Life is tough for people who ‘break’ the norm and do what their heart desires. It is even more so, for those who are visible while they do this. But how different are these difficulties when it comes to two spaces vastly different from each other- Judicially, Culturally and otherwise? How are attitudes different? Do they deal with homophobia as well as racism? How much do I know about them? To put rest to this curiosity, I decided to ask a few friends from the USA how life is different; being queer and ethnically different in a home away from home.
Rutuja Sawant; 19; Buffalo, New York; She/Her
Q. Did you move to the US recently, or were you born there?
R: I moved here 2 years ago, for my studies. I was brought up in Mumbai, India.
Q. How do you think US and India are different in terms of the LGBTQ Community, and is it a drastic change?
R: I think it is different for sure, because the community over here has been more visible than it is in India. In India, it’s still emerging from the backgrounds– but over here, it’s been here for a few decades now– since the seventies or so. There’s definitely more people here who are out and more accepting than in India. When I was in India, I never tried to find any LGBTQ+ Community, assuming that there won’t be much to do. I was also not comfortable being out there, but when I came over here, everything’s so easy, especially at university level. Everything’s more open here, so I was more comfortable coming out. I still haven’t come out to my parents but here, I was okay with coming out in my very first semester, and I was able to find LGBTQ+ Clubs.
Before moving, I was afraid that I won’t be accepted there– not just because of my sexuality, but also because of my nationality– but I think, overall, everyone was just so loving and kind and didn’t care what my preferences were, as long as I wasn’t a bad person. When I was in India, I suppressed these thoughts. I thought maybe I was just curious. But when I came here, I saw people of the same gender together on campus, really comfortable. In India, I never saw a same-sex couple out in public. But here, they’re out, and they don’t care. When I came here, I thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t suppress these thoughts. Maybe this is the real me, who I have been for all this time.”
Q. You said you feel safer being out in the US than in India. Do you think now you would feel safe being out in India?
R: When I was in India in December this year, I attended a couple of LGBTQ+ events in Mumbai. That’s how I met, for the very first time, the LGBTQ+ Community in India. It was really nice to be there, and I was really comfortable being open– but, at the same time, I don’t think I’ll be comfortable to be out on the streets or in front of my family.
Q. How do you think Trump’s election has affected the US LGBTQ+ Community? Have you had any experiences there that made you feel unsafe?
R: Going back to the day of the elections– most of my friends were Hilary supporters, and they had their fingers crossed, hoping Trump wouldn’t win, but then he won, eventually. Some of my friends were actually Trump supporters, so it came to a bit of an imbalance in the group and arguments. For me, personally, it made me feel… not accepted by these friends because of Trump’s thoughts about the LGBTQ+ Community. I kind of felt like, “I don’t know what they’re actually thinking about me.” Everyone was upset back when Trump was elected and there were protests, but now, people are, I think– desensitized, and there are no more protests. As a community, there was definitely a big divide. People were constantly checking if you’re a Trump supporter or not. You could feel, just by talking to someone– my roommate was a Trump supporter. It led to a lot of open conversations. I asked her why she thinks Trump can be a good president, and she gave me very good reasons.
Q. Would you say that moving out of India has given you more confidence in your identity and has made you feel safer?
R: Yes, I would. It might just be because this is where I was first able to understand who I really am– not that I still completely understand myself. But here, even the university has a strict policy against those who aren’t accepting of our community, so overall, the community is safe. And I know for a fact that even if someone judges me for who I am, they won’t say it out loud, and they aren’t going to matter to me. In India, I always felt the need to follow certain rules without question. Like, I was born a female, I should have longer hair, or I’m not going to look beautiful. There was no way I could’ve cut my hair short back then– I did it when I came here. I wouldn’t say that’s the case with most people, though. One of my friends, in Delhi, is out to most people, back in India. I think she felt safe enough to come out there, but I didn’t. Maybe because of the community I grew up in, or something like that. So, I don’t think that’s the case for everyone.
