“Can a woman love another woman?” I ask my grandma, a devout Christian who isn’t aware of my bisexuality.
“A mother loves her daughter with her life, but she cannot embrace a woman as she does a man. It is against God and nature,” she tells me.
My grandmother’s mentality is shared by many among the older generation in a traditionalist society like India.
Coming to terms with your sexuality can be a daunting experience. While accepting yourself is one thing, coming out and finding support from others is a different proposition altogether.
When a queer person comes out to their family, they are filled with uncertainties. There is the fear of facing stigma and discrimination from society compounding the existing uneasiness and apprehensions of disclosing your sexuality.
So why is the LGBTQ+ still taboo for parents and grandparents in India? The roots lie much deeper than plain ignorance.
Cultural and Religious Conditioning
In a typical Indian family, the parents wish their sons and daughters to study well, secure jobs and ultimately marry and start a family. Marriage becomes a tradition between man and woman, and this idea is passed on through generations.
Popular culture regarded as norms and societal standards factor into the rampant queer-phobia that reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is the ‘default’ sexual orientation.
The media through the 60s-90s was not as it is today. TV shows, magazine ads, movies and stories portrayed heterosexual couples as the norm and homosexuality was viewed in a negative light. This exposure transmitted biased opinions, and the thinking of the older generation was hardened by this conditioning.
Then there is the case of religion. A popular misconception is that India is an inherent queer-phobic country due to its nature being religious. In fact, as a Hindu-dominated country, homosexuality has an ancient and historical base in India. The Hindu text Kama Sutra and many artworks vividly depict homosexual acts.
However, ever since the British colonization and the influx of western teachings, society has leaned further away from homosexuality and even terms it as a sin or sickness that needs a ‘cure’. Conversion Therapy is one such practice that forces a queer person to ‘repress their urges and live normal lives.
A queer person brought up in a conservative and religious household may remain closeted their whole life due to the fear of hate and resentment from their own family.
Societal Threats to the LGBTQ community
Our home is where we seek refuge when the world is against us. This is the case for many queer youths. Finding support and familial acceptance can be life-changing for a person trying to find a safe place.
LGBTQ+ friendly parents do exist in India. And while they have accepted and adapted to their child’s sexuality, society hasn’t caught up just yet. The worry and fear for their child are not unwarranted, as queer kids still face bullying, mockery, hate and discrimination in their everyday lives.
This fear is shared by repudiating parents as well. They cannot picture a future where their son loves a man, and their daughter is shunned by society because she is a lesbian. They worry that society will ostracize them as they view such relationships as profane and abnormal.
Many families choose apathy. Instead of understanding and accepting their children, it is easier for them to ignore and pretend that it is a mere phase that will grow out once marriage comes around. This ‘tolerance’ can be detrimental to their kids as they feel they have to suppress their identities.
A Colorful Future
In the last ten years, societal views towards queer people have improved considerably in India. On 6th September 2018, the Supreme Court scrapped Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexuality. Since this landmark, more people have become open to understanding and accepting the LGBTQ+ community.
Prejudice still exists, and there will always be an ignorant person, hateful towards what he doesn’t understand. For our society to progress into a safe and trustworthy place for the LGBTQ+ community, the decriminalization of homosexuality is just the starting point.
For our parents and grandparents, the world they used to know has moved past them, and they struggle to come to terms with the reality of this progression. It is vital to teach them that everyone should be free to love who they love without fear and shame.