Saturday, March 6, 2010

Families, etc

I seem to have angered a few people by writing the piece that was published in the Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, 30 January 2010, entitled "What does your family value most." It has appeared to a few as my recommendation to lgbt people to valorize the family as a most sacred thing, to get married, to found their own families and blend in with the marital-familial normative world. Not at all. My concern in the article was about the several young people who are still staying with and/ or strongly connected to their parents.

Lack of acceptance in the family of a son or daughter's sexual orientation and/or gender identity leads to a lot of pain and suffering. We hear, almost regularly, about threats from parents to children, asking them to stop being gay or lesbian or bisexual and to marry a person of the opposite sex. There have been several instances in the past many years, and particularly in the past few months following the visibility around the Delhi High Court verdict decriminalizing adult, consensual, same-sex behaviour, where parents have approached psychiatrists and quacks for unethical and painful reparative therapies on their children to make them heterosexually oriented. We also hear of very violent exorcisms being performed on lgbt youth, often at the request of the parents.

For people whose gender identity and expression are very visible aspects of their personality, for effeminate men (gay, bisexual or otherwise), masculine women (not necessarily lesbian), for people who transgender -- for all those who are seen to be transgressing gender and sexual norms in a million different ways --the way their families deal with these changes is of crucial importance. A major reason for the great number of school drop-outs among Aravanis is the fact that during their adolescence many of them find their parental homes to be extremely hostile spaces that they must run away from.

These are of concern to me. Several of my friends, many of those who call seeking counsel, and many others who write in to share discuss situations that involve their parental homes, the pressures they face, the violence they experience, etc. I find it hard to see it simply as the response of weaklings. If some people want to engage with a situation, their families, and want to choose the best possible response that comes from a place of love and compassion, I support it. People often seek help to gather the courage to step out of their homes as well. And then there are those who feel their situations are not dire and want to think the issues through.

Not everyone has to walk out of their families. Just as not everyone has to found one. This calls for a larger discussion. There is a lot of potential for lgbt people to redefine relationships and families; our sexual difference has already called the role of family, marriage and other relationships to question. I hope these possibilities, new modes of relating, loving, communing and cohering (and new modes of not relating, not loving, not communing and not cohering, too) will be more widely discussed and realized and not swept away in some kind of a majority (within the minority) move to valorize only coupledom, marriage and the family. Yes, a lot of people could want these. And they should have them. But the desires of those who do not want it should not get erased in the moves to institutionalize only one kind of relationship, as it seems to be happening in the United States today. And when we want the marriage and the family, it would be great to see how we can ensure we do not replicate the structures of oppression and violence that do not only characterize many heterosexual marriages and families, but seem to inhere in the very structures of these institutions.


Anonymous said...
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sahar said...

great post, ani! i think lgbt people are capable of re-imagining "family" precisely because many of us have HAD to do that, and to serve as family to each other. and, i daresay, we are in a position to show the way forward to the rest of society.

Fat,feminist and free said...

I agree totally with what you are saying Ani. Families can be spaces of strength as well as sites of violence. And each person has to figure out what they require from that space and how they want to relate to it. I think the time has come to rethink our notion of family, but its easier done when those of us who are not living within the traditional accepted notion of family challenge and create alternatives, if there is a need to do so. Sometimes we replicate the notions of family in quite the way that we see the heterosexual/patriarchal model. There have been other ways and other structures and let us begin by living these new forms out and seeing what works and does not work. Thanks Ani for pushing people to think!

Anonymous said...

thank u........................................

Uma said...

Well said, Ani. If only the society tries to understand the feelings of each and every person and take them into the family fold for what they are, then there is no need to talk about heaven to our children. It would be right here, on this earth.I am dreaming about a world, where everybody loves everybody.

Lakshmi said...

Dear Aniriddhan,
I have always found your writing to be very powerful, from the heart and as if speaking to me directly. Not only do I like your writing style I commend you for your courage and commitment in saying things as you see it, a combination very powerful. Especially this article that seems to have sparked some discussion. I have a family, what some would call a traditional family, in a marriage with someone of the opposite sex, have a wonderful son. I have thought about about the kind of life my son would have if he were gay. And every time it has come back to loving him unconditionally and creating a space for him that helps him to be all that he is and all that can be. I agree with you that families and marriages are about the intrinsic values that they hold sacred and live by.
Thank you for your writing. Pleae do write more.