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Monday, November 29, 2021

Coming out at 50 to raising kids who are allies: This author, LGBT+ advocate wants to spread love

Raga and her partner Nicola brought up the kids, who are now 24 years old. "My kids never felt they were being parented by two women [and so it was odd]. They embraced it and they love us for who we are."

Written by Prerna Mittra | New Delhi |
November 21, 2021 11:21:27 am
Raga Olga D'silva, Raga Olga D'silva interview, LGBTQ+ advocate, motherhood, allies, raising kids, same sex couple, same sex parenting, book, parenting, indian express newsRaga grew up in India in the 70s, when there was no representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the mainstream. (Photo: Instagram/@totallyoutnow)

Gender and sexuality are fluid concepts that are also extremely personal. But around the world, there still exists the idea of ‘othering’ people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. This mostly stems from ignorance and the fact that homosexuality is stigmatised not just in India, but around the world.

For many years now, Raga Olga D’silva has been challenging these prejudices. The author, LGBT+ advocate, influencer, entrepreneur, and mother-of-twins came out at the age of 50. India had just decriminalised consensual homosexual conduct between adults, but the society still remained fearful of the community that has largely been ostracised in the country.

Raga chose love over hate, drawing from her own experiences to instill empathy, and comfort those who are a part of the community — closeted or otherwise. On her website, she writes, “Mostly, people call you crazy to your face (I am sure there were many other colourful names given to me behind my back). People also wonder about the motive behind coming out this late in life. People talk. People judge. People label, no matter what you do!”

“It was my coming out story in my debut book ‘Untold Lies’ that both intrigued and fascinated the media in India… It is hard for people from the community to come out. It is much harder as a woman. Then, you add the fact that you are a middle-aged woman, with kids, perceived as married, a successful entrepreneur, globe-trotter, and you come out. It seems to bother people,” she continues.

During a recent interaction with Express Parenting, she shared more about her life, her coming out story, the unravelling of her marriage, motherhood, and what life is like in the UK, where she now resides with her partner.

“Coming out is a process of self-discovery. It has taken me years. I felt some things deeply in my heart when I was about to get married. After marriage, I felt that something was amiss. That there was more to me than just being a wife and a mother. Coming out was a slow process, also organic. There were many conversations that I had with myself, [there was] conflict within myself. I also judged myself because of the social conditioning that led me to believe that being gay is akin to an illness. So, one goes through internal homophobia. For me, it was about whether I should accept myself. Finally, while I lived my truth privately for many years, it was my book ‘Untold Lies‘ that helped me come out in September 2019,” Raga said during a telephonic interaction.

She grew up in India in the 70s, when there was no representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the mainstream. In fact, there was no term with which someone from the community could identify. “There were lots of slurs. And while I had crushes [on women] and a brief relationship, I never considered myself to be gay or lesbian — there were no lived experiences that people had shared, no one to talk to, and there was no Google! You could not even go to a library and look up the words, because there was no literature available either.”

Some time in the 90s, Raga got married and a few years later, she became a mother. Then, the family moved to New Zealand. In a moment of vulnerability, as she struggled in her marriage, she decided to write a letter to a friend, owning up to her truth. The letter was never posted; it was kept in her cupboard.

During a visit to New Zealand, her mother chanced upon the letter and Raga was outed in a rather violent manner. “She was livid and held a knife over me,” she shared. It was a traumatic night for her.

“My ex-husband was aware [of my sexuality], as I had kind of mentioned it to him, but he thought it was a phase. When my mother outed me, he was naturally upset; our marriage was over. We kept the peace for our twins who were only four or five years old back then. We have been separated for over 15 years now and have made peace with it. We have accepted each other and he respects my choices. He has finally realised it was not about him, but about me,” Raga said.

‘Kids only understand love’

While her children — a boy and a girl — were really young when their parents separated, like all kids, they also only sought love. “As long as children find love, they are okay with it,” Raga said, adding that she only focused on her kids, making them understand that it was not their fault. “Children tend to take the blame upon themselves. My daughter had asked me if she did something wrong, or was too naughty that this was happening. I made sure they felt safe and settled, and knew that mum and dad loved them regardless.”

Over the years, Raga and her partner Nicola — also from New Zealand — brought up the kids, who are now 24 years old. “We have been together for nearly 15 years, and we are parents. My kids never felt that they were being parented by two women [and so it was odd]. They embraced it and they love us for who we are.”

Raga said her kids consider Nicola to be their mother, too, and they love her equally. “They will never say I am their only mother — they say their mothers are ‘Raga and Nicola’. Their father is in India, and he also shares a good equation with them.”

As a mother, Raga did fear the consequences of her choices, which she knew would reflect on her children as well. But, when she “stopped judging” herself, “things changed dramatically”. “My kids have grown up to be beautiful individuals who are non-judgmental. When children are little and grow into a family with love, they just accept it. Love is the most important thing,” she explained.

Raising kids to be allies

Raga said globally parents need to make sure that children learn how to love unconditionally. And that can only happen when they receive it from their parents. “No matter how much trouble they get into, they need to know that when they go to their parents, they will be listened to. The biggest problem that the LGBTQ+ community faces is that when a child comes out to their parents, they do not feel safe. Sometimes parents throw them out of the house and reject them.

“I think we first need to talk about the LGBTQ+ community in our homes. Naturally, the children will learn from that and become allies. Get literature, watch films, and if the films show the community in a poor light, tell kids that it is not right — we cannot have abuse or slurs.”

Interestingly, Raga’s own story — based on her book — will be made into an international feature film. She fears judgment once again, having been abused for being herself in the past. “But my purpose now is to make sure that parents show unconditional love to their children.” She has set up a YouTube channel that shares coming out stories from India.

Raga and Nicola have also been walking London’s iconic bridges as part of an initiative to drive out fear and instill more love in people’s hearts. “Our aim is to spread love and that two persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, can love each other, hold hands and walk without fear.” It is this metaphoric bridge of hatred and ignorance that they want everyone to cross over.

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