I Can’t Think Straight (2008)
Context: Leyla, a Muslim British-Indian woman, is coming out to her mother, telling her “I’m gay.” Her mother reacts with horror and disgust, telling her “You’re up to your neck in sin” and going so far as to ask “Who did this to you?”
But it’s this scene that sums up the reality of LGBTQ+ desi youth. Our parents may very well love us and want the best for us, but the absolute bottom line is: our parents do not want us to be happy. They want us to be appropriate, to be respectful, to have children and well-earning careers, to fit into the mold of heteronormativity and gender roles, to be religious and pious. But no, they do not want us to be happy. Happiness doesn’t fit into it. To them, happiness is indistinguishable as a separate characteristic because according to them, doing all of these things should already be making us happy. The ideal created for desi children is that they shouldn’t strive to do what makes them happy, but what makes them “good.” Unfortunately, under this context, good is defined as anything that isn’t seen as immoral or out of the norm.
A woman who is not straight is rejecting her role as a wife, and to a lesser extent, her role as a mother. She is rejecting the notion of subservience to men, of obedience and inferiority. Under our current system that is hugely patriarchal, a woman who does not submit is a threat.
Now, I’m not saying desi parents are bad parents or hate their children because it’s pretty clear this happens in nearly every other culture in the world. But I am saying that desi parents do not make their children’s happiness a priority, they make their children’s success a priority: successful careers and marriages and children = successful lives. So if you ask a desi parent “do you want your kid to be happy?” they’ll immediately say “yes, of course.” But if you add on “do you want your kid to be gay if that makes them happy?” the answer will be a lot less positive.
This movie tackled Leyla’s sexuality and coming out to her parents absolutely head-on with no coyness about it. She goes straight up to her mother and admits that she’s a lesbian. But her mother’s reaction is really the thing that most “coming out” stories try to gloss over, or sugarcoat, or just in general avoid. Her mother admits with frank and brutal honesty the truth that all LGBTQ+ desi kids know: our parents would rather see us miserable and straight than queer and happy.