REPORT: THE 15th GAYBOMBAY PARENTS AND RELATIVES MEET (A MUMBAI PRIDE 2016 EVENT)

The 15th Gay Bombay Parents & Relatives Meet

Venue: Rotary Club of Bombay West, Juhu Tara Road, Mumbai

Date & Time: Sunday, January 17, 2016, 5-9 p.m. with a 30 minute break for snacks at 7 p.m.

Participants: Parents 20 (Mothers 12, Fathers 4, Aunts 2, Siblings 2)

This report is in the form of “as-is” shared narratives, clubbed around dominant themes. It covers the first 2 of the 3 parts of the meet, namely: personal sharing by the parents; sharing and interaction of parents with the LGBT community in a single group, and interaction in circles of 1-2 parents & relatives and 5-6 LGBT community members. What was heartening and different this time was trans*, lesbian and bisexual participation in addition to gay men, as well as more parents of children across a diversity of sexuality and gender identities.

Bala introduced the parents and contextualized the parents meet. Facilitator Deepak Kashyap began by reading a story called “When my mother came home” in Hindi, about a mother visiting a gay son’s home after 6 years.

Telling Others:

“I was an introvert and uncomfortable with sharing personal stories. When I saw how happy telling everyone and getting their acceptance made my son, I didn’t want to lag behind. Understanding takes time. 80% of parents have lots of difficulties. But even so, being there with your child is more important. I was not so brave earlier, my son became my inspiration.”

“As parents if we understand and accept our children, nobody has the gall to say anything to them.”

“Ten years ago, my son first told his cousins who encouraged him to tell me. He was afraid that he would not be able to live if I refused to accept. I visited him in another city where he was living with his boyfriend. I met his friends, saw his domestic life. I was happy that he was settled. The extended family were scandalized, asked me not to tell others, blamed me for sending him abroad and asked me to send him to doctors. My son’s partner’s mother had a lot

“When my daughter came out to me, I realized I didn’t know anything about lesbian issues, though I loved her so much. As there was no internet or parents meets, she gave me books, fiction and non-fiction. When she was in her teens, there were no signs of homosexuality or lesbianism anyways. She must have felt so lonely. The two sides must come together. Children must make a huge effort and not be annoyed with their parents. I told everyone at home that she was still the same person, only that she had a woman partner now. My daughter in turn explained about an MTF trans* friend to our driver, who was quite philosophical about it. He lamented about how many such people there were in his village that didn’t have access to resources to undergo operations and transition genders or live out their sexuality. It is not education but it is basic human compassion that makes you accept difference.”

“Many parents take this behavior as a chosen negative behavior, ignorant of the fact that it is inborn. Once this is understood, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Mental science decreed homosexuality to be a deviant behavior. As a psychiatrist I saw obnoxious behavior therapies like shock therapy for gays. Now science has advanced and common people understand sexual orientation better. My son brought me to the Gay Bombay parents meet and I saw very intellectual friends of his in good positions professionally. After accepting, I didn’t have any qualms about my son. Marriage proposals keep on coming. I openly say my son is not interested in marrying, he is gay. I don’t hide it at all, and so nobody looks at him differently. If you don’t reveal the fact, you become a target of gossip. Parents, tell others. It is your children’s’ life. Being with a girl or boy is their choice; there is nothing to feel bad about. Homosexuality is found in all societies, even in animals and birds. It is a normal physiological behavior. Mothers have unconditional love, but it is difficult for fathers. LGBT issues are openly shown in TV programs the way they never were 10-15 years back. If you call yourself things like ‘queer’, people think you are different.”

Coming Out

“I have come here for the first time. My son has attended this meeting many times, but the experience of all these parents is different from mine. This Diwali at Dhanteras I lit a lamp, and the deity told me ‘he’ is gay. Since it is just 3 of us at home, I was confused who ‘he’ was. It couldn’t have been my husband, so it was my son. I was composed, waiting for an opportunity to let his hot-tempered father go away and then asked him about marriage. When I did, he told me that he was gay. I said it was normal, and he was surprised I wasn’t shocked. There is nothing to be happy or sad about. Science has advanced a lot, and there is lot of information on TV and newspapers so I don’t have any questions.”

“Several years my nephew came out to me. We knew from his behavior about his sexual orientation. There was no question of accepting, he was always ours. As people become more aware and laws become favorable, the situation will improve. I do my bit; there are Gay Bombay meetings on first Sunday of every month at my home.”

