By Manisha Dass

I still remember the day like it was yesterday. My siblings and I were at our neighborhood bar, after leaving a super lame birthday party that I forced them to go to. After our usual gossip and gap about everyone’s outfits, how the girl that was with my crush was no comparison to how pretty I am – I should mention here that vanity is in our gene pool – we began to wind down our evening and asked for the tab. My younger brother, who literally never offers to pay for anything, picked up the tab. My sister and I exchanged glances and knew that something was up. On cue, he said, “I need to tell you two something.” We, of course, thought it was going to be something super sappy and cheesy, like how we were the best sisters ever, followed by one of his ever-famous ludicrous requests. Instead, he told us a secret he had not shared with anyone for the past 25 years. “I’m never going to marry a girl…” I immediately interrupted, cooed and aww’ed, and said “you’ll find her. Your sapno ki rani is definitely out there.” He looked down towards his shoes, took a deep breath, and tenaciously looked us straight in the eyes and said, “I’m never going to marry a girl because I like guys.”

The next few minutes, which felt like an eternity for our brother, passed silently. I am usually never at a loss for words – even in my sleep I’ve got things to say – but I did not know how to react. Our older sister broke the silence in her brusque ways – “I mean I’ve always wanted a gay brother but are you sure you’re not just drunk and curious?” she asked doubtfully. He assured us that this was not “just a phase” and he was not channeling his inner K-Jo. He shared that this has been his truth for years and he finally had the courage to tell the people that mattered most to him.

We stayed up till wee hours of the morning, re-hashing signs and indicators that should’ve made it obvious, like his obsession for fashion, parties, picnics, and of course, his eyebrows were always on fleek. He pointed out things that, in hindsight, made perfect sense. It was all coming together now. Then, my brother said something I still hold close to my heart, “I need you both to help me share my truth with everyone.”

We knew how challenging this would be, especially given the staunch conservatives in our family who just wouldn’t get it. The family members that believe that you can inject testosterone into a man and “turn off the gay buttons” in their body. The people that simply do not understand that being gay isn’t a choice, or a disease, or something to be ashamed of.

The next morning, while we were all in the car together, we told our mother. Her priceless reaction of “fitteh muh,” reminded us of our Punjabi roots. Initially (and still today, tbh), our mother has had the hardest time believing that her son is gay. While she is an anchor of support and has acknowledged that she will have not two, but three jamai’s, she still cannot fathom that her son’s biggest truth was kept hidden from her for so long. Every time she learns that there is a new addition to the gay pool, she has a minor moment of denial.

Recently, we went to our cousin’s graduation and Tim Cook was the commencement speaker. She went on and on about what a great speech he gave and how he’d make an “ideal husband”. And then we dropped the truth bomb that he was our brother’s type and not ours. She reacted in her stereotypical overreactive desi mom fashion with a “noooo,” followed by a “nooo way,” before realizing that her reaction was somewhat hurtful to her gay son. Slowly, but surely, she’s agreeing to do more for the community and eventually, we hope to see her at the forefront of a Pride parade, waving a flag and reinforcing her love and acceptance for our brother.

The initial few months after our brother came out to us were challenging but they taught us a great deal about ourselves, our family, and how his truth has become a motivation for all of us to be better individuals, to be more open-minded and understanding. Much of our extended family now know our brother’s truth. But the fact is we don’t let this define who he is as a person. No one “announces” their heterosexuality – so why do we emphasize people’s homosexuality.

It’s no surprise to us when we hear about the honor killings, suicides, and lack of tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTQ community in our communities. There are several statistics that illustrate the seriousness of this nationwide. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like in India, where so much goes unreported. We need to do whatever we can to indicate our support for this community. If you have a homosexual family member, friend, or acquaintance, call them today and let them know they are accepted. Far too many brothers and sisters remain in the closet, fearing discrimination from their families who view homosexuality as a shame upon the family. A reminder for those of you who are in the closet - your sexuality does not define you, and we are fighting for you.

And to those of you that are on the fence on your views about homosexuality – it is 20 friggin’ 18. And whether you agree with it or not, homosexuality is here to stay and win. So, if you had any doubts, it’s time for you to get aboard the “love is love” train and know that the world is a better place with all our diversity.

Confused about what to do next? The next time you see a Pride parade in your city, join in! Let them know that desis are all about showing love and support in this climate charged by hate and divisiveness. Take a step towards love and acceptance. You never know, your support might just be the change the world needs right now.

Manisha Dass is a pediatric occupational therapist who is surviving Trump’s America thanks to dogs, Bollywood, and deep-fried desi goodness. She can’t imagine a world without JZ (her 4 legged besties, not Bey’s), gol gappas and SRK. When she’s not catching Btown’s latest, she’s looking for love in all the wrong places. You can follow Dass on Twitter and Instagram.

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