Coming Out Of The Closet....To My Indian Parents
Ishaani* was the ideal daughter. Class topper, excellent dancer, always kind and well-mannered, she was her family’s pride. “I think from a very young age, I was aware that a lot was expected of me. Maybe it was the struggle to be perfect that made me live in denial about,” she sighs “who I was.”
She went to an all-girls convent school. In 7th grade, her friends started to talk about crushes and boyfriends but she didn’t quite see the fuss. “I used to wonder why I had never felt that way towards anyone. I passed it off as a phase. I’d probably be one of those late bloomers, you know. And I know my family would’ve been very happy if I never had a boyfriend anyway,” she continues I’d have an arranged marriage and marry a boy of their choice like a ‘good Indian girl answers all of their questions bowing her head. So, I just shrugged it off.”
But it wasn’t all easy or crystal-clear! Ishaani recalls “The kind of attraction that my friends described towards their boyfriends, I felt towards a senior in school. She was absolutely perfect - straight A grades, smart, beautiful, funny. She was even writing a book when most of us could barely write essays,” she chuckles, “I’d look for excuses to talk to her and hang out with her. But I thought I liked her as an idol, you know? Someone I would want to be like. Not anything else, after all, girls aren’t supposed to like other girls that way."
At 18, she moved to New York for her undergraduate degree and being gay was completely normal there. "My university even had a LGBTQ club with a support group and counsellors for people struggling with their sexual identity. I don’t know why but I felt this need to book an appointment with a counsellor. I couldn’t completely understand why, but I decided to follow my instinct and book it.”
Her counsellor was a kind and experienced woman who knew exactly how to deal with such a case. “Talking to her made me realise how much I had been repressing the person that I was. Even my unconscious mind did not let me acknowledge my sexuality because from the family that I came from, a woman loving a man is all a girl need to know, other than that was simply not an option. The more we spoke, the more I realised that the signs had always been there, I had just not looked at them because I didn’t know I could.”
Ishaani then faced an identity crisis between who she was culturally and who she was sexually. “I began to hate myself. I thought of myself as abnormal, dirty. I’d cry at night wondering why I couldn’t be normal like other girls,” she recalls, “I even tried, dating hoping that I would snap out of it!”
But her counsellor was patient. She let this “phase” run its course and was constantly there for her as a support system. With her help, slowly, Ishaani learnt and began to accept who she was. “After years of denial and months of self-hate, it was such a liberating feeling to let myself be. Not force myself into moulds of what was expected of me, what was perfect but - stay as I was and love myself for that. It was like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders!”
But this battle with her identity had taken a toll on her daily life. She was suffering from near depression and her grades had taken the brunt. When she went home for the summer, her parents were shocked to see her results.
“My dad tried to talk to me multiple times about what had happened. Was I finding the new education system hard to deal with? Was I homesick? When I refused to answer, he would talk about how much money they were spending for my education and how I was being thankless about it.”
Those two months at home were the most difficult for her. “It killed me that I had to hide my true self from the two people in the world I loved the most. I contemplated telling them thousands of times but I knew they wouldn’t understand.”
And with her father’s persistent questions and inner conflict, she couldn’t carry the weight of her secret anymore. She decided to come out of the closet to her parents.
The night before she left for New York, she explained everything to her parents in a letter. “My mother is a simple woman. I know she didn’t completely understand what I was telling her,” she smiles, “But she chose to love me, anyways!”
Her dad, on the other hand, was furious. “He went from calling this a phase to blaming himself for sending me abroad because the western culture had spoilt me. How this was against our culture and religion and, this was what happened when you gave girls too much freedom. How girls should just be married off, instead.” she sighs.
He forbade her from returning to the university but she went anyways. And for the next 9 months, her dad refused to talk to her.
“In a weird way, I understood where he was coming from. It had taken me a long time to come to terms with who I was and he was far more orthodox than I was. Yes, it killed me that he refused to talk to me but I couldn’t blame him for being angry. I could only hope that someday, he would accept me. I stayed in New York for Christmas break, because I couldn’t go home and face him.”
One evening, she was talking to her mother on the phone. “I had called her because it was May and I was missing the achaar that she would make at this time of the year. Although, there was a grocery store with Indian food a few blocks away but that packed achaar couldn’t compare to the one that my mom makes.”
What happened next will surprise you! "A week later, a parcel from my dad arrived in the mail. I opened it with dread but to my utter joy, it was a jar of my mom’s achaar.” she tells us with tears in her eyes. “Even if I live to be a hundred years old, I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt in that moment.”
Although, it’s not all perfect but things are better. “I had always been my father’s perfect daughter. His approval mattered to me so much, whether I’d like to admit it or not. It’s been two years till this day now, we still don’t talk about my sexuality but at least he doesn’t bother me about the rishtas, anymore.”
She laughs, “And while my parents are nowhere close to marching in pride parades, they love and accept me for who I am. And I can’t ask for anything more. Call it abnormal, unnatural or whatever other word you like, what I know for a fact is that love will always, always be stronger than hate.”
Indeed, love and acceptance is always stronger than hate!
(Name has been changed to protect the identity)