Do you have a few min to talk?
My heart dropped. My dad’s text message — sent in the middle of the day on a weekday — could not be more vague if it tried.
Since I came out to my parents two months ago, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. In the weeks leading up to my coming out, I played every possible scenario of their reaction in my head. Most of them were negative, and included me having my suitcase packed, money in my pocket, and a friend’s place I could stay at. I had already once seen this go badly for a friend with their South Asian parents and I was not going to subject myself to any kind of harm from what was sure to be a bad reaction.
I was absolutely sure that being a lesbian did not fit into my parents’ picture of their ideal Hindu daughter.
On the first night of my four-day visit home, when I uttered the words, “I like girls…like, romantically,” my world did not come crashing down. Instead, my incredibly traditional, yet deeply spiritual dad then simply asked, “So what does this mean?”
I hadn’t rehearsed a speech. I most definitely had not thought of answers to possible questions they would have. I wasn’t even expecting a conversation. When they asked if they had failed me as parents, or how they would tell family in India, or how I expected to have kids some day, I did my best to assure them being gay doesn’t change who I am, or what I want in life.
Many tears — mostly mine and my mom’s — and awkward silences later, it was over. The whole thing felt like an out-of-body experience. I recalled to my brother later that I wish I had recorded the two-hour conversation on my phone because I can’t even remember half of the things I said.
My roommate baked me cake pops with rainbow sprinkles upon my return to New York. For the first time in seven years of being out to I didn’t realize how badly living a double life of hiding my sexual orientation from my parents, while being out to everyone else had taken a toll on memyself and nearly the whole world, I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t realize how badly living a double life of hiding my sexual orientation from my parents, while being out to everyone else had taken a toll on me, even though I lived across the country from them.
I had always imagined telling them when I was close to 30 and financially independent, after fending off multiple pushes to get matched with a suitable guy of their choice. I would be in a long-term relationship, and they would be able to meet my partner soon after, so they could see that I could still be happy and loved, and have a family, even if the gender of my partner didn’t match what they had dreamed of.
Instead, my work as an intern for The Trevor Project this year coupled with my thesis research on the stress of sexual orientation disclosure to parents and siblings for LGBTQ youth (ironic? Yes!), changed this fantasy scenario. I was single, but still financially dependent. I was also coming up on my 24th birthday. I figured that maybe no time would feel like the right time, and that I could no longer keep hiding everything about my personal and professional lives from them.
My dad and I have always been close, bonding over basketball and Bollywood gossip. What I really feared most was that coming out to him would make him ashamed of me and would shift our relationship for a long time to come. By the time I came back to New York, however, we had resumed some semblance of our previous rapport. Two months have kind of flown by since then. I have thrown myself into my work with more passion, and a new desire to pay it forward to the communities that have always supported and empowered me.
I still talk to my parents a couple of times a week, and had just talked to them the night before I got my dad’s cryptic text:
Do you have a few min to talk?
Was this it? Was my dad finally ready to revisit the conversation? I called him immediately, and found out that he had a few questions about my upcoming trip to India.
I breathed many sighs of relief.
Then, he asked me if I remembered some family friend we met briefly at a wedding a few years ago. One of his friends in India found a match for his daughter who happened to be the nephew of another one of his friends in India — this man we supposedly met. As we discussed what we remembered about him, my dad finally asked something that struck me only hours after we hung up. He asked what he should tell his friend about this potential match. Specifically, what did I think the father of a to-be bride would want to hear about her possible future husband?
When I recounted this conversation to a friend, I realized that my dad, before the last two months, envisioned some version of this for It felt like my dad, with so little expression of emotion, had somehow reached through the phone and extended a hand of peace.himself: To be inquiring about potential husbands for me, possibly within the next year or two. It felt like my dad, with so little expression of emotion, had somehow reached through the phone and extended a hand of peace. I truly believe that bonding over this matchmaking experience is a symbol of how my dad is slowly, but surely, starting to come around about my sexual orientation. He not only still sees me as the same old me, but is possibly also starting to see me as an adult, with some recognition of the kind of journey I have been on that he has been totally oblivious to.
I am incredibly proud of my dad. I can’t imagine how difficult these last two months have been for him, and I don’t expect that I’ll ever know. I do believe that the coming out process is not over with him, and we will have many more conversations in the coming months and years. I hope that some day we will be able to talk about it more openly, and that he will be able to find support in the community that has supported and empowered me at both my brightest and darkest times.
On today’s National Coming Out Day, I am completely out to all people in my life for the first time ever, and I want to share my story with all of my communities. It’s not about it “getting better” or some happily-ever-after ending because my journey isn’t over. However, I do hope that my fellow South Asians can begin, and continue, to have conversations about things like sexuality, mental health, and countless other topics that get brushed under the rug because they make us uncomfortable.
I also hope that we won’t need vague, cryptic texts to spark these conversations.
Priya Arora is a graduate student at New York University, studying Human Development and Social Intervention with a research focus on mental health in LGBTQ youths. Born and raised in California, Priya has found a home in New York, and hopes to go on to become a mental health counselor. Follow her on Twitter at @thepriyaarora.