Muthukumar Natesan is the Director of Lotus Sangam, a community-based organization that supports the rights and well-being of gay men and transgender people in rural areas in Kumbakonam, a semiurban area of Tamil Nadu in India. Below, Muthukumar retells a moving story of his mother – a woman whose journey starts when she disowns her gay son, but ends with her working alongside him to improve conditions for the local LGBT community.
She was born and raised in a small village called Kumbakonam in India. She was like any ordinary Indian women then – wanting to get married and have children. At 24, she gave birth to her first son. Since then, her life revolved around her little baby; her happiness knew no bounds when he took his first steps. Time flew by and before she could even realize, her son was going to school. He turned out to be academically not-so-strong but was adept at acting, dancing and capturing everyone’s attention. Everyone liked him, including his teachers, because of his friendly nature. And this was enough for her mother to be happy.
As the little boy entered adolescence, there were many changes in his manners. “He speaks and dances like a girl” was a common observation from neighbors and relations, which initially his mother dismissed out-rightly. But soon, she also made similar observations and found that his son’s speech, style and activities were completely different from those of other boys. She tried hard but could not make the boy let go of his effeminate manners. In the end, she calmed herself by considering/thinking that her son’s unmanly manners were just a result of adolescence. She was confident that with time, his manners will turn more like that of a man.
Her son was only 15 when she had to stop his education because of a huge financial burden on the family. She was worried about his future but the boy was confident about his skills. He learnt the craft of weaving silk, as silk weaved in Kumbakonam was considered one of the finest in the sub-continent, and supported his family financially by weaving silk sarees.
As he turned 23, she started talking about his marriage. He refused every time she opened the discussion but she never stopped. The boy was coming of age but that was not the only reason she was persistent about his marriage. Lately, she had noticed that he had begun spending hours with a male friend in the village. And the thoughts that she had put to rest when he was an adolescent had started raising their heads again. Like every mother unaware of homosexuality, she believed that her son was not normal and marriage was the only solution to this problem.
She always had a hope that her fears about her son’s effeminate manners were false. But that hope died when he told her that he felt like a girl and wanted to change himself to become one. She felt that these feelings had come up again because of the time he was spending with his male friend and hence, warned him to stay away.
The son retorted, “If I end my relationship with him, do you think I will stop being my true self? Never! Emotionally, I am a girl. Do you think he is just my friend? He is my husband!!”
These were the hardest words she had ever heard. Devastated, she told him to leave the home.
And he did.
He moved three streets over and continued weaving for his livelihood. She rented out various portions of her house and managed without his financial support. She had thought that he would be out-casted, but on the contrary, he gained acceptance in his neighborhood. And so the life moved for both.
Two years later, she came to know that her son was acutely ill. All these years, she could never accept that her son felt being like a girl. But now when she saw him suffering, nothing mattered to her more than being by his side. Letting all her inhibitions go, she sent food to his room and called him back.
As she spent time with him, she came to know that there are many people like him and that he was working with them after his business hours for the betterment of the heterosexual community. She supported him when he quit his weaving business to work with them on a full-time basis. She was proud when her son and his team were selected for a World Bank project to conduct educational performances in villages. She started spending time at his community office watching the performers rehearsing and soon, she became a part of the community. Happily serving coffee, food and snacks to the members, she also helped them in small administrative tasks.
On the completion of their project, when the community group published a booklet at a function, she volunteered to be its first recipient. It was attended by over 150 people and she stood proudly in front of media and panchayat leaders. It was a moment of such joy and pride for her, to see her son and everyone with him successful, that she got teary-eyed when she was asked to garland her son.
This story is historic and she serves as an example for other parents. She is a true trailblazer in Tamil Nadu – a mother who accepted her gay son, his community and their work with all her heart. It is our hope that many more families will come forward in supporting their children who happen to be different from the majority. Because an end to discrimination in wider society and true acceptance starts from home.
Lotus Sangam is a former fund recipient of the grant provided by The Humsafar Trust, APCOM’s national organisation partner under Multi-country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme (MSA). Back on the Global Day of Parents (June 1), with the support from MSA, APCOM produced “Love Starts at Home” video to remind parents of LGBT children to love and support them unconditionally, just like what Muthukumar’s mother does .
Photo Caption: Muthukumar (middle) and his mother (right) during the symbolic launching of Lotus Sangam’s World Bank-funded “Action on Cultural Team” publication on stigma reduction.