We love our cousins. The relationship we share with them is unique and special. They are our friends within the family. That is why it is important for cousins to support one another. Here are 6 things straight cousins can do to support their queer* cousins
[*Queer – An all inclusive term for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Intersex, Questioning people]
1) Show them you care: Coming out is a difficult and stressful process for a queer person. If and when your cousin comes out to you, be supportive. Show your cousin that nothing has changed between you. In your mind that could very well be the case, but it is important to communicate your support clearly and explicitly. Pay attention to their life and get involved. Don’t avoid talking about their issues and struggles, both personal and political, just because they are not relevant to you.
Here is an example: When India decriminalized homosexuality in 2009, I was excited beyond words and posted the news on social media, saying that was the best day of my life. I got zero likes from my extended family. Nobody cared. On the same day one of my cousins posted that he got tickets to the next AR Rahman concert. He got 23 likes and several “Awesome!”, “Congrats” comments. Do you get the picture?
2) Talk to their parents: Ask your queer cousin if they would like you to talk to their parents. Being a family member, your perspective is unique and will have a greater impact on your cousin’s parents (sometimes even more than friends, counsellors and psychiatrists). Tell them you love your cousin for who they are. Tell them your cousin’s sexuality or gender identity is not something the parent should worry about. Tell them you have your cousin’s back and also theirs. Most often, the main concern for parents of queer children is how family members will react to the news. Needless to say, your assurance and support will go a long way.
3) Talk to your parents: This is something only you can do. If your cousin doesn’t want to be outed to the extended family, you can still talk to your parents in generic terms. Ask your parents how they would react if they come to know about a queer person in the extended family. Educate them about queer issues and prepare them. If everybody is in agreement, you can even facilitate a discussion among your parents, your cousin and/or their parents. After all, that is what families do: be there for each other and help each other to face challenges in life.
4) Step in and stop the “marriage harassment”: It is very common for aunties and uncles in Indian families to constantly harass young, unmarried people about marriage (I know they mean well, blah, blah, blah). Weddings, funerals, temples, supermarkets, crowded train stations, bathrooms, beauty parlours, gyms, no place or time is off limits when it comes to this. Aunties and uncles are relentless. If you see your queer cousin (for that matter, any single cousin) being harassed, say something. Often they struggle to defend themselves and your help will be very much appreciated. Tell the aunty (or uncle) politely but firmly that marriage is a personal matter and it is not appropriate to constantly ask someone when they are getting married or offer them a laundry list of eligible candidates. PS: Sometimes that aunty could be your mom, but remember to do the right thing 🙂
5) Be an ally: Don’t hesitate to call out homophobia, biphobia or transphobia within your extended family. Be it family get togethers, weddings or dinner parties, if you witness phobic comments or actions, confront them head on. Tell the family member that it is not okay to make such comments or act that way. Don’t wait for your queer cousin to say something, even if they are out to the family. Your words, as a straight ally, usually carries more weight.
6) Lead by example: Show in actions that you love your cousin for who they are. Send a clear message to your extended family that the queer cousin can’t be treated differently than the straight ones. If your cousin is married or dating someone, invite their spouse or date to family occasions. Treat them like you treat the significant others of your straight cousins. If your cousin is transgender, respect their gender identity, use correct pronouns and send a message to the family that you wholeheartedly support your cousin. Before you know, others will follow.
Note: All of the above are also applicable to siblings.
Are you a supportive cousin or sibling? Or are you a queer person who has one? We would love to hear fro you. Share your story with us using the comment box below.