15th Gay Bombay Parents and Relatives Meet: A Mumbai Pride Event: Report (02/2014)

By Sachin Jain

  • Date and time: Sunday, February 9, 2014; 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Venue: Seva Sadan Hall, Grant Road (West), Mumbai
  • Participants:
    • Family members: (record-breaking!) 17 [9 mothers 3 fathers(!), 3 sisters, 2 aunts];
    • LGBTIQ community participants: 65

The session had 3 thematic parts:

  1. Personal strengths and struggles
  2. Family and Society (also includes a part of LGBTIQ children telling their parents what they feel)
  3. Politics

The parents meet reports are especially written as personal narratives, and not summarized or altered, because we believe there is a lot of power in recording, as-is, the testimonies of the parents. The questions posed by the facilitator or others to the parents are placed in italics. The ‘parents meet’ events are a safe, welcoming non-judgmental space where parents with all opinions, including those that may be perceived to be hostile to LGBTIQs are welcomed and respected.

Deepak Kashyap, facilitator, introduced himself, Gay Bombay, Gay Bombay’s Parents Meet and how they have been held as a part of ‘Queer Azaadi Mumbai’. He narrated a story of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians) founder Jeanne Manford. At night her phone rang – a police officer called and asks if she was Monty’s mother. “Do you know your son was in a gay bar and caught? Do you know he is a homosexual?”, he asked. She replied, “Yes I know leave him alone.” She marched in 1972 New York Pride with a placard that read “Parents of Gays Unite in Support of Our Children”. Since then familial acceptance and love became powerful ideas in the gay rights movement. Our panel today of 17 parents and relatives epitomizes this support and love their kids and their kids’ friends or their kids’ friends’ parents in realizing dream of unconditional love for their child. A love that asks no questions without explanation or reason. It was made clear a little later that even parents with views opposing queer sexuality and not accepting of their children’s sexuality were welcome in this space and it was a safe and non-judgmental space for them. How Gay Bombay’s creation of social spaces leads to solidarity and confidence and ultimately empowerment was also explained. It was the marriage anniversary of one of the parents and yet she came, and she was presented with a bouquet. The context of Gay Bombay’s Parents Meets and their part in Queer Azaadi Mumbai was explained and there was a round of introductions.

Introductory narratives:

“I am very proud of my brother.”

“I learned about my son 8 years ago, and have been connected to Gay Bombay’s parents meet movement since then. I have come not just for my son. You are all like my children and I have come to support you all.”

“My son came out to me 15 years ago. For 6 months I did try to take him to psychiatrist. After that the doctor said it is inborn, we cannot change him. Why not accept it gracefully? It’s not in my hands.”

“I’m a psychiatrist, and coming out is very important. My son came out and everyone has accepted him in my family, they have even started accepting the gay community. If he is so good and successful why should it hamper anyone’s life? Parents are afraid their children will suffer and be discriminated against. If you and your relations accept, society will also accept. When more people come out you will no longer be called a tiny minority. Successful gay people should be role models so that people think there is no difference between you and others. Tell your friends to come out.”

“I have met so many parents in the past few years. , Ultimately they say “Maybe I will take my son or daughter to a psychiatrist so they can be cured. My daughter is a professor abroad. She came out to me in 1992. I accepted her immediately and all my family friends accepted her. One of my family told me later we were shocked initially. She insisted on going and telling people she was close to herself. Thinking logically and deeply we realized she’s the same person. All these years we have loved her. What has changed? Nothing. If she falls in love, it will be with a woman, that’s all. If she sets up a family it will be with a woman too. How has it made a difference in our relationship?”

“It was not easy when my son came out. I said don’t tell anyone. But he went about telling everyone that he is gay. So he made me come out of my phobia. Otherwise I would have made him sit at home and be quiet about it. It is very important for children to come out. I have seen him flowering after that. He used to be very afraid to speak even a word.”

“I am a proud mother also a proud mother-in-law to my son’s partner. I’ve accepted both of them, they stay with me together. I will support them throughout my life and support the whole gay community throughout my life.”

“You all call me bua. It has been so many years we have been in touch and we have such a strong bond. I wish from my heart that things are easier for your all. Never say your sexuality is a choice, it is not a choice.”

“My son came out in 2007. I have supported him since then and will support all of you forever. I know the situation you all are in. You can call me 24 hours a day. It was difficult for my son to come out. He took very long to tell. It was I who asked. He started crying and said yes. He asked if I hate him or feel shame. I said no I am very happy so stop crying. We went out for dinner in a restaurant and we slept well. I am very proud of him.”

