Tough Love For Parents

Dealing with parents, siblings and other family members is a major part of being a Gaysi. We can and often do, spend our entire lives explaining our sexuality, convincing them that it is part of who we are and seeking their approval. It is not easy!

When the New York Times released the story “The road to Gay marriage in New York,” I was online discussing the story with a friend from India. We both found this piece of the story very fascinating. The power of family drama!

 

Nobody ever expected Carl Kruger to vote yes.

A Democrat from Brooklyn, known for his gruff style and shifting alliances, Senator Kruger voted against same-sex marriage two years ago, was seen as a pariah in his party and was accused in March of taking $1 million in bribes in return for political favors. Some gay activists, assuming he was a lost cause, had taken to picketing outside of his house and screaming that he was gay—an approach that seemed only to harden his opposition to their agenda. (Mr. Kruger has said he is not gay.) But unbeknown to all but a few people, Mr. Kruger desperately wanted to change his vote. The issue, it turned out, was tearing apart his household.

The gay nephew of the woman he lives with, Dorothy Turano, was so furious at Mr. Kruger for opposing same-sex marriage two years ago that he had cut off contact with both of them, devastating Ms. Turano. “I don’t need this,” Mr. Kruger told Senator John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, the Democratic majority leader. “It has gotten personal now.”

Mr. Sampson, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage, advised Mr. Kruger to focus on the nephew, not the political repercussions. “When everything else is gone,” Mr. Sampson told him, “all you have left is family.”

 

Later Dan Savage also blogged about this piece.

 

Dealing with parents, siblings and other family members is a major part of being a Gaysi. We can and often do, spend our entire lives explaining our sexuality, convincing them that it is part of who we are and seeking their approval. It is not easy! For many of us, it is a painful, frustrating, aggravating and never-ending process. For a few, this life long process of coming out even leads to depression or suicidal thoughts.

“Why? Why give so much importance to what they think? If they don’t accept you, it is their problem. Why do you spend your time and energy worrying about it?” These are the questions many of my American friends ask me. I wish I could stop wasting my time and energy on the elusive search for parental approval, but if you are a Gaysi, you know it is impossible.

You could be dating Aishwarya Rai, but if your mom thinks she is not good for you, you are doomed. You could be a world famous artist, but if your dad thinks it is a bad career choice, you feel useless. From the friends we make in pre-school to our life partners, our parents’ approval and “blessing” is an absolute must. We are raised and conditioned to think that way.

Parents come in all shapes and sizes. The supportive ones are very rare, but they do exist. Most parents are your garden-variety ‘how-could-you do-this-to-me-that-too-at-my-old-age’ type parents. Your drop your “G” (Gay) bomb, and they attack you with their most powerful “G” (Guilt) missile. Most Gaysis stay in the closet fearing that very weapon: “I can’t put my parents through this.” Some brave souls dare to come out, after praying to all gods and goddesses. But as expected, the guilt trip ensues!

Last week, I came to know of someone who had attempted suicide because he couldn’t tolerate the pressure from his parents to get married and become “normal.”  I know another friend from Chennai who came out to his parents, after playing the “I just don’t want to get married” card for years. It was a disaster. His mom would cry, curse at him almost every day, demanding that he get married and give her grand children. After months and months of emotional distress and blackmail from his parents, my friend went into a severe depression.

Why is it difficult for Desi parents to put their kids happiness above their happiness?

Yes, most Indian parents don’t know understand homosexuality and have never heard the word Gay, so it is not easy for them. It is not entirely their fault if they react as though it is the worst thing that ever happened to them.

Some parents don’t do all this drama, but they choose to live in denial. When I came out to my parents in my late 20s, their immediate reaction was to tell me “We love you no matter what.” My happiness knew no bounds that day. I thought I was finally liberated after years of being in the closet and from years of suppression, pain and suffering. But soon the rude awakening came. It turns out that their initial reaction was just a typical Desi “all is well” response. You know, you could be bleeding to death, but if it is something that your family doesn’t want to deal with, they will tell themselves and you “All is well.” It helps them feel less guilty about not dealing with the situation.

The moment you tell them you are Gay, they turn tone-deaf. If you insist on talking about it, if you expect them to show interest in your life, if you ask them to be a part of it, the response is simple. “You told us you are Gay. That’s about it. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to know anything more.” This is loosely translated into, “We know you’re Gay. We’ll live with this horrible truth. What else do you want us to do? Do you have to rub it in our face every day as well?”

It is not their lack of understanding that bothers me, but their refusal to listen or to make an effort. I offered my parents many resources, including books and materials, made arrangements to meet other parents, offered to take them to a counselor or psychiatrist. They refused everything and acted as if nothing was even happening.

After struggling for years, I grew tired of begging and pleading with them. I took a bold step. I told them, it was extremely painful for me to be ignored by my own family and I couldn’t take it anymore. I said it was okay if my parents couldn’t accept my life, but I couldn’t have a relationship with them anymore.

My parents still wouldn’t budge. They didn’t believe I could stop talking to them or cut my ties with them. But I did, for six months. Finally realization dawned on them. It struck them that their son is an adult and when he says something, they need to pay attention, listen and react. They ultimately realised that difficult conversations, painful as it were, needed to happen.

LOL!

My best friend, who is forcibly made to play the role of my shrink from time to time, said “When you were a kid, you wanted every candy in the candy store. You wanted your parents to buy every toy you liked. When they didn’t agree, you threw tantrums, refused to listen to them, and kept insisting you want them. Did your parents budge? Did they buy whatever you wanted? No! It wasn’t easy for them to see you cry in anger and disappointment but they practiced tough love with you. They knew it was for your own good. You are an adult now. They are like kids.  It is time for you to stand up and define the ground rules. There is nothing wrong with it. You are doing it for your good and their good.”

It totally made sense to me. I practiced tough love with my parents and it worked. Read my post “Meeting the parents” to know more.

 

In his blog, Dan Savage summarized it all brilliantly :

The only leverage adult LGBT children have over our parents, siblings, and other family members is our presence in their lives. If they don’t respect you, if they don’t accept you, if they don’t support your equality, do not see them. Too many LGBT people worry about being rejected by their families when it should be—it must be—the other way around: our families should be worried about being rejected by us.”

About the author

Shri

South Indian, Sambar lover,Subramanya Bharathi fan, Rebel, Bleeding heart liberal, Writer, Dreamer, Die-hard romantic and Queer. Twitter: @shrisadasivan