I am always asking everyone to share their stories because narratives are powerful, persuasive, and so that our stories don’t get lost to history.
I am guilty of never sharing my own story. And it has taken me a lot to get to this point but I don’t want this to be lost to history.
So I was asked to talk about what it was like to grow up queer in Fiji, and I can’t talk about it without sharing my ‘coming out’ story.
There’s two typical things in my story
1. I always knew I liked women
2. I fell in love with my best friend
And may I add this happened in an All-girls Catholic High School.
The year was 1998, I was around 13. I wouldn’t call it love at first sight but she was certainly the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She entered the classroom, late, and sat down beside me.
After the initial awkwardness, we became friends. Best friends.
After a month, I confessed that I was in love with her. She was confused and started crying. And that’s how news of my sexual orientation spread like wildfire. But she returned the feelings.
Our friends found out, so did our teachers, the principals, our parents, their colleagues and other schools in the area. Everyone knew about the two lesbian lovers at ______________________.
No one was supportive.
I still refused to be labeled as ‘gay’ and we denied our love for each other publicly. In school, our teachers took swift action. We had to divide our friends and have lunch in two different groups. In the classroom, our desks were separated–we were put into corners where we couldn’t see each other. Her parents took away her calling privileges, so we couldn’t talk on the phone.
Our parents shouted, screamed and abused us. Quite a lot of Indian people see homosexuality as an imported disease and we were victims of that ignorance and intolerance. Seeing each other after school or on the weekends was out of question. I was dragged out of the classroom at pivotal moments to be lectured about homosexuality and how it was a sin. At one point, I had stones thrown at me by peers and we were both threatened with expulsion.
My sister returned from the United States and one day she dragged me to the sea wall crying and protesting that I couldn’t be gay. In hindsight it was lame and I hope she is ashamed of herself but I won’t hold my breath. My family means nothing to me.
“Fine, I am not gay,” I had said. I was 14, scared and stigmatized at that point, afraid of losing my family, with absolutely no resources.
After all, this was Fiji, a decade ago. We didn’t know a single out gay person or couple. There was no concept such as civil union or gay marriage. I didn’t know how to be gay or whether I was gay. I just knew that I loved her and wanted to be with her. When I did come out years later, I did it without regard of what my family thought. They would be forced to accept me or lose me. Actually, I have decided that I don’t want them in my life after I escape this limbo.
It would take ten more years before the Fijian High Commissioner decided that gay men should not be arrested for consensual sex.
Meanwhile, even with the fear and stigma, love still won–we still managed to get around. We exchanged vows, even drew up house plans, and where we would want to live.
But it wasn’t meant to last.
My Dad decided to come to the United States. Sometimes I think it was somewhat motivated by their desire to get rid of this ‘drama.’ Maybe they hoped that once I was away from this ‘influence,’ I would be ‘normal.’ Apparently, that never happened and my relationship with my father is non-existent.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to her. I waited in the rain for a whole day and walked home in tears when she didn’t come to say goodbye. Maybe she didn’t want to say goodbye. Later I would find out, that her mother had stopped her from coming to see me.
The 12 hour flight away from everything I knew and loved was the hardest and longest 12 hours of my life. I was sitting beside my father, and I was so numb with pain that I couldn’t even cry.
Upon landing, I was not about to let the distance come between us. But our parents had other plans. I was brought here and beaten whenever I tried to reach out to her. All her contacts for me were destroyed–flushed down the toilet in front of her eyes. And at that point, we were just starting to get email and internet access in Fiji so that was not an option either. I tried calling her in school, and finally got through one day.
I won’t forget her last words to me — “If you really love me, forget about me. I forgot.”
I would call her mother after that and apologize. Apologize for our love, and promise that I would never call again.
I listened. I tried to forget. I buried myself in my work, in everything I could find. But I would always maintain a distance from everyone, never forge any strong friendships or relations. Once bitten, twice shy.
The medals and awards on my walls aren’t from hard-work. They are a consequence of burying my pain.
I got through undergrad in 2.5 years. The graduate degree came faster. By the time I was 21, I had done my graduate work, with only the thesis left.
And one day while I was working away, I got an email through Hi5:
“_________ has given you a five.”
It was on the eve of our 8th year anniversary–8 years since we had first met.
I stared at it with mixed feelings and finally approved it. She was married, with a beautiful baby. I was happy that she had eloped, escaped to find her happiness.
She told me she had been looking for me for the longest time–since the last time we spoke. She confessed that the (sexually-frustrated nun) principal had forced her to say those words. She had looked through every single person on HI5 who lived in America, to find me.
I told her a Google search would have gotten her results right away.
It took me a long time to realize that she hadn’t betrayed me, that it was not her fault, that I could trust her and believe in her again.
And we had to give this friendship a shot, because, it would mean they won. And I wouldn’t let that happen.
By this time, my mom had to to accept that I am gay. If she didn’t, she would lose me to the next woman, or worse, the next flight out of this country. Beating me wouldn’t change that, dragging me halfway across the world didn’t change that.
Nothing could change that. She’s making progress slowly; she lets me be.
So that’s my story. I grew up without any role models, without any support networks, scared to express love within my own family.
I learned that when we hide the fact that we are queer, we hide the best part of ourselves–the part that feels love, emotions. Without that, we don’t have humanity.
I am sharing this story today, because I know there are many of us out there for whom even family isn’t a sanctuary. There’s a statistic–33% of gay youth try to commit suicide. I am part of that 33%. But I survived; I will thrive.
The pain of getting detained and deported is never going to match the pain of coming here. I already lost everything I ever loved so I have nothing to lose. And that realization drives me. It continues to be my biggest strength through everything I endure.
I don’t do this for myself–I do it for countless others who were brought here without any say, without consent so that they don’t get ripped apart from the country they love, their families, friends, and communities. Because I know what that is like and I don’t wish it on anyone.
So please support the DREAM Act, support immigration reform. It would give us a chance to move on, to become productive and contributing citizens.
It would give me a chance to get on with my life, get out of here and heal.
P.S. I asked her permission before writing this story. I haven’t used names in order to protect her privacy.