Social Ketchup’s Mrinil Mathur Rajwani, speaks to Nilakshi Roy about Sweekar and how parents of queer people can support their children best.

Founded in 2017, Sweekar is an informal group formed by the parents of Indian LGBTQIA+ members to come together and support each other, which enables them to embrace their queer children and accept their identity fully. As we speak to Nilakshi Roy, we try to understand the experiences of being a parent to LGBTQIA+ children and how they can support each other and their kids. 

Here’s what Nilakshi said!

Mrinil Mathur – How did ‘Sweekar’ come into existence?

Nilakshi Roy – It came into existence in 2017 when some parents of queer people got together with the encouragement and support of Sridhar Narayan, Saagar Gupta, and Harish Iyer. Sridhar is an international filmmaker who runs the Kashish film school, Sagar is his partner and Harish is a human rights activist. They formed this group together and I joined them at their first or second meeting, there was some amount of training in 2017 itself in November. That’s when the name was proposed and adopted and we worked on the emblem. During that period, some parents had become petitioners to take down Sec 377. When Sridhar went down there, there were many activities and we got a lot of other people who got a chance to keep their opinions and also mainstream media, we were kind of recognized as a group by then.

MM – If I may ask, what was your experience like when your child came up to you and expressed themselves? How did you comprehend it?

NR – Initially, it was difficult because there were so many questions like how will she cope, and how will she go about it, it’s going to be a very hard and lonely future because society doesn’t accept these things very easily and how will she manage? So there is a lot of fear and it made me wonder why she’s taking on another problem on her shoulders, she’s going abroad so it’ll be a problem and that’s what happened. She went abroad and it was lonely there and counseling is hard over there because there are long queues there. She fought a very long and tough battle. It affected her mental health and I felt bad about it. It wasn’t a problem for me because I was taking regular help from my mental health professional. Even my family abroad is very supportive, they were all there for her so it was better for her at that point. 

But to think of coming back home, she might’ve been anxious about it. She also didn’t want to express herself that clearly to me because she wasn’t able to accept it herself which is what happens to most children. They’re not able to accept their own identity since they think that’s not the right way. So she took time to accept and only then could she talk about it. She didn’t tell me when she was in the country and when she went abroad, she was struggling with all this. 

Our communication happened through Skype and I demanded that she tell me everything and she kind of understood what I meant so then she had to come out. By the time she came back home after a year and a half of pursuing her MA abroad, it was much easier. By then, most of our relatives already knew and accepted her so that wasn’t a problem.

MM- I’m sure your family and you were supportive. But a lot of times parents accept their children’s identity but are afraid to share it with their peers. Do you have any suggestions for them?

NR- It’s not only a question of being afraid, it’s also about going into a shell. They say when a child comes out, the parent goes into a shell and they believe that this is a personal matter and there’s no need to share. So, when you ask about different ways of coming out and accepting it, this is one of the ways because it doesn’t matter what others think. For us also, we didn’t want to share it with anyone. My husband and I decided to talk about it one day. I spoke to 250-300 students about it. My older daughter helped me with my younger daughter’s situation and I read about it and spoke about it openly. Similarly, my husband spoke about it during the Kashish Film Festival to a bunch of reporters and an unknown audience. Sometimes, anonymity helps and you notice that it becomes easier to talk to unknown people or counselors. 

People think I am struggling because I am a parent to a queer child. If I’ve accepted it means I have stopped suffering. People start thinking you’re alone, it’s not like that. You have to reinforce that it’s fine and you’re actually proud, you’re happy and your eyes have opened to this new experience which you had shut yourself to and now you’ve gained insight into a totally different way of being and that’s fine. 

I think it’s fortunate to know that this world exists. That is yet another way of coming out. There are no rules, you have to accept them but another way is to join a support group and be proud parents who have accepted their children’s identity. 

MM – Sometimes parents are open to accepting and supporting their kids but are not aware of the universe as it’s a whole new world altogether, so how do you address their concerns?

NR – It’s good if they’re not very well aware of this. They are accepting it wholeheartedly and they begin with accepting it becomes easier that way. If they know about this world it becomes difficult, as they try to compare. The best thing is to support the child so they come raw but the best way to be aware is to talk to another parent. 

There is no substitute for a peer group. That exposure helps a lot. Even if you’re not in the group or are just talking over the phone that is also helpful. There are so many short videos, so many similar reports that are pictorial even if people cannot understand, there are many graphic videos. Those can tell a lot about acceptance and different sexual preferences and how that is normal so these are some ways. Talking in reference to an Indian context, we can go back to Indian myths and Indian history where this has existed since time immemorial. In certain tribes, transgenders are worshipped because they have the experience of being both man and woman so they have a special place in the village. They’re worshipped because of their extraordinary powers. One can talk about these examples and educate the parents. They can give examples of great role models that exist in our society.

MM – I know every kid, parent, and household is different. But, if you could point out some things which are handy pointers for parents to support their kids, like creating an environment that’s accepting, etc. 

NR – Watch out for the child’s psychological balance. A child is usually very torn. They also take time to accept their identity and this psychological problem goes on for a long time. Once the parents accept their children wholeheartedly, it becomes much easier for the child as they go through more traumatic experiences than the parent.

For the child, I would suggest it’s best to come out to the parent, in case you think there will be a lot of backlash, it is better to come out at or after 18 yrs of age. I would suggest it’s best to come out to the parent once you have fully accepted and understood your dilemma, also when you’re on the verge of completing your education because it can be very distracting and can turn out to be a make or break for their career because when a child is not doing well in studies or getting a job, that is an additional burden for the parent. If a child is not performing well, they can further go into a shell thinking they’re not good enough in terms of studies. So I would say that even though there might be anxiety that a child faces just for the sake of approval, the child should start thinking about being well prepared. What the child should ideally do is during the formal years of studying, they should prepare themselves and when they’re ready to take responsibility, then they should come out. 

Of course, this formula doesn’t always work because sometimes parents find out and they’re sensitive but if children are choosing to tell them sometime, they should choose to do this once they’re financially independent or psychologically stable, or academically fine. 

MM – Is there anything else you’d like to share?

NR – I think that a child should share their identity with their peers because today children are more supportive than the previous generation. Back then, they used to bully children but today, it’s much better. They might confide in a slightly older sibling who they trust if they don’t have a good relationship with the parent but sharing with friends is better. Psychological help is very important for the child. Trust yourself. Start one by one and only then inform your parents about this. That might help in case one doesn’t have a very good relationship with the child.

For more information about Sweekar: The Rainbow Parents Group, you can refer to their Facebook page. 

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