By Ritu Goyal Harish
When my daughter came out to me as bisexual at 17 years of age, I wasn’t shocked. I was mildly surprised, because she had seemed so “normal” until then.
Over the next few years, what I considered “normal” made a 360-degree turn and I got an education on everything LGBTQIA from her. Non-binary, asexual, transgender, transsexual, gender fluid, agender, queer and more – she began explaining these terms to me in an effort to make me understand the complexities of identities and the struggle these individuals go through – not just to be accepted, but to figure this out for themselves and find stability and comfort in who they are.
This was a totally new world for me. And I must admit that I was a bit taken aback. I would ask her stupid questions, like, “Does being bisexual mean having your cake and eating it too?” to which she patiently replied, “No ma, it has nothing to do with sex. It is the individual, not the gender, that you fall in love with.”
And she had fallen in love too. Her partner, a girl her age, suddenly became part of my home. Daily visits, sleepovers, weekend stayovers – she was around all the time and I was plunged into this new “normal”.
Did I have the time to react? No. Not even when I cleaned her room and found intimate items strewn about, or when I’d see hickeys on her neck.
But I never said anything. Not because I was afraid, but because somewhere deep down, I wanted her to have the freedom to do what she wanted. She has the right to explore, experiment, to love who she pleases. And since freedom has always been very important to me, I didn’t want to clamp down on hers.
Their PDA didn’t bother me as such either. They looked like two very close friends who had gone to the next level with their friendship and love. And I had felt that way too, at some point in my life.
Unbeknownst to me, I had slid into the role of an “ally” – someone who supports the quest of these children to find their true selves.
But a lot of confusion surfaced after her girlfriend of four years broke up with her. The protective mother bear in me wanted to shield her from heartbreak and sadness, but everything I said seemed so inadequate.
Worst of all, an evil inner voice also kept saying, “Good riddance. Now she can fall in love with a boy.”
That was my lowest moment.
And that is when I decided to attend a meeting of Sweekar – The Rainbow Parents Group. “The main aim of the group is to help parents with their own journeys of coming out and to help them accept their children with a full heart,” said Aruna Desai, mother of a child who identifies himself as gay.
I went for my first meeting recently and about 13 parents showed up. This was the first face-to-face meeting after 2020 and the older members were excited to see each other. We sat in a circle and got the chance to introduce ourselves and speak without the fear of being judged.
One broke down as she began talking, another spoke about her story of acceptance of both her gay sons, one mother spoke about her son’s continuing battle with mental health, some spoke about the pride they felt in their children, some about the continuing struggles, but the common refrain was that they were just happy to have a support group – a set of parents who will get it when they voice their concerns – and a safe space.
Some of us mothers were also concerned about same-sex marriages, which are still not legal in India. We shared our concerns about the future of relationships without the legal sanctity that many of our children sought; some had even left India to live in countries where such marriages are legal.
Little did we know that the very next day, Kerala High Court would pass an order allowing two adult women – Adhila Nazrin, 22, and Fathima Noora, 23 – the right to live together after they were forcibly separated by their parents. The order gave many of us a lot of hope.
Meeting other parents and listening to their stories made me understand my own prejudices and struggles. Sharing what I truly felt made me realise that the evil inner voice wasn’t really evil – it was just the reaction of a mother. Most of all, I understood that I am not alone.
There is a lot of work I still need to do, on myself, on my level of acceptance and tackling my conditioning, but I feel a bit lighter today, knowing that I can turn to these parents, and shed the burden of trying to be the “perfect ally / mother / parent” and just be human.
Sweekar has chapters in Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and other cities. To know more, call Aruna Desai at +91 83800 35039.
Ritu Goyal Harish was a freelance journalist for 17 years before she gave it up to start her travel venture, Ease India Travel. She’s a lover of self-drive, solo road trips, hiking and uncovering India’s unique and unknown tribal culture.