“We started Gay Bombay in 1998, was 24 years old. At that time being gay was equated to having gay sex. Those of us out and about in the late nineties felt there was more to it. We started to meet but we were scared. After our first meeting, there was no looking back. The first time it was so difficult to get parents to come to this meet, but now after 15 meetings we have 20 parents. Before the internet came, I saw how a friend’s mother accepted her son and his boyfriend. I was stunned. I was so excited, I wanted to go home and tell them. But my parents were not so well educated, and couldn’t speak English. They were not smart, well-dressed, or articulate. My mom is schizophrenic and dad is bipolar. My upbringing was a nightmare. Coming out could have meant a mental shock, hospitalization for mom and blame for me. On the other hand, if she found out from external sources, it would have been worse. So I told her this: ‘I don’t like girls’. She said it was nonsense, and took me to a psychiatrist. After 2 days, my same conservative mother asked me, ‘But what do two boys do at night?’ So we underestimate our parents. She accepted me because I am an extension of her, her blood sweat and tears. I came out at 27, but when she was on her delivery table 27 years before that, she was ready to accept anything about her child. Because what came out of her body was going to be her own. It’s just a question of time. My friend’s mother 25 years back had the courage to get a copy of a gay magazine for her son when he came out to her. That is called support.”

Acceptance

“My adopted son was gay. He passed away in 2014. Initially he didn’t have courage to come out and they married him off. The marriage was a failure and they got divorced. When he did have the courage to tell his mom she couldn’t accept and gave him a really hard time. She did accept but died just after that. When I met him I found him to be very nice and human, apart from my two daughters he was another child for me. It’s very important for parents to accept their child’s sexuality, as they cannot voice it to everyone, and they die a little everyday from seeing their parents not being able to accept it.“

“My son told me he was gay at 17. I didn’t know anything about it. My reaction was of disbelief for 4 years. I saw things on TV and learned about it. When I underwent treatment recently, I told doctors in the hospital, that I am worried about my son who is gay. The doctor was surprised at my candor. My sister asked me to accompany her to an astrologer, when he asked I said I don’t want to ask about anything. Coincidentally an old couple had come then to the astrologer to show the horoscope for their gay son. I told them it was wrong to come here. I urged them to accept him. They organized a meeting in a small town for parents. Parents don’t know and so they can’t be blamed. This is my third meeting, and I was the only parent who went from Mumbai to Pune for the Pride march. My advice to children is to come out and be patient. For parents, it always makes sense to take your children into confidence.”

Being a father

“As a father I am in the minority at the last meet. I felt so good there are more this time. We only run the marathon faster, but you mothers wear the pants at home. My elder son told me that my younger son was gay. I was initially shocked and thought it was sibling rivalry. I casually asked my younger son. I head legal and compliance in my company but didn’t know that Section 377 criminalized homosexual sex in India. Though I knew gay kids in school and college, there was nobody gay in the family. I asked him if it was a fashion nowadays, because all fashion designers were gay. When he said no, I hugged him. I agree that we owe unconditional love to our children. You have brought them to the world, so you cannot desert them. There are lots of quacks peddling cures, but homosexuality is perfectly normal. As soon as you accept, and say ‘So what?’ to society, it will be good for you, the child, and for your relationship with your son. I have seen so much care and love in gay persons. I feel proud that others approach my gay son for counseling and consider him to be a true friend, girls and boys, gays and straights alike. Our individual roads to acceptance as parents may vary. For LGBT kids, you are minority so take the caricaturing in your stride. As long there is no physical harassment, focus on going ahead in life.”

Being a parent of a trans* person:

“My son became a daughter. I feel it’s a new birth for her. I love and support her, and I feel everyone should.”

“I don’t know what to say because my son first came out as gay and then as transgender. This took me a lot of time to understand and accept. I was a dancer, an employee and worked in drama. He loved dance a lot, and was good in studies too. After getting a job after his MBA, I was very proud. But I didn’t know what he was doing. My neighbor once told me that when he came to ask for keys he came in a sari. Slowly, he told me that he was Trans* and that he also wanted to work to advance the cause of the transgender community. I was initially shocked and didn’t sleep two nights and cried. I wondered how things would work out at home. We weren’t talking, and my divorce happened too. Then I thought that if I didn’t support him, he would be alone and taken advantage of. So I supported him. I asked my son if he blamed the ups and downs in my life for this. He said no, I always wanted to be this way.”

