How am I going to tell them?
How am I going to tell them I have written a book about me, about us? Maybe my parents don’t need to know. How would they even find out? Aside from my dad’s occasional detective time spent on my MySpace, they barely know how to use the internet. Why do I need to tell them? Is this just about seeking sanction, their blessing?
To share something so personal with everyone except with the ones who made me feels like a betrayal. So does the book itself: exposing our family, telling their stories, stories which aren’t mine. “What happens in the home, stays in the home,” my mom would warn us. Which betrayal is worse? Which betrayal weighs more?
Then there is the queer and sex content. Hi Mom! Guess what? I wrote a book where I talk about wearing your makeup and being gay and masturba…End scene. I came out to my mom almost a decade ago but the word gay seldom is said between us. Out of sight, out of mind. I am protective of her idea of me, the Perfect Son whose queerness was just a phase. I assume that she prefers it this way. It was a sad day when my mom was disappointed by one of her favourite American heroes, Oprah Winfrey, after watching one of her TV episodes. “Even Oprah was talking about Lessssssbians!” she hissed with disgust. Those are the kinds of random moments that, even in a house of love, are etched in you and get stored with dozens of other clues you subconsciously collect. Clues that act as a barometer as you negotiate coming out to your parents, whether or not to mention that your friend is actually your boyfriend or that you think Hrithik Roshan is a stud.
But the harder truth to admit is that some days I prefer it this way too. Some days it’s easier not to say the word, not to have those conversations because they take a certain strength and courage. Maybe we would all have happier existences if I just didn’t mention the book.
In June, I was in my hometown Edmonton to do a reading from God Loves Hair. I told my parents it was a music performance.
Where is your guitar?
Someone is lending me theirs.
Do you have your guitar picks?
In my pocket.
Did you bring cds to sell?
They are in my bag.
Every lie, another brick upon my secret. When I got home, I surrendered and wrote the following email:
Hi Mom –
There is something that I have to tell you, that I have wanted to share with you but I have been really struggling with how.
As you know, our stories are seldom told. I remember what it was like seeing The Namesake on the big screen and how powerful it was to be able to share that with you. Even though it wasn’t our identical experience, that movie resonated with me (us?) in a way that no other had, because it felt deeply familiar. Watching Gogol’s mom, for example, alone in her cold home after newly immigrating to a snowy America, I felt I had a tiny glimpse into how hard that must have been for both you and dad.
I wrote God Loves Hair because I wanted to talk about what it felt like growing up as a mom-loving, god-loving, queer Indian boy in Edmonton. It is very personal and talks about the kinds of things we didn’t openly speak about at home. Which is one of the main reasons why I don’t know how to share it with you. I worry so much about disappointing you. But not sharing it with you is eating me on the inside. Especially because in a lot of the ways the book is a tribute to you – how thankful I am to you, how your love literally kept me alive. I survived because of you.
I thought perhaps I could share with you some of the stories as a starting place.
SENT. With eight stories from God Loves Hair attached.
Hours passed and regret began to feed. This was a really REALLY bad idea. The phone rang. My parents number blazed on the call display but I was unable to answer. This was still a conversation I didn’t want to have. A couple hours later, I nervously called home, thinking about how I was almost 30 years old and yet with my parents I was forever a child. My mom picked up and we had a conversation that is now mostly a blur:
You should never feel like you can’t share something with us…
Your cousin went through a phase where she only wore boys clothing. It’s normal, we all go through that…
Your book will help people just like that famous lady’s book about surviving cancer…
I put down the phone. Though no longer burdened by the secret, I was still somewhat disappointed that she sounded tentative and hadn’t sounded more proud. But given my parents’ background and general conservatism, I knew that was the best possible response.
A couple hours later I received the following email:
i am sitting in front of the computer again and re-read the parts you sent.
It truly is an eye choker i am with so many tears.
I would love to read the rest,
Will wait for the rest when you think i should read it.
The illustrations are beautiful and your heartfelt experience no words can explain further.
Our blessings the book God Loves Hair reaches great heights.
Loving you unconditionally
Dad and Mom
The model we often see and hear in North America is one where children can openly talk to their parents about pretty much anything including their drug habits, their ambitions of being actors and their sex lives. Hugs are exchanged and a Jack Johnson song plays in the background. Or the Dr. Phil model of sitting face to face, telling each other everything. For those of us coming from different cultural backgrounds, these models, however seductive, ultimately don’t exist. Since receiving this last email, I have been occasionally sending other stories from the book to my parents which has resulted in humble and honest exchanges between us. It is a slow and intense process, letting each other in when and where we can, recognizing there will always be things we keep from each other. But there is something beautiful about it too. Building our bridges slowly, story by story, conversation by conversation.