Can Parenting LGBTQ Kids Be 100% Supportive in India?
When law and culture is stacked against LGBTQ kids, how can parenting be supportive while also keeping kids safe?
Growing up as a gay, lesbian or transgender child anywhere in the world can be a difficult experience – more so in India. Here, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer) kids get seriously mixed messages about one of their most foundational attributes – compounding the typical struggle with self-acceptance, self-confidence, body image and attraction that all adolescents experience.
While you may have adapted and accepted your child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, society, unfortunately, hasn’t. As a client raising a gay child once confided to me, “I know [my son] is gay, I knew it from the time he was 7 years old. A mother knows, you know… I don’t mind, I am very comfortable. Live and let live I say, but I am worried about the people around us. I see how they look when he makes certain comments. I do not want problems you know? … I don’t want him to get into anything dangerous.”
It’s not just other people’s comments – there’s a complex cultural puzzle that combines to send devaluing messages to LGBTQ kids. Even so-called “progressive” Bollywood films have a tendency to make a mockery of characters’ sexuality or gender; it’s so much easier to laugh at than it is to acknowledge and accept differences. Academic institutions, whose purpose is the spreading of knowledge, often lack sexual education as a part of their curriculum; those that include it avoid any discussion about non-heterosexual relationships. And yet, how can movies and schools be blamed, when governing legislation declares homosexuality illegal, legitimizing society’s collectivist stigma.
This is the social, legal and cultural context every single gay or transgender child is born into in India; it is their reality, and parents often struggle to insulate them against it. Unconditional support is difficult when parents know their child is different and will be living a different lifestyle to the one expected of them by society. Many parents, like my client, worry whether it is possible for a handful of people – perhaps parents only – to provide an LGBTQ child with enough love and support to outweigh society’s negative messages. Is it possible to keep gay and transgender children safe while encouraging them to be true to themselves?
It’s difficult, it’s true, but even amid the negativity and stigma, the most important and powerful message is a parent’s. Parenting is the most powerful thing at your disposal to shape any child’s life in a positive manner. Parenting that creates a home environment of acceptance, identifies safe and supportive resources and strategies, and helps spread awareness can give LGBTQ kids in India and elsewhere a guiding light, even if there’s no way to fully drown all the messages of hate. Here are some suggestions on how to do that.
Talk to your child openly about sex, sexuality and gender identity without bias and in age-appropriate ways. This topic is the crux of personal safety. Do not be afraid to talk to discuss these topics, ideally starting at a young age. An active dialogue with your child that does not have a bias toward a certain gender or sexual orientation builds a feeling of safety and support for the child and ensures you and your child are on the same page, operating with the same information. If you, as a parent, are uncomfortable, approach a professional for guidance and clarity.
Familiarize yourself and your child with sensitive LGBTQ terms and check what terms they are comfortable with. Terms like ‘hermaphrodite’ and ‘chukka,’ while common, are offensive and inaccurate.
Make sure your child knows you love them for who they are and you want to listen to them. When kids feel supported at home, they’re less likely to need to seek out support in a dangerous place like the Internet, which is probably the worst place for a vulnerable child or adolescent to look up information or ask questions. If your child is uncomfortable talking to you about certain issues, identify another adult whom you both feel comfortable with and trust. Again, what is most important is being on the same page.
Identify ‘safety touch points’ of trusted, supportive adults and peers. These are people to whom, if the child is experiencing any form of bullying or uneasiness, they can turn for support. The best way to keep your child safe is to provide them with a trustworthy community – which may take more active engineering than it would for heterosexual kids.
And while family and friends can be wonderful allies, it is also vital that you help your child find others like them so they don’t feel isolated and depressed. (Research indicates that LGBTQ kids are more likely to experience mental health concerns stemming from stigma and loneliness.)
Discuss what healthy relationships look like, so they are less likely to be vulnerable to unhealthy relationships, possibly out of a feeling it’s their only option. Remind them that the world is a big place and there are many other children who are homosexual or gender-questioning.
Encourage your child to explore and build their strengths and interests, so they don’t feel their sexual orientation or gender identity is the only thing that defines them.
Let your child hear you correct others’ negative, discriminatory or stereotypical remarks about LGBTQ people/issues. This reinforces your acceptance of your child, helps you become comfortable with dealing with issues surrounding LGBTQ, and demonstrates to your child how to tackle different prejudices and questions they may face away from you.
Discuss the cultural and legal stigma the LGBTQ community faces, so your child knows you’re aware of what they’re facing. As much as you talk about love and acceptance, you will also have to talk about how some religions condemn homosexuality, how in many countries including India being gay is illegal, and how not everyone will understand and accept them. Talking about how you both feel about that can help a child feel less alone.
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