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Coming out as queer to parents and society | Women Uninterrupted Podcast | Season 2, Episode 1

A queer woman describes how she came out to her parents and society about her sexuality

August 22, 2022 02:45 pm | Updated 03:18 pm IST

Women Uninterrupted is an inter-generational podcast bringing you difficult, different and uninterrupted conversations about being a woman.

In Episode 1 of Season 2, a queer woman describes how she came out to her parents and society about her sexuality, while the aunt of a teenager asks her for advice on how to handle the situation when a child comes out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The Women Uninterrupted podcast was produced by The Scribbling Pad for The Hindu.

Host: Anna; Guests: Pallavi & Anuja

Editing: Neha; Title music: The Carpet Beat by Maya

You can listen to all episodes of Women Uninterrupted here

You can also listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music

On being a teen who is queer

Naina*, aged 14, writes

As a teenager who is queer, I had a lot of questions when I first started questioning my identity.

Starting with: "What is this I’m feeling?"

And, "Is this normal?" and "Am I unnatural?" or "Will my parents accept me?"

The LGBTQIA+ community or as I like to call it, ‘the rainbow community,' is a very special topic for me. It is a topic that I can go on and on about. A big part of being part of the community is coming out to your family or/and friends.

Fortunately, coming out was easier than I thought it would be. There was no screaming, crying, or saying, "That’s impossible," but it’s not always the case for everyone. I have a friend who is also part of the community; they tried coming out to their parents and the parents didn’t take it well. They then told their parents that it was a joke.

I’ve read news about people being hung upside down from trees and being beaten to death just because they tried to come out; it is not fair. We deserve as much respect and as many rights as straight people do; we're people too.

I believe that people shouldn't have to "come out" to their families. Instead, same-sex relationships should be normalised just like heterosexual relationships are. Each one of us should be proud of who we are and embrace our sexuality/gender with pride.

Note: Naina’s* name was changed at her guardian’s request. Minors of any identity have freedom of expression on this podcast, but we do not feature them without their guardians’ consent.

Full text of the conversation

The text has been edited for clarity

Anuja: This is the Women Uninterrupted podcast brought to you by The Hindu. This is a space where we host difficult conversations between different generations of women.

Anna: Hello, I'm your host, Anna, and with me, I have Anuja and our guest, Pallavi. Pallavi, I must tell you we're particularly grateful that you are here because you're the right person to throw light on a situation we had on this show two weeks ago. I’ll ask Anuja to tell you that story. But before that, may I confirm two things with you, Pallavi, with your consent: What pronouns do you prefer and how would you like to identify yourself?

Pallavi: Hi, Anuja, hi, Anna. My pronouns are she/her. And as for my identity - sexual identity, rather - I grew up straight, and I, you know, had relationships with men…I was in heterosexual relationships but I met my current partner - and that was the first time I was attracted to a woman in my life. And it was very confusing. What I have understood from interacting with other members from the LGBT+ community is that this kind of personality or sexual identity is sometimes also referred to as queer, and not necessarily lesbian or bisexual. It is something that I'm also trying to figure out; it's not black and white. And, you know, I rather prefer to just understand myself as someone who is in a same-sex relationship, and not in a heterosexual relationship.

Pallavi

Pallavi

Anuja: Thanks, Pallavi for explaining that. Let me tell you about my 14-year-old niece, whom I'll call Naina. She was looking forward to be on this episode because she'd come out to her mother as bisexual and now she identifies herself as pansexual. So we asked Tasmin, who's a social worker, to be the second guest. We had a long discussion with Tasmin. Naina was present too. And at the end of that, we decided to wait till Naina was 18.

Anna: Yeah, till she attained majority. Pallavi, essentially, what Tasmin told us was that sexual orientation is fluid when you're a minor.

Pallavi: I agree with that. And I feel like, you know, this generation, they're very aware about the topics around sexual identity, etc, because they are exposed to these things very early on, thanks to social media.

I think how I understand this is that: what identity meant to, for instance, our parents’ generation…so when they meet somebody for the first time, the question would be: “Where are you from?” And that, you know, gives them an idea into their identity - and for our generation, that question is, “What do you do?” But for this Gen Z generation, you know, the younger ones, they are under a lot of pressure to find out about their sexuality and that is an important part of their identity as well, you know: Am I gay? Am I not?

I feel like it is at that age, when you're 15-16, you can be confused, because you don't know whether this is really a sexual attraction, or is this just a deep platonic attachment. I feel that they may need time to settle and, you know, just experience…and that's what I've also heard from some of the parents whose kids have come out; they say, “Let us give them some time.” And let them be - because also, they're not making any life decisions about this at that time - for instance, you know, choosing a life partner, and they can take time to figure it out. And then, slowly it becomes clearer, and this is especially true for bisexuals, I think. It is as hard sometimes when you're either gay or lesbian, but still, you have, you know, experiences when you know that you have not been attracted to the other gender (opposite gender); it has always been an attraction to the same gender. So there is some amount of clarity, but I would say that, you know - especially around bisexuality - there needs to be a little bit more time given till they reach adulthood.

