Once gay men and women couldn’t come out because they were afraid of breaking their parents’ hearts.
Now their parents are coming out on television about their gay children.
“I did not want to lose my son,” says Keya Ghosh in the CNN-IBN documentary My Child is Gay. “If I had opposed him he would have probably left home.” Now she discusses his love life with him over Skype.
“Section 377 (the law criminalizing homosexual sex) called them criminals,” says Chitra Palekar, both indignant and emotional. “My child is not a criminal.”
This is huge. When a friend came out to his mother in the nineties and told her he could introduce her to other mothers, she recoiled in horror. She said the last thing she wanted to do was go air her dirty laundry in front of strangers. This is not some American talk-show she told him.
Fast forward to 2005. Sonali Gulati set out to make a film about her pain at not being able to come out to her mother before her mother’s death. I Am became an award-winning portrait instead of families living with a gay son or a lesbian daughter. “It was quite easy to find parents to be in the film,” says Gulati. “The harder part was convincing their children to be in the film.”
That coming out moment
Now that there is a lot more sensitive, sympathetic coverage of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues in Indian media there’s also a lot more emphasis on coming out. Even a well-meaning program like My Child is Gay is fixated on that coming out moment. It has become the moment of truth.
“She said, ‘I am lesbian.’” Freeze frame.
Except in India, that’s not the way everyone comes out. In India it can often be a statement in the negative says Gulati. As in “I’m not interested in getting married.”
But “I am lesbian” fits better in a television sound byte. As in: Coming up – She said, “I am lesbian.” Don’t switch the channel.
Coming out in reality, is a lot more amorphous and a lot more muddled.
In America coming out once meant telling your parents “I am gay” and then buying a one-way ticket to San Francisco or Manhattan on a Greyhound bus. It was an assertion of individualism.
In India coming out often meant your parents went into the closet with you. Now the whole family got to be the keeper of the secret. Oh, we cannot tell your cousin in Mumbai because he might be liberal and all but his wife is from your didi’s in-laws’ family.
“It is more of a spectrum, than a binary,” says Gulati. It is very important but it’s not the “happily ever after” end of the story. Nor is there only one sanctioned way of being “out” as in “Are you ready for your close up on television now?”
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