S1: Before I came here, I was like I was really scared of, like, all this LGBT stuff, I guess, like I’ve never seen a gay people in flesh in India, like I’ve never met one or people who are like openly gay.
S2: So coming here, meeting people, I remember like suddenly like walking down the road and like realizing tears started flowing down my cheeks and I was like, oh, shit, I’m gay.
S3: This is how two trolls do it. Each week we help listeners work through a problem.
S4: And this week, our listener is struggling with something we’ve all experienced some degree how to get your parents to accept you. I’m Hamah.
S5: I’m a biomedical research at Ohio State and I’m gay.
S4: Hey, I didn’t fully admit to herself that she was gay until it just a few years ago in her mid-20s after she moved from India to the U.S..
S5: Initially, it was like I didn’t want to, like, be gay. So I was like six months of struggle of trying to be straight, but that never works out. And then as like slowly starting to accept myself finding finding out people out there finding out stories.
S6: One of the big issues for him is that even though being a lesbian is something she’s embraced. It’s a very different story with her family who still live in India. In particular, Hamma has struggled with getting her mom, who’s who’s a big part of her life to accept this. In fact, she can hardly even get her to discuss it. Five months ago, Hamid called her up.
S7: I told her, like, hey, mom, you know, you’ve been searching up for a guy. So I want to tell you something important. Like, I don’t think I’ll ever get married to a guy and I’m not attracted to men. I said I’m gay. And she’s like, are you going gonna marry a gay guy?
S8: I’m like, no, I’m gay.
S9: I mean, I’m gonna marry women. And she’s like, I don’t want to talk about it. Like, don’t talk such stupid stuff.
S6: Haymitch tried to have this conversation a few more times, but each time her mom almost immediately shut it down.
S9: Like, my brother keeps telling me that she’s like she was like, really upset for like weeks after that. But, you know, as life goes on, he’s like sometimes she tells my mother it’s like she’s she is like bad health issues because her daughter is gay.
S10: How does that make you feel to know that she feels like you’re a something that she’s ashamed of?
S9: Oh, it kills me. It makes me feel really sad.
S11: Like it makes me feel like I can’t give what she wants from me. And sometimes that that makes me really sad. Like, maybe I should, like, not be like gay. But after a while, you realized that’s something that you can choose.
S12: So how do we get our loved ones, a mom or a dad or an older sibling to accept who we are when it’s something that they’re uncomfortable with? How do we get our parents to see us as adults when our desires might be passions they can’t understand or don’t want to acknowledge exist? After the break, we’ll talk to someone who’s gone through something very similar to Hamma and made it through to the other side.
S13: Stay with us.
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S15: We’re back with Hamma, who’s struggling to get her mom to accept that she’s gay. Growing up in India, famous that she didn’t know any openly gay people, her family would watch The Ellen Show every day. But she never realized Ellen DeGeneres was a lesbian until she came to the U.S. And Hema thinks this is part of the problem for a mom, that it’s really hard to put the news that her daughter is a lesbian in the right context.
S1: I can truly understand where she comes from because I used to be in that environment. I used to think like her so I can totally relate, like why she’s saying stuff that she’s saying. But it’s really difficult to like navigate Indian families because in India, like families make your decisions. They’re like they’re part of your life much more than like in a U.S. society or a Western society, I guess. And there’s no, like, bad way to have a like a happy Indian gay family or happy Indian lesbian family.
S6: But despite the fact that it was scary and hard, Heymann knew she had to be true to who she was.
S9: And then like like I told one of my co-workers, and it was like it’s not even like a big deal. And that, like was like, shocking. And then I slowly realized nobody cares here.
S10: Was it was it the first person you told was your co-worker?
S2: Yeah, that was the first person I deal after that. I’ve tried telling my two of my close friends back in India. But it did not go well. So tell me about what happened. So I don’t my like schoolfriend and she has never traveled. So she said like, this is all like American stuff. Like you’re getting Americanized. And she’s like, I don’t want to talk about this, like, we’ll find you a nice guy. So she’s still looking for a car to get remarried to. What about your other friend? Did that go better? Oh, no, we’re not even on talking terms now.
S1: Sometimes it’s like you question yourself, like maybe I’ll get married and like, stay like, straight or like act straight. But then it’s like within two days of thinking that it’s like, you know, it’s not gonna be possible or it’s like a stupid decision to make.
S16: But how do you find the balance to like you not losing people but also being yourself?
S17: Navigating these relationships has been particularly tough for him. Because she’s an ocean and a culture away from her closest family and friends. And so she doesn’t really know how to have these conversations in a way that might convince her friends and her mom to listen. Luckily, our expert has some experience with us.
S18: Hi, my name is Denali Gelati and I am a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I teach photography and film like Kmarts.
