Q: I am a gay man in my late 30s. My family is originally from India, but I was born in Singapore. We now live in Canada. Although I have been out to my parents and brothers and sisters for over 10 years, I am still reluctant to come out to my cousins, nephews, aunts, and uncles. At the last family wedding, relatives asked me when I was going to get married. It could’ve been an opportunity to tell them I was gay, but I became fearful instead. I want to feel more comfortable with myself and being seen as a gay man.
A: It’s good that you are willing to challenge yourself so that you can be fully who you are with your extended family. It’s a sign that you are moving towards more self-acceptance and desire more truth and visibility in your relationships with your relatives. Now that the issue of gay marriage has received worldwide attention, it might be easier to be seen as legitimate.
Much of how you feel about coming out to other relatives is based on how accepted you felt when you told your parents you were gay—the root of your of worth and dignity. Do they feel okay about their brothers and sisters knowing you are gay? If they don’t, that makes it more scary. In most South Asian families, brothers and sisters don’t carry the same weight in these matters.
Are you afraid of a particular relative knowing and not accepting or shaming you? Do you fear they will all talk about you and you will feel like the one different person in the group? Historically families have responded in harsh ways.
Start by telling one or two cousins or nephews who you like the most and are closer in your age. This can be done casually or in a deeper conversation. They may have already guessed you were gay or they may even find it cool that they have a gay cousin or uncle. Who knows, maybe one of them is gay and would appreciate talking to you about it.
* * * * *
Q: My family is from Uttar Pradesh. My sisters and brother are quite fair in complexion. I am the darkest one. When I was a child my mother didn’t like my darker skin. It hurt, but I couldn’t say anything. Now, when my 8-year-old daughter spends time in the sun, my mother says, “Oh look, she is getting too dark.” My husband and I don’t want my daughter to feel less attractive, and especially less of a person, because of her skin color. How do I address this?
A: This is not an easy one, as your mother still thinks white is better. Moreover, she doesn’t realize the negative impact of verbalizing her prejudice. She may have been brought up this way and no one has challenged her. It is time that you do, for your daughter and for yourself. It may bring up the hurt, anger, and shame you felt as a child.
It would be good if you could have a private conversation with your mother, where you could also address your experiences as a child. If you don’t think she will respect you, then include your husband. Let her know how you felt and how her comments have affected you and that you are concerned about your daughter and that she can no longer make such judgments. She may be defensive and even offended, but stay with your boundaries and expectations of her. There may be some discomfort for a while, but it’s worth the positive change and empowerment of yourself that is necessary in this relationship.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (650) 325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com