In celebration of Pride Month this June we will share stories from and about the LGBTQ+ South Asian community. The following story was published in the second edition of our quarterly zine, we are colorfull, which celebrated LGBT history month from a South Asian diaspora perspective.
“I’m in love with you,” I sighed. Those were the words that changed my life. The tender age of 17, wondering if it was just the alcopops talking, or if those words had really left my lips. They felt funny on my tongue, a sour but sweet flavour. She looked down at me. My heart shattered.
Maybe no one else had to know. Maybe I’d keep it to myself.
But, of course, they noticed. They were good friends, after all. They could see the pain in my eyes and the sad smile every time I looked at her. And they knew.
Coming out to them wasn’t as traumatic as I thought it would be. My friends, my rocks, they didn’t recoil in horror. They accepted me. All except one. But she was the one that mattered.
But that moment didn’t define my story. After that night, I could be myself around my friends. They understood when I lusted after boys and girls alike. I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, like I could finally express all of me, without judgement or feeling like I was living a lie.
But then I went home. To my mother, my father, my perfect sister and the matriarch, my nani. I considered it – telling them why I suddenly wasn’t friends with the girl who broke my heart. The one they’d known for years, who’d been to our house for sleepovers, who I talked about constantly. Maybe they knew, maybe they still don’t. It doesn’t matter – coming out to that side of my life isn’t going to happen for me.
To my parents, I’m the dutiful daughter – never in trouble, never seen with boys. I suppose that one worked to my advantage a little – they never suspected that girls were on my agenda. I didn’t realise I was different – I just thought everyone wanted to kiss girls; that’s what they make you think on TV. Girls are beautiful, they’re sexy, they have the softest lips and the smoothest skin. Why wouldn’t you want to kiss one? But when I knew, or at least suspected and struggled with my queer identity, the ache came – who can you trust with that secret?
Coming out to a group of young white women with the same values and ideals to me was important. If my friends could love and respect me, I would be okay. I struggle with my Indian heritage, knowing that my family may never know that part of me. My closest friend came to college one morning, over the moon – she had sat down with her mother the night before and had come out, feeling a great weight lift off her shoulders. And she was still loved. I was happy for her, of course, but a deeper part of me seethed with jealousy and an even deeper part wept for my lost future. The one I couldn’t have with my conservative Asian family.
Coming out at university was different. “I’m bi!” I’d proclaim to anyone I met. Take me or leave me, but I wasn’t living another double life. I could finally be myself – all of myself. Until the holidays. And then it was back to being the straight version of me. But how I wish I could be myself and tell them who I am. All I wanted as a kid was to be accepted – for them to be proud of me. And they are – but not all of me. How can they be when I’m hiding so much of myself? Maybe coming out to them isn’t so important. They wouldn’t understand, maybe they wouldn’t see it as important – not the way my white friends did; as a momentous occasion.
Looking around at the family I have – the uncles and aunties that already talk smack because I’m nearly 30 and single – I know that coming out wouldn’t be a safe move. I love my parents, and I know they love me. Maybe they would even support me through this, though I’m not 100% sure. But I can’t subject the people that I love and respect most in the world to the anger and disgust of other loved ones. It’s easy for me to say, sure – I’m bisexual, a hetero-passing relationship is within reach. But if I want to live life for me, it needs to be a relationship I’m happy with and wholly committed to – and that person would need to know every part of me.
Coming out requires fanfare, and I don’t think I have the energy for that. My white friends loved their ‘coming out parties’ – I wouldn’t even think to throw one. It’s not that I’m ashamed – I know who I am and I’m happy – but in my eyes, it’s not a rite of passage I need.
Sure, coming out made me happy for a time. I was myself, and didn’t have the fear of “what if people find out” because they already knew. In fact, being openly bisexual was the best decision I ever made – with my white friends at least. And it’s not because they ‘don’t care’. It’s because they care for, love me and accept me.
I’m at peace with knowing I may never come out to my family. Living with one foot out of the closet is hard; it’s a balance. But, to me, it’s a voluntary sacrifice, because my family doesn't need to know every aspect of my life. Sure, if I wanted to marry a woman, they’d be the first to know. But right now, my queer identity doesn’t affect them – I can still love and respect them, and they love me too. It’s a reality that I’m comfortable with for now, because the coming out ritual isn’t necessary for me – maybe it was for my white friends because it was a way to rock the boat. Honey, I’m 25 and unmarried – that’s enough boat-rocking for me.
Coming out isn’t the only way you can be authentic and represent your queer identity. Silent support can be a really therapeutic way to feel connected to the community. Sometimes, I feel distant. But then I realise that my story is just like so many other queer people’s out there, and just because I’m not ‘out’ doesn’t mean my feelings aren’t real and valid. So I walk the line – I talk about beautiful women to my family, and I tell my friends how much I’m actually into them. I’ve always had to hide how ‘western’ I am anyway; clubbing, alcohol, what’s one more piece of myself?
To those people who have the courage to be who they are publicly, I’m happy for you and I’m glad that you felt safe and able to come out to your family. If you’re worried about being open, that’s okay too and it’s also okay not to come out.
It’s okay to live your truth for you and no one else.
Written by Anonymous.
Artwork by Junaid Gull (@boythinksinpink). Junaid is a London-based graphic designer whose style primarily features digital collages showcasing queer imagery. His previous work includes designs for HUNGAMA, London’s Queer Bollywood Hip Hop night.