S17: Sonali was born in India and came to the U.S. in her 20s and she came out as a lesbian shortly afterwards.
S18: I was attracted to those as a teenager, but I dismissed it as just a wild fantasy and thought that everybody’s straight. And I mean, so that’s just the way it is supposed to be.
S10: When you were in the U.S. and you realized you were gay. What was it like telling your family? Did you. Did you tell your sisters first who your parents were? How did they react?
S19: They came after a few friends and I was debating coming out to my mother and hadn’t quite come up to her.
S20: And my mother died very suddenly. She died shortly after I came out to myself. And so I never got the opportunity to come out to my mother.
S6: This was a really big deal for Sonali without being able to tell her mother who she really was without having that conversation. It felt like the relationship with her mom was incomplete. And so Sonali decided to make a documentary about parents living in India who have a child who is gay or lesbian, in part to work through what that conversation with her mom would have been like over these last eleven years.
S21: I’ve often wondered how you might have reacted had I told you.
S22: I don’t want to hear anything about it. I’m sorry. I will not accept this. This is not normal. This is not natural. A woman needs a man. Well, that’s going to happen to my wedding plans for you. What are you saying? That you’re never going to get married. You’re never going to have children. You’re going to live with other women for the rest of your life. Is that what you’re telling me? Sonali called her film. I am.
S20: I was really curious of how bad industry act when their children come out to them. And specifically in the Indian context. And I guess I wanted to make a gift for my mother to say that, you know, even though she is no longer alive, if I were to come after to her.
S23: What would be a good resource for her?
S10: And when you were filming, I am about about kids coming out to their parents for about being gay or what were the parents reactions like?
S20: Parents had all kinds of reactions. I mean, they were parents will disown their children. They were parents who said, okay, it’s fine, but please don’t talk about it with anybody. They were parents who said, I wish you had told me earlier. And I wish you didn’t hold onto this secret for this long period. And I could have been much more of a support to you.
S10: Amy, let me ask you, like, if you had to if you had to, to put your mom on that spectrum, where do you think she falls?
S9: I think she thinks that I’m going to grow out of it. And she also doesn’t want to talk about it. And she thinks it might be shameful if the relatives come to know about it. That’s like the struggle that I have, like. I do understand her, but I also want to be myself.
S16: You know, already you draw the line like, how much do you sacrifice to keep your parents happy?
S24: This is a question that all of us at some point confront. Right. How do we be ourselves? And at the same time, invite our parents in. How do we live the life that we want?
S17: If part of that life makes them uncomfortable, oftentimes, unfortunately, there’s not an easy answer to that. But when we come back, Sonali will give Hamas some tips on how she might approach that conversation with her mom while also staying true to herself.
S25: Stick around.
S6: We’re back with our listener Hammer and documentary filmmaker Sonali Gulati, and one of the big issues for Hamma has been that her mom views being queer as basically a Western thing. Like like she’s been brainwashed by the United States.
S9: Yeah, I tried like bring up Ellen, but like the minute I brought up, Ellen was gay and she’s like, this is white people. And that’s like, I can’t talk about it. And then I try to find people who are like Indian and gay. And I like I can’t find a lot of examples to send her.
S6: And it’s worth pointing out that India isn’t the only country that’s been slow to recognize various sexual identities. It’s only recently that gay marriage became legal in the United States. India’s own law against homosexuality was struck down by that country’s Supreme Court less than two years ago after seven Indian citizens forced the country to confront the issue. And Sonali thinks that sharing their story, that might be a way to reach as mom.
S26: And these seven people said, we are Indian. We are professionals. And we have successful professional lives and we have other lives of action. Just being gay and that might be a good place to start is to say, OK, who are these seven people who fought this Supreme Court battle?
S10: Hey, man, what do you think? Would your mother react? You think? Well, to that, if you sent her an article profiling these people, these seven people who had who fought to to decriminalize homosexuality in India in 2018, how do you think she would react to those?
S9: I think she might react positively, but I’m not sure.
S1: I think like Shang, like about the seven people be helpful because if they like more successful and they’re able to have like a successful life in India to show her that it’s not some affectation of being in America, then it’s just being like yourself.
S26: I think the more we can share about the Indian queer people out there, that will definitely help to dispel this myth that being clear is not a Western phenomena. You know, seeing other Indian queer successfully people. Jenny, help dispel that myth.
S27: So here’s our first rule, and this can apply to any situation where we’re struggling to get our parents to accept our choices. It’s easier to explain who we are when we can point to examples of people like us who are already successful in research backs this up. There’s this natural inclination to see something that’s different as upsetting or wrong, but just a little bit of familiarity can offset that. If you want your parents to accept, you find an example of someone who they already think is successful, who who’s different the same way you are, and that will make it easier for them to hear what you’re saying.
