The Delhi University Queer Collective (DUQC) organised the third edition of its Parents and Relatives of Queer Persons Meet with Mumbai-based wellness counsellor and psychologist, Deepak Kashyap, known for his support and valuable research of the LGBTQIA community. The event took place at Max Mueller Bhawan on January 13, 2018 and saw participation of people from across all age groups and domains, from students to teachers to jounalists and professionals. DUQC member Anmol Chowdhury commenced the meet by giving a brief introduction of DUQC and Deepak’s association with the collective since the past three editions.
The session kicked off with an immensely powerful documentary by Sopan Muller – My Child Is Gay And I’m Happy. It dealt with coming out stories of people in all parts of the country interspersed with excerpts of reactions of the general public towards homosexuality in India.
CAT-TY MERA INDIA
Deepak took over after the documentary, comparing Indians to cats, in that cats are never ready to listen, not there to suit your opinions and are a mixed bag of differing personalities (but they’re lovely!) in contrast to dogs, who attempt to please you. He went on to state that a person’s socio-economic stature is never indicative of their outlook. There is hardly any association between socio-economic conditions and the acceptance of queer identities, as was evident from the documentary that we’d just watched.
He cited the example of Abhina Aher, who’s story was shown in the documentary. Her mother, who is a Dalit and didn’t receive any formal education, accepted her child’s sexuality wholeheartedly. Her social standing, and the social exclusion she’s faced all her life, did not prevent her from supporting her child. Deepak mentioned how he frequently hears his clients refer to their families as “conservative”, and questioned the meaning of the term.
One of the audience members spoke of how his parents asked him to move to Canada when he came out of the closet, subtly expressing their displeasure in a sugarcoated manner. It was his sister’s unwavering support that helped him navigate through tough times.
FIGHT FOR ACCEPTANCE
Another audience member who’d waited to attain financial security and become independent before disclosing his sexual orientation to his brother, was of the view that freedom of sexual identity can come at too heavy a price. At this point, a participant enquired if Canada and other Western countries are safe havens for LGBTQIA individuals, as is widely believed, to which Deepak responded in the negative. Yes, they can be more accepting, but fighting for human rights can prove to be a highly expensive affair. He also stressed on how Indians are largely more accepting of transgenders than Western countries.
An upper caste, upper class, working person of the community has no reason to leave the country, as that might only lead to further oppression and sense of isolation. Some participants were doubtful as to how they should respond when their friends ask them if they’re sure about the sexual orientation or if it is simply a phase. “How do I tell them that it is not a choice, it’s me?”, one of them enquired. Deepak playfully replied that one should either answer such ignorant and insensitive questions with sass, or may resort to anger.
A member of DUQC raised an issue wherein even after coming out, the family still might be in denial of your identity; forcing you to retreat into the closet. He also expressed his dismay over popular fiction’s unrealistic portrayal of the coming out process, usually shown in its two extremes- wonderfully easy or extremely tedious and disheartening.
Deepak spoke at length about how our need for validation and urgent happiness act as a burden. Advising a change in thought process, he reminded everyone that the romantic idea of a partner completing our own selves was borrowed from Europe more than 400 years ago, and that the Indian idea depicts a wildly different picture. Shiva and Shakti dance together, but are not dependent on each other for their individual happiness and are separate entities.
Another participant raised their apprehension about how gender dysphoria might need a different kind of acceptance as compared to other queer issues. Deepak motivated them by stressing that though the journey of gender transformation won’t be without its hardships, it is not impossible. He also asked the participant to not make their physical transformation a prerequisite for acceptance; both self and societal. He went on to state the difference between “if I get your approval, then I will be happy” and “if I get your approval, then I will be happier”, emphasising on how vital the latter outlook is for one’s own mental health.
After a short 10-minute break, the discussion resumed and this time, tackled the subject of depression in the community. Ancient Indic philosophies around the meaning of happiness and acceptance were put forth. He talked about the Maharashtrian philosophy of Abhanga which is woven in Marathi Bhakti poetry (anything that takes away from the division, the like, the zero, the null, the circle), and how it is entirely upto us to determine which part of the circle we give meaning to.
There are three things we harshly judge in life: Ourselves, others, and life. If we choose to give in to our victim narrative when we know that we are capable of successfully diverting our minds away from it and dealing with the root problem, we are in the wrong. “Persecution Olympics will not lead us anywhere. One has the option to choose between conquering the world and wanting to conquer the desire to conquer.”
He also introduced the interesting thought experiment of Tourist Lover. Imagine you meet someone who you really like and would love to spend time with, but are told that you only have three days with that person. You’ll discover that you’ll be ready to forgive your partner a lot more than had you not known that your time was limited. Deepak urges us all to always remember that we’re all tourists here, living on borrowed time. Nature doesn’t care what you want, and more often than not, nor do other people. So instead of demanding others’ approval, we can invest our time in making certain and small adjustments that may help us live happier lives.
Deepak was quick to point out the difference between compromise and adjustment; making sure that no one misinterpreted his words. He cautioned everyone against accepting abuse in any shape or form. He talked about purposefully putting yourself in uncomfortable positions and then letting go, which struck a chord with many participants.
He went on to emphasise the importance of meditation and physical exercise in the healing process along with introducing a very interesting concept of NARA (Notice, Accept, Re-evaluate, Action) which he mentioned as a simple but powerful way to deal with any issue one encounters in life.
On talking about the queer culture, he caught most of the participants by surprise on his mention of the Kothi culture that has been a part of the Indian queer family system since ages, wherein older feminine gay men adopt younger feminine gay men. On enquiry, he explained how this has been perfectly underground in almost all areas of the country. Another member from the DUQC raised a fundamental concern regarding what could be the best and safest way of coming out to his family. Deepak gave him a very concrete and satisfactory answer, that is to first earn sufficient amount of money, be at a good place in life and then come out as a confident person to your family.
He also mentioned ‘Pink booklet’, a book authored by him as a good reading material for parents to broaden their mental horizons towards accepting queer identities. He went on to talk about the general pursuit of happiness and motivated all the participants with his powerful and inspiring thoughts. The session concluded with all the participants applauding Deepak for his impactful thoughts, everyone in the room filled with a fresh feeling of love, knowledge and contentment.
(Report by Aswathy Nair and Yash Chaudhary)