The baby came out of my womb in the middle of the night and I was unconscious. After two hours I opened my eyes, and the nurse told me it was a boy. Again I fell unconscious. My husband came to visit in the morning, along with other family members. And when we looked at our baby boy, he was sneezing. From that instant we loved him. While most new-born babies do not allow their mothers to sleep, he used to sleep a lot. He was different from other children of his age. When he started going to school, the only thing which made him happy was toys – like trucks and sporting cars. And he always chose his father over me to ask for them. That was his only demand. Since we both started working immediately after Tatai had started going to school, he used to spend most of his time alone, probably with our neighbours or his grandmother. His cousins were too old for him to spend time with. I never heard my mother-in-law or any of our neighbours complain about him or his attitude. He was happy with his homework, cartoons, and toys. And after reaching home, my first job was to listen to his stories about how he scolded the crows, about the puppies, how the mommy dog fed her kids, how flies disturbed the cows, and so on. And then at night while sleeping his only demand was to sleep between his parents so that he could sleep without any fear. We loved him even more for his calm and quiet nature. He enjoyed being around women and girls. And my husband used to joke about it. But I sensed something “different” in that. He was not like other boys: his calmness was unusual.
One day – he must have been eight at that time – he expressed a desire to smell the lipstick I used to have. It was a maroon coloured lipstick. After smelling it, he asked me whether he could use it. This was the first doubt I had about him and it helped my understanding of him. Once I nodded my head with approval, I noticed that he was, surprisingly, quite good with it. The way girls purse their lips after applying lipstick, he did the same. I understood that he had been observing me for quite some time. When I told everyone about that incident they started saying that my son was practicing to see what lipstick he would buy for his wife. I laughed with them, but that doubt was poking me. And then with time, I started having more doubts seeing him grow close to girls, instead of playing with boys. His unwillingness to play with other boys at school was a message we chose to ignore.
One day after eating, he asked me to tell him a story. And I started with a fairy tale where a princess is rescued from a demon’s house by a prince. And I can still hear his voice asking me, “Ma, who will rescue me?” Upon asking him why he wanted to be rescued, he said that he would not go to school because his classmates called him “ladyboy”. But other than his unusual calmness and couple of lipstick incidents, I hadn’t noticed anything “wrong” in him. And then I wanted to know the reason behind his being called “ladyboy” and he said that he had once asked one of his friends to become his “husband”, the way his father was my husband. My entire world fell apart. I slapped him so hard that he started bleeding, and I angrily said that he should have concentrated more on studies and “wives” instead of looking for husbands among his classmates. I threatened him, telling him not to call me “Ma” if he wished to do the same again. And that was the last time I heard him talk about his “feminine” nature. He was a child of nine! I do not know what he understood that day. Probably he was scared to lose his mother, or he knew that society had more slaps for him in the future.
After that, he started playing cricket with other boys, joined the swimming and gymnasium team, and later the soccer team. But when he used to come home his eyes would be clearly telling me that he didn’t like them. Yet I was happy to get a “son” who played cricket and soccer rather than with dolls.
He scored well in 10th grade, but asked his dad if he could opt for Arts instead of Science as his major. My husband said if he wanted to pursue arts, he could start looking for his own accommodation. He looked at me and said that he did want to study English in the future, while most of his friends wanted to become doctors or engineers. He was “different” in this respect too – but we did not allow him to select Arts. In +2, he again scored well, and we were so proud of him, but chose to ignore his happiness. He wanted to join either Presidency College or St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, with Physics as his major. We cursed him for his choice and called him dumb for talking rubbish. We forced him to choose Engineering as we wanted our son to be an engineer and start earning money. But now I know that he is a pure Arts student. If we had allowed him to take English, he would have been happy. He used to write a diary; I do not know whether he still writes or not. Once I happened to read it. It was in Bengali, and looking at the poems he had written, I was amazed. How could a fifteen years old guy think so deeply? His ideas about secularism, religion, woman power, gender issues, transgender issues, call girls and other issues were so insightful.
Anyway, the drama started when we got internet at home. I caught him watching a pornographic movie one day. We were both embarrassed, but I was shocked that it was between two guys! I tried my best to make myself calm. It was just before his +2 final examinations, so I asked him to concentrate more on studies. But by then I had already understood that my son is “different”. I could feel that he wanted to tell me something, but at home, my husband and I had made the atmosphere too tough for him to come out and declare himself as gay. I was scared of the word “gay”. What if others got to know that my son is gay, what if society did something to him? I found him crying one day in his room, but I failed to understand him. Neither me nor my husband said, “Do not cry, we are here”. That’s our failure as parents.
When he was in his 1st year of Engineering, I noticed he was very happy. I had never seen him that happy since the day of the slap almost ten years ago. I asked one of his cousins, who used to be very close to him, to talk to him. He was always scared of talking to me or his father because other than fulfilling his childhood demands of getting him toys, we always said “no” to him. After a month, one day one of his friends came and told me, “Aunty, Tatai thinks he is in love” and before that I saw him chatting on Yahoo messenger. The minute we would enter his room, he would minimize the chat window. And then one day, while snooping on his mobile phone, I saw a message from a guy stating, “Waiting for your call, darling”. I think I began to understand him more than ever before, but chose to be silent despite seeing all this. So my reply was “Who is the guy? Is he older or younger than him?” Tatai was shocked and cried in fear, and again I chose the same line, “concentrate more on your studies”. He kept saying, “I am gay”, but I pretended to not hear him.
