Dear Sahaj: I’m an Indian queer immigrant living in the U.S. and my parents are in India. I have found love and currently my partner and I are living together. However, my parents do not want me to marry my partner unless my younger brother gets married as they feel the prospective bride will not agree to marry my brother if she finds out about me and my partner.
This has led to several arguments with my mom, who has shown a strong dislike toward my partner. This has affected my mental health, and I don’t know how to salvage my relationship with my mom — who has shown complete hatred toward me and my partner. How should I go about this?
— Hurting Son
Dear Hurting Son: You have to decide what you are okay with, not what your mom is okay with. Are you (and your partner) okay waiting for however long to get married? Are you okay with committing to your partner without your mom’s support? Do you truly want a relationship with your mom, who “has shown complete hatred” toward you and your partner? Once you get clear on what you want, you can learn to manage everything else.
You don’t need your mom’s permission to marry your partner, but I understand wanting her support — especially as you come from a culture where family is incredibly important. But you want your mom to be supportive so badly it’s affecting the peace you feel about your own choices. Ultimately, you need to differentiate yourself from your family. Creating distance between what your mom expects vs. what you want can help you release you from feeling responsible for her emotions. Take some time to explore your own values and how they overlap or differ from your mom’s. Remind yourself that your mom’s not supporting your choices doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong.
I am curious if the stipulation for you to wait until after your brother gets married really means your mom will be supportive of you and your partner, or if it’s an avoidance and delay tactic. Does your mom have specific issues with your partner that have nothing to do with queerness? If she’s showing a dislike toward your partner now, how much will that really change down the road? Arguably, this isn’t an issue that will go away just because your brother gets married. You will still be queer and your mom will still dislike your partner.
Your mom is concerned with how your choices will affect her, your brother’s prospects and the family’s reputation in general. But it’s at the cost of your happiness. Was your mom supportive when you initially came out? If she was supportive otherwise and this was her only condition, that would be one thing and could be something you decide to live with. But if she’s never shown herself to be accepting, that’s another thing and requires you to be honest about what this means for your relationship with her.
And where is your brother in all of this? Is he supportive of you or does he feel the same as your mom? If he feels similarly, that’s another layer for you to process. If he doesn’t, consider having a direct and vulnerable conversation with him on how he can be an ally, and even step in, when addressing this issue with your mom.
Since it sounds like you do want to have a relationship with your mom, you’ll have to compromise what that actually looks like. Unfortunately, you may not be able to salvage the type of relationship you want. When a parent rejects queer identity, adult children can manage that conflict while also maintaining the relationship by doing things like educating the parents, avoiding conversations about queer identity or relationships, learning to assert boundaries and accepting conflict as a part of the relationship. More specifically, you can limit contact with your mom to get emotional distance from her hurtful words. Or you can speak up when she speaks poorly of your relationship or your partner. Since India does not recognize same-sex marriage, and harmful narratives of queerness are common, you want to take into account how much your mom is being affected by her own social conditioning.
Focus on what you can change and control right now. Joining support groups or going to therapy can help you build tools for taking care of yourself and slowly increase your capacity for disappointing your family. Most important, make sure you and your partner are taking care of each other and protecting your relationship. Turn to supportive friends, commit to couples counseling, and have intentional conversations where you both feel heard and held through this.