepting yourself, and expect parents to understand everything in 1 day. You feel that others accepted quickly but it was not so, it took others also a lot of time earlier.”
“I didn’t know till he told me, I didn’t have a clue.”
“This is the internet generation so different from us. We didn’t talk so openly about sex, never outside the four walls, how would we know? Parents love children more than themselves. They want them to have a bright future, to become something good. They don’t want child to get ill or have bad habits. As parents, we shouldn’t consider ourselves culpable. Each parent is different in their reaction. Some parents, even if uneducated, have mental balance. They can think and accept their child immediately. No degree is required. Some very educated people don’t accept their children. But all must try to understand.”
“My mom thought for 2 days, and then asked what do 2 boys do at night together? I used to get friends home and in the kitchen away from earshot, she would ask, if he is like you?”
Umang called each parent to the dais and introduced them. He narrated wonderful anecdotes about each one of them, their stories of coming out as parents of gay persons and how they have been involved in and contributed to our community.
We held a minute’s silence in memory of Mrs Jalnawala, proud mother of our Peshdad, and a veteran of many parents meets. She passed a few months ago, and we all really appreciated the mixture of fondness and firmness with which she dealt with Peshdad.
Below are some of the themes discussed:
Gender non-normative children (effeminate boys and masculine girls):
“There is a spectrum of sexuality and behaviour. We should be more accepting. People say things, one mustn’t pay attention to them. Neglect them and don’t listen to them.”
“There is no difference in my son, he looks like an ordinary man.”
“As a father what was your reaction when your son came out?”
“He disclosed it on the telephone from abroad, so we were shocked and it was very difficult to absorb. Slowly we came to a conclusion that he was right.”
Mother: “In the beginning we didn’t know much, but he told us and gave us books to read.”
“Did you try to change him?”
“When he was in another city, we thought it was due to the hostel. We took him to a doctor as well. But later we had confidence that he wouldn’t lie or do wrong things.”
“Did you think his sister would have problems?”
“She was already married. People will keep talking, we live our live and focus on it. The in-laws have been told and they accept it too.”
“What do you feel about propagating the family name and having grandchildren?”
“We feel bad, but many who get heterosexually married don’t have them either. We live happily and that’s enough.”
“He had a boyfriend for 10 years and now another one. Did you feel bad?”
“As long as he is happy, we are happy. People keep asking when he will marry. I say if he doesn’t want to, what can we do? But we don’t disclose his sexuality. It’s not necessary, to go and tell it ourselves.”
“Do you try to dissuade him from going to events?”
“Yes, that’s why we ourselves didn’t come earlier either.”
“How do you react to people who wear their sexuality on their sleeve? How do you react with your son being openly gay?”
“Initially I didn’t like it, but I accepted it. However the other family members haven’t. So we don’t talk. My son wants other LGBT children to be able to come out. He doesn’t like duplicity and feels those who are closeted must come out. So he talked about it in the media. Initially I felt bad. But later he made me stand there besides him too. So now i have accepted it and feel good because many gay children say they feel inspired to speak to their parents. If four people get courage to speak about sexuality, then my being open and his being open has been a success.”
“My son is also against living a double life as a heterosexually married person.”
“My son we knew all about, he was very beautiful and we indulged him. One uncle saw him swirling in a skirt. Horrified he asked what are you doing to this boy? We replied this is his interest. When he came out to his aunt he asked will you still love me? As far as telling others goes, people who are intelligent enough, I tell them. Others who don’t understand, and are narrow-minded, I don’t tell them. He has a partner for 12 years. We take all this in our stride. He is happy and so we are too.”
Umang shared something about Gaver aunty, Harpreet’s mom, her acceptance and how she went and got a copy of Bombay Dost frmo Humsafar and gave it to her son when he came out.
“Why are gays obsessed with sex?”
“Sex is a thing which is very private, doesn’t happen in the open. What 2 people do is their concern. My advice to all young people is accept yourself first, then others will accept you, no guilt, no shame, no anger, no anxiety. Ultimately it is what you make of yourself in life, which decides your future. Do heterosexual people think of what we are doing in the bedroom, all the time? It’s a minor part, think of your career. You never please everyone so don’t bother about that, accept yourself as you are.”
“A god-man asked my parents to get hormonal tests and to get a balance for that. Can we prescribe drugs and become normal?”
