January 14, 2008

Mama Don't Preach

Published in Time Out Delhi, Jan 14-27, 2008 (Gay & Lesbian Section)
It’s an ordinary American TV family of five siblings and their loving, feisty, slightly interfering mother. But one of the siblings is gay, and mum – she announced in a recent episode – is a proud member of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). It’s not surprising that both Nora Walker and the actor who plays her in the American “serio-comic” series Brothers & Sisters, Sally Fields, have become stars for the queer community. Kevin Walker seems less gung-ho about his being gay than his mother.

There’s something to be said about parents who contend with and embrace their children’s differences. Homophobia is still so much a reality in most societies that it takes both courage to oppose social prejudice and a principled commitment to respect the individual choices of their children, for parents of LGBT children to “come out”, so to speak. Though I had heard about PFLAG – an organization started in the US in the 1970s as a support group for parents with gay and lesbian children, with several international chapters today – the experience of seeing proud parents in action during the Denver Pride march in June this year was overwhelming. I asked the brisk white-haired woman distributing pamphlets if there was a PFLAG-India, somewhat disingenuously because I wanted to strike up a conversation with her.

There is no PFLAG-India yet. Which is a pity because in our country, sexuality let alone homosexuality are largely taboo. Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises homosexuality in India, ensures that the information flow about this “unnatural” way of being is vastly restricted and offers a rich soil for myths, misinformation and prejudice. A forum such as PFLAG, where parents and families could meet others with similar experiences, would be great because of its educative value and in helping develop a sense of community.

The community is what has saved so many queers. We laugh, cry, dance, shop, grow with other queers. They give meaning to and add to the quality of our lives – and not just because ours is a heterosexist world. Naturally, our loved ones – if they are and choose to continue being a part of our lives – would get many of the same perks if they have their own “scene”. A gay support group in Bombay has been organizing parents meets since 1999, and these fabulous meets have given parents a chance to vent, question, network and inform themselves – but so far this is an annual event.

So many queers struggle with the expectations of their families even while coping with a heterosexist homophobic world. Many a times we manage to reformulate notions of and create our own family, yet somewhere, I feel, it is an obligation parents and families have: to try to understand and accept their children, no matter how much it goes against extant social norms. After all, acceptance by our own folk affirms us humans in a very different way.

(Brothers & Sisters airs Tuesdays at 10 pm, Star World. To start a PFLAG chapter or download resources including “Our Daughters and Sons”, a booklet answering commonly asked questions about having a GLBT child, visit www.pflag.org.)

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