Creating Change with my 70-year-old Indian parents
After I told my parents I was gay at 18, our relationship went through several difficult years. And while I grew up in Southern California, what people perceive as a liberal stronghold, my parents were the quintessential super-strict Indian parents. But after their own glacially-paced (or so it seemed in my American-born eyes) coming out, they have become the amazingly cool parents I would have never imagined. They have marched in San Francisco Pride three times (twice with more enthusiasm than me), been to a couple of queer weddings, and often enough ask me if I have met the perfect man.
So there we were at the Saturday afternoon plenary in Denver earlier this year, for Rea Carey’s State of the Movement speech. The Ferguson organizers took the stage as planned, and in true Creating Change fashion, stayed on stage for many more minutes protesting the need for community recognition of black lives and black trans lives.
My parents absolutely abhor cursing. I once said “piss” in front of Mummy and thought I would need to vacate the premises immediately. And now we were at the plenary, and on stage a million “fucks” were being thrown.
I listened carefully to what my fellow people of color had to say about the need for all of us to recognize the struggle and demands of black LGB and black trans folks within our own progressive LGBTQ movement. One woman’s words about the epidemic of violence against trans women of color brought me to tears: “Remember [my] name: Raquel. Because if something happens to me for loving a person I love, that’s the death I face.” Her courage was breathtaking, and the need for it, heartbreaking.
I also listened in horror to all the “adult” words, wanting to sink through the floor, as I thought about how offended my parents must be. I honestly thought about asking them to turn their hearing aids down.
The plenary finally came to an end and we left the hall. I was exhausted. The difficulty of hearing the choice in words was far behind the difficulty of hearing the pain and anger in the voices and stories of black folks on stage.
My parents looked just as exhausted, but then again, they’re 70 plus. When I asked Mums how she felt, she surprisingly said “refreshed.” She hadn’t liked the language on stage, but thought that people had said what they needed to express, and she was glad to have heard it. Then Pops spoke up: “The woman at the end was so nice, so sweet.”
Over the years, my parents and I have talked about the many challenges transgender people face. They know real equality for me means full lived freedom for all, including trans people. They had questions, of course, but also drew on their knowledge of hijras in India. I remember one year Mummy came back from a visit in Delhi and relayed with excitement how the city was treating hijras with more dignity and respect.
And now my parents both were sharing their admiration of Aaryn Lang, a black trans woman, who to them had spoken so beautifully on stage (and to their pleasure, with few curse words). Aaryn said, “Helping trans people is so simple; it’s treating us like you want to be treated out in the streets.” The words had resonated with Mummy and Papa, who had endured prejudice when told to “go back where you came from” many times as young immigrants in Los Angeles county.
All of our journeys are incredible. My parents’ journey took them from fleeing what is now Pakistan during the Partition of India, to their arranged marriage in Delhi, to a move all on their own to California to raise three kids, to being out and proud parents of a very out son. And now, in their seventh decade, they have changed and become the advocates I wouldn’t have expected them to be.
Positive and lasting change can often seem like a slow and difficult process. And while there is still more work to be done to end anti-transgender violence, eliminate racially biased policing, and secure full freedom, justice, and equality for LGBTQ people, it is important to acknowledge significant changes we have already made. For me, I have been lucky enough to create change alongside my parents.
By Saurabh Bajaj, Director of Individual Giving, National LGBTQ Task Force