From an incredibly young age, I knew that I was not the same as everybody else around me. Wait, let me rephrase that. From a very young age, I knew that I did not want to be perceived the same way as everybody else.
For some reason, I've had an individualistic mindset since I was thirteen when I more actively started choosing my clothing and how I wanted my hair to look. Part of the reason I was like this was that I didn’t feel the same as everybody else – some strange part of me always knew that I was different (I promise I’m not trying to come across as a self-proclaimed hipster.) For as long as I can remember, I have always aimed to express myself as earnestly as possible. I realise now that a lot of this is due to my sexuality.
The Asian culture (Indian, specifically) that I have been exposed to for the entirety of my life has shown me many incredible things: we have beautiful clothing, complex languages, iconic recipes. There are many praiseworthy parts of Indian culture; it would be ridiculous to name them all in one sitting.
On the other hand, the Asian culture that I have been exposed to for the entirety of my life has shown me many things that I never want to become. From a very young age, I learned that my culture is homophobic, and to understand where this homophobia originated from, I did some research. It turns out that homosexuality was relatively common in India before the British colonisation. The ancient Indian text Kamasutra by Vātsyāyana has an entire chapter around homosexual behaviour, and historical literary evidence suggests that homosexuality was quite common across India. Homosexual individuals only started being considered inferior after Britain colonised India due to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
I never imagined myself having a ‘coming out' moment full of happiness or relief: the plan was to spend the rest of my life hiding from my immediate family. I spent my teenage years acting out, infuriated at the situation I was in. It felt like my culture was holding me hostage, and I no longer wanted any part of it. It was just this thing that I couldn’t escape or get rid of, and there wasn’t a single happy ending in sight.
I didn’t want to be the person my parents wanted me to be, and I certainly didn’t want to look like their version of the ideal Indian daughter. Simple things like the length of my hair, which my mother wanted me to keep traditional and long, I wanted short. I hated having to wear dresses as I was growing up. Around my parents, I attended the weddings of distant cousins and relatives despite knowing that they would not reciprocate if it were my own wedding. I have now normalised the concept of running away and getting married in secret. I acted controlled, almost submissive for a lot of my life until my mental health staged its own intervention.
I was openly queer in secondary school – it was one of the places that I tried to be myself the most. I had many friends and allies in my later years who often supported me when others tried to tear me down or hurt me. My school was incredibly ethnically diverse and had a vast range of different people. While this meant that I met many new and interesting people, I also came into contact with groups of people who disapproved of my sexuality.
I was outed when I was sixteen and told that I would get an arranged marriage if I didn’t change – a normalised concept in Asian culture that I am wholeheartedly against. In this case, an arranged marriage would consist of a male suitor being chosen on my behalf without my consent. Not all arranged marriages are non-consensual, but this one definitely would be.
In Indian culture, family and reputation are everything. In Indian culture, reputation and family are everything – my family are incredibly important to me. However, my parents have failed to accept me as myself for many years and still will not accept my sexuality. I use appearance as a form of self-expression and still receive unsolicited remarks regarding it, even as a (mostly) independent adult.
Even as I write this now, I’m worried. I think about what would happen if a relative googles my name and finds my writing. I think about what my family would have to go through and how our name would be destroyed. It’s not a feeling that consumes me or anything like that, but I often find myself feeling detached. I’ve grown up with the fear of being kicked out or disowned, so being attached has only ever been a detrimental concept. I’m slowly trying to unlearn all of these thoughts.
Being queer and Asian is a severely under-discussed topic. There are so many other people in both communities that have the weight of their culture’s heteronormative expectations upon their shoulders. Everybody deserves to feel as though they have a place where they belong and a support system that will accept them regardless of their sexuality. Nobody should have to feel threatened by their own culture and what it chooses to accept or reject. There is so much diversity within a whole culture – why does there have to be a limit on it?
I only have this one life, and I refuse to live it with the goal of pleasing others. So yes, I am unapologetically queer and undeniably Asian, and those two factors can peacefully co-exist.
Photography by Venus Ashu: https://www.venusashu.com