What do you do when you first find out that your child is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender?

Most parents are not prepared for words such as
“I am not attracted to women, I am attracted to men” from their son
“I don’t want to get married! I am not into men” from their daughter
“I am gay”
“I am attracted to both boys and girls”.
“I know I am a boy, but I feel like a girl inside”.

If you are like many parents, your first reaction is “How will I ever handle this?”

We hope this section will help you understand your child’s sexuality or gender identity and its meaning to you and your continued relationship with your son or daughter. Many parents have been through much of what you are now feeling. You can read their experiences in our Personal stories page.

We understand.

We can tell you with absolute certainty that you are not alone. According to some statistics, one in every ten people in this country and around the world is gay or lesbian: the proportion of bisexual people may be significantly more. Approximately one in four families has an immediate family member who is gay, lesbian or bisexual, and most families have at least one gay, lesbian or bisexual member in their extended family circle. While the proportion of transgender people is less, there are many individuals, especially in India, who have chosen to come out and talk about their transgender identities and lives.

That means that there are plenty of people out there you can talk to. We can tell you from experience that talking about it really helps. There are books to read, telephone helplines to call, websites to visit, and people to meet who, by sharing their own experiences, can help you move forward.

The second thing we can tell you is that – if you choose to – you will emerge from this period with a stronger, closer relationship with your child than you have ever had before. That’s been the case for all of us. But the path to that point is often not easy. Some parents were able to take the news in stride. But many of us went through something similar to a grieving process with all the accompanying shock, denial, anger, guilt and sense of loss. So if those are the feelings with which you’re dealing, they’re understandable given our society’s attitudes towards gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Don’t condemn yourself for the emotions you feel.

But, since you love your child, you owe it to him or her – and to yourself – to move toward acceptance, understanding and support.
You can also writes to us through our Contact page for assistance.

Why did he or she have to tell us?

Some parents feel they would have been happier not knowing about their child’s sexuality or gender identity. They look back to before they knew and recall this time as problem-free overlooking the distance they often felt from their child during that time.
Sometimes we try to deny what is happening – by rejecting what we’re hearing (“It’s just a phase; you’ll get over it”); by shutting down (“If you choose that lifestyle, I don’t want to hear about it”); or by not registering the impact of what we’re being told (“That’s nice, dear, and what do you want for dinner?”). These are all natural reactions.

However, if you did not know the truth about your child’s sexuality or gender identity, you would never really know your child. A large part of his or her life would be kept secret from you, and you would never really know the whole person. It is important to accept and understand your child’s sexuality because homosexuality and bisexuality are not a phase.

While people may experiment for some time with their sexuality, someone who has reached the point of telling a parent that he or she is gay or bisexual is not usually going through a phase. Generally, he or she has given long and hard thought to understanding and acknowledging his or her sexual orientation.So if you’re wondering, “Is she sure?” the answer will almost always be “yes.” Telling a parent that you think you’re gay, lesbian or bisexual involves overcoming too many negative stereotypes and taking far too much risk for anyone to take that step lightly or prematurely. It is even harder for a young person to tell his/her parent that he or she is transgender.

The fact that your son or daughter told you is a sign of his or her love and need for your support and understanding. It took a lot of courage. And it shows a very strong desire for an open, honest relationship with you – a relationship in which you can love your child for who he or she is, rather than for who you want him or her to be.

How are sexual orientation and gender identity determined? (OR) Is it my fault that my son/daughter is gay? (or) Did I fail as a parent?

It is never anyone’s “fault” if they or their loved one grows up to be LGBT. Please don’t feel guilty, it is certainly not your fault.
No one knows exactly how sexual orientation and gender identity are determined. However, experts agree that it is a complicated matter of genetics, biology, psychological and social factors. For most people, sexual orientation and gender identity are shaped at any early age. While research has not determined a cause, homosexuality and gender variance are not the result of any one factor like parenting or past experiences.

As a first step, have a heart-to-heart conversation with your child. The more you talk, the better you will understand your child and his or her sexuality or gender identity.

Is there something wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?

No.There have been people in all cultures and times throughout human history who have identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Homosexuality is not an illness or a disorder, a fact that is agreed upon by both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association in 1973. World Health Organization (WHO) removed it in 1981.
Being transgender or gender variant is not a disorder either. Being LGBT is as much a human variation as being left-handed – a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity are just another piece of who they are. There is nothing wrong with being LGBT – in fact, there’s a lot to celebrate.

