Almost a year ago, Ali* had walked in with his elder brother looking a little nervous, with a hint of guilt in his expressions. His elder brother on the other hand looked quite hassled and notably angry.
The elder brother spoke first, stating they belonged to the district of Wankaner, which is about 40km away from the city of Rajkot. He explained that Ali had a longstanding disease that the family had only recently found out about. They were thus aggressively seeking treatment for it because time was of the essence. Having approached a few physicians, they were finally directed to a psychiatrist, and through him, to me, a psychotherapist. I was, according to him, their “last hope”. So far, I didn’t know what this disease was, but I had a bad feeling about it. Seemed ominous and urgent. I urged the brother to explain further.
He explained that they had been looking for a suitable girl for the brother since at 25, he was almost past his age to have settled in life. He had rejected every one. He continued, “this time I finally sat him down and asked him what was he looking for. That is when I found out that my brother is not normal. He feels no attraction towards females at all. Instead, he feels attracted and drawn to men”. He even refused to look me in the eye while talking. Ali, on the other hand, sat looking at me helplessly, still bearing that look of guilt.
I dug further. Ali admitted that he first learnt of his attraction to his own gender somewhere around the age of 14. Ever since, he has found it difficult to see women as sexual partners, and in fact felt repulsed by the idea. This admission in turn visibly repulsed his brother.
Ali had a surprising amount of insight into his state of being. He was aware about the meaning of calling himself a homosexual. He was also up to date with all the changes in laws and regulations in countries across the world. The biggest relief though was the fact that he also knew that there was no ‘cure’ for him. Bless Google! For a young man living in a small town, it had made the world of a difference towards understanding himself better. What could not be achieved just by reading about homosexuality, however, was the acceptance of who he was. Under pressure and some sense of denial, he kept trying to force himself to be attracted to the women around him. Needless to say, as Ali was courageously explaining his side, his brother was passing judgemental remarks and throwing disgusted expressions at him.
For me, the most urgent need of this session was to educate his brother more about homosexuality – I didn’t know if they would return once I refused a ‘cure’. I actually found the APA (American Psychological Association) definition for this quite helpful, and paraphrased it to communicate that:
sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and / or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. It is also associated with a person’s sense of identity and social behaviours and choices. This typically emerges between middle childhood and early adolescence. And these might be noted even in the absence of any previous sexual experience.
Ali’s brother listened attentively. At the end of this he said with clarity, “Okay. I understood that. But how will we cure Ali? How long will it take you to treat him and make him healthy again? How long should I stall the process of looking for a suitable life partner? My parents are waiting to see him married. How long will you take to make him normal again?”
This pushed me to take a firmer stand, and explain my role for Ali more clearly. I could extend my expertise and understanding in helping Ali accept who he was and the consequences it would come with. I could help his family understand what Ali was experiencing and how they could contribute to the betterment or detriment of his mental health. I could help Ali be confident and focus his energies on building a life and career for himself. I could basically help in every manner required for Ali to make peace with who he was and pursue a happy and satisfied life, actively combating the prejudice he was likely to face. What I could not and would not do on the other hand, was help Ali become ‘normal’, and somehow start being attracted to the opposite gender, get married and settle down in life as early as possible.
I could not ‘cure’ Ali of an illness he did not have.
Despite his brother’s dissatisfaction, Ali chose to continue an individual session with me. As soon as his brother left us alone, Ali rushed to confess that he had already had sexual encounters with older men during his graduation and post-graduation. Some of these men had been his professors and faculty, two of them had been policemen, and a few more, Facebook friends made randomly. Following these encounters, Ali was left wondering not only about himself but also about what exactly had transpired since all of those men were married and had families of their own. Whenever Ali expected any constancy in their interactions or meetings, each of those men withdrew contact.
Left with such thoughts, I had to bring the session to an end. Ali promised to continue with therapy on a weekly basis. We agreed mutually on the goal being a complete acceptance of his self along with enhancing his quality of life by actively seeking employment that suited his educational background – a Masters in Computer Applications.
Time passed. Ali’s brother called one evening, a few days after this initial meeting. Following a warm greeting, he immediately came to the point requesting me to continue seeing Ali under the guise of acceptance but actually curing him of this disease as quickly as could be achieved.
When I refused, he angrily told me that I would never understand his plight because I didn’t have a brother who had such dirty habits.
Being the elder brother, it was his duty to ensure that Ali found a good partner in time because there has to be a female in every household. Males cannot fend for themselves and if there were two males living together, not only will it be a matter of shame, but also a practical impossibility. I refused his request as calmly as I could.
Ali regularly called to try and seek an appointment but never ended up making the 40km distance between the two cities. But he made it a month ago.
He spent the session telling me about all the changes that have happened in his life since I last met him. His elder brother and wife had moved out of home to create a separate space for themselves. Ali chose not to clarify the reasons behind this. He had firmly told his parents that he was never going to marry. Though not entirely reconciled with this idea, his parents had stopped their ‘search’ in the meantime. Ali had taken up farming in his father’s lands. He explained that his urge to be with men only increased in an urban set-up. Living in a smaller town with hardly any exposure, it was easier to contain his urges and desires. We discussed possible employment opportunities he would have in any of the cities within or outside of Gujarat. His eyes lit up at the thought of all the possible options. He promised he would think about it and move out at some point in the future if he felt comfortable enough.
There was not much that could be discussed beyond this. He seemed to have sought the appointment more to update me with his current circumstances than to have any discussion about his emotional or practical problems. Just as he was about to leave the cabin, he asked me something that I found deeply upsetting –
“madam, later in life, once my parents have died, and I will grow old and frail, will the old age homes accept a Muslim individual who has been gay all his life?”
Unnerved, I pacified him and asked him to work on building a healthy and happy life instead of drawing conclusions about the future. I on the other hand am still reeling from the impact of his words.
*The identity has been modified to maintain the confidentiality of the client.
Shama is a Clinical Psychologist currently based and working in Rajkot, Gujarat. Having been an alumna of the St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and a post graduate from the Mumbai University, her training involved an extensive exposure to the OPDs at the Government hospitals in Mumbai. Trained in the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) for the past 7 years, her work includes psycho-diagnostic assessments as well as therapeutic interventions. In an alternative life plan she would have been a writer. She currently uses her professional understanding and her love for writing to try and create more awareness about mental health.
Featured Image used license-free from Gratisography.com