“I teach sociology at University of Melbourne. Deepak invited me, as I had researched and documented gay men’s life stories across the globe. He wanted to speak on importance of parents and coming out experience. “

“I am meeting you all for he first time. My sister and I never talked about this but my niece knew. She said we want to go to this program. I asked my sister and she said, what’s the big deal? A load was taken off my shoulders. Humans are humans. I had a dream of his marriage. He said I will marry and your dream will come true. It feels very good to meet you all and hear your thoughts. I would like to participate in future as well.”

“I am a father, our son told us 6 months ago. Seeing the support system here I’m feeling better. Didn’t know what is gay and lesbian and have started discussing now.”

Section 1: Personal Strengths and Struggles

What inner strengths did you discover when your child came out?

“Knowing about something makes it easier to accept. If you find out suddenly, without knowledge, acceptance takes time. I’d studied about homosexuals in medicine so I knew about their existence. I’m a cancer survivor. During cancer counseling, when I accepted it I faced it and could find a way out. It’s the same thing. Without knowing something we should not oppose it.”

“It is very easy to accept my brother is gay. He came out on Facebook to me. Being born in this generation I can relate to him very easily. He is brave and inspires me. Being born in a conservative Maharashtrian family and loved so much by parents, he is doing what he is doing. Sometimes if I’m stuck I take courage from his example.”

“When the whole world tells you what you should want and your body and mind tells you something else, this fight is very hard. Hence those who come out to parents who can reject you, it is very courageous.”

“I was always strong, but that opened doors for me, made me observe more, be compassionate and tolerant. It shook me. Helped me move ahead with broad-mindedness.”

If you knew someone gay or lesbian before would have been easier for you?

“Not for me. When my son explained I got it.”

“I didn’t feel bad when she told me. She was 20-21 years old. She knew from the age of 14-15 of being different from her friends. Then why didn’t she tell me? She gave me the reasons that in the early 80s, novels, literature, films were only heterosexual. Any feminine boy or delicate boy was called names even by grown-ups. She was afraid her parents and other may treat her badly. I considered myself so liberal and progressive but I had not given her support when she needed it most. Maybe I make up for that now by trying to support others. I keep telling mainstream people never to take your child’s sexuality for granted. I knew almost no gay people in the 1970s.”

“Sexual behavior is one of the important facets of life. But people are hesitant to talk about it, it is a closed topic. Even with normal sexual behavior many people don’t know what is right or wrong. People don’t know that homosexuality does not mean pedophilia. Homosexuality is not antisocial behavior, pedophilia is. I think it is very good that things are now openly talked about. Once people understand that it is not abnormal or bad, it is not sinful at least as far as Hinduism is concerned. Even things like abortion considered a sin earlier have been accepted now. It is important to educate the public. I am happy that three fathers are here.”

“Are there any other mothers of lesbians? None. I have a complaint, we say LGBTIQ community and while the gay aspect is visible, lesbians are invisible. I would like the lesbian friends to be brought and invited and their parents whether accepted or not they should tell their experiences.”

“I discussed with my sister before taking him to the psychiatrist. The extended family never makes him feel he is different. My husband has not told his side of the family but I want the nephews to know.”

“Frankly I don’t care if people know or not. There’s no question of acceptance as he is what he is. When my son was in the 2nd standard his teacher hit him, his hand was red and swollen. He was scared to tell him and knew that I would fight so he didn’t tell me. At night I saw it and asked. Crying he told me what happened. The next day I went to the Principal’s house at 7am and told them about what happened. I asked are you going to talk to her should I? I have not allowed my husband or me to touch him. If this continues I will take my son out of school and teach him myself. So now that he is gay nobody can dare to open their mouth.”

Can a gay man get married and still leave a happy life?

“Yes he can but he won’t get happiness or satisfaction, he will keep going outside the marriage.”

“In 1970 gay men married women and saved themselves from social hatred. It began when feminism was strong, it was fine for the man, no way fine for the woman, as it treats the women badly.”

“If you try, solution comes. For me this is simply unnatural sex. You should make people be able to have a normal life.”

Will you allow your daughter to marry a gay man?

“You will be happy but the woman will suffer. Marriage is between two people, so any third person will create a problem. If a gay person marries and is loyal to his wife and satisfies his wife, but if he expresses his sexual behavior outside there is a problem. Without trust there will not be a happy marriage.”

“LGBT includes bisexual persons as well who are attracted to both genders. I have met people who are bisexual who are married to opposite gender, they could be bisexual. If they are gay, they can be happy only with other guys.”

Was there any point you regretted your child’s sexual orientation? Why?

“None of my sisters have sons, so we had hopes for daughter in law so we feel sad that will not happen.”

Section 2: Family and Society

How do you deal with relatives and neighbors who ask questions like why is your child not married yet?

