The Difficult Daughter

I recently came across this quote by Audre Lorde:

“I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.”

This quote made me giggle a little, even though I don’t think it was supposed to be funny, just because I can understand the sentiment – from my own perspective, at least.

Being a gaysi can put a lot on our shoulders and we may feel like we have ended up with a lot of wisdom from the path of self-discovery that being a gaysi has entailed.  However, while there is supposedly a light at the end of this path of self-discovery, it is often not very easy to see it, and when exactly do we expect to get to the so-called end of this path?  Not just as a gaysi, but also as a social work student, I always thought I would be wise enough to be able to handle my mental health, and at least have the capacity to understand everyone else’s, but I have recently felt helpless and at a dead-end.

For me, loss of appetite has led to loss of energy, which has led to loss of motivation to get up.  I fall into that stereotypical category of people who is reluctant to talk to friends most of the time, not wanting to burden them, worried that they won’t understand, or that they will think I’m weak.  When I started to feel desperate I called the counseling center but they were booked up.  I figured the universe was just telling me to toughen up!

With a recent bump in my mental health I’ve been forced to confront my issues with my family… my desi family.  This is difficult because I can’t talk to them about my queer stuff, PTSD, and so much other stuff that they probably need to know about in order to understand.  My parents know that I’ve always had issues of some sort, but when I recently spent time at my parent’s house they did not react well to seeing me so stubbornly down.  It didn’t help that I refused to tell my mother what exactly was wrong.  I didn’t want to tell her about my pending break-up with my partner because I felt it would involve talking about queer reasons behind the break-up, I couldn’t talk about why I wasn’t leaving my room because that would involve discussing the PTSD, and so on.

My family knows I find it very hard to be in the same room as my dad, but I’ve never said why.  His physical and audible presences invade my space and I runaway.  If I leave the room quick enough I am okay, but if my reaction time is slow and I am around him a second too long I feel scarred and I gag.  So, when I was at their house over winter break I tried to stay in my bedroom with the door closed as much as possible.  I think I started having this type of reaction to my dad around puberty, and I think that was around the first time I saw someone get sexually abused.  I wasn’t abused myself the first time until high school and then again in college.  I don’t know if my father somehow reminds me of any particular perpetrator, it’s not nearly that simple, but I can’t explain this to my family.

I have pent-up resentment towards them for never asking me with any compassion why I am uncomfortable around my dad and just assuming that I’m intentionally being rude to him. I guess it’s easier for them to assume that I’m a brat than to think about the possibility of it being something deeper, but now I don’t even care to explain to them.  I need them to trust me and they don’t, and I need them to listen but that’s uncomfortable.

I do know that my relationship with my family could be a lot worse and I am privileged, but when I explained to my sister how I was also upset about my coming out experience she told me I should just be thankful it wasn’t worse and that I wasn’t kicked out of the house.  I got upset, feeling like my sister tried to congratulate my parents for not disowning me, implying that supporting your children isn’t compulsory (…if they’re queer).  My sister isn’t striving to not-be-disowned, so why should I?

She may not have disowned me but when I was seventeen my mother put on a sweet voice and asked me if I was a lesbian, so I said “yes”.  Then she suddenly got really upset… “I hope you haven’t told anyone… how long has this been going on?… how do you know?… have you slept with a woman?”  No sweet voice anymore, I was so confused!  The woman tricked me into coming out!  I had planned on coming out to her but I hoped she was going to be okay with it.  She prides herself in being this liberal Indian mum, but its pathetic because she thought my lesbian phase had passed when I started dating a male person.  I’m in the middle of breaking-up with him and, although I’ve been avoiding talking to her about it, I’m pretty sure she’s clued in because she gets really suspicious and controlling every time I hang out with a woman.  What also pisses me off is that I thought my dad, being the even more progressive one, would for sure have my back when I came out but he has been completely unwilling to say anything about the matter.

Anyway, tensions played out while I was at my parent’s house and things got worse between me and my mum. It was bothering me that rather than respecting my space, she was selfishly bothered by the fact that I was leaving her out.  It also bothered me that, like a typical medical-minded desi parent, she would invalidate my feelings by saying that I was just feeling bad as a side effect of my epilepsy medications.  I understand she felt out of control when she saw me that depressed, but she responded by becoming aggressive.  She got viciously angry with me for not eating and for staying in my room in bed, and she threw tearful tantrums every time I tried to escape her to hang out with *gasp* female friends.  Things escalated and eventually there were a few too many straws on this camel’s back… So I canceled my ticket to the family vacation to Hawaii that we were about to leave for and I got a swift-and-stern phone call from my sister in England just to let me know that I was being brash.  Then I got another longer phone call from her when she returned from Hawaii saying that my health was really upsetting the parents.  She cried a lot and did the guilt-trip and blame thing.

Evidently my mother had exchanged some words with my sister, because she was definitely trying to help me see the light – that I hurt my father’s feelings with not wanting to be around him and I stress our mother out when I’m depressed, as if I was completely oblivious.  My brother and sister have always told me, since a young age, to just nod and smile whenever our mum is emotional, but my point is that this isn’t about smiling and nodding when she is mad that I didn’t clean the dishes.  My sister is still telling me to just smile and nod, but she isn’t there to witness my mother’s extreme rages.  And the night before we were supposed to leave for Hawaii my mum drove so fast on our street because she was angry at me – I literally had to open the car door to make her stop because I was scared (my father was again unwilling to say anything after this incident).  When I hung up the phone with my sister I just knew it wasn’t clicking for her.

My mum always told me as a child that my brother and sister were never bad like me, they always did everything better.  And I feel that it’s the same now: they aren’t queer, they don’t speak up, and they aren’t causing trouble.  My family seems to think that I am just trying to be difficult and I am also starting to think that maybe I am.  During my melodramatic post-car-ride-plane-ticket-cancellation-breakdown, tired of having breakdowns I told my partner that I’m just messed up, no one should have to deal with me anymore, and that my family is right.  He told me there is nothing wrong with me; it’s everyone else… and I could somehow see his sincerity.  Part of me thought damn, if he has had to live with me and all my crap for three years and can still claim that my issues are understandable then that’s something… But frankly, I’ve been blaming my family and everyone else all my life and it hasn’t made me feel any better.

I’m somewhere between knowing that I need to get myself together, but also knowing that my family need to get their shit together too.  I want to get up, but I don’t want it to be in vain or because my family thinks I’m “crazy” and need help.

I’m almost at the end of my college career and as I prepare to go into the field of social work I need to be stable enough to be able to help people who are much worse off than me.

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Anurag is a queer, feminist, social worker-to-be. Currently residing in the cornfields of Illinois.  Fierce, emotional and reclaiming the brown-ness. 

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