I met my mother thirty-three years ago, in the closed ward of a maternity clinic hidden away in one of Bombay’s many suburbs (the only one without a train station to its name, governed by two defunct political bodies, a local slumlord and a seedy bar.)
It was an ordinary sort of day, and the morning newspapers reported nothing interesting – a slight surge in the steadily decreasing share market, the birth of an ageing actress’s secret seven-pound love child and the predictable death of an unscrupulous MLA suffering from pneumonia. Everything would change shortly after.
I came out, bawling; but I wasn’t done coming out yet.
Over the past three decades, I’ve been a brat. I fussed over the excess oil in my meals, grew moody when she wouldn’t reply to my texts, and threw tantrums while out shopping. I was the quintessential gay man in any relationship. Only I was being the quintessential gay man with mom. Was that the end of it?
I met my mother all over again, when I came out to her over lemon tea and biscuits, seven years ago. Ten minutes of a soul stirring monologue later, she looked at me with one simple question: ‘What do we with all the jewellery we saved up for your wedding?’
And then she sipped her tea. It was that simple. Other questions were asked over the next hour (How are you feeling? Should I read some books to get on board? Why didn’t you tell us before? Are you happy? But more importantly, are you okay?), but we’d crossed the finish line of acceptance with that one heartwarming, but succinct doubt. Was she happy?
Being the Indian son that I am, I never asked.
Coming out of the closet is no cakewalk, no matter what background you come from or what timeframe you are raised in – your mind will always be a minefield of questions:
Will I know how to do it? (No.) Will everyone accept me for who I am? (No.) Can I pretend none of this ever happened and go back to a straight life? (Obviously not.) Will it all be okay in the end? (Yes.)
Seven years ago, I came out to my mum with only one goal. Wishing for a mansion in Los Angeles and a six-script movie deal with Warner Bros. aside, I just wanted her to get on board. Why?
That’s easy: because she’s mom.
I am not trying to discount my dad’s reaction (he was as accepting and jovial as her, if you are wondering – he even hugged me awkwardly in the end) but there’s always something more substantial about your mother’s approval. After all, she’s the one who quit her dreams, braved morning sickness apart from nine months of labor, and popped me out with nothing more than a nurse’s hand to squeeze (because you know, she didn’t have the comforts of 2021 at hand).
Or maybe, because I am an out-and-proud mama’s boy.
My coming out was anticlimactic. There were no tears (apart from mine) or heated words, only tea and heartfelt hugs. I braced myself for things to change slowly. But the ‘Who are you with?’ and ‘Where are you going at this time of the night?’s never came up; neither did passive hints of rebuttal at my sexuality. Yes, she still thinks that I drink and party too much, and work way too little – but she did so even before she knew I was gay.
It wasn’t ‘let’s-find-you-a-boy,’ happy, but it was happy nevertheless.
But that’s the thing. For every story that can turn into a full-fledged Bollywood tearjerker, there are hundreds that never find their happy ending. I know of countless boys whose mothers didn’t dole out acceptance speeches (and unfortunately for some of them, maybe they never will), they just doled out their sons instead.
Rahim’s mother threw him out. Binay’s mother threw out his laptop. Carl’s mother worried that the Devil had brainwashed him. Raj’s mother worried that his friends had brainwashed him. Ankit’s took him to see a psychiatrist. Ali’s took him to see a girl.
Coming out stories are as new as crop tops in the summer, I get that. But this isn’t just a thank you letter to my mom; it is an ode to all the mothers who didn’t feel compelled to sign up their sons for the gay matrimonial (they don’t exist anyway). This is for all the mothers who didn’t tag along for the Pride parade or flash the rainbow flag at a family lunch. This is for the mothers who don’t gush about their son’s boyfriends or help pick out their outfits for fashion week. This is especially for all the mothers out there who don’t want to know all the lurid details of their son’s hidden lives.
Is my mom completely comfortable with my sexuality? Maybe not. Is she curious about the gay life? Not really. Does she love me to death nonetheless? Always.
It wasn’t just my life that changed over tea that evening, my mother’s did too. These are the mothers that often get left behind in the conversation. We hear about the rule makers, the rule breakers, the advocates, the haters and the bigots. But what about the moms who accept things at their own pace?
It’s been a long and bumpy journey, but I know it’s been tougher for my mother. She’s been trying, and I love her every bit for it. In fact, I appreciate her all the more for it – I’m so proud of her, I could be her mother.
To all the mothers who are reading this who will ultimately have to deal with their own child’s coming out, I say this: don’t feel guilty about not being completely on board till you’ve asked all your questions. It’s okay not to be okay. As long as your child is not being made to feel unloved or uncared for, express your love (and confusion). That’s half the battle won. The other half is finding a nice, handsome and charming boy who can spend the rest of his life with your ungrateful child.
Thanks for meeting me on the other side, mom. I promise that it just gets better.
Now about the jewellery you saved for my wedding…