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The Love That Knows Much Shame
a panel part of the Alchemy Festival in London 2014, discussing whether one can be both LGBT and South Asian in Britain today
I had the honour of partaking as a speaker at The Love That Knows Much Shame on the 23rd of May, 2014, in London.
This opportunity came about by my accepting and beginning to face my ghosts and my fears.
I run a creative online portal, शोर ! SHOR (www.shorlgbtq.com)
Through SHOR, we tackle the myths surrounding homosexuality and being LGBTQ amongst South Asian society worldwide.
This is done through creative works such as short stories, poetry and spoken word.
Recently, we added a new section – Interviews.
Very recently, we interviewed a mother whose daughter came out to her 12 years ago as a lesbian.
It was specifically because of this interview, that I was propelled to face a ghost of my past- perhaps not just of my past, but of the present and for the future too.
My ghost is a familiar one to all:
Parents can be frightening and difficult to face regardless of sexuality.
With their own dreams, ambitions and futures set out neatly in a parent’s mind, it can get messy if our own journey doesn’t fit their plan.
My sexuality created/creates issues both for myself and my parents.
But now, I try and see the bigger picture.
I try and take the responsibility of trying to make my parents see me for me- not for my sexuality.
I don’t want them to see me as their “lesbian” daughter, but I want them to see me as their daughter.
True, I want them to accept me whole heartedly, rather than in hushed tones.
But how can they do that when I cannot completely do that myself?
Coming out, acceptance from others and self acceptance certainly cannot be force fed.
These are organic, works in progress that need the time and space to grow.
Speaking at the panel, having the opportunity to share my experience and my insight was truly an honour.
The panel made me realise how activism, how trying to make the world a better place, has to start from within.
I spoke about being estranged from my family for 4 years from the age of 19, my sexuality being the catalyst.
I spoke about the shame and disgrace my parents have had to face, especially whilst I was away.
I proudly spoke on my recent opportunity to work with FFLAG, through translating a guide book (English-Hindi) for parents who have had a child come out as gay or bisexual to them.
I touched on the difficulties faced by my parents but due to a lack of time, I couldn’t delve further.
What is it that we need to un-weed?
Is it family shame?
A parents fear- regardless of sexuality, but I feel prevalent within LGBTQ societies- is the trepidation that their child will not have a “proper” family or any offspring.
Not to add the ultimate fear… what if my child gets left on the shelf?
Shame and dishonour are definitely factors, but I refuse to believe that these hold more power than the efforts of making homophobic people understand firstly that homosexuality is not a choice, and that homosexuality is about whom you fall in love with and are attracted to.
Making people understand this is certainly not easy due to the stigma surrounding the topic.
As I write in Hindi, try not to be afraid of what society says, your child is not impure or abnormal; or as I write, there is no shame in supporting your homosexual child, I am forced to face the fact of how difficult it can be for a parent to wholeheartedly agree.
Society can be ruthless in making a mockery out of difficult family situations and supporting your homosexual child can have you accused as a bad parent – issues that we explore through the translation.
However, what drives me on is hope - the hope that although it may be frightening for a parent, it is possible for a parent to understand and accept their child for whoever they are.
Devi, the mother whom we interviewed, made a remarkable journey through the 12 years since her daughter came out. Whereas Devi had cried for days and felt ashamed and angry at her daughter initially, she now not only accepts her daughter for who she is, but accepts her daughter’s partner.
I can’t help asking;
How do we accept not just others, but also ourselves? Perhaps these two are conjoined - Irrelevant and disempowered without the other?
Our work forces me to face my life - all my actions that I am proud of, but also those that make me uncomfortable and not so proud.
Something that has made me uncomfortable is the fact that I have had to come out - again.
Having been away from “home” for 4 years, coming back to my traditional Indian family was a confusing culture shock of sorts.
I was told not to reveal my life to others in the family or share any of my experiences for the fear of shame.
