"I had gone from their son to a stranger in seconds"
Coming out to Desi parents is an extremely nerve-wracking time for gay South Asians across the world.
The stigma surrounding homosexuality and sexual identity/preferences as a whole is something that has existed for centuries.
The massive phobia associated with this stems from a lack of understanding, discussion and openness for communities to realise life is much more than heterosexuality.
Likewise, the judgement placed on those who are gay, for instance, means more South Asians are less likely to come out and keep their true selves repressed.
This is a thought passed down from generation to generation but in order to progress the South Asian culture, more stories need to be told.
Rajiv Singh, a 30-year-old mechanic from Birmingham revealed his story about coming out as gay to his Desi parents.
Brought up in a strict Indian household, Rajiv knew the repercussions he would face as a gay man.
He heard of the jokes his family would make towards other gay people as well as the scrutiny placed upon the LGBTQ community.
But, he bravely tells his story of how his parents reacted to him coming out and the steps taken to try and get his parents to understand him more.
The Initial Reaction
Like so many gay South Asians, coming out is only half the battle.
In many scenarios, individuals have to then deal with their parents’ reaction as most don’t accept or are in denial about their child’s news.
This is what Rajiv had to deal with as he explains the early experiences of life after coming out:
“I came out to my parents when I was 25, so quite late in my life compared to people nowadays who I think are more confident or braver in revealing who they really are.
“I knew I was gay when I was a teenager. To be honest, I wouldn’t say I was in denial about it but didn’t really pay attention to my feelings.
“If a guy walked past, I’d think they were good looking but in the back of my mind, I didn’t want to accept that.
“My family always mocked gay people or joked about them as if being gay was really bad.
“Sometimes, my parents would gossip about other people in the family who they thought were gay and would talk about it with such judgement and secrecy.
“So, I think that added to me repressing myself. It came to a point where I sat them down and told them I was gay, but I was so anxious.
“I remember trying to actually talk myself out of it and coming up with a scenario where I would have a life pretending to be straight, get married, move somewhere and then be my true self.
“It’s so far-fetched I know, but it’s not foreign to think like this when you’re a gay South Asian.
“But, I went ahead with it and my parents’ faces dropped. My dad couldn’t look at me and it took my mum a couple of minutes to understand.
“They kept asking me if I’m sure and obviously I was. But they didn’t want to believe me.
“My dad said ‘no you’re just confused. Don’t say these kinds of things’. My mum started to get angry and was welling up.
“She said ‘how could this happen, why are you doing this?’. As if this was all my fault. She even turned to my dad and said ‘he’s trying to hurt us’.
“That’s when I knew that my parents wouldn’t accept me. I had gone from their son to a stranger in seconds.
“I tried explaining my feelings and what I thought would be the best thing moving forward, like being more open and maybe giving them more information about the LGBTQ community.
“But both of them were adamant they wouldn’t go anywhere near ‘those kinds of people’, as they put it.
“My mum kept saying it wasn’t right, that something had to be wrong for me to come out with such news.”
“She asked me if everything else was okay and maybe I was just confused or my mind was clouded.
“But I told them to add everything up and they were still in denial.
“They were crying, my dad was angry and said I was a disgrace. He told me I’m hurting the family for no reason and they wouldn’t accept this if it was true.”
Rajiv’s parents’ reaction is all too familiar in South Asian culture.
The lack of understanding or empathy can have a harsh effect on children who want to come out safely to their loved ones.
But this type of reaction deters people from opening up, leading to more double lives and secrecy. However, Rajiv’s bravery was still met with judgement and resentment.
Shocking Next Steps
As Rajiv’s parents started to realise their son’s news, they approached him with some options on how to move forward.
Much to his surprise, it wasn’t the type of steps he was hoping for:
“In my mind, I was thinking about how do I get my parents to accept this. I was raised in quite a strict household, my parents are very traditional, so I knew it would be a hard task.
“But the morning after I told them I was gay, my mum called me downstairs and said we needed to sort this out.
“I was surprised but happy that something active was going to happen. But, it wasn’t what I expected.
“We went to this Asian doctor, like a private type of practice. I didn’t even think it was anything to do with me and my mum was stopping off somewhere.
“We went in and my mum said to the doctor in Punjabi ‘my son is sick, is there some type of therapy he can go through’.
