Reading Time: 4 minutes
Have you gone crazy? “What do you mean you are gay?”
“You are letting the family down.”
“What will happen when your grandparents and uncles find out?”
“This is not what girls from our culture and background do.”
“Don’t do this to us in our old age.”
“How will you have babies?”
“This is not normal.”
“We love you – but please can you just be normal.”
Rina returned home one day to find her things packed up and left outside the house. She was told, in no uncertain terms, to leave the family home.
Only a few days before, she had come out to her family.
“What do you mean you are gay?”
Her mother, who is usually extremely outspoken, was stunned and in complete disbelief. Her father did all the screaming.
That was a few years ago in Singapore.
Today, Rina lives in Sydney with her partner and co-parents her partner’s two-year-old daughter from an earlier relationship. She is resuming higher studies soon and hopes to get a job in childcare.
Life has been a roller coaster ride for Rina. It has been a complex, painful, challenging and lonely journey of personal discovery and growth.
“I was working in childcare in Singapore when I got a fantastic offer of managing a centre for a French resort in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,” Rina told Indian Link. “By this point in time I knew I had a connection with women, but it was hard for me to come out within my strong Malayalee community and Singaporean-Indian cultural background. Perhaps, that was one of the reasons I took the job offer in KL!”
Rina’s life at the resort was rewarding. It was a safe and respectful environment for gay relationships and she felt more at ease with herself.
It was at the resort that she met her current partner. After a few twists and turns the couple decided to move to Sydney.
This was Rina’s moment of truth; her final and complete acceptance of who she was and the fact that she would now have to tell her family. It was the right time, she thought – wrongly, as it turned out.
The joy of being in a loving committed relationship and co-parenting a child, keeps Rina’s hopes alive that there will one day be complete acceptance by her family and her community.
There were no histrionics in Shirley’s family. There has been acknowledgement and silent acceptance and she is thankful for that.
“One of the first things my mum said to me on being given the news was, ‘it’s a harder route to take in life’,” she told Indian Link.
She is from a SriLankan background, raised in Malaysia, and now lives in Sydney.
“Perhaps part of my family acceptance comes from the fact that we have moved around a lot and have never had deep roots within our community.”
Yet Shirley can recognise the truth in her mother’s words.
As a South Asian lesbian, she seems to have separated the wheat from the chaff and defines the issue with great clarity and pragmatism.
“It can be a very lonely and isolating experience for most people from that cultural background. There are very few forums, Trikone Australasia is one, which help you feel supported and validates who you are. Migrant families hold onto their memories of the cultural attitudes that were present when they left, while the country moves on. A lot of migrant families here still think that being gay is unnatural.”
Additionally, there are issues with relating to the mainstream.
“We are a minority within a minority,” Shirley said. “We learn to reconcile being South Asian and being GLBTQI. You don’t have to leave one to become the other!”
Speaking with several other women of South Asian background who are of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Inter Sex, or Questioning (LGBTQI) persuasion, I felt like I was, with some trepidation, opening a door to look inside their world, not really knowing what to expect. I was met with enthusiasm, warmth and an outpouring of emotion and thoughts. I could feel the emotional turmoil as they narrated their stories to me.
Acceptance. It was obvious that first and foremost, this is what they all crave: ‘I am who I am’. They just want to be able to lead their lives like ‘regular’ people.
Just like the rest of the South Asian community, they belong to families with very strong connections and deep roots, and find it hard to have to leave it all behind.
They empathise with their parents and understand that it is hard for them as well.
But they themselves, cannot pretend any more.
“I can feel my parents are overwhelmed and emotionally distraught, and have withdrawn because they don’t know how to deal with it.”
“My parents have been swaying between disbelief, rejection, meltdowns, tantrums, threats and complete withdrawal.”
“I don’t want to carry any flags, I just want to live my life in a normal way and feel accepted in the community.”
“I can no longer pretend for the heterosexual world.”
“I am not doing anything wrong.”
Services that are required to reach out to the gay community
South East Asian support groups for parents A safe and supportive environment for families of gay youngsters where discussions and sharing of information can take place freely. Parents should be able to talk about their feelings and issues openly and also learn coping strategies themselves.
LGBTQ Forums A platform to provide education and information on being gay and dispel myths and perceptions about this section of our community
Events where the community can meet socially and in a fun, relaxed environment like BBQs, bike rides, sports clubs, camping events etc.
Coming out to the family
It can be a lonely journey of self-discovery and growth
Reading Time: 4 minutes