Deal­ing 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

Hindustan Times (Patna) - Live - - Variety - Collin Ro­drigues collin. ro­drigues@ hin­dus­tan­times. com

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.

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.

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