Just because an idea is more prevalent does not mean its the only idea out there. Similarly even though we might see opposite-gender relationship more often does not mean that, there are not other gender barrier breaking relationships like same-gender relationships. Scientists opine that sexual orientation (both same gender and opposite gender attraction), is determined by several factors such of genetic, hormonal, and environmental nurturing (in the womb of the mother) and not one factor suddenly causes any particular orientation.

How does someone know they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?

Some people say that they have “felt different” or knew they were attracted to people of the same sex from the time they were very young. Some transgender people talk about feeling from an early age that their gender identity did not match parental and social expectations. Others do not figure out their sexual orientation or gender identity until they are adolescents or adults. Often it can take a while for people to put a label to their feelings, or people’s feelings may change over time.

Understanding our sexuality and gender can be a lifelong process, and people shouldn’t worry about labeling themselves right away. However, with positive images of LGBT people more readily available, it is becoming easier for people to identify their feelings and come out at earlier ages. People don’t have to be sexually active to know their sexual orientation – feelings and emotions are as much a part of one’s identity. The short answer is that you’ll know when you know.

If one could perceive their sexual orientation/identity at a young age why did not my son/daughter talk about it to me ?

There could be several (and unique) factors/reasons why a child may not discuss about its sexual attraction/orientation to his/her parents. A critical factor might be the relationship a parents and a child share; in some families it is very platonic; in some it’s strict and disciplinarian in nature. In addition to that, there is a general trend among Indian parents to not talk about sex, leave alone sexual orientation, with their children. This kind of active avoidance of such an important topic might make the children feel unwelcome to discuss about this to his/her parents.

For example imagine if you have a son who is attracted towards a girl. Do you think you would feel comfortable if he would like to discuss about it with you? If your answer is no, then you can then imagine how much harder it would be for your son to talk about his attraction to another boy rather than to a girl.

My son does not seem to be effeminate (feminine in behavior) (or) My daughter is very feminine (or) My daughter slightly shows few masculine features. Why is this so ? Are they gay ?

Feminine and masculine appears are not always related to sexual orientation or gender identity. For instance a boy could appear feminine, but may or may not be gay or bisexual. A tomboyish girl may or may not grow up to be lesbian or bisexual. While boys who grow up to be transgender are often feminine in appearance and mannerisms, this is not always so. So please do not jump to conclusions about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity by merely considering the gender or mannerisms of that person.
Should I talk to a loved one about his or her sexual orientation or gender identity before the person talks to me?

It is seldom appropriate to ask a person, “Are you gay?” Your perception of another person’s sexual orientation (gay or straight) or gender identity (male or female) is not necessarily what it appears. No one can know for sure unless the person has actually declared that they are gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender. We recommend creating a safe space by showing your support of LGBT issues on a non-personal level. For example, take an interest in openly discussing and learning about challenges, struggles and issues faced by LGBT people. Learn about LGBT communities and culture. Come out as an ally, regardless of if your friend or loved one is LGBT.

Did my son/daughter become gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender because he/she traveled or moved abroad (eg. USA, Britain, Europe, Australia) and got influenced by western culture?

One’s sexual orientation is not dependent on one’s visit or stay abroad. American Association of Pediatrics (and other leading science/health professional organizations) opine that sexual orientation, probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences right as a fetus in the womb of the mother; definitely not due to traveling abroad or exposure to another culture.

Hence this notion that your son/daughter became LGBT because of going to abroad does not have any rational scientific reasoning. The reasons why they could have ‘come-out’ to you after going abroad could be several; some like the following:

1. Your son/daughter might would have attained the emotional maturity to share their deepest feelings only then

2. Due to their education and professional exposure they might would obtained self-confidence

3. In many modern democracies (like USA, Australia, Europe) sexual minorities have obtained social and legal recognition from marriage rights, adoption rights etc. This could have given your son/daughter the hope and dignity to be themselves.

In summary there could be several reasons. Irrespective of the reason, you should feel happy and proud that your son/daughter is more confident and is trying to stand up for oneself. You should feel proud that you gave the necessary ethical values/lessons while they were growing up, to be confident and honest about oneself.

Should we consult a psychiatrist or psychologist?

