Sachin Jain writes about the 14th GayBombay Parents and Relatives Meet held in Mumbai as part of the QAM week
The 14th GayBombay Parents and Relatives Meet, a part of the Queer Azaadi 2013 event line-up, was held on Sunday, January 20, 2013 at a venue called Liquid Lounge in Mumbai. In attendance were 6 parents and relatives, and 70 LGBT persons. Parents of LGBT persons have played a significant role in the social awareness about sexual minority rights that has grown in India by leaps and bounds since the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement decriminalizing homosexuality between consenting same-sex adults in private. The objective of the meet was to provide a safe, non-judgemental space for parents and relatives of LGBT persons to meet each other, share their experiences, and build and offer support networks, both to other parents dealing with issues related to the alternate sexuality of their children, or to such children looking for ways to reach out to their parents about this.
The highlight of this parents meet was the completely unorthodox path taken by veteran facilitator of these meets, Umang. This time, he started with 6 role plays enacted by him and various other parents. In these he addressed all the common questions asked by parents when their children came out. The first one was a moving exploration of how an Indian son searches for ways and terms to explain his sexuality to his perplexed traditional parent. It touched upon attraction, sex, love, marriage and psychiatry. Denial, ignorance, fear, anger, secrecy showed up in the parental reactions, beautifully enacted by Mrs Shobha Doshi. Another was of a modern mother: she thinks her son is not ready for marriage because he does not want to take responsibility. One of our regular attendees, Mrs. Sarojini Dash, who is also a psychiatrist, played the role of one, and allayed the fears of the parent. “It’s a question of educating society,” she said in the course of the conversation. “We have seen so many gay people, who achieve very much, and they have positive characteristics that help them to reach top of their professions and they are respected in society very much.” The remaining role plays had Mrs. Doshi meeting other parents. Umang also narrates wonderful anecdotes about each parent, their stories of coming out as parents of gay persons and how they have been involved in and contributed to the LGBT community. “The purpose of having this unconventional start was to change the predictable pattern of the meetings,” said Umang. “The role plays also serve as templates for LGBT persons seeking clues about how to hold conversations with their parents about their sexuality.”
The gathering held a minute’s silence in memory of Mrs Jalnawala, proud mother of Peshdad, and a veteran of many parents meets. She passed away a few months ago. The group appreciated and remembered the mixture of fondness and firmness with which she supported Peshdad who could not attend because he is out of the country.
The transformative effect this meeting has on those still coming to terms with their sexuality has to be seen to be believed. A first-timer to such a meet, Roger, said “I indeed was totally focussed and ensured that I did not miss a single uttered word.” Even for those who have reached a stage of comfort and empowerment vis-a-vis their relationship with their parents about their sexuality, attending such a meet reinforces their feeling of solidarity with the community and appreciation for the journey that both they and their parents have taken.
One of the attendees, Priyank wrote after the meeting saying, “My father, mother and brother never had an issue with me being a homosexual man right from the day when I came out to them 17 years back…..it were just the relatives who made things hell. Today is not Mother’s Day….but just wanted to say “I love you Mom”….because she is searching for a suitable alliance (groom) for me…..she wants to attend the GB parents meet too sometime soon..! Jai ho to all the Mothers…!” Speaking about her son Harish, Mrs. Iyer said, “After he came out to me, I see a lot of change in him. Earlier he didn’t have a single friend, now I have to curb his friendships, stop him from talking on the phone all the time. Now he is very confident, and his confidence is soaring.”
The parents and relatives also talked about how these meets have changed their own lives. Mrs. Harwant Kaur, who has opened her home and heart to GB meetings, whereby hundreds of young gay men have received her support, solace and advice, always delivered with humour and chutzpah. She said: “I’ve met so many young gay men who give me so much love and affection. I don’t have children of my own and you all compensate for that.” There was a very nice unstructured interaction between parents and the LGBT community during the tea and snacks break, when young men nervously walked up to the parents to ask questions they were too afraid to ask in front of others.
However there was also some development areas in these meets, pointed out by Mayuresh, who has been bringing his parents for these meets for many years. “In my opinion the purpose of the event is fulfilled even if a few folks are inspired or helped in their coming out process. However, I would have liked to see more participation from parents. There were only 6 parents and relatives of which 5 were women and all had accepted their gay children. Also, the majority of the audience had already come out in varying degrees. I wonder if there is anything we can do to encourage more parents to attend, such as smaller and localized meets, etc.”
The meets also inspire gay men to see role models for their parents, and gives them a roadmap to structure their coming out process or to involve their parents in the LGBT worlds, as often, the familial world and the LGBT world remain insulated from each other for even the most ‘out’ LGBT persons and ‘out’ parents. As Nikhil said, “I’d have brought my parents if I was in town.” One of the organizers, Balachandran Ramiah, also connected the dots between the parental support and a challenges that the LGBT community faces in contemporary society: “The parents meets send a very strong statement to the authorities: we don’t have an issue with our child being gay, why do you?”
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