Question: “How should brown queer kids tell their parents that they are queer, and how to deal with the reactions. What is the best way for children to tell their parents that they are gay ?”
When Rumneek first started the Sh*t You Can’t Ask Your Parents column, I was excited to see what new “anti-uncle” advice I’d be editing every week… until I was asked to write a response to this very, ahem, nuanced question. Given that neither the queer community nor the South Asian community are monolithic entities, and that coming out to my parents practically left me unscathed, I am barely qualified to be giving any advice—so I’ll just tell you what I know instead.
Last year, when I interned at Xtra (something I can’t seem to shut up about), I shared my very unintentional experience of coming out to my parents over FaceTime. It was… interesting. Funnily enough, the most crucial takeaway from the whole saga for me was something most brown parents are so averse to—communication.
The TikTok trend, with the sound “I love gay people… what about you guys? Are you guys homophobic?” is emblematic of my first step in my entirely made-up, coming-out blueprint.
In answering this question, I want to counter it by first asking: why is it that we need to be figuring out how to come out to our parents to begin with?
As queer brown kids, we try to almost “compensate” and make our parents happy in other aspects of our lives, because we know that somewhere deep down, we’ve already disappointed them. We’ve disappointed them by our inability to be attracted to certain people, or to conform to the primitive understanding of gender we were assigned at birth. But why do we then conflate our happiness with their approval?
For the most part, my parents are pretty progressive people; a gift that is not afforded to many queer South Asian kids.
However, I remember when I was watching Modern Family in our living room years ago with my dad in Mumbai, and the episode where Mitch and Cam finally get married was on. When Jay, Mitch’s veteran, macho dad helped them get married despite all the wildfires that were symbolic of the roadblocks to queer love, it was a very emotional moment for me.
When the two kissed (the Indian intern in charge of censoring it most certainly must have gotten fired), my dad made a funny face, as though he had smelled a fart—something I’ll never forget.
That was the moment I decided that I would never tell anyone about my queerness, that I would take it to my grave and would give my best performance for the rest of my life as an ally—an origin story true for many queer people I know.
I tried to find happiness and solidarity within myself, and elsewhere. I knew that I would have to find other ways to fulfill what I thought was missing as a result of my parents not knowing my truth. I was relatively successful in doing this, until one day I just couldn’t anymore.
I realized that the love that I had found in other queer friendships and relationships, the kind of support that sustained me, is what I wanted from my mom and dad too. So, I came out to them on a whim.
What we often forget is that it takes great courage to be able to do that, especially when you don’t know how your parents may react. But what propels you to finally do it, is when you get a taste of what has been absent from your relationship with them. When you build the support systems you need—made up of people who understand your position, who understand what you’re going through—it begins to feel less and less daunting.
No one can tell you how to come out to your parents—there’s just no one tried and tested way of doing this. You need to suss out what your parents think about queerness. You yourself need to be ready to be able to discuss it. You need to be clear and concise when you tell them. You need to have the energy for them to take some time to digest it. You need to be ready to have a game plan in the dire event that everything goes as poorly as you imagined it would. There’s a whole list of things I could tell you to remember as you do this.
It sucks. It sucks to have to play mental gymnastics, to have to think about what your parents may or may not say, to contend with the fact that you may not even know your parents well enough to speculate accurately enough by virtue of certain South Asian family dynamics. It sucks to feel isolated in going through this ordeal.
The only thing that will push you through is communication. Honest communication with yourself, with your parents, and with your support system—whether or not it involves your parents. Even outside the context of queerness, it has the potential to repair other aspects of your relationship, that might just make coming out less unnerving.
And who’s to say it has to be a disconcerting experience? That’s the flip side of not knowing our brown parents—they may just react how you hope they will, just like my dad did.
So while I can’t give you an answer that works for all queer brown kids, I can tell you that communicating your truth in any aspect, with consideration for your immediate safety, is what you should pay attention to. Things may go better than you think.
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