Ever since Karan Johar has announced the birth of his twins, Yash and Roohi, a wave of joy has spread through the Indian queer community. Karan’s parenthood is being seen as the next massive stride that the community has taken.
The queer existence is something of a paradox in the Indian society. While the Indian State still sees us as outlaws, the queer community continues to flourish. Apps like Grindr and Scruff get downloaded and used; gay-parties continue to be thrown; Pride marches continue to happen; (rich) gay men get married; and now, they are also becoming fathers.
Clearly, so long as you have deep pockets, you can lead an openly gay life in India – with all the sex, parties, hook-ups, weddings, and even children now.
The Binary Between Gay and Straight Parents
But a gay man’s aspiration to become a parent is often met with reservations. Apart from the legal impediments which prohibit a single man to adopt children, there are other more logistical concerns that are raised (sometimes in the most distasteful language): is it fair to deprive a child of maternal love in their growing-up years? In case of a single gay man, who will look after the child when the man is out earning the bread? How will the child deal with the idea of having just one father or two fathers unlike his/her peers once he steps out in the world? What kind of value system will the child inherit? Etc.
Is it not curious that while the fitness of gay parents to have children is scrutinised from many angles, the fitness of straight parents to have gay children is not? Of course, you may turn around to say that the two are incomparable – because the former is a choice whereas the latter is not. No straight parent chooses to have a gay child. They just happen to have a child, who, after many years they realise, mostly to their dismay, is gay.
But once this realisation dawns upon them, what extra measures do they take to make things smoother for the child? Why do they never realise that parenting gay children requires a different set of skills? Do straight parents bother to take some kind of counselling session or read parenting manuals exclusively meant for gay children?
Are such manuals even being written in the first place?
It’s about time such questions are also raised. It must be acknowledged that gay men grapple with a bunch of complexes at different stages of life. Coming out doesn’t solve the problem, and most of the time, only worsens it. In a deeply moving essay, Michael Hobbes talks about how the epidemic of loneliness inflicts gay men of all kinds. Even in the most developed and liberal societies, where marriage rights are now almost a given, gay men continue to end their own lives at an alarming rate.
Michael writes in his essay:
“Growing up gay, it seems, is bad for you in many of the same ways as growing up in extreme poverty. A 2015 study found that gay people produce less cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress. Their systems were so activated, so constantly, in adolescence that they ended up sluggish as grownups, says Katie McLaughlin, one of the study’s co-authors. In 2014, researchers compared straight and gay teenagers on cardiovascular risk. They found that the gay kids didn’t have a greater number of ‘stressful life events’ (i.e. straight people have problems, too), but the ones they did experience inflicted more harm on their nervous systems.”
This only serves to reiterate the earlier point: dealing with gay kids is very different from dealing with straight kids.
What Parents of Gay Kids Need to Encourage
The situation becomes all the more complex in India where most gay men live with their parents. There lies a huge challenge of making straight parents understand that it’s not simply a matter of the child liking people of his/her own gender, but a matter of the child dealing with a whole lot of other issues that come as a package deal.
His being gay is not simply a sexual preference, but also includes adopting a completely different paradigm of life which, with all its quirks and deviances, may seem odd to the straight parents. But then, so do their lifestyles to their gay children. Just as it is not the straight parents’ fault that their kid turned out to be gay, so is it not the fault of the gay kid that his parents are not gay and cannot understand his challenges.
A hetero-normative world, however, is a norm. Queer people have to fit in. And once they come out, they have to fit into a new virtual queer world that they begin to inhabit.
Which is to say that the struggle never ends.
Parents of gay kids cannot rely on the traditional sources of parenting advice, namely, experiences of their own parents, their own experiences, experiences of their peers, depictions in popular culture. All of these are extremely inadequate to equip these parents to deal with gay kids.
The parents may neither have access to the vocabulary and the idiom with which they can understand the problems of their gay child, nor do they care to acquire them. They may think they have already done a favour by accepting the child as he is and not disowning him, and that to expect anything beyond this acceptance is asking for too much. The message seems to be: you can be gay in your bedroom (if you have one; if not, figure something out on your own), but don’t bring all your gay mess to my dining table.
We don’t hesitate for a moment to raise a hundred questions about gay parents raising (straight) children.
In other words, gay parents need to prove their worth before raising children – whereas the competence of straight parents in raising gay children is almost taken for granted.
(Yash Raj Goswami is a teacher and a freelance writer.)