“Playing with hormones is like playing with fire, and rather than that, acceptance is better. Sexual orientation is only known to yourself, your mind is not visible to anyone else. Hence it is difficult for parents or society to understand you. I have not seen change due to hormones.”
“There is no hormonal imbalance in the body of a gay person. Don’t try to change yourself”
“When I was in Std 9, parents gave me hormones for my height and body growth as I was very short and thin. Are these same for sexuality change?”
“Don’t get into these things, be proud of what you are , and accept who you are.”
“I have a sister who is not accepting of me, and is into hypnosis, and past-life regression therapy, I do not agree to that.”
“You can go just to satisfy her.”
Deepak: “As a psychologist, these theories are not scientifically tested, there is a lot of harm in going for these therapies, the installation of shame and guilt, the acceptance of the fact that you need to change is going to do a lot of harm. Hormones act as fuel, but direction is decided by the steer, think of hormones that way as well. When you accept there is a problem, you want to go to an ideal self of heterosexual to bridge the gap by different therapies. First accept the idea of not needing to be cured.”
“Mothers who feel they know their children better than themselves, feel shocked to find something they don’t know.”
When my son told me he was gay, I asked if I was responsible. He said no. He told me everything. And gave me books. Why did you take so many years to tell me? He said I can’t live without your support and acceptance so I couldn’t tell you.”
“I get calls from people in cities with parents living in remote areas. Its quite inhuman after coming out, that parents are denied acclimatization time. There are ways to work around confrontation, indirect coming out. For example by just revealing that I don’t want to marry. Being open it’s not easy, my mother gets flak for being open. A lot of strength and perseverance is required, that’s the only solution.”
“A lot of people come out at a very young age, could you tell us what is the right time for children to come out to their families?”
“When they are financially independent, because all parents may not accept it in the proper spirit. Unfortunately they think of it as a sexual deviation. So every parent may not accept, so best time to come out is financially independent. Most parents only know by hindsight. He always had girl and boyfriends so couldn’t make out.”
“How do you deal with extended family? Neighbours, relatives, and their parents?”
“The reactions were very different. Some said how can you be happy and tell others? What will our children think? How will they get married? Why are you coming on TV and talking? There was a struggle, but I was confident that I was right so society would accept it and this would be good for other children. All their children got married and my sons sexuality hasn’t affected anybody. We live in an extended society, but all those are really irrelevant. If you are in deep trouble how many of them come to help you? How many are going to admit you in hospital and spend lakhs of rupees on your treatment? So many people who are non-gay also remain unmarried.”
“We come out because we are brave enough to do so. All these parents and aunts are exceptionally brave people. They are a minority. We live in a society that does not accept your homosexuality. Society needs to be adjusted to. On the other side, there are people who really want acceptance from society. I also believe as LGBT, we should make our parents strong enough to face the world by bringing them to meets like these, to Pride marches. Thus they can see that there are different kinds of people, not just stereotypes within the community. The rainbow flag tell us we are all different. We have to allow for the fact that there are people who believe that opinions of others do matter.”
Adoption and Surrogacy:
“If your child wants to have a surrogacy or adoption what do you feel about it?”
“As a straight woman I didn’t want children, because life is difficult, we four brothers and sisters have not had children out of choice. I do not think society is not ready. Adopting is good, but its not good to have children through surrogacy.”
“I agree society is not ready, but as long as my son is financially independent its fine. Day by day the world is moving forward, and questions like taunts etc are not important, soaring prices are.”
“I personally feel that hypothetically if I were to have a child, bringing him or her up would be very different. When my niece sees my ex boyfriend, even now she is attached to him. It’s all about how you condition the child, the upbringing. Nothing is easy. Its like coming out with any disability. The conscious decision and effort by LGBTs to bring a child in the world would automatically ensure better parenting.”
“You are fighting for your rights, you can have a surrogate child. You have to be strong, the child will be strong, that is the future of India.”
“We can’t live in fear of society. Adoption is common.”
“You shouldn’t bother so much about society. If you want a child, why do you ask others? If you can give sufficient affection to the child, it’s good.”
“All children go through challenges.”
“Many in the audience want to get a child. 20 years down the line the acceptance levels will improve to. I strongly believe good parenting let’s a child face anything. We have faced harsh situations, and with that strong will, I can make my child strong enough to face the world with confidence.”
“I wouldn’t adopt because being gay I have gone through a lot in my life. I can make my child as strong as possible in the house but I cannot control all the salient factors outside. My parents when they go outside cant control the salient factors so what do we do?”