For example, I remember being hushed when I wanted to speak on a Greek holiday that my then girlfriend’s family had taken me on.
This was hurtful but more than that, confusing for me.
I wanted to share my life with my family and tell them the experiences I had had.
I couldn’t understand why I had to be so careful on what I said when all I’ve ever want to say is the truth.
Now I understand that my parents were themselves going through a process and a roller-coaster of emotions, just like myself.
Very soon, the elation felt by both my family members and I, began to dip.
To the surface emerged the anger, betrayal and hurt felt by us both.
This was a very difficult time and I am so grateful to have got through it.
My then girlfriend broke up with me and I lost her support.
Call it denial, fear, shock, heart break or the innate instinctual adaptation to situations in order to defend and protect myself, I convinced myself that I like men and from now on, will “move on” from women.
I believed this with all I could, and ignored that space inside me that felt like a void - that space I refused to face.
My cousin asked: “I heard something disgusting about you. People said all sorts of things…”
I replied: “No it’s not true”
My uncle asked: “People say that you’re a lesbian. Is it true?”
I felt especially sick and quickly replied: “No. I am not that.”
Another cousin who is connected to a priest in India told me that this priest had revealed that I will be marrying in a few years, and my husband will be someone who starts off a business, initially not doing very well, but then doing exceptionally well.
This confirmed to me and I felt the relief that yep, I have “moved on”.
No more pain.
No more rejection.
I can forget about being gay.
Then one day, around a year or so later, I was sat in a Hindi lecture at University.
We were reading a short story by an author named Ugra. This story was homophobic and compared homosexuals to paedophiles.
This woke me up.
I was ready to face that void inside me.
I was ready to come out again.
Firstly, I first spoke up against the story in class and emphasised how unfair the portrayal was.
Then I came out to my lecturer.
Eventually I came out again to my father, who now completely accepts me for who I am.
I came out to my brother spontaneously in our garden, whilst we were having a casual cigarette. This was the day after a protest in London against Section 377: the global day of rage.
It clearly made him uncomfortable and he told me to be careful of the family finding out on my work and my being gay. However, I have noticed that since this day, my brother and I have bonded better than ever before. I feel that the sexuality thing is now being forgotten, no longer a thorn and that at last, I am just his older sister.
When I came out to my teenage cousin, she didn’t look surprised and said that she had heard something about this. She was supportive and asserted that she will always stand up for my rights. Refreshingly, she casually added that her best friend is gay.
I have asked myself, I have asked my friends and allies: do I deserve to be fighting for LGBTQ rights and running a portal on trying to make things better when I still am not out completely?
My friends say, yes.
Do I say, yes?
I have not felt good about myself for having to have come out again, but I know that I never lied.
More importantly, my heart is in my work.
I convinced myself after coming back home that I can marry a man, even though within the core of my heart I knew something was not right about this and that I can never love a man.
All I have wanted is my family and to be accepted.
I could have sacrificed my feelings for that stamp of approval at one point.
I felt like a kid who has done really well at school and is revealing top grades for a piece of work when I told my mother and myself a few weeks after coming home in 2009, that I like men.
Sounds silly, but my mother gave me a smile that I have never before seen in my life and an acceptance that I have never received before.
That was short lived.
Not only because I am gay and cannot marry a man, but because I now understand that another person cannot be responsible for someone else’s happiness.
Even if I married a man, then this would not solve my family’s problems.
So now, I forgive myself for having to come out once again.
I hope that through my work at both FLLAG and SHOR, I can help not just parents but LGB persons themselves to understand that sexuality does not define you.
Yes, it is important and a human right to be accepted for who you are, but that acceptance will be an individual process that cannot be rushed.
Our work at SHOR and the Hindi translation at FFLAG are not magical answers to acceptance but are important resources contributing to the individual journey that must be taken by all regardless of whether one is a parent whose child has come out, is a young LGBTQ person already or in the process of coming out - whatever stage that maybe.
Author - Aashi Gahlot