Being MTF Trans*:

“I have not been able to explain to my father who and what I am. He has not accepted me, and I yearn to hug him. I want such an occasion; I want that he comes to a meet like this. I knew in 3rd and 4th standard that I had a crush, and didn’t know what same sex and opposite sex relationships were.” I was in a boy’s body, and couldn’t think of dating till I was a complete woman. My doctor and mom helped me and now I am a fully straight woman. I remember when I was 6-7 years old; I had taken off my tee-shirt and wrapped a sari. My father entered the room and I ran away. I always wanted feminine things to play with. When I learned dance, I came to Mumbai alone, started dancing, and felt I could be a complete woman as dance came into my life. I used to feel afraid in front of the camera as a trans* person. My journey in transformation started. I told an FTM person my story and I wanted to be a natural woman. Doctor asked me to have patience. My mom helped me a lot, has been with me in Mumbai for 6 years.”

Being gay:

“My parents have not accepted me but it’s nice to hear everyone’s stories. I don’t want to repeat my story as it is irrelevant. We should be grateful that we are lucky, and also for the bad that has not come our way. I am a dental surgeon, but I had severe problems but I am fortunate. Everything is transient. So focus on the good.”

“At dinner on Valentine’s day, my cousin messaged that my mom wondered if the reason that I was not getting married was that I was gay. I came out to my brother-in-law. He didn’t understand but he said he liked me as a person. So the next weekend, the cousins planned and started the conversation with my mom. Mom’s reaction was that it was natural, no issues. Now she is learning about this. She is blind and doing her masters in social work. Education helps, and so does a positive mindset.”

“I have very bad male role models in my life, and all I could do to become who I am was to emulate these wonderful pillars of humanity, the mothers.”

“I explored my sexuality after going abroad, and came out to a supportive sister 16 years ago. In high school and college I was a good student and did badly in sports and was taunted. Ten years ago I decided to start running marathons to prove them wrong, after that I have run in 63 marathons all over the world, including in the Mumbai Marathon today morning.”

“Things are changing, but not fast enough. The 18 year old guy made a very important point at the end which was missed. He said that my parents accepted me, so let the world go to hell. With acceptance, confidence and self-esteem dramatically improve. He can resolutely face the world. When my father was alive, he would describe the antics of gay men with disgust, and that remaining ingrained in my mind. My mother died in 2013 hoping for me to get married.”

“Marriage is a matching of wavelengths on many levels. If two people can make each other happy, who cares about what the permutation is. After parents pass away you will be left alone so invest in your skills. The more competent you are the more confident you will be.”

“If we come to a point where we don’t differentiate ourselves as a community it does a disservice to the struggles for the people who fought and endured for us.”

Being lesbian:

“I’m from Delhi – sorry about that! My coming out story is 6 years old, I expected that there would be quite some drama, but there wasn’t. I have an amazing set of parents and I was afraid as we are Keralite Catholics. My mother was very accepting; when I came out I was all packed up, expecting to take a cab, dressed in sneakers. She had issues whether she did something wrong, dressing me up in boys clothes. Today I joke with my mom and ask if she finds some sundar susheel ladki for me.”

Being bisexual:

“My mom’s not educated but I’m sure she knows about alternate sexuality. I tried to come out but I think she won’t be okay with her own son being different, though she accepts friends and neighbors who are gay. My dramatic younger sister saw my profile picture and asked if another person in it was a boyfriend. She asked if I was gay. I said I was not. I said being with guys doesn’t necessarily imply a gay sexuality. Mom is accepting about me being with a guy and a girl but not my dad.”

“Instead of seeking acceptance from all, first accept yourself. When I was growing up everyone knew about me and I was very open and confident. My battle was my own, and I was my own and only support system. I was friendly with my dad, but mom had a big issue. Mom’s concern was for me to be well and taken care of. Our battle went on for 4 years. One has to be patient, become a counselor your parents in some way.”

Being a straight ally:

“I wish society was evolved enough for no LGBT community to exist, because by segmentation you automatically create an atmosphere of ‘them and us’ which should not be necessary. However this identification pattern is a transition to a better tomorrow. I worked as a performance artist with LGBT community members who are lashed out for being flamboyant in Pride parades, but they like to use that one day to express themselves. Another misconception is that they think of sex 24/7. That does not make anyone a good or bad person, but they may need therapy. I do not have a gay parent or child, but many gay fiends and colleagues and I have had the honor of working with them. My friend has slowly started coming, out, but there is huge amount of discrimination. That’s where I am at, and I would like to assist in any way to see a day where there is no special day. We are all persons and we just have a name.”

Being a human rights activist:

“Even within the human rights community, people are still shy to address gender minority rights.”