Q. Do you think the LGBTQ+ Community in India is moving forward?
R: I actually did a research paper in one of my classes here, about the LGBTQ+ Community in India, and I tried to look for articles going way back, and I found out that it wasn’t even considered to, like, exist. In the US, people said, “This is wrong” but in India, it just didn’t seem to exist. So, looking at that, and looking at now, with the crazy number of people attending the Pride Parade, and so on– it’s definitely moving forward.
Ananya Garg; 21; Seattle, Washington; She/Her
Q. Did you move to the US recently, or were you born and brought up there?
A: I was born in the US, and I’ve lived here my whole life.
Q. Have you ever been to India?
A: I used to go to India a lot when I was a kid. Both of my families live in the North of India, so that’s where I used to go– but I’ve been all over. I’ve visited a lot of areas of India. But when I go there, it’s very much with my family– so, I haven’t really experienced it alone as such. It’s always been visiting family.
Q. How do you think India and the US are different in terms of the LGBTQ+ Community?
A: I discovered my queerness when I was in college, so I’ve never been to India knowing I was a queer person. When I was growing up, though, I didn’t think that Indian people could be gay. I thought that it was a white thing to be gay– because I never saw queer Indian people being represented anywhere. I only learnt about the Hijra community the very last time I was in India because someone mentioned the word, and I was like, “Wait, what is that?” and nobody told me, and then my dad explained it to me later. But it was so hush-hush. I discovered my queerness at the end of the first year in college, and then that summer, I did this huge project about queer activism in India and I learnt a little bit more. I really had no idea that the queer community was so huge in India– because it’s illegal to be gay in India, right?
Q. Do you think that the difference between the quiet community there and in India is really drastic?
A: I guess I don’t really have a sense of the queer community in India, other than what I’ve read about it and what I’ve seen online– but it doesn’t seem that different. Maybe it’s more mainstream in the US because marriage equality just happened a few years ago and Pride festivals are really big– but I see Pride festivals all over India, too, so I think it’s becoming bigger there too.
Q. Have you seen people in India talking openly about being queer?
A: I think, for my family, it’s always been such a taboo subject that nobody ever talks about it or acknowledges that it’s a thing, but the one time I ever heard about it was when my aunt started talking about Hijras at a wedding, and it was the only time I ever heard about it.
Q. How do you think Trump’s election has affected the LGBTQ+ Community, and people’s attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ Community in the US?
A: Trump is a huge thing that happened. His election was really devastating for a lot of people, including me. The US has never been perfect. There have been problems before Trump, and there has been intolerance since before Trump, but I think Trump has really assembled all of that. And that allows intolerance and hatred to become normalized. This is one very, very small thing– Pride month is in June, right? Trump didn’t acknowledge that June was Pride month, and that’s another way that queerness is erased in the US. There are larger, worse things he’s done, of course– like not allowing trans people to serve in the military– which is complicated because I’m also anti-military; and the way that the VP, Pence supports conversion therapy. Overall, Trump being in office is giving people validity in their hatred. I have definitely felt more unsafe since Trump’s election. When it first happened, I was really, really scared and it really affected me but Trump is slowly becoming normalised which is actually really scary, if you think about it. But I also exist with a lot of privilege. I go to a really large public university and live in a large city that has a liberal reputation. If I was living in a smaller city or going to a smaller school, if I was in a religious community, if I was living in the South– I think those things would definitely influence me a little bit more. I definitely have a lot of privilege to be alive right now. I’m out at university; I’m not out to my family, but– I just got a new job. I’m going to be the director of the Queer Student Commission, and that’s kind of making me a public figure in terms of my queerness, so I’m a little nervous.
