I recently had a conversation with one of my straight desi friends about queer/transphobia and heterosexism among people of color.
It’s been something that bothers me the more that I am around large groups of less queerly-aware straight people of color, which has been happening a lot lately.
Queer/transphobia happens in all communities, but it looks different in different communities and unfortunately a lot of the straight people in our community are not willing to talk about it, possibly because they are worried it will make us look bad.
Unfortunately, the silence is not helping the queer and trans desis that are suffering in silence, being thrown into loneliness by their families, have no one to relate to and so on.
I’ve been thinking about the various reasons why we sometimes rush to the defense of our queer/transphobic and heterosexist peers in the desi community.
We often excuse straight desi men for their queer/transphobic and implied slurs – faggot, queer, sissy, pansy, dyke, tranny, queen… Sometimes, it’s not even overt slurs, it is just their assumptions about people’s genders, gender presentations and gender performances.
When I questioned one of my offending desi guy friends, he said that he was compensating for being the only Indian at school when he was younger. My other desi friends make excuses for the other queer/transphobic desi guys in our community by saying they were picked on when they were younger.
I get it. They are insecure about their masculinity because of being the geeky Indian boy in a sea of white kids at school, so they feel a need to over do it and they project it onto other people. I understand that they aren’t evil people.
With a women’s & gender studies degree, I get it. But I also “get it” because I was picked on too and I understand what that does to the self-esteem ie. so many of us desis have low self-esteem, so it’s hardly an excuse.
And it’s not just the boys; the straight brown girls can have their issues too. I am no longer willing to pretend that brown girls are my sisters when they do not accept, or even respect my lifestyle.
Are they scared that they will get hit on? Because queerphobic desi girls aren’t usually a turn on, and if straight women aren’t attracted to all men then chances are all lesbians aren’t attracted to all women.
Maybe, like the boys, they feel they have to accentuate their femininity and heterosexuality to cover up the traces of the misfit desi girl from the playground of their childhood. I resent that queer desis are the stomping ground for these possible insecurities.
These brown brothers and sisters know what it is to have desi parents. If they’ve been upset that they can’t date someone who isn’t brown, that they can’t go out late at night, or that they can’t study what they want to study, then they should be able to empathize with us having to come out to these same desi parents about our gender and sexuality.
Furthermore, desis all face the trials of insecurities and perils of racism, but queer and trans desis aren’t doormats to get trampled on. It isn’t up to us to pick up the pieces of what white people have done to all of us, because yes, they’ve done it to all of us. If we are going to pick up the pieces, we need to do it together.
Queer and trans desis are low enough as it is, we cannot be scapegoats for insecure straight desis. The desi community has passively been excusing their bad behavior, but we need these straight desis – we need them to be our allies.
While we worry about the attitudes of our friends, family and society, we need for straight desis to provide safe and comfortable environments for us, as our friends. Our queer bubbles are safe, but not when we’re trapped in them. We need to know that we have straight desi allies outside of our bubbles. I know there are straight desi allies out there, but we need so many more.
I have many of those straight desi girl-friends who I will bump into at the gay bar, a drag show or hanging out with a mutual queer friend… but while that does show me something positive about them, it confuses me when I later see them, with their straight desi guy friends, passively laughing along to a joke with a queer/transphobic punch-line.
While our rates of suicide, homelessness, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and assault are high we need straight desis to be aware and there for us. We need them to have it on their radar and to be speaking up for us. We need them to be brave too because we won’t always be strong enough.
Our oppression as people of color is one. A part of our community can’t go forward by bringing another part of our community back down. We will never progress if we don’t have each other’s back.
I cannot excuse this queer/transphobia as “part of our Indian culture” anymore. I cannot just say our men are insecure and that is that.
While I really want for straight desis to care about my struggles, like I do theirs, I’ve realized that all I can do is give them the knowledge. We can try to help them understand, but it is completely up to them to really care.
So here is the knowledge, all I can do is pray that they care.