Anna: Coming from an adult representative of the LGBTQIA+ communities, this should reassure Naina, (don't you think, Anuja?) that we're not merely foisting our outsider view on her. Thanks, Pallavi, for that.

Anuja: Yup. I think you're right. But Pallavi, could we have done better? How could we have handled it, you know, without making a minor feel invalidated? How can we express more support at this stage of a teenager's journey?

Pallavi: In my opinion, I think we should tell the teenager that it's not because we think that you are not sure. It is because we want you to take your time and not reach any conclusion without having that experience - and that, you know, anybody would do for any relationship. And this is a formative process and for a child or teenager, it could be an early stage. So it's not about dismissing it; it is about saying that, you know, this is a very early stage into the journey. And this is more to protect yourself and give you space. And I feel like maybe this kind of messaging may work.

Anna: Yeah, it would work particularly when it comes from someone who is speaking up on behalf of the communities.

Anuja: Pallavi, you could also help with this: your ideas on where does a parent go for information to help a child who’s come out…for instance, to whom did you reach out to help you understand your identity?

Pallavi: I was lucky to have a few friends who were from the community. So I'd had conversations with them before. And when I, you know, met my partner, I kind of reached out to them to understand, like, what was going on. I read up a little bit. For me, I realised that it was about the person and who that individual was, and gender didn't matter. You know, I didn't get too deep into the rest, once I knew that this is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I have felt, I think, most attached to her than in any other relationship that I've had before, even if it was heterosexual. This was like, you know…that was probably my reason why I wanted to be with her.

Anuja: So the best thing you could tell a child or a teenager who has come out is, to take your time till whenever you're an adult? Is that what you would say? Like any other relationship?

Pallavi: Absolutely. I think it's important to sensitise but also…like for instance, my partner, right? When she was growing up, there was something that she knew... that I'm not like the other girls, but there was no vocabulary for it for her, like, you know, she didn't know who to speak to. And because of how the social construct is - and there is peer pressure - even her first relationship was with a man. And I feel like if she had people that she could have reached out to, she might not have, you know, gotten into relationships that were not true to her or didn't feel true.

Anuja: Pallavi, do you have any suggestions on what should children and parents do as they're going through the stage of discovering who they are?

Pallavi: I'm not very sure about it, Anuja, but I feel like, you know, one suggestion that I can give is that, you know, schools nowadays do a lot of sessions around these kinds of difficult topics, which are not easy to - for parents and children - to have conversations. You know, conversations around periods, etc. So there could be a session that the schools could do around discovering yourself, where they are, you know - trying to talk to children about understanding their gender, identity, sexual identity: what are these different terms? What does it mean? And definitely, this talk needs to be done for both the parents and the children. Because it's important that both of these be sensitised, and (that)they have context, and it is helpful to both.

Anna: Our goal is to help parents help children who come out. So as a reference point, Pallavi, could you tell us how old were you when you made the decision to identify as queer, as not heterosexual?

Pallavi: I was 35.

Anna: Was this before 2018?

Pallavi: Yes, I was in a relationship. I got into this relationship in 2013. I think you're asking about Section 377, right?

Anna: Yes. The decriminalisation of consensual homosexuality.

Pallavi: Yes, it was way before that and you know, I always feel like that I was very privileged. And I didn't face any backlash from anybody whether it was my parents or my immediate circle of friends: everybody was really supportive. And I came out; also decided to come out in my workplace as well, because I didn't want to make it awkward. I wanted to be honest and true to myself. And, you know, the most difficult part is usually coming out to your parents.

I have this nice anecdote that I want to share with everybody and how I came out to them. So in my family, you know, we don't have conversations around sexual identity awareness. I decided to take a route which was, you know, a little unusual, and I felt that I expressed best when I write, so I wrote an email to them expressing that my partner (who they’d already met by the way, but at that time as just best friends, you know) and I want to tell them that she is my life partner - that's what I wrote. In the email, I described, you know, how our relationship was, but I was very, very anxious when I sent it and I was waiting for the response. And I didn't know how the response is going to be, like, is he just going to call up - my father - he's gonna call up and say that, you know, “We would rather have these conversations in person and I didn't like the fact that you've written an email to us.” (I was) expecting all of these kinds of responses. Whereas after a few hours, my father sent me such a beautiful response that, you know, I want to read out a couple of lines from that: “I find that happiness is above everything else. While we are in school and college, we don't choose companions based on gender. The parents don't love their children conditionally and based on agenda. The same should be true of life partners.”

Anna: I hope, Pallavi, your father's listening to how much that response meant to you. Loved having you both here, Pallavi, Anuja, and also Naina, who we hope is listening,

Anuja: Signing off from Women Uninterrupted, the intergenerational space for difficult conversations brought to you by The Hindu.

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