by Aneesh Sheth
“Ultimately, we seek acceptance, not mere tolerance. Tolerance contains an element of condescension, of hierarchy, while acceptance implies an acknowledgement of equal validity for differing ideas and lifestyles.” – Rakesh Ratti
My mother reminds me that when I was younger, most of the time I sat at home watching her cook in the kitchen. Women in the Indian culture are raised to cook, clean and ultimately become the perfect housewife. Their place is in the kitchen. On the many occasions when my mother wore a sari, I sat on her bed watching her get dressed instead of watching my father put on his tie and jacket. I did not sit and play G. I. Joe or go out with the other boys in the neighborhood and play “Cops and Robbers.” Boys are expected to be the ideal representation of a masculine man. Athleticism is one thing they should take interest in, be it football, soccer or baseball, in order to fulfill the image of a “macho” man. Although this is also apparent in my host American culture, I find the emphasis on fitting this image is greater within the Indian culture.
Although my parents are far more liberated than these conventional and outdated views, some of my other family members still hold to these conservative norms. I was always told I should have been outside doing boy things, not staying in the kitchen. Don’t play with girls. Go outside with the boys. Don’t stay in the kitchen and hang around Mummy. Go sit with your dad and uncles and watch the football game. After years of being told how to act, I rebelled, and finally, in my mid-teens, I came to accept my queer identity. Like many other queer youth may have experienced during their coming out process, I was looked at as the black sheep of the family. I was a bad child. Yet, I am not bad because they wanted me to be more of a boy; I am bad because I am simply different. As had been dictated to me all my life by my extended family and other immigrants in the South Asian Diaspora, it was a lifestyle completely rejected by the Indian culture.
The first generation immigrant elders expect us to uphold a certain image and constantly bombard us with rules, regulations and expectations on how to be a proper Indian, ignoring the fact that we bear a hyphenated identity of being Indian-American.
Regardless of their sexual identity, much of the South Asian-American youth struggle to find a suitable balance between being a proper Indian and being the true American. They are forced to live in a double minority and identity. At home they are expected to do one thing or face rejection from their families, and outside they are expected to behave in a different manner, or face rejection from their peers.
The struggle for gay and lesbian rights in this country has been an ongoing moral war for the past 30-some years. A general, but simply put fact: the LGBT community is a minority without equal rights. Those of a queer identity, regardless of ethnicity, struggle for acceptance despite the fact that in America, we all like to believe that our country stands for freedom and equality for all people. Seemingly problematic and hypocritical, we cannot always say that all men are created equal and have equal rights. As a person of South Asian-American identity and also a queer identity, I face a dual rejection: both from the South Asian Diaspora and mainstream American society itself. I struggle to find a true identity, one that is accepted in all realms of society.
Someday I would like to start a family. I must pass Indian values on to my children and make certain they are aware of their Indian roots. But, according to what I have been told is “authentic Indian culture,” my queer identity stifles my ability in being able to do many of the things I am expected to do. According to what I’ve been taught, I could not possibly care for children and have a queer identity, because a “normal” family unit consisting of a man and a woman is needed in order for children to fully understand the meaning of a family. Two men, two women, or even a single parent with a queer identity cannot provide the affection that a child needs.
I define myself as a South-Asian transwoman. In that one identity are many other sub-identities linked to hundreds of meanings and histories. Constantly being viewed as a minority because of my race, I am entrapped in a smaller minority – that of a queer population. Common ground between my heritage and my host culture is that feeling of isolation and inability to connect with non-judgmental, accepting peers common through all cultures.
In our ever-changing world, culture is not static. It is not authentic. People define a culture, and like identity, it is ever changing.