Coming out as a LGBTQ person to one’s family can be a very challenging and painful experience. When one adds a change of faith into this mix, you can only imagine how much more difficult the conversation can be. I know, because when I came out as queer to my parents, I was also coming out as a Hindu.
I realized at a young age that I was attracted to the same sex. Although I knew I couldn’t change it, I also realized that others, most especially my family, would have a lot of trouble coming to terms with this, and they did—my parents lived in denial for quite some time. Although they did not throw me out into the street, as, unfortunately, some parents of LGBTQ parents do, it did feel as if they abandoned me emotionally. They wouldn’t ask about my personal life aside from school, they gave up making remarks about me “finding a nice girl to settle down with” as they did before, they mainly spoke to me out of necessity and that was it.
As I felt more distant from my parents, I became increasingly more disillusioned with the Catholic faith I had been brought up with. In high school, I began searching for a spiritual path that fit me (I write more about this journey in detail here). After reading the Bhagavad Gita for the first time and seeing how much it spoke to me on a deep level, I desired to learn more about Hindu spirituality and philosophy. I eventually began visiting temples regularly and came to identify as a Hindu.
My newfound faith challenged me to be honest, to always stay true to myself. Swami Bhajananda Saraswati, whom I greatly admire, once said in a discourse on dharma that truthfulness is not simply a duty, but our very nature itself. With this kind of faith, I decided that I wanted to keep working on my relationship with my parents. I knew my sexuality and my faith would be points of contention, but I wanted to bring all of myself into the room with them. While I never told my parents explicitly that I was a Hindu in the same way that I told them I was gay, they had come to understand that I was no longer Catholic. I stopped going to church, I was vegetarian, I had built a small shrine in my room that they undoubtedly took note of, and they presumably heard me praying in a foreign language.
“I just think you’re confused… You don’t know what you want to do with your life, you worship that… whatever it is… how could you know you’re gay?”
I remember my mother saying those words to me one night when I had initiated a conversation. My mother’s attitude over the years had shifted from anger, to denial, now to fear. Her intense anxiety over my faith was reflected by her choice of words— “whatever it is” — referring to my shrine, full of murtis and pictures of the Hindu gods and goddesses. I tried to put myself in her shoes. She was raised devoutly Catholic. She had very little exposure to people of different faiths, let alone LGBT people. The priests told her in her church that God punished people like me with AIDS for our “sins”, and I can only wonder what they said about people of other religions. I think she feared deeply for me. My father never really got involved in these things and usually just took my mother’s side.
I became very depressed over these kinds of conversations, and for a long time, I felt as if I would never be able to truly be myself in my own home. Thankfully, with patience, self-care, and creating safe spaces for myself, I was able to bring myself out of that depression. Things slowly began to improve. When I first started wearing tilak, my father reluctantly asked, “What’s that stuff on your forehead?” I told him that it was a symbol of my faith, something that I wear every day to help me remember God. When my mother later came home and asked me the same question, my father calmly answered for me, repeating what I told him. They both seemed a little put off, but ultimately accepted it.
These days, the situation is a lot better. My mother occasionally asks a question or two about my faith, and I try to answer as best as I can. My father has never been especially religious, so he is not as interested in learning and talking about points of theology as my mother is. I can tell, however, that he respects my faith. He has learned about the purity regulations that I keep and tries his best to be mindful of them when he cooks or cleans. I take all of these little things as good signs.
One moment that filled me with joy occurred a few months ago. I had gotten into the habit of reciting one of my favorite prayers, Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatam, every morning. I was reciting it on a Saturday morning. My mother was vacuuming while I was praying, but it didn’t bother me much, as I usually have headphones in to pray along with recorded chants. Later, when she saw me, she gently said, “Sorry if I was disturbing you earlier while you were praying.” I told her that it was okay. That little moment meant the world to me.
My family has taken a little bit longer to come to terms with my sexual orientation, but I think, with time, they will be okay with it. When I officiated a same-sex marriage two months ago, my mother asked how it went, so I showed her a photo with the happy newlyweds and me. She was silent for a few moments, and then nodded and told me that it looked beautiful. I pray that when it comes for my own wedding, she will be happy for me.
I too, have grown since this coming out process. I don’t have the same antagonistic relationship with Catholicism, and Christianity in general, that I used to. I occasionally go to church for a vespers service and I love exploring the common grounds that our two faiths share. Whenever I walk into my grandmother’s house and see her statues of Mary and Jesus beautifully decorated with flowers, it reminds me of being in a Hindu temple (I joke inwardly to myself that my granny has just finished puja).
More importantly, I have grown to forgive my parents. I see that they have grown and that they want to have a relationship with me. I know that who I am today is not who they envisioned or expected their son to become. Yet, I also know that they don’t love me any less and all that they desire is my happiness. Even if they don’t always understand who I am, I know that they are proud of me.
Yagnaram is a queer Hindu blogger and occasional speaker, based in Philadelphia, PA. You can follow him on Twitter at @YRD108.