My Coming Out Gameplan
In late 2021, Omicron was dying down, but another virus was raging at home for me…the virus of intolerance.
“I just don’t think you are in any way gay,” my mother said sternly on the phone call as I sat in my college dorm.
I was speechless.
The feminist in me was shuddering at the thought of my own parent not accepting me. The same woman who birthed me didn’t want to welcome me home after hearing this news.
Growing up, I was never the troublemaker. I was a bookworm set to go to a prestigious school. When I was seven, my grandpa wrote a poem about how one day I will go to Oxford. My path was set. College. Job. Marriage. House. Kids. This game of life was initially set by my family to ensure that I was “settling” properly.
So, when I revealed my true self to my mother, I was met with a massive red stop sign from her on this phone call. My car of life on this journey—that had driven on smooth roads of academics—had suddenly hit the brakes.
Sweat was gushing down my face and back, my mouth felt dry like a desert, and my heart rate had probably reached Mars by now. The only thing giving me a small sense of relief was for me to chug a few glasses of water to overcome the blank void that was threatening to overtake my body.
I politely ended the call to collect my senses in the midst of this disquietude.
Martha P. Johnson.
I recited those names out loud to remind myself that even though they struggled—and were hated by society—they still left their car running and didn’t hit the breaks when facing adversities.
In the 1950s and well into the 60s, very few establishments welcomed queer people because sodomy was illegal and frowned upon, and queer folk was often kicked out of establishments. The Civil Rights Movement that began in the 1960s included a series of demonstrations and protests from the LGBTQ community.
Photo Credit: History.com - 1969 Stonewall Protests
In 1969, Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York was owned by the mafia. Most illegal establishments or the ones run by gangs and the mafia had frequent LGBTQ customers. On June 28, 1969, the police raided Stonewall, they were met with fierce backlash from protestors.
Police became violent but the demonstrators didn’t back down. Marsha P. Johnson, a drag queen, and a gay rights activist was a present figure in the Stonewall uprising. Stonewall is considered the first drop of the struggle that flowed into the civil rights that the LGBTQ community had today in the US and other countries.
Photo Credit: CNN.com - Marsha P. Johnson
After my call with my mother, I thought of Stonewall, the young queer folk putting their life on the line to get fundamental human rights that as a bisexual woman I am able to enjoy today in America.
I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts once more.
Protestors at Stonewall risked arrest, I am just dealing with my mother. The only crucial difference is that I realized I wasn’t only dealing with my mother, I was also taking on the attitudes of the South Asian community and their thoughts on homosexuality. Therefore, I had to figure out how to navigate my society.
While growing up in India, I didn’t know what ‘sexuality’ was. Reproductive health was never taught in schools. This changed when I learned a bit when I started attending a Western school. Despite this journey into a different school of thought, one thing that remained constant was the go-to formula our society expects us to follow:
(Man + Woman) x Marriage = Baby
As taught to all desi kids, I reiterated that formula. If orthodox Christians say, “it is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” when retaliating against homosexuality, it was similar for me in Hinduism, it was always Ram and Sita, nothing else.
Photo Credit: EW.com - Priyanka from Canada's Drag Race
My sexuality wasn’t initially thought for contemplation until one of my friends came out to me and stated that he is gay. Words couldn’t even begin to describe how elated I was for him. He could finally live his true self. No more hiding!
I broadcasted how happy I was for my best friend for finding the confidence to showcase an integral part of his identity. Yet, when I thought of sharing his wonderful news would bring a smile to everyone’s face, the community couldn’t digest my support. Rather, they took it as if I was gay too. To avoid being under their scrutiny, I repeatedly denied and joked about my male crushes despite feeling like I was lying to myself.
Initially, I had dismissed this notion…after all, I only liked men…right? However, it wasn’t until one night, I had a rather explicit dream about a woman. I woke up drooling, felt like I had come back from another dimension. Who was that woman? Why was she in my dream? Why on Earth am I getting butterflies and flutters all over my body?
A few months later, that same dream was playing on repeat. I was so engrossed in heteronormative ideas that I began calling it “the weird dream” I have sometimes.
Little did I know that was the cue for my real sexual orientation to come out of my bedroom and into the world (it was never the closet!). It went from dreams about women to men, to men and women interchangeably. Not all were explicit; some were of marriage, a family, romance, or even new love.
This new wave of emotions stemming from my self-awareness of my sexual orientation entered my life in a dramatic Bollywood sequence…
Photo Credit: Hotstar.com - Maithili-Dushyant
A tall, muscular man in a transparent blue shirt half buttoned-down with white pants holding me by the hips is standing next to me, as rain trickles down and water droplets flow on his chiseled face. On the other side of me in a pink saree, with a sleeveless blouse and thin veil, stands a woman with her hips next to mine holding me as well.
With violins in the background and rose petals on the floor, my dramatic Aries energy in this imagination knew the world had to know….
I. AM. BISEXUAL.
My friends and roommates were not surprised, and neither were my advisors. Most responses were, “Yes, we know. We have known for a very long time. We were waiting for you to realize it.”
But the icing on top was that they were happy for me. They all gave me a massive hug and took me to the Museum of Sex in New York to make me scream at the top of my lungs that I swing both ways.
While I was elated about claiming this glorious part of my identity, there were still some obstacles I knew I had to overcome, with the real test being my parents.
As you probably can tell, this is still a work in progress.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
I love my parents. They have taught me valuable lessons about standing up to authorities in power and calling out racism and injustice in the world. My mom made me a feminist. She would tell me stories from the 1980s of the feminist movement in India and how she was the only woman going to grad school in her year group, defying odds and studying until her Ph.D. I had no doubt they would have the same reaction as the rest of the world… but I was wrong.
