My husband Vaibhav and I got married three weeks ago on March 30. It was a big, fat Desi wedding in Killeen, Texas, that was attended by family and friends from across the U.S. and India. We followed Jain traditions in the ceremony itself, which was performed by Ashok Sanghavi of South Bend, Indiana. Vaibhav worked very hard to tweak and update the ancient rituals to accommodate a same-sex couple.
The journey to that mandap was a long but really fulfilling one. It required that the people who love us grow and change to accept the most basic nature of love: that love knows no gender or race or creed or nationality. It also required us to be patient and to communicate respectfully so that we could bring others along with us. No one wants to be the villain in someone else's story. So, part of what Vaibhav and I (and our parents) have tried to do is to help folks who are skeptical about same-sex relationships see that it's okay to champion the love between two people. It's okay to evolve one's fixed ideas about marriage, sex and tradition. It's okay to change your mind and your way of thinking, And, most important, it's okay – and even possible – for all of us to be heroes in this story.
Bigotry comes from ignorance. Once you fill a well of ignorance with knowledge, all that remains is the shame of where we once were. Our message has been that there is no need to wallow in the shame of who we were in the past. Our obligation is to the future and to make life a little bit easier for people who feel unaccepted and unloved by their society. Vaibhav and I are incredibly fortunate to have the loving and supportive parents we have. As you can see from the letter, my dad is exemplary. But I don't want other parents to take away the message that he is special or extraordinary. This is what parents do. They have one job: to love their children. And it shouldn't be so hard.
I hope his letter and his authentic message will inspire other parents to love fully, freely and unconditionally. The only way that Vaibhav and I can imagine repaying the grace of our parents is to become parents ourselves. We pray that we will be as good as the ones who raised us.
Please also make a note of the handwritten note by my dad at the end of the letter – which I think is important to the overall story as it shows how my mom was struggling to deal with my coming out even as my dad was telling everyone they knew.
Here is the letter written by my dad to some friends in April 1999:
“Dear (names omitted for privacy purposes),
“On Saturday, March 27th, The University of Texas at Austin hosted its 51st Annual Honors Day convocation. On this day all junior and senior level students with a GPA of 3.5 and above are recognized by parents, faculty, college deans and University officials. As the proud family of a college scholar Vinoo, Chirag and I went to attend this ceremony.
“As the program started our hearts were full because seated right next to the President of the University was our own pride and joy, Parag. He was one of the two student representatives chosen to give the keynote address at this assembly. Parag was the first to speak and as usual he delivered a wonderful speech. The parents seated around us were equally impressed and proud of this young man of Indian origin.
“We have grown accustomed to this kind of honor since Parag is always doing something substantial every week. In the past month alone he not only addressed the honors assembly, but also Co-chaired Texas Revue (the University-wide talent show which drew 6,000 people over two nights), testified before the State of Texas legislature regarding the Texas Union (for which he serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors) and most recently, he was recognized with the Dean's Dozen Award by the Office of the Dean of Students. Everywhere we go in Central Texas we find that we have lost our identities and are better known as Parag's mom and dad.
“Every time someone praises Parag I feel a special sense of accomplishment. After all, everyone says he looks like me, walks like me and has my passion for being a leader. I often conclude that it must be my genes and my training that have made him the success that he is. I cannot help but have this special pride whenever I think of my son.
“After the assembly we all went out for a quick lunch and then to Parag's apartment. It was there that Parag said, ‘Dad, Mom, Chirag, I have something important to tell you.’ From the seriousness of his face, a chill went down my spine. ‘What is he going to tell us?’ we wondered.
“Very soon this hero of ours was in tears, telling us how for many years he has felt that he is different from other people his own age. ‘I am gay,’ he said while sobbing. His plight began in early childhood but he thought it would go away. He tried to commit suicide several times in high school, unbeknownst to us. He said he could never muster up enough strength to tell us his secret, fearing that it would hurt us too much. Many of his close friends had already figured this out; however, they waited for Parag to feel comfortable and tell them himself. In January, while attending a retreat, he finally broke down in tears during a diversity training exercise and admitted that he was gay.
“In just a few seconds our hearts sank to the lowest level. My role model was telling me something that I, being as homophobic as I am, always regarded as an aberration and a product of this liberated, western culture. Well, I suddenly realized that this issue had arrived at my own door step and in my own child, whose cultural foundation I was most proud of. Vinoo and Chirag were so shocked that they could not utter any words and could only cry.
“Suddenly I realized that I had to reach out and help my hero and let him know that I was glad that he had the courage to admit this and to thank God that he did not succeed in his suicidal notions. Nor did he succumbed to alcohol or drugs to avoid facing the reality. I had to come to the understanding that the Parag sitting in front of me was the same Parag who has made me proud beyond any degree that a father can ever describe.
“If Parag has coped with this conflict all alone for the past several years and still was able to maintain focus on his goals, excel academically, be an exceptional leader in the largest university in the country and have endless energy to help others, then we know OUR SON is destined to greater things in life (his sexual orientation not withstanding). He will have to face a much bigger challenge of dealing with this new issue and we hope and pray that God has empowered him with necessary strength and courage.
“We really do not know anyone personally in the Indian community who is gay. We do not know what the appropriate reaction is supposed to be to this kind of news. I cannot help but hope that this whole thing was a bad dream and when we wake up Parag will be his old self again.
“But we know that is not possible. We have to get used to the idea that Parag will never bring us a daughter-in-law to become a part of our family. This is not something we had ever dreamed of.
“But as I look at Parag, our homophobic notions, fixed ideas about marriage, sex and life suddenly change. We realized that the most important thing for us to do now is to support this great son of ours. We have the same degree of pride in being his parents now as we had when we sat amongst 3,000 people watching him give that excellent speech yesterday.
“So what should we do? Well, we realize that you have made a significant contribution to Parag's life over the past twenty-two years. Your love and encouragement has played a vital role in his development. Thus, we believe you should know. We can never change his destiny, but we refuse to live in denial. We owe it to Parag and all he has brought to our lives to face this reality, accept the situation and do the best we can do to support him. Vinoo, Chirag, Ami and I will always love and support him. He is our son, our brother and our pride. We just wanted you to hear this from us and to know that we will always love our Parag.
“With Love, Vijay & Vinoo Ami, Parag and Chirag’s parents.
(Handwritten note from Vijay: Vinoo is still not able to talk about it so if you talk to her please don’t bring up the subject.)