“For a long time I didn’t understand that a political act was not just to demonstrate and march in the street, it is by telling their friends and members of their family and a political change takes place by the single act of coming out. Then people know a gay man or woman so they cannot be homophobic in abstraction.”

“My answer when they asked me about her wedding was to say girls don’t get married etc. and sometimes I’d take refuge in a joke. Just as she showed the courage, I must also come out and live honestly and not be hypocritical. I told my close friends who knew her partner, but nobody mentioned her name and it was insulting for her partner to be treated always as a family friend. Despite the Supreme Court judgment, I look people in the eye and talk about my daughter and her partner. Just be confident and talk about your child’s achievements.”

“There was no challenge when he told me. I’m a single parent. From the beginning I love my children very much. I used to watch movies at night and one day he came out to me. I made a comment about one gay person in the movie and he went inside and started crying. I asked him what happened, and he told me. So I said I know and I had sort of guessed. But till he told me I could not come out. I said I love you very much and whatever you are I accept you. My sisters-in-law love him as mothers, and even their daughters have come today. But my side of the family knows everything but don’t want to acknowledge. They don’t ask me anything. I have told those who have asked. Those who don’t I don’t go and tell them. For wedding invitations, they include my son’s partner now. Once step at a time.”

Why did you come out about your daughter to your domestic help?

“In Indian families the driver, domestic help are like a part of the family. I didn’t want anyone to gossip behind our backs. I take them in confidence and tell them. I told my cook that my daughter and her friend are lesbians. She is not only a friend, she is her partner like a husband or boyfriend and girlfriend. My driver is from a small town in Uttar Pradesh and educated only till 8th grade. But he accepted it.”

“One of her classmates in late 80s was very delicate. After 12th standard he came back as a girl after his operation. When everyone got into a car, the driver said he could still hear a boy’s voice. My daughter explained. Call him by his new name. The driver says he is so lucky that his father had money to do the operation. ‘In our village they don’t have money and so they can’t do it and have so much trouble.’ Let us not think that educated people are qualified or tolerant. There are good human beings and bad human beings.”

How did you talk to your son’s partner’s parents?

“When I found out he was settled I was very happy. Hence I told everyone the news at once. Reactions were weird. I thought I did something wrong. “Is it because he went to US to study? Call him back. We will do it a puja. How did this happen? He was such a good boy.” I didn’t get angry because they were ignorant. But after all these years all of them have accepted him. Some prayed for him to change. When I found out I said what will happen to his partner if your prayers work? What about a girl if he marries? I am proud that he has accepted himself, I feel proud that he is not taking a wrong path. Both lives would have been destroyed. Being gay is not a crime. I saw his life there, and his partner’s parents. His partner’s mother started crying. She said both our boys are good but I don’t agree with this. I asked her to stay with them. Along with food, clothing, shelter, in life we want companionship. It doesn’t matter if it is with a boy or girl.”

“Our nani lives with us and I never came out to my grandmother. That time I was dating a boy, and I told her that I love him. First she asked me if it’s a Punjabi. Then she asked Muslim? Gujarati? Then she asked Telugu? Bengali? After everything she asked South Indian? Tamil? Brahmin? Then she says thank God he is a Tamil Brahmin.”

Do you fear that your child will not find a partner or be alone or miserable in his or her old age?

“I think it’s a powerful myth. I came across it while interviewing gay men. Parents said it’s sad you will be lonely in old age. There are 3 interpretations of their reasoning: First, they don’t know any older gay men and have no picture of how life could be lived without an opposite sex partner. The second possibility is the assumption that by having children old age gets better, which in some cases is true and in some not. The third is a rather negative view of gay men as those who don’t settle down, can’t hold relationships and are destined to be alone. This is the least helpful view. The first two may be rectified on exposure. During my research I met a bunch of men in Mumbai in their fifties, leading fulfilled lives, both on and off scene, creating alternative families. A single life is not necessarily a failed life, and not necessarily what gay men are destined to have.”

“8 years ago I met a 60-year-old gay man. He said, ‘In my time there was no internet hence finding a partner was difficult. For kids now it’s not that difficult. Your son is your son, but I am also his mom, as much as you take care of him I will too.’ We come alone into the world, go alone. Why worry? And the fact is yes, they may be alone. Expecting children to take care of you all life is not necessary. This idea of birthing children to be caregivers is wrong. The important thing is that they are happy.”

How is it different from fathers as against mothers to deal with a child’s different sexual orientation?

“Fathers love as much as mothers but don’t know how to express it. Mother doesn’t care about prestige but father does.”

“Fathers identify with sons with ego. More aware of the difficulties the son will face. Hence more difficult to accept.”

