I was 18 and in my bedroom when my mother came in to talk to me. I could smell the suspicion on her. I knew the time had come to tell her about my girlfriend but she beat me to it.
“I have noticed that since this girl has come into your life you have been getting many flowers,” she said.
Gulp. Okay, I can do this. “Yes, Mom, you are right. That is because we’re in love. We are together. I really do love her with all my heart.”
Her reaction wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Not at first anyway. “What will people think, Parul?” she said, turning away. “This is just not possible.”
I burst into tears and stormed out of the room. A few moments later I heard a tap on the door of the room at the end of the hall where I was hiding with all my sadness over her reaction. She stepped forward and took me in her arms, showing me the affection and comfort I so needed at that vulnerable, scary time. I cried even harder then.
Coming out is often an unnerving process and it doesn’t end with telling your family. We come out — or don’t — every day of our lives and you can never be sure of the impact that this disclosure will have on a relationship, whether you’ll be accepted or rejected for being open about your sexuality.
But coming out to our families is particularly critical and not all queer individuals are as readily accepted as I was by my mom. The pain of rejection can run deep and affect how much of our personal identity is caught up in our sexual identity.
I see so many queers, young and old, clinging to the Church St scene and its uber-gayness as a means of alleviating the rejection they feel from family. We all crave acceptance and if we don’t find that acceptance in one place we seek it elsewhere.
There’s nothing wrong with being devoted to the gaybourhood but it’s easy to become insulated and miss out on the wider world. Just as we grow up and discover the world outside our families, we have to discover life beyond the Church St party scene.
Plus the bars and clubs in the village are full of people partying hard, which can be harmful for someone who doesn’t know when to draw the line, especially to a newly out person anxious to fit in. It’s okay to let loose but this escapism can be a crutch for queers looking to feel better about themselves in the face of familial rejection.
Every day I’m reminded of how grateful I am to have such a beautiful and accepting mother. She was raised a traditional Hindu but adjusted to the diaspora that took her from Africa to England and finally to Canada to raise her family. She chose to accept me in spite of what she had been taught by her religion. She was the first to teach me to love myself for who I am so that I don’t have to seek out affirmation elsewhere.
But not everyone is so lucky. I remember the chaos when my first girlfriend came out to her family. She was disowned and kicked out of her house. Her dad was Muslim and taught to be against this “ungodly” behaviour. Like my mother, my girlfriend’s mother was Hindu and although she didn’t practice her religion as faithfully she had no problem manipulating the teachings of Hinduism, which preach tolerance of diversity, to affirm her hatred of her daughter’s sexuality.
My girlfriend lived at a shelter for two weeks and it broke my heart, until I invited her to move in with my family. She lived with us for two years. I didn’t tell my family that it was because of her relationship that she no longer had a home of her own, just that she was being mentally abused.
Another good friend of mine recently came out to his intensely homophobic father and is now facing the silent treatment. He is a 25-year-old black man and though his father may have suspected before, he can’t seem to accept that his son is gay. So my friend parties on Church St where he can flaunt his sexuality and feel good about himself, but when he returns home he is pushed back into a closet of shame.
The queer village will always provide a visible community for Toronto’s homos, one that sustains queer culture in an open, accessible way. It’s not going to become less relevant as coming out experiences (hopefully) improve.
But we need other options too, like more communal activities beyond the gay party scene that offer a sense of belonging and support and discussion groups that encourage healthy self-esteem. A healthier sense of oneself can only strengthen the queer community as a whole.