I hated the thought of my daughter being a lesbian… My perception has vastly changed in that I accept homosexuals for who they are..."
Coming Out to a parent can be daunting - perhaps on of the scariest and liberating moments of a LGBTQ person's life. A myriad of emotions may run through one's mind: What will they say? Will I still be loved? Are they going to be ashamed of me? Am I doing the right thing?
However, what perhaps is overlooked and not emphasised enough is the parent's experience of having a child come out. What goes through a parent's mind? Fear? Anger? Rejection? Acceptance? Confusion? Guilt? Maybe ambivalence?
SHOR interview Devi, mother of Davina Shah.
Davina, a lesbian of South Asian descent, came out to her mother, Devi, 12 years ago.What once came as a shock to Devi making her feel upset, ashamed and angry, has now developed into understanding and acceptance- not just towards her daughter, but her daughter’s partner too.
We explore: how she found out that her daughter is a lesbian; her feelings and fears when Davina came out; the support she reached out for; her familiarity with LGBTQ persons prior to her daughter’s coming out; her perspective towards homosexuality now.
We portray Devi’s advice to LGBTQ persons coming out to parents; Devi’s advice to parents whose child has come out as LGBTQ and how homophobia needs to be challenged.
We hope that this profound interview will provide support, encouragement and courage to both parents and their children who are facing LGBTQ issues- as well as to anyone who is revealing something to their parents that goes against what had been envisioned and breaks the “norm”.
1. How and when did you find out that your daughter is lesbian?
I suspected late 2001 early 2002- but shrugged it off. Davina had split up from her boyfriend and I became suspicious when she started having more female friends. At one point I even asked her to consider going out with another boy.My suspicions were founded when I received a phone call from Davina whilst at a neighbour's house. Unaware that Davina had written a letter to me that she was gay, Davina said she had something to tell me and I remember responding, "don't you dare tell me you are gay" to which she replied, "how did you know?"
2. How did you feel? As a mother, what were your biggest fears when you found out?
I was very upset and ashamed. I cried for many days. I felt angry that her female companions had corrupted her and refused to believe that she was gay. I felt disgusted and angry with Davina. I said some cruel things out of anger. I hated the thought of my daughter being a lesbian. I also felt it had been my fault as I was a single parent and that perhaps I had turned her gay.My biggest fears were people finding out and not only the embarrassment I would have to face, but also be blamed for it.
3. What support have you had to help you as a mother of South Asian descent?
As soon as I found out, I called FFLAG (www.fflag.org.uk) to talk to someone about it as I could not accept it. I cannot remember how I found out about this organisation but I was introduced to an Asian Muslim lady whose son was gay and she consoled me. She told me not to be angry and that she loved her son no matter what and that I should do the same; but I was still very emotional and angry.I turned to a gay friend of mine for support and he reassured me that Davina was still young and it was just a phase she was going through. I was so desperate to believe this, but deep down, I knew I was kidding myself.
4. Did you know of any LGBTQ (Lesbian; Bisexual; Transgender; Queer) persons before your daughter came out to you?
I had had no contact / association with any LGBTQ persons prior to 2001. I had no idea what it was all about to be honest. At the time I thought people chose to be gay hence why I was so angry with Davina. I had a male friend who I suspected was gay but we never spoke about it until Davina came out - then he told me about himself.I hate to admit that I was ignorant about the whole thing and could not understand it at the time.
5. How has your perception on homosexuality changed since Davina came out to you?
My perception has vastly changed in that I accept homosexuals for who they are. I am happy that society has accepted this too and enabled many to live a better life than they would have.I now feel comfortable to tell friends/colleagues that my daughter is gay and I am proud of her and her partner. I have come a long way from being ignorant and even attended my first gay pride in 2013.
I love you very much and I am proud that you are such a strong and beautiful daughter who is always there for me. I apologise for my ignorance in the early days.
years, Devi has made a remarkable journey towards accepting, understanding and loving Davina for who she is.
6. What advice would you give to a LGBTQ person who is thinking about coming out to their parents?
Unfortunately this is a hard one to answer as it depends on the ethnicity of the person, as the response of the parents will vary and may cause much heartache to both parties.I have spoken to many LGBTQ persons since Davina came out and most have not felt comfortable enough to come out to their parents - especially Asians and people of African descent.
However, it seems that white Europeans are able to tell their parents who have embraced the idea. The idea of being Gay is still taboo amongst African Christians and Muslims especially. If only the parents of those could realise how much pain their children are going through. I have seen, my own daughter, Davina, go through being a withdrawn teenager to a confident Woman. It affects the whole family and some parents may hear it from the child but shrug it off.
I remember telling my Mother about Davina but she shrugged it off and it was never discussed again. I felt isolated as I could not tell my brothers and sisters. It was Davina who informed them all by text and they all sent loving messages back, which surprised me. So it is never as bad as you may think. If the family loves you then it should not change anything as you are still the same person.
I find it is still hard for an Asian or African parent to comprehend their child being LGBTQ and they will either brush it off or react like I did.The advice I would give would be that if the person has a close bond with their parents, then it would not make a difference as the parents would love them unconditionally.