Q. Have you personally had any experiences that made you feel unsafe?
A: I live in Seattle, which is a pretty liberal city, so normally people are open-minded– but there’s a lot of white liberals here, people who say that they’re liberal but are actually racist or conservative– so, there are definitely times when I’m afraid to hold my girlfriend’s hand and showing affection in public. When we go to smaller cities, then we’re definitely not holding hands as it doesn’t feel safe. And when I’m in class, I think I’m always scanning the room to see how queer I can be; or if I’m talking to authority figures, I have to gauge the situation. It’s not that my queerness comes up in every conversation I have, but the way that I present myself– stereotypically, I think I’m pretty… straight-passing, other than my queerness and my hair but depending on the day, the way that I carry myself can be more queer or less queer. I also police myself more around family.
Q. Do you think moving out of India would make Indians feel safer and more confident in their queerness?
A: Indian people might be gay, but they’re also Indian. So they may experience an enormous amount of racism– I experience an enormous amount of racism as an Indian person living in the US. I mean, the US is an awful place for immigrants. Obviously, there’s a lot of opportunities and people immigrate to the US a lot, but it’s also a horrible country– it’s racist and imperialist– I mean, it’s not illegal to be gay, but it’s still difficult, you know.
Pia Shetty; 29; Middletown, New York; She/Her
Q. Did you move to the US recently, or were you born and brought up there?
P: I moved to the US 11 years ago to study. I was born and brought up in Bombay. I was 17 years old when I moved here.
Q. How do you think the two places are different in terms of the LGBTQ+ Community?
P: When I grew up, back in India, I didn’t really have any friends who identified as queer. When I moved here for my Undergrad degree, I made my first friends who were out. At that point, we didn’t have any LGBTQ+ organizations in the university, so along with some close friends; we founded the first LGBTQ+ organization in the history of the institution.
Q. Is the difference between India and the US very drastic?
P: I think you have to keep in mind that I left over a decade ago, so things back then can’t be compared to how things are now. Right now seems to be an exciting time in India as well, in terms of awareness and acceptance. I’m glad that it’s moving in that direction, but back then, it wasn’t the same. For that matter, 10 years ago, things in the States were also very different as compared to now. Overall, I think there’s an improvement in India, but in general, I met more people who were comfortable being themselves here than in India.
Q. Do you think people would feel safe being out in India?
P: That’s a tough question because of my exposure back then– but I can tell you about myself, in general. I personally think my sexuality is just a part of me; I don’t make it all of who I am. I never hid who I was back home. Part of it is because my parents were so open– they just let me be an individual, they never questioned me in any way, so I was comfortable being myself. I’m not the traditional sense of what a girl would be, right? But they never steered me away from anything, so I have them to thank for that; but I do think there is a sense of lesser judgement in America than in India. There’s lesser social constructs here that I have to live by– so, I definitely think I’m more comfortable being who I am here.
Q. How do you think Trump’s election has affected the community in the US?
P: Honestly, I don’t take Trump seriously and I don’t think most people do. In regards to the LGBTQ+ Community, though, the amount of division his presidency has caused is stressful. I wouldn’t say it’s had a huge impact on the community because things are a federal law here now, so it’s more or less accepted– but there’s a division in general, and those divisions trickle down to the community as well.
Q. Have you had any experiences in the US that made you feel unsafe?
P: I haven’t, personally, but it’s odd to go to the bathroom because most people think I’m a guy, and double-take… so that’s happened, but I try not to take that too seriously. My security has never been threatened.
Q. Would you say that moving out of India would make people from the community feel safer?
P: Yes, I think so. Because you will find more people who are comfortable with themselves. A big piece on me coming out led to me making many friends who were out, and who were living an open life. So, yes, I think there’s a degree of inclusion and belonging that comes when you move here. I mean, I’m talking to you in terms of a decade ago when I didn’t have anyone who would openly even discuss this topic– but I came out to the friends I went to school with about eight years ago, and it was all chill. There was acceptance, but it wasn’t there when I was growing up.
A lot of us often think that life may be easier after leaving the country we currently are in, or after letting go of the society that gives us the bigotry we struggle with. But the conversation of whether this is a practical reality or wishful thinking would always do us all good, and this attempt is a step further in understanding that direction.