Consulting a therapist in the hopes of changing your child’s sexual orientation is pointless. Homosexuality is not a disease to be “cured” – it is a natural way of being.

“There is no definitive evidence of the effectiveness of sexual conversion therapies. In fact, there is evidence that such attempts may cause more harm than good, including inducing depression and sexual dysfunction. With the acceptance of homosexuality as a normal variant by mainstream health professionals, there has been a reduced emphasis on using and evaluating sexual conversion therapies within medical and psychiatric circles.

However, faith-based groups and counsellors pursue such attempts at conversion using yardsticks which do not meet scientific standards. Clinicians should keep the dictum “first do no harm” in mind. Physicians should provide medical service with compassion and respect for human dignity for all people irrespective of their sexual orientation. Training physicians and psychiatrists in the assessment of sexuality is mandatory.

Research into the issues in India is crucial for increasing our understanding of the local and regional context.

Human sexuality is complex and diverse. As with all complex behaviour and personality characteristics, biological and environmental influences combine to produce a particular sexual preference. We need to focus on people’s humanity rather than on their sexual orientation.”

– Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore,
(The Hindu, July 26 2009)

But there are situations where it can be helpful to consult people experienced with family issues and sexual orientation. You may feel that you and your child need help communicating clearly through this period. Or you may recognize that your child is unhappy and needs help with self-acceptance.

Once again, gay people often have trouble accepting themselves and their sexual identity. In this circumstance, self-rejection could be a dangerous emotional state. A therapist can also provide the confidentiality and, to a degree, the anonymity that you may feel you need at first. There are a variety of resources for help, information and advice.We encourage you to explore your options and to use those best suited for you and your family. Please refer to the resource section in the back of this booklet for suggestions.

Can gay people change their sexual orientation or gender identity?

No – and efforts to do so aren’t just unnecessary – they’re damaging.

Religious and secular organizations do sponsor campaigns and studies claiming that LGBT people can change their sexual orientation or gender identity because there is something wrong. We believe that it is our anti-LGBT attitudes, laws and policies that need to change, not our LGBT loved ones.

These studies and campaigns suggesting that LGBT people can be made to change their orientation are based on ideological biases and not peer-reviewed solid science. No studies show proven long-term changes in gay or transgender people, and many reported changes are based solely on behavior and not a person’s actual self-identity. The American Psychological Association has stated that scientific evidence shows that reparative therapy (therapy which claims to change LGBT people) does not work and that it can do more harm than good.

For some people sexual orientation is experienced as fluid, i.e. they may experience attraction shifting from individuals of one sex to those of another sex, or expanding to include individuals of more than one sex over time. While we must recognize this fluidity, there should be no attempts to force sexual orientation on someone – results show these attempts are psychologically, emotionally and sometimes physically damaging.

If my son/daughter marries, will that change his/her sexual orientation?

Marriage, which usually in Indian culture is overtly attributed to solve problems, will not work in this context. Several gay men/women have are routinely pressurized by their families and the general society to marry the person of opposite sex. There have also been cases where misled parents have paid huge monies to Swamis/Black magicians to ‘change’ their gay son/daughter.
You gay son/daughter marrying a person of the opposite sex will cause severe emotional trauma to not only the ‘married’ couple but their extended families. These couples due to their emotional and physical incompatibility will be emotionally broke leading to unwanted divorces. Lately several courts in India have compensated divorcing women (who have been duped to marry gay men) with several lacs of rupees.

If you ever feel pressurized due to society’s compulsion ask yourself if you would let one of your heterosexual daughter to marry a known gay man and throw her life to disarray. The more gay men/women are allowed to be themselves (and let them choose their own partners) the less would be the unwanted divorces and emotional trauma suffered by everyone in the family.
Please do not force your gay children (or even straight children) to marry someone they are not interested in. Also please do not spend money on astrologers and black-magicians who promise a change in the sexual orientation of your children. Sexual orientation is as deep identity, such as your skin color, hair color or right handedness. You can never pay a black magician to change one’s skin color (and so is the sexual orientation)

Individuals who are bisexual, i.e. attracted to both men and women, may choose to lead their lives with someone of the other sex. Even if you know your child is bisexual, do not force him/her to marry, and encourage him/her to discuss the issue of bisexuality with his/her prospective spouse.

