‘My Daughter is 13 and Identifies as Queer’
‘I have always said to my daughter that there is no fear or shame in wearing one’s identity on one’s sleeve.’
(On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India read down IPC's Section 377, decriminalising homosexuality. FIT is re-publishing this piece in honor of its one year anniversary.)
On the day that the Supreme Court of India came out with the historic judgement decriminalising homosexuality in India and toning down Article 377 of the Indian Constitution, I sent out a tweet.
Over the next two days the tweet was liked more than 2000 times, retweeted more than 500 times, and I received more than 100 responses. The responses were mostly overwhelmingly touching.
However, a few made one realise how much work still remains ahead of us despite the judgement.
When I was asked to write this piece, I agreed immediately, because there is no explicable reason to not start the work that remains at once.
‘Feeling queer has nothing to do with being in a sexual relationship’
Our daughter never came out to us. I am a publisher and one of my most important lists is one of queer writings. Many of our friends identify as queer, many among them are queer couples living together. So, identifying as queer was something she grew up knowing as a possible reality, for everyone. And from the time she hit puberty, which was about two years ago, it became clear to us that she identified as queer.
One of the tediously missing-the-point-entirely responses when I sent out the tweet was ‘Isn’t she too young for this?’ No, she is not.
Feeling queer has nothing to do with being in a sexual relationship. It is about understanding where you stand in terms of your preference, identity and desire. That is what she has expressed to us. Another sad tweet asked me how this was different from child marriage. It could not be more different. Child marriage is a patriarchal institution being foisted on a child who has no voice, no choice in the matter.
A teenager expressing she is queer is about her being honest about her self and her identity because she sees no cause for shame or fear in that expression.
‘I look to my child to help me learn how to be her parent’
I want to dwell on this bit about shame and fear for some time. It is now fairly substantially documented in literature and cinema and many other art forms and in popular culture that shame and fear are two of the four pillars of patriarchy, the other two being sexism and violence. In generations past, ‘effective’ parenting has often been about filling children with these two emotions to the brim to keep them in line.
‘What will people say?’ ‘What will you do in life?’ ‘Who will marry you?’ are all questions thrown at South Asian children on a daily basis when they express themselves in a way that fills their parents with ‘shame’ and ‘fear’. And acting out of whatever emotional baggage they have, the parents use the same weapons to shut the errant kid down. It goes without saying that this child who has been shut down from expressing herself has every reason to go ahead and do the same with her own children. Many don’t, however. They break out of the stranglehold of shame and fear that their parents hang around their necks and live their own lives. Many of my queer friends have similar stories to tell. Stories of immense courage, stories of emerging from childhoods as confused young children being judged by parents who told them how disappointed they were at what and how the child liked to read, or wear, or play at, or love.
Some twitter responses which asked me to ‘let’ my child be young and ‘play’ also made me think how endemic hypocrisy is in our culture when it comes to anything sexual.
In a country where child marriage still persists, and where we want to turn our faces away when our daughters appeal to us to come back home to escape the violence and rape they might be suffering in their marital relationships, we still think 13 is too young to express one’s identity. There is any amount of research, if that is what makes you comfortable, saying that a child even as young as 10 or 11 can be clear about how she identifies on the orientation paradigm. Or that she can have a crush.
For me as a parent though, looking at research is not the important thing. I look to my child to help me learn how to be her parent. Having brought her into the world, that is what I owe her.
‘What she is, she will be’
Many of the twitter responses also assumed that I am a lesbian. I decided not to respond to them because that has nothing to do with my child identifying as queer. If that were not true then there wouldn’t be any LGBT child of a heterosexual parent. We would have to assume that all those parents of LGBT kids too were queer. Wouldn’t that be a happy rainbow world to live in! But jokes apart, identifying as queer as a child has absolutely nothing to do with influence or environment or conditioning. All of these things might certainly determine whether your child feels comfortable enough to express to you if she feels she is somehow ‘different’, but nothing more. Tweaking the honourable judge’s most poetic part from 6/9’s historic judgement, ‘what she is, she will be’.
I have always told my daughter that the personal is political. I have always said to her that there is no fear or shame in wearing one’s identity on one’s sleeve.
At the same time, however, I have also told my daughter that this has nothing to do with being reckless and unsafe. We live in a time when an individual who feels strong enough to express difference quickly becomes a target. It is important for me, therefore, to keep telling my daughter to also be safe, to choose her words as carefully as she chooses her friends.
So yes, my daughter is 13 and is proudly queer. And her father and I feel immense pride that she knows herself so well, and that she can share that knowledge with us. We must have done something right.
(Arpita Das is the publisher and founder of Yoda Press)
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