Letter to the Subalterns: Gay Dad, start by coming out to yourself
Editor's note: In this series for Firstpost titled 'Letter to the Subalterns' noted rights activist Harish Iyer reaches out to marginalised, oppressed groups and individuals.
Dear Gay Dad,
I feel compelled to write to you today as I have just stepped out of a screening of Dear Dad, a poignant tale of a dad coming out to his teenage son. The lilting narrative sees the duo take a road trip that turns into the journey of their lifetime. There is turbulence and heart break as they journey through denial, anger, grief and acceptance, eventually rekindling their lost spark.
This got me thinking of the hundreds of thousands of gay men who are trapped in heterosexual relationships, sometimes on account of social pressures, sometimes due to their personal fear but most often because they took too long to realise and accept their sexuality. The last category is what we call “late bloomers”. These men are genuinely confused about their sexuality. This may be because we are all raised in such a heteronormative society, that we don’t think of ourselves as capable of anything but heterosexual relationships. These men internalise and bury what they believe are “unhealthy” or “abnormal” desires and strive hard to confirm to every single male stereotype. It’s as if they feel they need to atone for some unspeakable sin. Gay Dads are often model husbands and exemplary parents.
These are men like you… These are India’s gay dads… men trapped in relationships, yet overcompensating out of a sense of guilt, shame or regret. Dear gay dad, I’m here to tell you that you should not feel any of these emotions. It is not your fault. Yes, life appears to be a mess, but with a little effort and a lot of courage, you can set things right.
I know that there is darkness in your marriage. I know at times, you feel that you have spoilt a young woman’s life by conning her into a loveless, sexless, joyless and less than honest relationship.
Sometimes you will blame society. Other times you will blame yourself. But no one has the right to guilt trip you… not society, not even you. It can only result in greater misery, which is not a solution. I want you to know that I want a solution, because I want everyone to be happy… you, the gay dad, your wife, your children and even your parents and your wife’s parents.
It will all start with you coming out to yourself. It won’t be easy, but you need to love yourself enough to forgive yourself first for living a lie. You need to tell yourself that before you tell others the truth, you need to be honest with yourself… because you deserve the truth, you deserve happiness.
Next, you need to find an anchor in your family. This is the person you trust most, someone who may waver at first, but you know will eventually have your back as you take a step forward. This anchor could be anyone… your loving wife, your mature-beyond-her-years daughter, your rock-solid son, your super cool dad or your dependable drama queen of a mom. Start by building up a conversation. Ask them what they know about homosexuality and how they feel about such people. Ask them if they would genuinely support someone if they found out about their sexuality. Once, you have established that they would by-and-large stand by you, come out to them… gently.
Understand that they too will go through the four steps… denial, anger, grief and acceptance. Give them time, give them space, but be there for them. If you need them to stand by you, you need to stand by them. This will be a trial by fire for your relationship, but if you survive this, you will emerge stronger.
Understand that they would have questions, lots of them… and that you will have to answer them all… patiently and truthfully.
There are these two scenes in Dear Dad that drive home this point interestingly. In the first, a reality television star zips up his jacket when Arvind Swami’s character, Nitin, comes out to him. Nitin then asks him, if he would have done the same if a woman had told him she found him attractive? In another scene, Nitin’s son Shivum asks him if he is attracted to all men, to which he counter questions if Shivum finds all girls attractive?
It is easy going, it is drama free, it is genuine. This is a great way to keep the conversation going and build on your existing interpersonal relationship. This will also help you strategise how best to break the news to your other loved ones. Take it one day at a time, one step at a time. You owe it to yourself to find your own equilibrium, your own peace, but you will not get there without the love and support of the people who add meaning, beauty and joy in your life.
Also, set your wife free. Ask her what she wants. Don’t emotionally blackmail her to stay in the marriage for the sake of the children. Remember, this woman has shared your bed, your life. All these years she has probably felt she was lacking something, felt empty inside in a hollow shell of a marriage. Don’t overcompensate or try to bribe her with extravagant gifts. Also don’t cross the line and resort to violence. Forcing yourself sexually on your wife to prove your masculinity is a terrible idea. You have no right to rape her just so you can prove a point. Just because you can’t “really” be her husband, doesn’t mean you can’t be her friend. If you do this right, she could become your strongest ally. Somewhere down the road, she could even be your best relationship advisor. Truth be told, you will need her support more than anyone else’s.
Coming out to children is harder as children of different ages need to be told things differently. This is where sex education plays a role. If you talk to your children about sex, sexuality and sexual abuse from an early age, you build a strong relationship with them. Tell them from an early age about the different types of families, families with a dad and mom, two dads or two moms. Tell them it is natural and perfectly normal. Tell them that sex is not a dirty thing, it is just an expression of love between consenting adults. Once you destigmatise sex and help them understand different sexualities, it will be easy to come out to them at some point.
Finally, once you are out, don’t buckle under pressure and crawl back into the closet… You did not come this far to give up. Things will never go back to the way they were. Some will ridicule you, some will be offended. But I will stand there in one corner, holding a rainbow flag of pride for you. It takes courage to admit that you succumbed to pressure. It takes courage to apologise. It takes courage to say that you care enough to tell the truth and set things right, despite the risk. Once you say it, I will love you for this and more.
It will be hard, it will drain you physically and emotionally… but hang in there. Be patient, dear gay dad.
Stay strong, stay happy.
The author is an equal rights activist who campaigns for the rights of the LGBT community, children, women and animals. He is a Bollywood buff and an occasional newsmaker.