S10: Who do you think came up if you were talking to your mom?
S15: What do you what do you how do you think she defines happiness?
S28: So one of the main issues my mom has is like, I’m never gonna marry a guy. And like in India, like, they hand over the daughter to another guy to look after her. And there’s not not going to be like that male figure to take care of me like financially or like or like protect me from the world. I think that’s like the thing that she brings up like two times that I try to talk to her. It’s like, who’s going to take care of you? And I like try telling her it’s like I can find someone. I don’t wanna be alone.
S16: And it’s like she always thinks that if you if you’re not married or like you don’t marry a guy, your life is not gonna be fulfilling. And chief feels like if I’m a lesbian, I might never have kids.
S10: Sonali, what’s that like for you? I mean, you’re a single mom and a lesbian. Has that been a challenge, you think, in a way that it wouldn’t have been for any single mom?
S20: Yeah, you know, I was in India last summer and there were two young women who worked in this house, but I was staying and they both asked me about my son’s father. And I said, Oh, there is no father.
S19: And they looked at me and puzzled and I said, you know, I went to a doctor and and I got pregnant.
S20: And one of them looked at me very skeptically, like, oh, yeah, you know, nice try. I know you probably had a one night stand and you are covering this up with something. And so it was kind of funny. And I was, you know, trying to be like, no, no, no, I’m telling you, this is really how it is.
S6: How much do you want children?
S9: Oh, I want to do the most difficult part about realizing that I was gay is like, how am I gonna have kids? And now I’m like, I’ve seen so many, like, happy families. Like when you become part of the community, you’re like exposed to a lot of families and they’re like, happy with kids.
S10: So let me ask you this. If you could say one thing to your mom to help her understand how she ought to define her sense of what happiness is for you. What would you tell her?
S29: I would tell that.
S9: I’ve realized like like one of the main things that she taught me as a kid is to like question everything. That’s why I am an sines like she would always say, like, don’t accept stuff just as it is, like always question it. And I think that’s one of the main things that led to the self-discovery. And I think I would be happier like living life on my own terms rather than just following someone else’s ideals and someone else’s principles as to how happy a life should be.
S23: You know, my wonderful things I know like what you said is that you’re sort of courting your mother and in the sense that she asked you to question everything. And I think that’s a really wonderful place to start, because it’s common ground and it’s a Simbikangwa story where Boston in my film came out and his mother and his mother was not happy about it. And he said to her, with your eyes, they still need to know the truth. And I’m speaking the truth.
S30: Now, one thing you taught me, you always taught us, to be honest. And it was bugging me because I couldn’t come out with this and be honest with you.
S23: And Gigi made his mother pause and say, that’s true. It really is. Your in some ways, upholding my bad is that I pass down to you. And it made her embraced her son in a way in a very different kind of way.
S31: Here’s the second rule speak your parents language, use your parents language to persuade them.
S27: Maybe they’re religious or maybe they worship science and reason. Maybe you disagree completely with how they see the world. But when you explain how your life fits into their definition of success, when you explain things from their point of view, it’s harder for them to turn away.
S31: If I was your mom and you were trying to explain to me what your experience has been like in the last four years in the United States, how would you explain that to me?
S16: So initially when I was when I just got I was gay, like I was really unhappy and I was like, so sad. And I was like, so disgusted with myself. Like, I didn’t want to live. I found out that I was gay and I was like. Slowly I came to terms with that and it’s like I want to live. And then it’s like I need to find out a way to live happily with who I am rather than like trying to act in everybody else’s, like, way and be happy, afraid, like realize I’m accepting myself. Life was much more like easier. Like it’s much more healthier. It’s much more like I feel lighter. Like I don’t want not hiding anything every day.
S9: I think that made me much more happier in the long term by being myself.
S10: You know, we all want our kids to be happy. What do you think your mom would feel or think or say if you told her that?
S9: I think she understands that.
S32: That I’ll be unhappy, by the way she’s asking me to be. But I think she feels that my life would be much easier.
S7: If I can bear with being straight.
S10: And how would you explain to her that that’s not true?
S9: Yeah. Try to explain to her like people are much more accepting here. And you can have kids and there are ways that people do what they’re like. Podcast about how to go about it. And there’s like so much help around you. And like, if she can understand that, I think she’ll be she’ll come around to being like, OK with it, I guess.
S10: Let me ask, what is your dating life been like since you came out? Have you. Have you found someone?
S9: I’ve dated one person. I initially I didn’t like date anyone. Like I started dating more guys.
S8: Yeah. I felt like I felt like the six months.
S9: I’m like, who am I kidding? I dated like one person. And then we broke up. And I like initially I thought, like, I didn’t want to bring someone else into this mess that I’m already in. But now I think that’s more of like a reason to, like, convince my mom that if I go have a girlfriend, I think she’ll be much more open to like accepting me that if there’s someone if it’s not theoretical, if there’s someone that she can meet and she can yes.
