To most, Maya means illusion… almost like a dream.

The first time I saw Maya, she was as enigmatic and breathtaking as she was graceful… more than any dream I had ever had.

When she danced, the glimmer of her eyes pierced the depths of your soul. When she danced, she didn’t have a past full of battles, or scars of healing, or years and years of society’s judgments weighing her down. She was just Maya- her expressions, her footwork, the music, and your eyes… That’s all that existed when she danced.

It was my first encounter with a transgendered South Asian woman.

She told her story, of countless barriers that stood between her life as a man and her finally being able to physically be who she knew she was inside all along- a woman. Her story was inspiring in itself, but soon, an important message rose out of it that applied to all of us, LGBT or not: To be true to ourselves despite what everyone else thinks, and what it means to find inner peace and joy no matter what is going on around us.

Satrang (a South Asian LGBT organization in Southern California) was hosting its annual Drag Extravaganza, also known as Mujra night. The whole evening had the spirit of masti, masala, and just plain good old Bollywood glamour. But it meant so much more. It was a tribute to the whole transgender community. It was a night when Sheila and Munni were not confined by labels of gender, or even on-screen perfect looks. It was about admiring the spirit within, and something we all had in common- being part of the LGBT community as South Asians.

I have felt for so long that I didn’t belong. When I finally came out to myself, nothing could compare to the relief and adrenaline rush of finally accepting that I wasn’t abnormal- I just liked girls, not boys.

In the period of months and years since that moment, I was never able to hold on the the clarity I had gotten from the realization. No matter who I came out to and how supportive they were, things become more meshed together and confusing. I thought for a long time that it might have something to do with having to shove myself all the way back into the closet since I moved back in with my parents after college.

But the moment Maya took the stage and flashed that rapturous smile at the audience, I knew exactly what I had been missing. I was missing the link that bridged who I was at my very core- a Desi- to the part of me I was learning to embrace- a lesbian. I realized that the two most important components of my life didn’t have to live separately. I could be a proud South Asian woman, and also be a lesbian, and not have to hide either of those identities from the other community.

That night, Maya became a dream for me. She uplifted me to a place where I had finally found a home. A place I feel safe, accepted, and free to be exactly who I want to be.

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A Punjabi, girl-loving, Bollywood obsessed, fresh college grad, who has yet to step fully out of the closet into the big, gay, Desi world.

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