LGBTQ+ rights have come a long way in the past few years but talking about it to your family is still a daunting task, especially with Indian families. Sexuality and gender are topics still considered taboo in many Indian homes and this marginalization can be traumatizing for the country’s gay population which stands at over 2.5 million. And even if you don’t belong to the LGBTQ+ community, it can be a difficult subject to broach with family and educate them, never really knowing how they will react.
While it is by no means easy, there are books and movies specially made for an audience that would struggle to understand without prejudice. These can help in introducing and building awareness on the subject. Asian film industries have also opened up to the idea of exploring LGBTQ+ stories in mainstream films in the past few years, in order to normalize the concept.
So, if you’re looking to introduce your parents to sexuality and gender, here’s a list of books and movies that could work as easy explainers, ice-breakers, or a conversation topic.
Based on the book, “Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, this is a heartwarming, coming-of-age film that is suitable for any family movie night. The story revolves around Simon, a closeted high-schooler, who tries to deal with friends, family, and bullies at school without revealing his sexuality, while simultaneously looking for the anonymous online penpal he’s fallen in love with. Love, Simon treats matters of coming out, homosexuality, peer pressure and self-acceptance with sensitivity and uses a simple narrative to normalize it for a wide audience.
Memories in March
Arati Mishra thinks the worst in her life is over after her divorce, but is confronted with a rude, tragic shock when she receives news that her son has died in a drunk driving accident in Kolkata. Shaken and grieving, she travels to the city only to discover that her son was gay and meets his former partner, Ornub Mitra. The two start off on an uncomfortable footing but soon discover that their common love for Mishra’s son can help in understanding him and accepting his loss.
The 2010 film was received with critical and mainstream acclaim for its poignant portrayal of an Indian parent coming to terms with her child’s sexuality. “Memories in March” shows the damaging effects of societal constraints and narrow minds, while also exploring the nuances of being gay in India.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan
This 2020 film is filled with typical Bollywood masala but surprisingly makes for a good primer to address homosexuality with an Indian family. The movie revolves around a closeted gay couple who are discovered by their family in small town India. What follows is what one would expect from Indian parents — disbelief, denial, and anger but it also, as most things do, ends with acceptance. “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” focuses on the struggle of the man’s parents and family to understand their son’s sexuality, how it affects his job and prospects and what it really takes to accept someone.
While this may not be a typical, serious LGBTQ+ film, it does explore the obstacles that India’s gay community faces. Aggression, ostracization, and even violence are shown in a light that can be digestible to a traditional Indian household. And while it may not do a deep dive into the nuances of being part of the LGBTQ+ community and the discrimination that follows, it makes for a solid conversation starter.
This dark, raw, and moving Malayalam tale of identity, gender, sexuality and family is a must-watch for all. The audience is introduced to the life of 14-year-old Mulla from Lakshadweep — he lives with a fisherman, gets bullied by his peers and is forced by them to dress up like a girl like his elder brother, who left the island for Mumbai years before. Mulla, too, manages to run away and finds himself in the seedy underbelly of Mumbai, where he encounters sex workers, child traffickers and government redtape, all in the hopes of finding his brother and the truth behind his reason for leaving.
Critically acclaimed for its performances, “Moothon” is a great movie to watch with family as it is a perfect blend of drama, suspense and social issues. It uses a thriller narrative to address topics of gender fluidity, trans issues, and homosexuality in an Indian context that is relatable and removes awkwardness from the equation.
The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi
A trans rights activist and writer, A. Revathi’s autobiography is a touching book to read to understand the struggles of a trans person in India. She writes about her humble beginnings as a boy in a small, traditional village in Tamil Nadu, how she escaped a constricting environment to find herself a place in the Hijra community, her struggles with education and work and finding acceptance in herself and those around her. “The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story” is an easy read for anyone interested in learning more about the trans community and understanding it in the Indian context.
Now That You Know: What Every Parent Should Know About Homosexuality
Written by two mothers with gay children, this book has become the go-to guide for everyone who knows a parent with a child who has come out to them recently. Recommended by many who have come out to their parents, “Now That You Know: What Every Parent Should Know About Homosexuality” deals with all the questions that parents grapple with — is this a mental disorder? Will my child be normal? Does my religion allow this? What does it mean to be gay? — in an easy-to-understand manner and teaches parents how to work toward accepting their child the way they are.
Red: A Crayon’s Story
A small book, that almost looks like a children’s book, is a great tool to teach anyone about the basic concepts of gender and sexuality. The book tells the story of Red, a crayon that is actually blue but has the wrong label of red on it. The simple story explores Red’s journey to understanding and acceptance by those around it in school. “Red: A Crayon’s Story” simplifies explaining what it feels like to be different from others and how people can react to it positively.