You have always defined yourself by your family, as a wife, a mother, and now a grandmother. However, our perpetual family dysfunction has meant that you’ve never been able to assume the role you’d like to, and I am sorry that your life has turned out this way. Nonetheless, while your marriage to my father has been a disaster, and my brother seems to have repeated your mistake of staying in a bad relationship, which in turn has affected your contact with your grandchildren, I unfortunately can’t be your saviour.
I’m gay, Mum, and while you are by no means a pious fundamentalist, I know your religion and culture means a gay son doesn’t fit into the hopes you have for me, and for yourself.
I’m approaching my 30th birthday, and the not-so-subtle hints that you want me to get married have intensified. I remember when you were on a trip to Pakistan a couple of years ago, you spoke to a girl’s family with a view to match making – without my knowledge. By your description, she sounded like exactly the kind of person I might be interested in – a passion for social justice, a doctor – and the picture you sent was of a happy, attractive young woman. You even roped in my dad, who usually stays out of these kinds of things, to send me an email, almost pleading with me to at least consider it, as marriage to someone like her, he explained, a “traditional” girl, with “traditional” values, could bring our family a much-needed happiness not seen in a long time.
I’ve always told myself that I’d come out to you once I’m in a happy, stable relationshipMy initial reaction was of anger that you’d bandied together with my dad to help curate a life for me that you wanted. Then there was guilt that I couldn’t give you what you wanted because of my sexuality. In the end, I didn’t use this as an opportunity to come out, but neither did I capitulate.
And my adult life has largely been defined by that limbo – somewhere between lying to you and being honest with you. Never commenting on girls you point out as being marriage material in the mosque, but also never agreeing when you swoon over some male celebrity on one of the soaps you watch. But that balancing act has also seeped into my life away from you, and it has meant that my sexuality has been woefully unexplored and still causes me confusion.
In being so careful to not reveal my sexuality to you, I find myself being similarly careful in other parts of my life when I don’t need to be. Since graduation, I’ve only come out on a handful of occasions. It became so farcical at one point that on one significant birthday, I held a party where there was a mix of people I cared for, not all of whom knew that I was gay. Near the end of the evening, this attempt at compartmentalising my personal life inevitably came crashing down, and I left in a panic after a friend from one camp revealed my “secret” in passing to friends from the other.
I’ve always told myself that I’d come out to you once I’m in a happy, stable relationship, but I worry that all of the emotional baggage I carry as a result of not being honest with you means that relationship is unlikely to happen. Arguably, cutting off contact with all of you might be the best thing for my personal life, but our culture imbues me with a sense of duty I can’t abandon.
You’re a wonderful mother, but what a lot of non-immigrant friends don’t always realise is that while it’s true that you want me to be happy, you want me to be so in a way that fits into a world you understand. That inevitably changes between generations, but the chasm between first and second-generation immigrants can sometimes be too big to overcome.
Maybe one day I could fit into your world, but for the time being, I’ll continue to play a role you at least partially recognise.
This article was originally published on the Guardian