A rainbow on a hand

Why expressing Queerness as a femme Indian-American woman is complicated for me

June 4, 2021

By Anonymous Contributor 

I am a femme-presenting gay Indian-American woman. I have always loved wearing feminine clothes and doing my makeup, my personal style aligning with the expected style of a young Indian-American woman. I have also known and acknowledged my Queerness throughout that same time. 

While the definition of what Queerness “looks like” has expanded tremendously in the last few decades, I still don’t really raise any eyebrows, even among many Queer people. 

I surprise most people, straight or not, when I come out to them. 

For a long time, I thought that the reason that I did not choose to outwardly engage in Queer culture was because being gay didn’t feel like a huge part of my personal identity. It didn’t feel necessary to make my sexual orientation a huge part of my self-expression.

I even questioned why other Queer people center their Queerness in their self-expression, thinking, “If the point of the LGBTQ+ movement is to normalize non-cis heterosexual identities, what is the need to make those identities the forefront of your personality?” I would talk with my straight friends about this, and we would agree that it’s really off-putting when people “make being gay their personality.”

But recently, I’ve been challenging why I think it’s off-putting when other people, especially other Queer South Asian people, make their Queerness a central part of their self-expression. Feeling perturbed by that may be the result of internalized homophobia that I haven’t unlearned yet, which makes me feel like I want to distance myself from that kind of self-expression. By talking about this only with my straight friends, I feel like I’ve given them reason to justify their homophobia, because they have found a gay person who agrees with their prejudiced views. 

I think it’s important to recognize that I am only able to feel validated in my Queerness without an outward expression of it because of the generations of Queer activists who have worked to de-stigmatize Queerness as loudly and proudly as they could. They withstood violence for their expression so that future generations had the freedom to choose how we express ourselves. 

My choice not to actively express my Queerness definitely does not make me any less Queer. But more importantly, 

It does not make me any more valuable than Queer people who choose to express themselves differently than I do. 

There are privileges with both choices of self-expression.

There are so many people who have to suppress their Queerness for their personal safety, so there’s a privilege in being able to express Queerness as an act of liberation. However, for someone like me living in a liberal city with a strong support network, I have the privilege of feeling validated in my Queerness without having to center it in my style.

If you’re a cis-straight ally to the Queer community but you try to police Queer people on how they express their Queerness, you’re still homophobic. You’re just happy to put Queer people in a different box that seems “more equitable.” The point of the LGBTQ+ movement is to break down the box altogether. 

Gay culture has existed for centuries and involves so much more than a person’s sexual orientation or gender identification. 

If someone chooses to find solace and companionship with the gay community, it is not a cis-straight person‘s place to tell them not to do so or to make them feel badly for choosing to do so. 

I don’t think that’s the end of my story though, because I have always enjoyed emphasizing my femininity in my self-expression without consciously connecting that to my sexuality. I think the other major part of this story for me is the fact that I often feel disconnected from American Queer culture. 

I have felt so isolated in my Queerness as a femme Indian woman. 

The representation of Queerness in American media centers whiteness and does not feel authentic to my personal values and upbringing. 

White Queerness tends to focus on individual liberation from social structures. While that is important to me, I also feel like it erases the very important structure of family that I have been raised around. I resonate a lot with the notion of a “chosen family” that pervades through a lot of Queer narratives, but I also feel like my life would feel incomplete without a relationship with the family that raised me. 

I think this is why, when I see other Queer Indians express their Queerness in the same way that white Queer people do, it feels inauthentic to me. It feels like it centers a white narrative on a non-white person’s body. I want to find other Queer Indian people who don’t want to throw away their family ties to find validation in their Queerness. 

Obviously, there is often a safety consideration with being Queer in a Desi household.

Many Queer Desis need to distance themselves from their families to find safety in their Queerness.

But for Desis who have the support of their families, it feels unnecessary and disingenuous to eschew all familial relationships just to fit into the way white individualistic values have defined queerness.

It is heartwarming to see stories of parents giving speeches of unconditional love at their Queer child’s weddings and families defending the validity of a Queer family member. It gives me a lot of hope that my own family will come around in this way. 

Would I find community with more Queer people if I had seen more Queer Indian people represented in my life? Perhaps. For now, I just hope that we can expand the ways we talk about Queerness so Queer BIPOC don’t feel like we have to choose between our Queerness and our culture. 

I write this article with anonymity, because I am not publicly out yet. I appreciate Kulfi for giving me the space to share my narrative in this way. 

Cover photo credit: Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

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