What if Indian parents treated their gay kids like their straight ones?
"Is it time for matchmaking and Bollywood romance? Or even the modern-day kind a la Love Simon?"
Many Indian Americans bemoan the improbability of Bollywood films, in which anything can be eased with a simple song-and-dance. Floods. Fires. Even murder is no match. The Bollywood films of my youth saw buxom women dancing in Swiss fields—sometimes moments after a tragedy had occurred. All was forgotten. All was forgiven. It was time to shake that ass.
Of course, all films are unrealistic—even American ones. The boy always gets the girl. The villain always dies. And peace and order is always restored. But where does this leave us queer folk—and Indian Americans, in particular? Where is our Bollywood romance? I wonder how a community that romanticises love on-screen can be so dour about it in real life; horoscopes, biodatas, even castes are considered when selecting a mate. When did it become so complicated? I’ve yet to see a film in which two lovers fell into each other’s arms after escaping near-death, only to look at one another and ask, “So, did you finish your MBA?”
My straight Indian friends think I’m lucky: I’m single, 36, and openly gay. Because of this, I don’t have to deal with the minutiae of finding a spouse. Being gay means my parents aren’t setting me up with random acquaintances or signing me up to matrimonial sites. According to my friends, I don’t have to measure up to standards in a community that has set the bar too high. Clearly, they haven’t dated as a gay man.
In addition to navigating a relatively homophobic world, gay men have the added pressure of figuring out who and what we are. Am I an otter? A bear? A honey badger? Do I consider myself a full top, a vers-top, or, am I simply kidding myself by assuming I’m anything other than a bottom? Being gay means I have to fend for myself—without the help of family or friends—swiping on apps to no avail and wondering, all the while: would this be easier if I had abs?
I may never have abs, so I can only wonder what it would be like if Indian parents treated their gay kids like their straight ones, if they filled out online profiles and called up their friends, ushering them into a matchmaking rat race, just like everyone else. I imagine it would go something like this:
“Dear friends, our son is a sweet, sensitive, and charismatic Harvard graduate. Also, he’s a power bottom. Vers-tops are preferred.”
Maybe I wouldn’t have to experience the horror of talking to someone for three days before realising we’re sexually incompatible—that’s a month in gay years. It would be easier if my parents scoured the continent on my behalf, searching for a suitable mate, to know that my family, both near and far, see me not just as someone to accept, but as a real person—worthy of love. Of course, this is all just wishful thinking. While many Indian parents have begun to accept their children’s sexualities, few are shouting them out from the rooftops. I went to a gay pride last year and, among the hordes of white parents wielding posters in support of their gay kids, I’d hoped to find an Indian woman, stabbing her fist through the air, chanting, “My son is a queer!” But, I didn’t.
I don’t watch Bollywood movies these days. I’m not sure if they’ve changed—though I’m told that they have. I did, however, watch an American film that made me weep: Love, Simon. My tears weren’t the result of any particularly moving performance, but rather the stark realisation that I had somehow missed something in my life. Despite my liberties as an adult, I will never have what Simon had: a tentative first kiss, a childhood romance, a date to the prom. I will never know what it was like to come out at the tender age of 16. Back when I was young, I never had a character like Simon to seek comfort in whenever I was feeling angry or alone. Of course, neither did my straight Indian friends—being others in America, too—and in that respect we’re not so different after all. In the end, we all want the same things: to know that we’re loved and to feel like we matter to the world. Or at least to someone in it.
Neel Patel’s debut book, If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi, is a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and currently in development for television. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is at work on a novel
ILLUSTRATION : VEER MISRA