At 6pm we took a break for tea, coffee and sandwiches. The LGBTs interacted with the parents one on one with specific queries about their own situations, and the parents interacted with each other as well.
After the break:
Changes in Parents’ Life after Child’s Coming Out:
“How has your child’s coming out as well as your own coming out changed your life for the better or worse?”
“Life has changed. I have become more knowledgeable and a stronger person. Because of him I came to know about gay people, I met you all, I’m very happy about it, otherwise I would not have been here. I would never have bothered to think about gay people. As my son is gay I am always looking forward to helping you and your parents.”
“I am a very introverted person. I never mingled with anyone. I never talked with anyone. My son has made me come here. Today I am able to speak to you all without any fear. That is a big achievement for me. He has made me famous also. People used to look down upon us. Now they look up at as us. He is a support for me. He needed my support for his success. As long as he is in the right path. I will guide him also.”
“I’ve met so many young boys who give me so much love and affection. I don’t have children of my own and you all compensate for that.”
“I have so many friends with other parents of LGBT which is also a very great thing for me.”
“When he disclosed his sexuality, when we found that he was alone, we have supported him. Life has changed, our doubts have gone. He is busy with his own duties. He is handling a business independently and I am retired now.”
“Earlier I used to see to dream of a daughter-in-law. Now I have another son.”
“As far as my attitude is concerned, I became a little protective. You feel protective towards your child. He was always independent, and I have full faith in his intelligence and to his choices in life.”
Changes in Child’s Life after Child’s Coming Out:
“Without the support of parents children can’t live. He got confidence and happiness. He knows he is on the right track.”
“After he came out to me, I see a lot of change in him. Earlier he didn’t have a single friend, now I have to curb his friendships, stop him from talking on the phone all the time. He is very confident, his confidence is soaring. Sometimes he is overconfident. He’s going to dare arrest and go for the pride march. Sometimes he takes it too far. But coming out helps a child. Or else he has a guilty feeling about what he is doing wrong. When you tell your parent your guilt is gone. Now the ball is in the parents’ court. You feel free and light.”
“Before coming out he would lie about his whereabouts. Now he feels relief at not having to tell me lies.”
Pride March Permissions:
“Despite three attempts our request to hold permission for the march has been denied. We have recourse to appeal to a higher authority and get in touch with the Commissioner of Police. We were wondering if parents could write a letter in our support or come along with us with us to the next meeting. This would send a very strong statement: we don’t have an issue with our child being gay, why do you?”
Umang gave the Get Well Soon card for Gaver aunty to Harpreet, signed by everyone present.
Bala said that parents would be available by email and telephone to children and to other parents, and the wonderful parents were given a standing ovation of applause by the audience. To give some context, this was GayBombay’s second event as a part of Queer Azaadi 2013, a variety of events by the Mumbai LGBT community concluding with the Mumbai Pride March on February 2, 2013. After the very successful Rainbow Kite Flying last Sunday, we were very happy to offer this unique and signature event as a part of the line-up this year – a conscious decision on the part of the GB core group after QAM 2011 last year where we found ourselves unceremoniously relegated to “one more party organizer”. It was part of our commitment to bring these successful and effective ways of creating networks of support, and of building solidarity to the larger queer community in Mumbai. Never replicated and unfailingly poignant, the parents meets typify how we can take the larger discourse of LGBT rights and bring in the larger mainstream in a unique, irrepressible desi way, instead of segregating and ghettoising ourselves. And for this, we have the fantastic parents, relatives and friends, who over 14 meets in 15 years, have given us their courage, love, support, humour and admonishments to make this possible, so a big big THANK YOU and salute to all of them – Harpreet, Anand, Harwant and Munni Bua and Gaver Aunty; Mrs. Sarojini Dash, Mr. and Mrs. Tapale and their son Mayuresh; Mrs. Iyer and her son Harish, and Mrs. Shobha Doshi as well as the mother in the audience. Also a big thank you to Umang for bringing his heart and soul to the effort, the appreciation and warmth he exudes and to Deepak Mehra for the wonderful arrangements. Thanks also to the wonderful audience who listen carefully, ask questions, and though, finding themselves disagreeing with the parents on multiple occasions, retain the maturity and large-heartedness to accept the multiplicity of viewpoints given the context in which the parents operate. Till the next parents meet, let us remember: We Are Family!