How do I tell you about him

Being gay is not a crime. But what happens when your child confesses to homosexuality? TOI-Crest goes into the closet to reveal the uneasy truths about coming out...

Dear Mom, You probably know this already but I need to get it off my chest. When I was nine, I first realised something was not right with me. I liked my best friend so much, I would keep looking for ways to be close to him. One day I told him I loved him and he called me a girl. That day I really wanted to be a girl so my best friend (a boy) could love me back. It never happened. Mom, I'm 18 today and I need you to know that I'm gay. It's not something that can either be cured or changed...

This is part of a letter Abhishek Nair wrote to his mother sometime last year. Rohini Nair took the news surprisingly well, telling her son that nothing would change her love for him but he should not tell his father. He wasn't planning to. "As a child, he would play with guns and cars and love explosions," says a bewildered Rohini. "There were no tell-tale signs of doing anything remotely feminine. I guess I vaguely knew that love was possible among two boys but at that time I was not exposed to the concept of homosexuality."

Not everyone is as lucky as Abhishek. "I came out to my mom two years ago," says Ujjwal Datta. "We're both doctors. The day I cleared my exams, I took her for a walk and told her I liked guys. She seemed alright then. But little did I realise, mom was taking it as a joke. When I said 'Mom, I like guys', she said, 'Yeah, me too!' There was a state of denial. Two years down the line, we have the same situation. The current scenario at home is that of a daily war."

Keep it in the closet
Most counsellors advise gay individuals who come to them for help to write out their feelings in a letter to their parents. But coming out to the two most important people in your life is never an easy task. That's why most gay people prefer to first test the waters with a sibling or a close cousin. "Coming out to my older brother was something I always wanted to do. The problem was how and when," says corporate lawyer Nikhil Singh. "My brother had been witness to my lovey-dovey talk with other boys since childhood. He would often ask me why I didn't have girlfriends and I would mostly reply, 'They don't interest me'. College meant raging hormones and dandy boys, all of which made me realise my true sexual orientation. And I wanted a family member to know why I have more boyfriends than girlfriends. One day, I was chatting up my brother and he was telling me how irritating girls were. I took the opportunity and said, 'bro, I'm gay and I'm so happy I don't have to deal with irritating girls." He burst out laughing and said, 'I always knew and I'm always there for you. Just make sure you don't indulge in unsafe sex.' His words have remained with me and I have a best friend in my brother."

Papa, don't ...
While telling a mother maybe marginally easier for a boy, for most, it's the fathers who are in complete shock and denial. "I've been out to my family for about 15 years now," says Himanshu Trivedi, a travel agent. "They all thought I would grow out of the 'habit' but that obviously never happened. I was even made to get married against my will. It hardly lasted a year. Yet my father is bent on making me tie the knot again." Himanshu isn't the only gay man with a story like this. "When I came out, my parents were very worried and my brother very homophobic," says Anand Vijay. "My brother and father took me to a counsellor. I spoke for an hour, after which the counselor said there was no issue with me and that he wanted to counsel my father." According to Dr Raman Khosla, a Pune-based psychiatrist, "Somehow, in India, being gay is equated with being effeminate. And most Indian fathers find it next to impossible to accept that there's a feminine side to a man - more importantly - their son."

Meet the parents
At a fairly recent parents' meet organised by Gay-Bombay (an informal group that aims to create safe spaces for men who are romantically and sexually attracted to men), about 10 parents came to discuss the anxiety and acceptance that comes from having a gay child. Most of them were delightfully forward thinking about their children's sexual orientation and even answered a few tough questions. One remark on gay men being promiscuous drew the following response: "Even girls have multiple boyfriends. Parents don't necessarily know what happens in their heterosexual child's life either," said a parent. "I don't agree that gay men look out for sex any more than straight men. Given a chance, every straight guy wants to be Casanova," said another.

Most parents who made it to the meet had one big fear for their child: that he would be lonely later in life. "I would like my son to have a permanent or at least a long-lasting relationship," said an anxious mother. "When you get your child married, the parents feel relieved that the children have now settled down. I would like my son to have somebody who would understand him and share his choices," she added.

Girl, interrupted
In her book, Leaving India, NRI Minal Hajratwala talks of how she came out to her parents, "by accident not design" . In retrospect, Hajratwala is very grateful that it happened like it did, "Or I would be like the countless people I know who are still grappling with how to come out to their family." Hajratwala believes the LGBT community in India is just looking to be able to talk about their sexuality frankly. "We need people not to flinch when a lesbian says she went to the movies with her girlfriend last night."

What's up, doc
"I have had at least 50 cases of gay men coming out in the past five years" says Dr Khosla, who has also made Unconditional Love, a docu-drama on the subject. While the men themselves are worried about whether, when and how to come out and the depression of being in the closet, parents go through the shock-denial-guilt-loss stages and then voice their misconceptions and apprehensions about homosexuality. "My approach to these problems is predominantly psychotherapeutic (except where there is major anxiety or depression requiring temporary medicines), says Khosla." During one of their sessions, a mother told him, "God wants us to realise there's nothing imperfect in our gay son. The imperfection is within us."