Making choices is akin to constructing, stumbling upon, or re-signifying meanings by ourselves and/or those with whom we share affective ties. Choices are never absolutely infused with agency, and this is especially true for queer people. Even when we demonstrate agency, choices are strategic and critical in the moment of their making, revealing our situation even through our hesitations while making them or not making them at all. Choice making, active or passive, is then reflective of the nature of our familial and social relationships and the heteropatriarchal conditions that inform it.
I came out of the closet a few years ago, for the first time, by unleashing on my mother the difficult truth of my queerness – a revelation she was ill-equipped to handle at the time, despite my family’s liberal pretences. For a while she was sustained by the comfort of denial, evidenced by her casual remark that I was queer because of my cerebral curiosity in gender and sexuality studies. At 21, I lacked the intellectual and emotional wherewithal to establish my identity through astute, and enervating, contestations. I chose silence over resistance, realising strategic self-censorship would be the pragmatic thing to do, given the circumstances. My queerness was not discussed thereafter, as I moved out of home for two years and dated a cisgender heterosexual man during that time. My mother probably did not think my queerness would ever be a point of discussion or contention between us. For all intents and purposes, I had become straight to her. Ironically however, those two years paved the way for my mother’s evolved understanding of feminism and sexuality.
After the relationship with the man ended and I returned home, I started coming out to her with renewed conviction, I realised a lot of groundwork had already been done and she had learnt and chosen to be quietly accommodating instead of being blithely dismissive of my queerness. Our queer journey has so far been an expedition involving myriad quiet agreements, respectful exchanges, gentle understanding, and discreet but sound support despite the inconvenience of convenient choices leading her to tolerance, and helping her inch towards, often unspoken, acceptance.
My relationship with my mother was improved by the distance between us – physical and intellectual. I introduced into her vocabulary the language of rights, justice, bodily autonomy and agency as I was beginning to develop my own nuanced understanding of these concepts in and out of university. This was a world of critical exploration of being and becoming that she had not had access to in her time. But much of this resonated with her as someone who had performed her own infractions by marrying my father against socio-cultural norms and norms of morality. I realised for the first time that she was willing and able to recognise my agency over my body when I told her, after coming back home last year, at the risk of a discord between us, that I was travelling to see my then boyfriend and would be staying at his place for a few days. “That’s up to you”, my mother had said. It was not helpless withdrawal but recognition of my agency. That was the day I realised my mother was willing to recognise the choices I was capable of, and will be, making as an adult individual. Her choices fostered my evolution and strengthened my own choices.
Conversations about my queerness began slowly and casually the second time around. I chose to not furnish this information with the arrogance and entitlement I had demonstrated earlier, without realising that my mother is from a generation where conversations about gender and sexuality were not had openly, uninhibitedly, critically, and were not part of the public discourse. Yet, she was amenable to these conversations, was willing to address her own prejudices and recognise the violence of erasure. It was perhaps because she had had to fight a similar fight, albeit differently, with her family, that had also entailed questions of romantic choice, cohabitation, familial piety, and the flouting of patriarchal diktats, that she could attempt to cultivate an understanding of my queerness. She was no stranger to the world of romantic dissidence, but her heterosexual privilege had made her acquaintance with it short-lived. The fundamental difference between us is that her dissidence was disciplined and sanitised through marriage, whereas mine will never be because the law of the land does not permit it, and even if it did, I remain doubtful if I would ever have enough faith in the institution of marriage to commit to it. However, our transgressions are not disparate and we have now begun to be united by them.
The first time I fell in love with a girl, I had nobody to confide in. Now, whether they last a day, a week, or a few months, my mother is aware of all my infatuations. However, they are not easy admissions, no matter how necessary they are. She is learning a new way of loving and living through me, and I have to be patient while she comes to terms with it. Patience is a conscious choice, as are constant negotiations in the lived realities of queer people within and outside of the family. Those with the latter are more intimate and hence all the more challenging. The road from understanding to acceptance is a long one, and often bumpy. There are multiple choices – from the well-thought out to the organic – that are made for this journey to sustain itself.
A few days ago, I was telling my mother about the impossibility of a queer future with someone who lived in a different city. “But I really like her”, I found myself switching from our native Bangla to a foreign tongue– a language we hardly speak at home. Hiding behind this language was a choice that acted as an armour, helping me in the articulation of desires that hitherto had no space in my home and the language that was spoken in it. Home is always associated with a language that carries with it the burden of its prejudices. While on our way to undoing prejudicial inhibitions, we often choose to dissociate the language from it, not entirely, but only in critical moments to re-introduce it into the language of desire. The intercession of English helps us move on and brokers a truce with my discomfiture.
I talk and my mother listens to stories of my love and longing in foreign and familiar tongues. She listens most of the time without saying anything in return. For a long time, I identified her silence with sorrow. Now, a year later, I have found language and reassurance in it. Silence is often a choice she makes in trying to navigate her role as a single parent of a queer child. Her silence had seemed torturous to me for a long time. I felt unheard when she would look down at her phone while I told her of a budding queer romance or of queer conversations with a long lost friend. But then there are moments like this that nod towards the progress we have made: I told her recently I was going to Mumbai to meet someone, and in reply my mother said something along the lines of, “But doesn’t your love interest live in Delhi?”
My mother and I have both made certain choices, sometimes inconvenient for me, sometimes difficult for her, but those choices have revealed to me the strength of our relationship and alternative possibilities that she and I can imagine together. My choices may be more vocal but hers are sounder in their headway against prejudices she is choosing to unlearn, everyday, bit by bit. Our choices, even though now compatible, are performed in keeping with our vastly different lives. Yet, they are more complimentary than conflicting.