I have gay friends whose parents suspect but the topic is never discussed and therefore the gay person has to live two lives and can end up depressed, bitter and frustrated. It is surprising how many cannot talk to their parents about it even in this day and age.
I would urge the person to talk to their parents about how they feel. I would urge the person to talk on how it is affecting them to not live their life truthfully and to educate them by explaining their feelings.
Davina actually wrote me a long letter telling me how much she loves me. She said that as her best friend and because of the close bond we have, she did not want to lie to me. I remember telling both my daughters as they approached their teens that no matter how bad a problem they had, they should always feel comfortable to speak to me about it. I also told them that I would rather be the first to hear about anything and not through rumours in our community. I think this may have helped Davina. We are very open and can discuss anything as Mother and Daughter. It may also help the parent to speak to other Asian parents or gay people like I did, young and old.
7. What advice would you give to a parent who has just had a child come out to them as LGBTQ?
From my experience, parents of white European children have no problems in accepting their child’s sexual orientation and will embrace it and let them live their lives.Asians and African parents however, would first of all be embarrassed about it- as I was. Then perhaps feel shocked that the child has been brave enough to reveal their sexual orientation to them. Even if they have suspected it, they would rather turn a blind eye to it.
My advice would be to listen to them about how they feel and how they may have struggled to fight the fact that they are gay. Most gay adults would have known from a young age and many are left confused, depressed and ashamed. Many have wished that they were not homosexual as to spare their parents the hurt, embarrassment and perhaps even, guilt.Offer your child support and reassurance that you love them the same. Be sure to not think that they have chosen to be gay or that it 's just a phase they are going through and that they are really straight.
Don’t to be judgemental or bring religion into it as homosexuality exists in all races from the beginning of time. Emotional blackmail will not help either. I remember saying to my daughter - "how could you do this to me?" That was me being selfish and thinking about my own needs and rather than those of my child.Educate yourself by contacting organisations like FFLAG (www.fflag.org.uk) who can offer support and help the parent to understand that it is not just about the sexual intimacy but much, much more.
It may also help to confide to a close friend or relative. One will be surprised that not everyone is prejudiced and will accept it – perhaps they may even admit that they too have family members who are gay and share their experiences with you.
I actually went to GAY clubs / parties with my daughter and her friends to learn more by mixing with different people from different backgrounds. It will feel uncomfortable at first, as you are out of your comfort zone, but it broadened my knowledge and helped me to get rid of my misconception that all homosexuals are promiscuous.
Once the parents accept their child’s sexual orientation, the anger, confusion and embarrassment will actually change to a feeling of relief.It will not matter then if people in your community think it's funny or you have failed as a parent. We cannot live for other people and let them govern our happiness. Many of those who are laughing are living a lie themselves and I have learnt that everyone has a gay relative in their family – it’s just that, many are still hiding in the closet.
8. How do you feel homophobia should be challenged?
LGBTQ persons are fighting for equal rights because they are still being discriminated in many ways due to their sexuality. People still feel they can speak in a certain way about gay people because of their appearance, behaviour or just because they are seen as being different.This is a form of bullying as they are called derogatory names, rumours are spread about them and it can cause emotional distress. People need to be educated about the consequences that LGBTQ persons can suffer at hurtful remarks.
I have spoken to many colleagues and friends who are ignorant about how hurtful this can be and can prevent people from coming out for fear of this kind of behaviour. This kind of behaviour is a hate crime and should be reported to the police.I have challenged homophobic behaviour by explaining that homosexuals do not choose their sexuality. Some people have the misunderstandings that gay people choose to experiment with both sexes, that they are dirty and have Aids.People unfortunately do not realise the impact this form of bullying and discrimination has on LGBTQ persons. I have told my colleagues and friends that it can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, drug abuse, alcohol use.
I have told them that it can even stop a gay person from coming out because of fear of physical as well as emotional abuse - especially younger people who may be confused and are told to think it's hormonal, just a phase they are going through.I think more literature should be available in schools, the workplace and community centres to explain and help heterosexuals understand.We should avoid assumptions that everyone is heterosexual. A good example is assuming a girl has a boyfriend and a boy has a girlfriend as this can make same-sex attracted people feel uncomfortable as they have to use the word "partner" instead.
I would definitely encourage those who are being bullied to report it.We also need to understand that not all LGBTQ persons have the support of their family and friends. If they confide in us we, may be their only support and therefore we need to create a safe and comfortable environment for them too.We also need to remember that sexuality is not visible and that homophobic remarks can be offensive – with serious consequences.
Davina currently has a short story, “The Truth Is Out There”, in edit for an anthology entitled, “Rites of Passage; Rights of Womanhood”. Her story looks at dealing with early signs of lesbian feelings, suppressing them as a teenager and exploding out of the closet at 21! Proceeds will be donated to Hope for Justice charity.
You can read the article and more on SHOR's website
Interview by Aashi Gahlot and included on our website through kind permission from SHOR