It is true that we love our children unconditionally, but faced with the fear and worry of a complete unknown, we are not equipped to deal with our emotions or their needs. This is particularly true in the Asian community, because we are so bound by appearances and expectations of the community, and trained to keep our deepest emotions and thoughts to ourselves. When my daughter (now son) came out to me, she first told me that she was gay, and eventually shared with me that she was female-to-male transgender–a boy/man born into a girl’s body. My immediate response was shock, disbelief, and a sense that this was not real. I felt that my child was confused, a result of the environment in college and confusion regarding her identity. I thought it must not be easy for her to be between two worlds being an Indian and American. I thought it was just a phase and if we down-played it, it would just go away. After all, I could remember absolutely nothing in her childhood and adolescence that would suggest that she was different.
Initial disbelief gave way to panic (how was I supposed to handle this?). Then, as it became clear to me that this was not a passing phase, feelings of extreme sadness, and hopelessness took over. What would happen to my beautiful child? Her future was ruined, she would never be accepted in society, the Indian community and the extended family would reject her and blame us for not teaching “proper values” to my child. Why was God punishing us? What had I done wrong in raising my child? The word spread within the Indian community and even in my professional community at large. People looked at me with pity or just ignored me as they felt awkward in my presence. I felt ashamed, alone, desperate-and did not want to face anyone. I isolated myself from the community, cried everyday and was overwhelmed with guilt. Because my husband travels frequently, I did not even discuss these feelings with him. The most difficult part was the lack of communication and isolation from my child, as he needed that space at a time when I needed for him to be close to me.
Now that I think back on it, I feel how selfish I had been at that moment. While I was focused on my feelings, and felt a deep sense of loss and grief as if I had lost a daughter, I neglected to see through the fog of my own confusion that while I was hurting, my child was hurting more. It is only now that I have even begun to appreciate how much pain my child had borne through the years, not being comfortable it her(his) own skin, how brave she(he) was and how much effort she(he) put in to come out to us and help us educate us. As I read more, and researched the subject, including the many books and resources provided to me by my child, I started to appreciate the fact that being gay or trans is not a choice that one makes to gain attention or to be different. It is not a psychological problem, but it is a way of being. One is born male or female or trans or gay or straight. This is not understood by most people.
It was very helpful to visit my child in his own home and meeting his friends and colleagues with an open mind. It helped me realize that my child was leading a perfectly normal life. I also came to realize that regardless of the external appearance, my child is still the same person inside. There are many example of successful professionals who may identify as gay or trans and who go on to live productive and healthy lives.
I have come to the realization that I love my child, no matter what and that I not only support him, but am proud of everything that he has achieved. I am proud that he has the courage to live his life honestly and authentically and is making the world a better place. I have joined PFLAG and other support groups to help other parents who may be struggling like I did initially with nowhere to turn for help.
With the extended family, I eventually reached out to them for support. Once I opened up about it and let them know I was okay with it, this allowed them to relax a bit more and ask questions to understand. I no longer care much about what other people in the Indian community say. I encourage people to ask me questions directly, and I respond honestly and sincerely. In most cases, people no longer gossip because they have more understanding about my son and see that I am not ashamed of him.
I sometimes wish that prior to all of this I had understood the conflict in my child’s mind. I wish I had been a part of his journey and had been there for him as a resource and strength. I wish I had known about being LGBT and that being gay or trans is not an abnormal condition but falls in the normal spectrum of sexuality and gender identity, and that it is not something that someone chooses as a lifestyle choice.
If I could give any advice now to myself in those early stages, or to any parent just beginning the journey, I would say this: It is not the end of a future for your child. It is a new beginning that will make her/him truly happy and liberated. Don’t be phased by the ignorant and insensitive people out there. You are not alone; you have support from your own child, and may even find support in extended family. Reach out to them.
While I do not have any reservations about who my child is anymore, I still sometimes worry that he will face rejection from some people and face discrimination in the world as change is slow. I also do worry about his long term health and that he may not confide in me if there is a health issue. I struggle with the possibility that he may not be as closely connected to our family and move further away, and I would like a closeness to exist. Ultimately, though, I want my child to be happy and have unlimited opportunities to do whatever he aspires to do. I want him to have a family of his own, so that when we are gone, he is not alone.