In a recent interview with Lifeworks, a nonprofit organization seeking volunteers to mentor LGBTQI youth, Nia, the interviewer, posed the question, "How is your relationship with your parents?" I reply, "It's great!" "So they are 100% okay with you being gay, you've introduced them to boyfriends and all of you have spent holidays together?" she inquires. Maybe my relationship with them isn't as great as I think.
In 2014, my parents spent two weeks with me at my apartment in West Hollywood. They apologized for disowning me for four years and for things said and done. My dad told me he wanted me to settle down with a nice guy. He also asked educated questions on gay sex. I sensed my mom's discomfort. She was more reserved. My parents even went to an LGBTQIA spiritual center I go to. I took these as huge victories.
Since that visit, things had seemed great between us until recently, when I shared a picture of someone I was dating on our family group text. There was silence. I inquired with my mom and she said that she loves me but it's uncomfortable for her to discuss my sexuality. She added, "It's not the same in India as it is in L.A." I reminded her there are families in India that support their LGBTQI children. I was more hurt because I had shared something exciting and hadn't even gotten a response. She said when I explained it like that, she understood clearly.
"So, do you want to start over?" I asked. "Where is he from?" She replied. My heart was filled with joy and this felt like such a huge step with my mom. I was so proud of her.
A month later, an article I had written on homophobia was published. I was elated and sent it to my family. I received an obligatory congrats from my parents, which was in stark contrast to the rousing support and praise from my brother.
I decided to confront my parents.
Me: Did you read my article?
Me: What did you think?
Mom: Good article.
Me: Are you going to share it on Facebook?
Me: Why not?
Mom: I know the people we are in contact with and how their reaction will be.
Me: So, their reaction is more important than my success?
Mom: We are happy about your success as a writer but not the topic.
This felt like we just took several steps back. I share all of this with Nia. "Do you think your parents accept or tolerate your sexuality?" she asks. Now I'm really lost for words. Nobody has ever asked me that question. I find myself feeling sad, angry, confused, and shocked. I won't be asked to volunteer here I think to myself.
I realize I'm in a mental war with my parents. I try to use the tools I used previously in order to heal my relationship with them but nothing is working. All loving thoughts have left the building. I offer up my relationship to the Universe and say, "I don't know what to do. Show me what to do. This is yours now."
A few days later, in meditation, I ask, "What does my mom really think of me?" Suddenly, I sense how much she loves me and how she feels disappointed for not being able to show up for me in the way I'd like her to. This really surprises me. I feel moved to text her. I pull up the screen and see the last text she sent me and I'm back to being upset. Every time I go to text her, her last text just eats away at me. I decide to erase our entire text history. A fresh start! It feels symbolic. I finally manage a text about her health.
This experience with my mom really made me understand love and forgiveness. I knew forgiveness meant to make peace, to accept the things that happened, to release judgement of the past, but I'd never connected love with forgiveness.
I recently read:
"What comes through me shows me what I am. To learn that I am love, I must teach love. Forgiveness, love's reflection, is how I do that in this world."
I hadn't been fully accepting my mom and loving her in the way I had wanted her to love and accept me. So I decided to take a stand for my mom. To be an advocate for her. To look at the little girl in her and say, "It's okay you have trouble dealing with me being gay. I will continue to love you." That has become my practice. And it's okay that my parents can't be advocates for me right now.
Having families be proud of their LGBTQI children and support them can foster an attitude of "I don't care what other people think of me since my family accepts my sexuality." That can not only boost one's confidence but also propel a journey to self love.
I was recently at a Human Rights Lecture Series where a Chinese gay activist mentioned that the most successful nonprofit organizational model in China has been PFLAG. It made me think about what a huge role family plays in many cultures and the migrant population of those countries represented in other nations. If every family member of every LGBTQI person around the world told them that they loved and accepted their sexuality regardless of cultural, societal, or historical beliefs, how drastically the LGBTQI movement would change?
I did end up becoming a mentor with Lifeworks to a 19 year old whose relationship with his family seems a lot like mine. As far as acceptance versus tolerance goes, I think my parents are on the journey to acceptance.