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Dear parents, here’s how to deal with your child’s sexuality

As the story of Shivy, an 18-year-old transgender man, abandoned in India by his parents makes news, we speak to experts about how mothers and fathers can deal with such revelations

sex and relationships Updated: Oct 24, 2015 17:11 IST
Collin Rodrigues
Collin Rodrigues
Hindustan Times
Sexuality

Experts say that parents should avoid making any judgements at the spur of the moment. Telling children that they are wrong, or making them feel as if they’ve made a mistake, can lead to serious and irreparable ­damage as well as alienation.

The story of Shivy — an 18-year-old transgender who was born a girl named Shivani Bhatt — shook the world, as it made news in India as well the world. It all started when Shivy, an American resident, wanted to cut his hair short. His mother believed that girls should have long hair, while boys should keep it short. Next month, she confiscated Shivy’s computer, and after going through his phone, she found out that he had a ­girlfriend. In anger, his ­parents brought him to India under the pretence of his grandmother’s illness, and confiscated his passport, and abandoned him here. Their decision made news, and shocked many worldwide, while throwing light on how complex a parent-child relationship can get in such situations. While Shivy was able to somehow approach the authorities at the Delhi High Court for help, there are several Indian ­families who are completely unprepared when it comes to dealing with such ­revelations.

Communication is essential

Hemangi Mhaprolkar, a clinical psychologist who specialises in issues faced by the LGBT community, says that she often finds herself counselling her clients’ ­mothers and fathers. “Parents of transgender ­individuals tend to be in ­denial. They feel that this can’t be happening to their children. There is shame associated with the issue. They worry if society will accept their child,” she says, adding that lack of awareness and information are some of the major issues hindering India’s progress on this front.

According to Mhaprolkar, the solution is to set up a clear channel of communication. “Some parents don’t even discuss the issue with their children, even though they know that they only have half information,” she says. Take for instance, a ­situation in which a set of parents are suddenly ­confronted with information about their children’s sexual orientation. Without prior knowledge, it can be hard for them to accept or come to terms with such a revelation.

In such cases, relationship expert Dr Gittanjali Saxena feels that parents should avoid making any judgements at the spur of the moment. Telling a child that he or she is wrong, or making him or her feel like he or she has made a mistake can lead to serious and irreparable ­damage as well as alienation. It is imperative that parents are supportive, and if that means they need to take some time to think before they react, then be it. “Parents have to make sure their kids are of an age where they can take such a decision. Then, they need to understand whether the ­trauma that their child is going through is because of their body, ­psychology or some other reason,” says Saxena.

According to experts, the best way to deal with all parent-children conflict is to keep all channels of communication open. (Shutterstock)

Lack of information

Sometimes, it also helps to speak to a professional counsellor or psychologist. Visiting an expert can have two purposes — to understand what the child is going through, and to come to terms with the fact yourself, as a parent. Psychologist and relationship expert Vidya Bansode says, “It is very important to understand that the child is not committing a crime [by telling his or her parents that he or she is transgender]. At first, you need to realise that your child is also trying to explore and understand the changes happening internally. He or she may be suffering from an identity crisis at that point in time. Adding your own baggage to all that is not permissible, and would only be an additional burden.” Mhaprolkar believes that while parents need to be supportive, even the children need to realise their parents’ point of view. “Kids tend to be in a hurry. They say things like, ‘I’ve been discriminated. My rights have been ­violated.’ I calm them down. It is vital for them to understand that their parents are facing an alien issue, which they are still learning to deal with,” says Mhaprolkar.

Damage control

While in Shivy’s case, the Delhi High Court has asked his parents to return his ­passport and documents, and also buy him a ticket to return to the US, perhaps, it will take some time for his relationship with his mother and father to return to ­normal. Such situations, in which the trust factor is ­seriously hit, must be avoided under all circumstances, say experts.

“Initially, a transgender person may have had just one issue to deal with, but once the news is public, new problems crop up. If the family itself is not accepting of him or her, even if it takes time, then the person can become lonely. He or she may become an introvert, and start bottling up his or her problems, or even have a panic attack,” says Saxena. Therefore, it is best to deal with such cases without the use of force or aggression, and by simply employing the live and let live philosophy.

‘My parents were supportive of me’

I first realised I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body when I was just 12. It took me time to come to terms with my sexuality. Eventually, when I did, I told my parents. I was around 17 at the time, so I told them gradually; I didn’t break the news to them all of a sudden, as I didn’t want to shock them. Luckily, they weren’t surprised with my admission, because they had been observing my behaviour ever since I was a child. They were supportive of me. They offered me a neutral ­perspective, and explained to me the good and bad aspects of coming out. My parents’ only worry was what would happen to me once they passed away. Over time, they started convincing my extended family to support my decision to come out. Eventually, I won my battle.

— Sowmya Gupta, a training officer at the Humsafar Trust; he had a sex-change operation when he was 22, with the consent of his parents and extended family