“Initially there was a lot of disturbance, my father would see me on TV and say derogatory things. Even my brother would. But they never stopped me. After I came back from the show, they would speak. Now they are very mature. My brother talks about it, my sister said to her to-be husband ‘I will only marry you if you accept my brother.’”

LGBTIQ kids tell their parents present there what they feel:

“I love her a lot. My mom says you not going to the temple but for me my parents are my gods.”

“My mother has been put through a lot of torture because of me. Every show I went on, I said she didn’t support me initially. Yet she stands by me now. On TV shows against Section 377, she accompanies me. Till today my father didn’t accept but now he does and talks about it himself. I am really thankful to them for accepting me. They have worked for many years to understand so I am grateful.”

“I came out 6 years ago and today to get my mom to a Gay Bombay Parents Meeting is history in the making for me. Rather than mother and son, we are like best friends. We fight everyday and the next moment we go and cook together. For 6 years it was ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and now she came here. I can see that she is happy and my sister is here too. I am really glad. I hope the discussion will go on and on and we will fight the battle together.”

“I have three mothers sitting here today. The one who gave birth to me exemplifies love. I can’t imagine my life without her. Most of my decisions are based on thinking of her first and then me, and it’s same for her. she is my best friend. I can’t imagine not being honest with her or even not being with her. After I came out to her I came out to my elder bua in a paper letter. She wrote back to me. She said I accept you. I don’t care what you are. I love you for who you are and for what you mean to me. She has been a pillar of support. Lastly my other bua. She is the one I am very close to. She took me to discotheques and hotels. I lived the high life with her. I didn’t come out to her first surprisingly. If the social butterfly accepted me I supposed she would too. The three of them have made me who I am. I hope I am a good person because they are just brilliant.”

There was an interval of half an hour for tea and snacks, and many of the LGBTIQ persons approached the parents and had private conversations.

Section 3: Politics

Suddenly your children are now criminals before the law after 4 years of freedom. What is your reaction? How do you advise parents dealing with this new situation?

“Why is the Government after gay people when there are so many issues today?”

“When the verdict came, I was at Azaad Maidan. Before that I was thinking what to wear to celebrate, a party dress. When I heard the verdict I started crying. I waited for years to hear good news which didn’t come. So I felt very angry and sad. But later I realized that whenever change has to happen, it takes time. What we can do is spread awareness, talk openly so people will understand, and one day it will change for the good. A golden day will come someday.”

“When the Supreme Court verdict came I felt very bad and disappointed. I cried a lot. I felt bad for my son. Rome not built in a day. Maybe the LGBTIQ community has to struggle more. Freedom definitely will come, it will be possible. Don’t get caught in legal problems, be aware of cops.”

“Criminals harm society. Consensual adult sex can’t be called criminal. What you do in your own house and bedroom cannot be called a crime. The judicial and political class needs introspection. I’m sure they will change. I sincerely hope within the next 2 years it will change.”

“When we failed in the Supreme Court, I wondered what would happen to my son as he is openly gay and the law is now against him. I never expected this. I was very dejected. In the last 4 years we had gone so much ahead but now we are back to square one. There is always something good in all bad things. So much awareness and debates happened. Those who didn’t know all know now. This was evinced by how many people came to Mumbai Pride 2014. More people will come out, and we hope for the better in the future.”

“Because of the decision we have got more publicity. People have come to know about gay people and the media has helped quite a lot. So we should wait and watch, we cannot do anything else. I would just give a message that gay community should be more careful not to get caught.”

“Everyday there should be one article in the newspaper on sexuality so people are kept aware. Who went to ask the law? If there is no law for heterosexuals then why for homosexuals? Why worry so much about the law? Tell the law we will not change, it will have to change.”

“If you reflect on life even five years ago, men in Mumbai had already been in long-term relationships. This slight interruption is not gong to stop anyone from conducting intimate relationships lasting the distance. They have been conducting them in times of meticulous hostility in the past. If the state starts to peer into the bedroom, then it will be a good reason to take to the streets. But the Indian police won’t have money to spy on people. It will slow down the movement towards same-sex marriage. Take heart in what you did from 2009 and continue doing that in the face of this hiccup as history is on your side. This hiccup will reverse. Thing will be better. This will hold up inheritance rights etc. but that will eventually happen too.”

“We must educate our relatives that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Speak openly.”

“Be cautious that you are not caught, take precautions, the law is against you. Misconceptions like gay people will increase and HIV will spread abound. Some gay people don’t take precautions while doing sex since it is not going to produce a child. Just be careful when roaming around.”

“Society will be perverted, more people will become gay by watching, this is the accusation. This is not a choice. There is not going to be more gay people, some are intelligent, some are not, most are average. Are we going to reject those who are not within the average and who are at the extremes?”

The parents were given a standing ovation and presented with mementos. The meet concluded with thanks.