To Mum, With Love: What It Means To Come Out As The Parent Of A Gay Son

To Mum, With Love: What It Means To Come Out As The Parent Of A Gay Son

I'll tell you a secret about my relationship with my mother. Each of our relationships with our parents is such an individual thing — even between siblings, sometimes — and they can be difficult for us to understand from a distance.

My relationship with my mother is far from perfect. Over the past decade, we've fought, we've cried, we've pulled our hair out, we've said mean things to each other that might put school bullies to shame, and we've had cold wars that have lasted multiple hours and meals. It's been one hell of a roller coaster ride.

But that's how most relationships are, they aren't perfect. And that's the beauty of it.

A child might not be perfect — not too bright, not too beautiful, not too charming, not too enterprising, not too much of a good thing — and still, a mother would love it to death. She'd nag, but love her child like a lioness loves her cubs.

My mother is like that.

She treats nagging and scolding me as a daily chore — it's become a part of the routine. But then again, it's our little routine. It’s like a two-person comedy act — only there's no background laughter — unless you count my exasperated older sister who stays miles away, but still hears of all my idiosyncrasies through the telephone. I love every little bit of it.

See, I might be a selfish, spoilt brat who might have more vices than virtues (here's looking at you, endless bottles of wine and rum), and my mother might have reserved her dirtiest of looks for each and every one of them, but that's what mothers do — they antagonise, because they adore.

And mine adores me to death. The past three years could have been turbulent — with the coming out and what not — but they weren’t. Twenty-five years of her having lived in an orthodox family, and yet, I've had some of the most remarkably open conversations with her. Was she okay with my coming out? Maybe not. Does she like it when I talk about being gay on social media? Definitely not. Has she any clue of what the LGBT life is all about? Clearly not. In fact, I thought we were going to live in a state of peaceful denial of my sexuality till this happened last year.

My mum came up to me sometime in August of 2017, as I worked away on a deadline. She looked visibly upset. Sensing it was something I had done (and had no clue about), I asked her what was wrong.

A daughter of an acquaintance had just given birth, she said to me, and sweets had been delivered all over the society. Our family had been inconspicuously missed out. She suspected it was because I was gay, and they didn't want to 'rub it in' that I might ‘never have a child of my own’.

I asked her whether she was sad that it happened? Kaju katlis are a big deal, after all.

She said she was, but only because she was surprised that she knew people who were so narrow-minded, that they couldn't see beyond the boxes they stayed in. Then she went on to tell me how sugar was bad for your body anyway, and that we'd all live a more fulfilled life without any ensuing boxes of sweets. If people couldn't deal with her son's sexuality, then she didn't need to deal with them (or their sugary gifts) at all.

I hugged her tightly then and there.

I hope this serves as at least one model for a positive way to react. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know for me, she couldn’t have reacted more appropriately (or heartwarmingly).

My coming out story might have been a breeze, but coming out as the parent of a gay child is no easy feat. Because I might have had to come out of the closet only once, but for my mother — as a supportive parent — it’s an everyday struggle.

She’s sat through awkward dinner conversations with strangers (‘…and then I told my son, you can marry anyone as long as it’s not a boy!’), shot down questions by distant aunts (‘’it’s okay if he’s gay, but does he have to be gay for the whole world?’) and even ignored jibs by concerned relatives (‘we understand how you must feel that your son will never get married…’) with the same stance.

One of cold defiance.

My mother is an exceptionally fierce woman. Her problem with most of these situations isn’t the quintessential ‘how-could-they-say-that-about-MY-son?’, it’s the more empowering ‘how-could-they-say-that-about-gay-people?’

And that is gut-wrenchingly heartwarming.

Is my mom completely comfortable with my sexuality? Maybe not. Is she curious about the gay life? Not really. Does she love me to death nonetheless? Always.

I don’t expect my mother to tag along as I march for LGBT Pride. I don’t expect her to flash the rainbow flag at a family lunch. I don’t expect her to ask questions about my love life (or lack thereof). I don’t even expect my mother to have a conversation with her friends about my sexuality. My mum’s not one of those mothers.

She’s so much more. She might never understand the depths of my struggles as an out-and-about gay man, but she’ll still school anyone who tries to question the same.

I am proud of the woman my mother has become, and the son she's making me out to be. I might not be the perfect one, but she's made peace with the fact that I never will be. And that's the first step of any loving relationship. The peace to co-exist with all your faults and regrets. To confront what's not wrong. To fight for what's right. To know that I am loving (and living) my life to the fullest. To understand that I'll go back to being the insufferable child right from tomorrow.

To all the mothers who are reading this who will ultimately have to deal with their own child’s coming out, I say this: don’t feel guilty about not being completely on board till you’ve asked all your questions. It’s okay not to be okay. As long as your child is not being made to feel unloved or uncared for, express your love (and confusion). That’s half the battle won. The other half is finding a nice, handsome and charming boy who can spend the rest of his life with your ungrateful child.

Thanks for meeting me on the other side of the closet, mom.

I promise it gets better.

— Illustration courtesy Amrai Dua

Aniruddha Mahale