While this section primarily discusses marriage with individuals of the other sex, do not rule out the possibility that your LGBT child might find love and happiness with someone of the same sex. Even if such relationships are not recognized as equivalent to marriage in the eyes of the Indian law, there is no reason you as a parent should not support your child in her/her pursuit of a loving relationship.

Who are Bisexuals?

A strict definition of a bisexual would be someone who has romantic and/or sexual relations with other people of more than one sex (though not necessarily at the same time). However, since not everyone has necessarily had the opportunity to act on their sexual/romantic attractions, some people prefer a looser definition; for instance, that a bisexual is a person who – in their own estimation – feels POTENTIALLY able to have such attraction. This could be anyone who has erotic, affectionate, or romantic feelings for, fantasies of, and/or experiences with both men and women.

A bisexual may be more attracted to one sex than the other, attracted equally to both, or find people’s sex unimportant. The strength of their attractions to men and women may vary over time.

Even though many people know only about heterosexuality (attraction between member of the opposite sex), sexuality is very diverse. After years of research, Kinsey categorized human sexuality on a scale ranging from zero to six.The most commonly known heterosexuality is rated at zero and homosexuality (same sex attraction) at number six. It is interesting to note that many people fall in between zero and six, with varying levels of same sex attraction. Such women and men are called bisexuals.

If your child comes ‘out’ to you as a bisexual please do not jump into any conclusions on who their life partners would be. Please do not pressurize them into marrying someone against their wishes. As responsible adults please allow them their time and space to choose their partners.

I am able to accept my son/daughter. But how do I deal with relatives and the general society?

Just because your son/daughter ‘came-out’ to you, it does not imply that they are going to go on roof-tops to declare their sexual orientation. Please take time to sit down and talk in detail about this to your child. Chalk up a plan and decide whom you both are comfortable to be ‘out’. You can always take the help of a LGBT friendly counselor who can help both you and your child in this direction.

One of the simple and easy ways to respond to relatives when confronted about your child’s marriage you could state “He/she is currently not interested in marriage and as a parent I think he/she is mature enough to tell me when he/she is ready”.
There is one important emotional pointer to be understood about your gay son/daughter. Your son/daughter could have had years and years (sometimes decades) of pent up frustration for having to hide who they truly are and that could have caused them even irreparable emotional trauma. Some of them hence might decide that they don’t have to go through the same kind of pain and decide that they would rather be ‘out’ to everyone. Even though it might be a huge task for you, you should try to support and empathize with your child’s feelings and wishes.

Your child has placed great respect on you and has shared this intimate thought to you. Do the needful to support and stand by them.

With human rights and equality being the hallmark for democracies like India, you might be pleasantly surprised that there is lot of awareness of who gay people are. Recently in June 2009, Delhi High Court declared that discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal and unconstitutional. Such legal, political and media support has improved our society’s understanding of LGBT people and it is growing more tolerant.

I would like my son/daughter to have a marriage, family and children. I am apprehensive who might take care of him/her in their old age.

Your wishes and apprehension are valid concern for many parents. Why do you want your children to be married? Your response would usually be that you would like to see your children happy with all comforts as you might know. You could claim that it is your way of attaining happiness which you think would work for them too. But have you ever wondered or asked your children if they would also derive the same satisfaction and fulfillment in life by ‘marrying’?

Not everyone gets married, nor everyone who gets married has kids, nor all parents who have kids end up having the kids take care of them in old age. These are eternal truths of our human kind. There is another truth too: Gay/transgender people do get married with their loved ones, adopt and raise kids and have a fulfilling retirement life. However this does usually happen in liberal democratic societies (eg. US, Europe etc.) and its unfortunate that it does not happen often in India.

Several countries around the globe (eg. Spain, South Africa, Canada, Belgium, Norway etc.) provide legal and social structures for gay marriage, adoption, immigration, pension benefits and other family raising incentives. Huge strides have been made for the equality and dignity of LGBT families across the world including India. As any social taboo takes years to be removed (eg. Untouchability, womens inequality) and rectified, so does misunderstanding of who LGBT’s are would take time to be reformed. Hence do not despair; the Indian society is growing more tolerant and understanding in this modern era. Please support and embrace your gay son/daughter just like thousands of other Indian parents have done in their struggle for equality.

How do same-sex partners have physical intimacy? How is this possible? It’s very disgusting to think about it!