“As she was saying this, I sat there in disbelief.
“I heard stories of these things happening in India where you’re trying to ‘cure’ someone of their gayness and it was happening to me by my own mum.
“I told the doctor I didn’t need any help but even the way he spoke to me was with judgement and like he was trying to make me believe something was wrong with me.
“He said there are things he can offer but would require money. My mum was there asking him how much and I started to argue with her.
“I just couldn’t be quiet. She then said ‘how are you supposed to have children? How am I going to have any grandchildren? How will our family live on?’
“And I was stunned. I told her ‘it’s not about the family. Children can come in different ways’.
“And she then had the nerve to say ‘if it’s not the proper way then I don’t want grandchildren’. I stormed off because I didn’t want to hear any of it.
“Regardless if you’re Asian or not, how can you sit there and listen to this going on?
“I guess it’s worse in our culture because it’s more of a universal view that being gay or lesbian or trans is like you’re not right. But, this isn’t a mental illness.
“It’s who you are as a person and my parents didn’t get that.”
“I was so shocked that I got a taxi home by myself and locked myself in my room for the rest of the day.
“My parents tried to come in but I ignored them. I was at such a low point. I had no one to turn to.
“Even my friends who knew that I was gay would try and help or give me advice, but no one truly knows how you feel or what you can even do.”
This unimaginable scenario that Rajiv experienced is something felt in both modern and traditional societies.
Whilst he was able to escape this type of treatment, others in harsher environments are forced to undergo certain ‘treatments’ or ‘therapy’ to distance themselves from their true identity.
The Start of Acceptance
Rajiv took it upon himself to try and convince his parents to understand being gay is not bad, it’s a normal part of life.
It needs to be a normalised situation, not only for his family but for the whole community:
“I was quite depressed after coming out to my parents because I felt like I was alone.
“All these years we were happy and now that all came crashing down. But I still felt like I made the right decision.
“I knew that I had to be the one to try and change their perception of me and the LGBTQ community.
“That’s the least I can do to stay true to myself but also help the people I represent, especially those who are South Asian.
“I thought the best way was to actually act normal. Instead of forcing them to think a way, I have to let them come to terms with things naturally.
“So, I started to act normal, talk to my dad about sports or help my mum in the kitchen.
“They were a bit responsive but for the first couple of weeks, they wouldn’t really chat to me or I’d get one-word answers.
“There was a wedding we had and on the way, in the car, my dad told me to not tell anyone I’m gay and to keep it to myself.
“He said act normal and we don’t want the family talking about us. Again, I had to convince myself that this is just what happens.
“It’s been some years now and my parents are better.
“I’ve told my dad that I won’t shout it out but if someone asks me about marriage (as they always do), I’ll say I haven’t found the right man yet.
“When I told him that, he yelled at me, to stay silent and not cause more harm than I already have.”
“I think for him, it’s this masculinity thing and he sees being gay as a risk of me losing that. It’s just all backwards.
“It’s actually my mum that is more supportive now. I think it’s innate with mums to have this loving nature, regardless of how they feel about something.
“I’ve been able to talk with my mum more about my feelings, even boys – but even that has been very recent and I hold back to protect her feelings.
“It’s just how Asian parents are, I’m glad it’s gotten a bit better with my mum over time and I’m hoping with my dad, it gets better but if not then that’s his problem, not mine.
“As a parent, you can have your views but you should still support your child. I wanted to share that so others feel a bit more willing to talk.
“But I also want South Asian people to realise that coming out requires a lot of patience and time. It requires strength, especially if you are from a strict household.
“We need more conversations and I’ve been able to find more South Asian LGBTQ support groups which are fantastic.
“I urge more people to come forward. This is how my parents reacted but not everyone’s parents are the same.
“Although our culture’s views are pretty universal, it’s us who need to change it for the future generations.”
Rajiv has lived through coming out as gay to his family and also an incredible amount of judgement from his parents.
Whilst his parents, specifically his dad, are still coming to terms with who he is, Rajiv feels better for being open about his identity.
He confidently explains how his mum even tried to get him ‘treated’, which many others experienced and forcefully have to go through.
So, it’s important to highlight these moments in order for the culture to shift in its discussions around identity.
If you or someone you know needs confidential help about coming out, then try some of these resources: