Arnab Biswas was 20 when his mother asked him why he “talked to that boy so much?” “Mom, I’m gay,” he says was his impulsive reply.
“I was very blunt and did not cook up any story,” he adds, recollecting when he came out to his mother and sister in 2004 about his sexual orientation. But it was followed by silence from his mother, a single parent, and guilt. “She was very depressed for the first two months. It was a very traumatic moment for me as I felt I disappointed her”.
With Section 377 gone, it is expected that more people will be vocal about their sexual preferences. Biswas and two others, who are part of the LGBTQI community, explain what it was like for them to come out to their parents and dole out some advice for those who might be planning to do the same.
Biswas, who presently lives in Delhi, comes from an “orthodox and traditional” joint family in Kolkata. It was his mother who broke the news to his family in 2004, as she struggled to come to terms with it. Today, he says, his mother is “the biggest supporter for the LGBTQI community”.
Outed by a photograph
Tanumay Naskar, who identifies as bisexual, says it was a photograph taken during a protest in Kolkata that outed him to his parents. “During Hok Kolorob (a four-month long protest led by students from Jadavpur University and other institutions in Kolkata) in 2014, there was also a protest performance named Hok Chumbon (Let’s kiss). A photo of me kissing another man was taken there. The image came into prominence when it was burnt by the men from the Sangh in a protest by BJP in Delhi. His parents identified him. They sat him before a television and asked him “to explain the picture to them”.
“I sat with them and told them about my sexual orientation and also said, that contrary to what is believed, it is not ‘unnatural”, Naskar says.
It took time but his parents seem amenable to the idea now. “The change was not immediate but it was there. There is still silence but it is more agreeable now,” he says, adding that having a female partner “helps his cause”. “Belonging from a middle class family, my parents were surprisingly open,” Naskar, 26 says.
‘You are abnormal’
Upasana Agarwal, the co-founder of the Amra Odbhut cafe in Kolkata first came out to her grandmother over an “awkward conversation which lasted a few minutes”. “She was talking about getting married, and I said I might marry a woman,” she says.
Agarwal was 12. She still remembers her grandmother’s response: “You are abnormal”. They never spoke about it again. A year later, she had a similar conversation with her mother. This time she “casually mentioned” that she was “interested in women as well”.
“She looked a bit baffled but it never became a conversation. It was the same with my father,” she recounts. Her parents have been “somewhat accepting”, but do not speak about it much. She lives with her partner in her parents’ home. Their acceptance, however, is still laced with silence. “If one has to take silence as acceptance, then I suppose they have,” she says.
‘Coming out is a process’
Biswas as well as Agarwal admit that coming out is a process.“It starts with self-acceptance, especially for the younger lot who suddenly questions ‘why are we an exception’ and try hard to get into mainstream,” says Biswas. He believes that once you are aware and assured of your identity, you can perhaps break it to your parents as well. “It’s important to make your parents aware, comforting them at the same time that your focus is still a healthy life and good career”. However, he also cautions that it might be difficult for parents to accept it.
“Parents might take time to digest the fact, so give it time, be honest to yourself, talking it out is the key,” he says. His advice is to not get lost in the trauma. “Keep your focus on your career and what you want from life”. However, Agarwal says that one does not owe anyone their story.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on LGBT people to come out. I would tell people to do it on their own terms when they are ready. There is no rush. Whatever one is comfortable with is fine,” she says. Agarwal maintains that her life did not change after coming out and says she believes there is no “palatable way” of breaking things to parents or anyone else.
“Why should there be?” she asks. “It’s not our responsibility to sensitise our parents. They have children and are supposed to be by their side no matter what.” “I don’t think we have to adjust our queerness or make ourselves palatable to them. If they care for us, if they are responsible individuals they will make the effort to find out about our community and make their child feel supported,” she adds.