I do not complain about my son at all, but he is not outspoken when he needs to communicate his needs or issues. He is too shy to express himself. He doesn’t complain much, and tries his best to be happy with whatever he has. I do not blame him; perhaps we never allowed him to speak out and that became a habit. Or this might just be his reserved nature. So, after a year of his coming out to me, I understood something had gone terribly wrong with his life, but he chose to be silent about it with us. Eventually, I learned from his cousin that the other guy had left him. I was so happy. Yes, happy! I thought this might prompt him to return to what I considered normal. To help things along, at home, we started bashing homosexuals in front of him. But we did not understand that our act of disowning homosexuals tore him apart.
In the meantime, he had become close to one his female classmates, and we all liked her. We praised her excessively in front of him and literally forced him to be close with her! Later, we discovered that she was going through a breakup and Tatai was comforting her, and taking care of her. He made us understand that when he needed our help, we had neither helped not comforted him.
So though we were expecting the outburst, we were in denial. Silently he was making himself ready to leave home. For the first time he went to Pune for his 3rd year internship and that was the beginning. He decided against the job he was offered through on-campus interviews and went to Pune instead, to join the lab he had been working at during his 3rd year internship.
In 2008 he went to Bangalore for another internship, and was excited about Pune. We were running out of time and were desperate to stop him from going to Pune, as we feared him going out of our control and choosing to fully embrace a gay life. But he was determined and bold. On the day after his final year exams, he packed everything and left home. While leaving, he left me a big letter, and in that letter he opened his heart. After reading that letter, I understood. As parents we had crushed our child’s dream. We had wrung him dry from the inside and then buried all his dreams. I felt that whatever he had written in the letter was right. He asked me many questions, and I did not have answers to any of them. But then other than crying, I had very little to do. I asked myself why we did not kill him immediately after his birth, what is the need of keeping a child alive where he is not allowed to do anything he wants. He told me how much he had tried to make us happy, had tried his best to fall in love with girls, and he named all the girls he thought he was dating. I spoke each of them and the uniform feedback I got went thus: “A person like Tatai is hard to find. He is gay, but, above all, he is a human being and a good human being, so we had to accept him.”
And, since then, I started reading more about homosexuality. When he decided to move to Bangalore with a guy he was in a relationship with, he fought with his father, and his father called him a “homo” instead of calling him by his name, and said wrong things against the other guy. He came home just for a week, and the day before he left for Bangalore, for the first time in his life I saw him getting angry. All of his frustrations came out on that day. He cried, he shouted, he broke everything he had, and that lasted for hours. The only question he asked was, “Why can’t you accept me the way I am?” Seeing him we understood again how painful it was for him not to be accepted by his parents. My husband and I had dated each other for nine years before we got married. Everyone was against that marriage, but we fought against all the odds to get married. We asked ourselves whether we could survive in a situation where we were not allowed to be ourselves. And the answer was no. After this reflect, we decided not to stick to our own prejudice anymore.
My son is better than many of his peers. Today when I look around, I find him different from others. And I am sincerely thankful to god for making him different. When he moved to Chennai from Bangalore, I felt something had gone terribly wrong for otherwise he would never have left Bangalore. And this time I was not happy, and did not want to make the same mistake I had made before. I went to Chennai within two months to see him, to comfort him. But his assessment amazed me. I do not think that after a breakup, I could be in touch with my ex-boyfriend as if nothing had happened. When I asked him about the reason of their breakup, he said, “If two people cannot get along, people often tend to blame one of them, or both of them, when the fact is they just couldn’t walk along together on the same path, and decided to break up, without destroying their love for each other. We should not find any reason or logic. It’s our decision and promise me ma that you will keep maintaining a healthy relationship with him the way you used to. He is a very good person.”
I finally understood that my little son who used to shout at the crows, play with the puppies, and save his fish to feed the stray dogs, had become mature. We made a mistake while bringing him up, but not only did he understand us, but gave us his selfless and unconditional love, which makes me so proud. As a mother I should have taught myself how to love my child the way he is, but I did not.
Now after reading articles and talking to others, I have decided to stand by him against all the odds. Whenever someone talks rubbish against homosexuals, I protest. I ask them to read more on homosexuality before commenting. With his calmness, determination and good nature, Tatai made many of us understand that homosexuals are as normal as heterosexuals. There is no room for hatred.
I sincerely thank Good as You for providing me a platform like this, where I can hear other Tatai-s, who are equally good or better than many of us and fought or have been fighting against all the odds to live with “pride”. And I am sure your pride can never be snatched away from you if you chose to be yourselves.
-with love to all of you. 🙂
1. An earlier version of this essay appeared on the online forum of Good As You, Bangalore, and has been re-published on Orinam with consent.
2. Thanks to volunteer Sami for editorial support