Same-sex partners have physical intimacy in many ways. We suggest that you talk about it to a LGBT friendly counselor/doctor who might be able to point you in the right direction (e.g. Websites, brochures etc.).

Some pointers for you:

There is nothing to feel embarrassed/disgusted about this. This feeling of disgust is usually borne out of lack of knowledge
  • Have you ever wondered how your heterosexual son/daughter/family members have physical intimacy in their marriages? Just like them your gay son/daughter sometimes could find these questions very private and intimate. However you could cautiously choose to ask appropriate questions on these topics to your gay son/daughter.
  • When you gay son/daughter is in love with his/her partner, their relationship is not merely physical. Just like your love for your husband/wife is multi-dimensional encompassing emotional, spiritual, financial and physical intimacy, so would your gay son/daughter have the same kind of intimacy with his/her partner. Never equate their intimacy with their partners as only lust as it can be very hurtful and judgmental for them.

What about HIV/AIDS?

HIV/AIDS or any other sexually transmitted disease is usually spread by unsafe sex practices. Irrespective of gender or sexual orientation (opposite gender or same gender or both gender attraction) unsafe sex practices lead to diseases. It is untrue and an urban myth that AIDS is more prevalent among gays in India . Please take time to discuss this with your children if this of your main concern. Please take the help of a LGBT friendly counselor if that would help you reach your child.

Is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement against Indian culture ?

The LGBT folks have been part and parcel of our rich Indian tradition going back several hundred years. LGBT topics are discussed in Arthashastra, Manusmriti and several regional folklores and great epics such as Mahabaratha. It was during the colonial rule by puritanical British Victoria-era that bought the infamous Section 377 penal provisions to the colonies such Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and India, criminalizing LGBT relationships. Ironically the British changed their Section 377 way back in 1967 while the colonial remnants are still in India and other ex-British colonies.

“Indian society has been a bit different from most others. Like all cultures, Indian culture for sure paid more importance to the dominant heterosexual discourse. But unlike most cultures, Indian culture did not condemn or invalidate the minority non-heterosexual discourse altogether. Clearly many keepers of culture have not heard the stories of Shikhandi, or Bhangashvana or of Yuvanashva, the king who accidentally became pregnant and delivered the great Mandhata, or of the two queens who made love to each other to produce a child without bones (bones being the contribution of sperm, according to mythology), or of Mohini, the female form of Vishnu, who enchanted even Shiva, the great hermit. Clearly they have chosen to ignore that every year, in Brahmotsavam festival, the image of the Lord Venkateshwara Balaji, who is Vishnu on earth, is dressed in female garments reminding us all of Mohini. Clearly they are oblivious of how Shrinathji in Nathdwara is lovingly bedecked with a sari, the stri-vesha or women’s attire, in memory of the time he wore Radha’s clothes to appease her. Clearly they are not aware of Gopeshwarji of Vrindavan, Shiva who took the form of a milkmaid so that he could dance the raas-leela with Krishna. And they certainly have turned a blind eye to the rooster-riding Bahucharji, of Gujarat, patron goddess of many Hijras.”

Dr. Devdutt (Author, Speaker, Illustrator, Mythologist)

How can I support my child?

As a parent, you have to take care of yourself and your child.
Reading this booklet is the first step to supporting your child – you have shown that you are open to new information and hopefully you are now better informed.
Supporting your child now should be a natural extension of your general support as a parent: we need to talk, listen and learn together.

Every child needs different things from his or her parents. It is up to you to learn how to communicate with him or her about their needs and issues surrounding sexuality.
Some parents find that they are better able to understand and support their child by recognizing the similarities and differences in their own life experiences.
In some cases it may help to talk about how you have dealt with hurtful incidents. But in other cases you must recognize that discrimination based on sexual orientation is hurtful in a unique way.

Can I accept my child ?

Your son or daughter after careful consideration has shared an important and personal identity with you. As a parent you should feel proud that your child has taken the courage to be who they are and you should support and stand by them. As you come to know and understand them better, you would come to celebrate them for whom they are. With human rights and equality being the hallmark for democracies like India, you might be pleasantly surprised that there is lot of awareness of who gay people are. Recently in June 2009, Delhi High Court declared that discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal and unconstitutional. Such legal, political and media support has improved our society’s understanding of LGBT people and it is growing more tolerant.

Source: pflag.org. Content customized to suit Indian audience.

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