Community Dating Wellness

Being Queer and Desi: Navigating Identity and Belonging in the South Asian Community

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma and lack of understanding within the South Asian community around being queer. While everyone’s experience is different, there are undeniable complexities and obstacles that members of the queer desi community face daily. Due to this stigma, it can be hard for South Asians who are newer on their journey to find resources or know where to turn to for help. We asked a few members of the desi LGBTQ+ community to share their experiences and advice on coming out to South Asian parents, safely navigating spaces within the South Asian community, and facing the fear of “log kya kahenge.” Names have been omitted to preserve the anonymity of respondents.

If you’re comfortable with it, could you tell us about how you came out to your family and friends? How did the conversation go?

A: While studying abroad, I was able to step outside my bubble and discover my true self without being judged. This gave me the confidence to slowly come out as gay when I returned home. With friends, coming out was easy, as all have been supportive. With my immediate family, it has been a slow and difficult process. In the 5 years since “Mom, Dad, I’m gay,” there have been a lot of coming out stages with them, but I’ve also grown to become better at how I do it: “Mom, Dad, I’m gay, and I’m not going to change. And regardless of me being gay and the stereotypes you like to bring up, I can still be a good member of society. I have been successful up to this point, and I will continue to be. And there’s nothing that should impede who I am just because of my sexual orientation. I’m still me.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to come out to their South Asian parents, but isn’t sure how to take the first step?

A: Tell your friends who you know give off “pro-you” vibes. Most, if not all, of them will be by your side for support. That’s why they’re your friends. This should give you a confidence boost. 

B: Tell someone (family friends or cousins) who is close to your parents and supports your identity. They might be able to give you a better insight of how the conversation might go when coming out to your parents at the dinner table. There’s no perfect way to come out, but like the PSAs always say, “It gets better.”

C: I was pretty strategic in how I approached it. I knew my parents were really active on Facebook so I would make sure to go out of my way to make a lot of LGBT-related posts (not directly to them… just having it show up on their timeline). I spoke passionately about LGBT rights whenever the topic came up. I had already introduced them to the idea of me having gay friends when I was 14 and was friends with older kids in my high school that happened to be gay. Later in high school and college they knew that some of my best friends were gay. I would casually talk to them about all my friends and their respective dating lives, including my gay friends. I wanted to “normalize” it as much as possible to them so that if/when they found out, it wouldn’t be so shocking. Based on my mom’s reaction, clearly my plan worked. 🙂 Of course everyone’s approach will be different. Not all South Asian parents are made the same. Try to understand where your parents are on the spectrum of “gay people are going to hell” to “I wholly accept and advocate for queer people.” Majority will be somewhere in the middle. Meet them where they’re at, and try to push them one step beyond their comfort zone. Then go from there. 🙂

What’s something you’d like to share with others who may be struggling to come to terms with their identity as both queer and desi?

A: I always wish there had been a safe space for me when I was younger and struggling with my sexuality and ethnicity. When I reached out to Raksha and American Asians Advancing Justice (AAAJ) to do something about it, I realized many others had the same interest to create ATL Q+A (Atlanta’s Queer and Asian), a local Atlanta safe space that now exists specifically for us LGBT Asians. ATL Q+A is fairly new, so I really look forward to helping this initiative becoming a success.

B: To be honest, I always felt being gay meant I wasn’t “Indian” enough or no longer part of the desi community I grew up with in California. I remember some brown guys in high school would throw around the word “fag” to sound cool. But thankfully, over the years in college and grad school, I started meeting more and more desi queer friends or even just my desi straight-identifying friends coming to me with questions about if they could maybe like girls too. I also recently got Tik Tok to stay hip with the youths (haha) and there are SO many Gen Z queer desis, I was like astounded to see how much things have changed since the first time I realized I might be gay in 11th grade.

What’s something that has helped you navigate spaces within the South Asian community and overcome the fear of “log kya kahenge?”

A: I want to share a resource for other LGBT South Asians like me: Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies is a PFLAG-esque space specialized for South Asians. During COVID-19 quarantine, I recently attended one of their discussions focused on sexuality, ethnicity, and religion. I listened in on others sharing their stories of struggle and triumph, as well as my own living as a gay-Indian-American-Hindu/Agnostic man. I believe this experience helped me empathize with those who have overcome adversity and taught me how to be a better human. I am happy to know such a safe space exists for LGBT South Asians, like me, to share their stories, but more importantly, to be heard.

B: Over the last year or so I’ve learned that our own worries and fears over “log kya kahenge” are often worse than the reality. Bringing that honesty, confidence, and owning your identity confuses people in the South Asian community (namely older folks like aunties/uncles), but this feels like a good thing to me. I think that confidence/honesty challenges them to ultimately reflect on the bigger picture, and think ‘hey, this person who is south asian happens to also be gay, but does that actually have any impact on me or my relationship with them?’ I no longer keep it vague when I talk about my queerness or my relationship with my fiance when I’m talking to family, relatives, or family-friends. I think this exposure over time helps take away the ‘otherness’ factor of it.  South Asian people will either accept it for what it is, be curious to know more, or they won’t accept it. And that’s okay. It’s okay if not every single person in your community understands or accepts you. It hurts, but it’s okay. Keep surrounding yourself with people who love and accept you. 

Get On Dil Mil

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