S10: She can get to know that that’ll make it easier for her.
S9: She always, like, finishes the conversation, like, I don’t want you to be alone.
S26: This conversation reminds me of a man who was in a support group of that I was a Berkoff and she said, I’m here to find a suitable match for my child. And so if there are any eligible, if you know anybody who is Indian and lesbian, then within this age group, please let me know. And I’d be all kind of laughed about it because it was kind of funny.
S23: But it also made a lot of sense because it’s it was this bad and we have sort of coming to terms with their daughter’s sexuality.
S26: But it was also a way of saying, I still want control, I still want to take my my child as. No.
S17: Here’s the final roll at the end of the day. Our parents mostly want us to be happy and so we should explain who we are in terms of happiness. They understand the famous mom doesn’t want her to be alone. Then the best explanation is that Hamma hopefully will someday find a woman to share her life with.
S6: And the best way to explain what happiness means to us is to honestly share our lives with our parents, both the good and the bad.
S17: If we want our parents to see us as adults, then we have to treat them like adults too.
S34: Let’s say that let’s say that you do all this, that you follow all these steps and you find examples of others for your mom to sort of see and learn from and and you try and have these conversations and let’s say your mom just never wants to engage that. She just she just says, look, I love you and I love you unconditionally. But this is a part of your life that I do not want to know about. And it makes me uncomfortable to talk about. And I don’t want it to be part of our relationship.
S10: How would you deal with that?
S9: I think I would start feeling like I’d found out that I was gay and was like I didn’t tell her for like a year or so. I felt like a lot of distance growing between us and then it’ll be like a really difficult life if she doesn’t want to be part of it, because that’s going gonna be a huge part of my life no matter what. Like I find someone or like have a kid and if she doesn’t want to be part of it. Like what part of my life would she be a part of? So would be like a really sad wave that that’s how it ends up.
S10: What do you think your mom would say if you said that to her?
S9: I lost my dad like seven or eight years ago. So you’ve grown much closer. And I think we rely on each other even though we don’t like openly accept it. But I want her to be part of my life. And I think she feels the same about me too.
S10: And are you planning on seeing her in person anytime soon?
S1: Yeah, I’m planning to fly. Me too.
S10: Oh, my gosh. So what do you what do you think you’re going to do when you when you get on the ground in May?
S1: I think like one of my main goals is to let go have like a Face-To-Face conversation with her and like tell her that it’s this is like this is who I am. And this is not like a phase. There is like hope and maybe like, show her the movie. I am weird. Like, explain the ground reality that in the US, like, it’s it’s perfectly fine and normal to be gay here and like have a family. And people are supportive.
S23: The other piece of advice I have is I think you might want to consider perhaps finding a home and seeing if she would be more open to reading a letter and just sort of do some groundwork before you go and speak to her in person. And me, I think it might help.
S9: I think I should write an e-mail. I don’t know why I didn’t think about that. Just talk to her every week. But yeah, I can write an email.
S10: So, hey, Matt, let me ask you. You would come to us asking, how do you get your mother to accept who you are? How do any of us get our parents to accept us when we’re not exactly the person that they hoped we would be? Do you feel like this advice that has helped you?
S9: Initially I was like scared writing to this podcast, like if I put it out there, there’s no way I’m going back. But that was like one of the main reasons. Like, I wanted to, like, put it out like I’m done with, like being scared. I might even send this podcast, my cousins. And it’s like, this is who I have. And like, if it’s like, helpful to someone else who’s like struggling like like me or like having like thoughts that I had and made them feel like less isolated, I’ll be, like, really happy.
S24: namma, I think you are so brave to be doing this and to be talking about it and to be grappling with this, and you’re so passionate and so dedicated to being your true self. Thank you. Thank you to Haimovitz and only for sharing their stories with us. And be sure to check out Sun Always Documentary I Am, which is available on Sonali film dot com speaking, which Hemo recently sent us a voice memo telling us her mom watched and always film and then called her to talk about it.
S35: We both watched the documentary I Am and I think it’s affected her and changed her in a positive way, I hope, because she said she’s open to having an elaborate discussion about my sexuality once I meet her in person in May. So thank you, guys. We hope your time with your mom goes well.
S24: Do you have a problem with your parents or anyone else that needs solving? Send us a note at how to its slate.com. And we will scour the globe to find the right person who can help. How TOS executive producer is Derek John, Rachel Allen is our production assistant in marriage. Jacob is our engineer. Our theme music is by Hamis Brown. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. And Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for Audio. Special thanks to Gabe Rosenberg, ushe soldier and Sung Park. I’m Charles Duhigg. Thanks for listening.