“So? Just marry a man. You like men, right? Why complicate everything?” my mother retorted with her classic response any time we’re in a disagreement about my sexual orientation.
This immediately triggered a flashback to my time in high school, a time which I find no pleasure in recounting once more. During my supposed golden-teen years, I pushed myself into a heteronormative mindset…a way of thinking that was nowhere near safe for queer kids. Not only did I date and like dating men, but I also used the term “gay” in such a derogatory way.
Every South Asian kid I knew at that time was in a heterosexual relationship. Being gay in the South Asian community is almost unheard of and was initially viewed as an identity that only white people can claim for themselves.
I love my community because I was always surrounded by people who cared about me and loved me. We laughed, cried, joked, and played together. Yet even when I was spending all this time with my family and peers, I still felt like an alien. I didn’t feel represented. There was no one there like me. No one there who could understand me. No one there could say, “Hey it's ok to like women too.”
Photo Credit: Vox.com - RuPaul's Drag Race Season 10
That is why, even today my one Instagram post from three years ago of me posing with drag queens (I was standing next to contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I was fangirling so I had to post!) has uncles and aunties calling my parents. I am unsure what they told my parents, but had numerous conversations with my parents about whether to delete the photo or only post it on my Instagram stories or close friends’ stories. All have been unnecessary conversations resulting in stress and headaches for all parties involved.
With my parents not understanding why this was important to me, I had to brainstorm new ways to introduce these concepts to them. So I chose the first topic which came to mind…Bollywood. “It is as simple as if Kuch Kuch Hota Hai had an angle of Tina and Anjali romancing too.” I provided my mom with multiple 1990s Bollywood movie scenarios to make her understand what bisexuality is.
In the desi community, everyone has their own opinions on why people should get married. My parents always told me to be with someone who makes me happy. South Asian aunties said that it’s best to marry for financial or social benefits. So, why can’t it be a woman who can give me both?
“But what will people say?”
This timeless phrase we have all heard…or at least any South Asian kid rebelling against the norms of our community.
“Par log kya khange jab divorce ho jayae ga?” (What will people say when divorce happens?)
Upon hearing my response, my parents were stunned. I explained to them if I marry someone I am not attracted to even if it is a man, I will be unhappy and it will result in divorce. Like any other parents, our desi parents want to see us happy and we want to see them happy. We want them to dance at our weddings, bless us, and take care of our grandchildren. It shouldn’t matter whether we are with a man or a woman, as long as we are content.
Sadly, my parents avoid the conversation about my sexuality. They are not opposed to my LGBTQ friends, they don’t want their own daughter to be bisexual. After hours of therapy, I have come to realize I can’t make my parents happy right now but it is not impossible. If the Supreme Court of India can legalize gay sex in India, and thousands of queer folk can dance across India for the pride parade in different cities, why can’t I take a few more brave steps and open the eyes of my parents?
With that being said, here’s how one can create a plan of action to come out to their desi parents (well, my ongoing plan)…
Step 1: Get a conversation going, we have to start somewhere:
One can be swayed if we are starting the conversation with something familiar to them. Begin with representation in what is close to them. For my parents, it is Bollywood. I suggested we watch an LGBTQ-themed movie because seeing their beloved stars in those roles might make them more comfortable with sexual diversity.
Step 2: Seek ways to prevent further stress:
Take a moment to create an environment that encourages open discussion. Our goal is to explain this from multiple perspectives, not to argue with them to the point of no return. One cannot achieve their goal if the mental stress of a conversation that is so personal and close to your heart affects one. You have to be strong enough to withstand the tribulations of this, so take it easy at first, and prevent further stress.
Step 3: It’s easier said than done:
There will be times when we feel that our goal is impossible to reach, but it’s important for us to be patient while also persistent. Civil Rights weren’t achieved in one day. Think of the people who inspire you to be brave. Think of the Civil Rights Activists. Think about how they did it. Nothing can be achieved without hard work and definitely not in one day, it will take time but patience is a virtue. It is possible that my parents get so irritated by me that they let me do whatever by the end of it!
Step 4: Educating does the job sometimes. Don’t forget the history lesson.
We learn new things when we are taught that, similarly to our parents. Our parents aren’t all-knowing beings. They may not know a queer person, or may not have educated themselves on the history because think about it, were you taught that history? If not history, bring in the science, and the number of species in the animal kingdom that have homosexuality, from bees to giraffes and lions, scientists have found homosexual activity in other species. You can then link this to evolution if you believe in it.
Step 5: Find elders in the community who are LGBTQ:
Understanding the lived experiences of those older than us who are queer, can not only give us courage but helps our parents get the perspective of someone their age. Being of a similar generation, the cultural connection goes a long way in relating to someone. Maybe they could tell them about Freddie Mercury being queer, Parsi, and having immigrant parents. Someone, my age won’t understand what it was like to be young in the Freddie Mercury era but our parents will. When they speak to people their age or you gain guidance from elders in the community you won’t feel alone.
E N D G A M E
I hope at the end of these steps, my parents are—if not completely—slightly accepting of my identity or are at least open to it. Something is better than nothing because once I achieve some form of support it will only be going up from there. In the unlikely scenario that this doesn’t happen, I am sure I’ll come up with something else for I am determined to persevere in this journey. Just have to channel that fiery Aries energy and restart the car no matter the bumps up ahead in my journey.