about this issue The RTB Zine team is extremely excited to present you with our second issue! This issue is our attempt to amplify voices speaking at the intersection of identifying as LGBTQIA+ and South Asian. From poetry to narratives to an insightful interview and stunning artwork, this issue contains the work of so many amazing writers, artists, and creators! Thank you for letting us feature your submissions and for letting us having the chance to work with you! Hereâ€™s to all of the fabulous contributors who have made this zine and this issue so special. â€”Happy reading!
credits Thank you so much to the amazing team of designers and editors that made this issue a reality! DESIGNERS Dilpreet Dayal Sneha Gubbala Megha Bharadwa Madhu Koduvalli EDITORS Madhu Koduvalli Amara Auguste Kiran Kumar Lamia Akbar Yashaswi Dixit Maddy Patel Vriddhi Vinay Nikita Joy Alolika De COVER DESIGN http://acey-desi.tumblr.com/ https://www.instagram.com/ii_rini_ii/
editor’s note #reclaimthebindi has often brought forth criticism that it homogenizes and presents a very shallow representation of both inter- and intracommunity oppression in the context of South Asian identity. I want to thank every single person who has taken the time to make those statements because it has taken me far too long to realize the homogenized image of South Asian identity that was being pushed to the forefront of the movement was one that went against the entire purpose of the campaign itself: to amplify South Asian voices that have been silenced and South Asian experiences that have been erased. To amplify voices that for example aren’t just fair-skinned, straight, cis, Indian, Hindi-speaking and/or Hindu. While this zine is merely just an attempt to start addressing this, I hope that through this medium you will continue to give me and the team feedback. I hope you will continue the discussion about what you would like to see here, what you think can promote more inclusion, and how we can address the issues that #reclaimthebindi has perpetuated these past few years. Thank you for your endless support and for your willingness to always engage with this space. —Happy reading! —RTB reclaimthebindi.co.vu Twitter: @reclaimthebindi Instagram: @reclaimthebindi
I see my face and I struggle to see the real me. I wonder if the real me is something others will want to see. I toy with this improbable fallacy And I wonder if I will ever feel comfortably. How I teeter totter back and forth I struggle to step until I feel a pounding force. But I will soon see the real creation And I will not care if others perceive a feigned interpretation.
A Guide to Being Brown and Gay By Namah Jaggi Instagram: nam.huh
On Saturday night, reel in a Bollywood movie. Watch one with not too much thought and just enough hilarity to make up for it. Do not cringe at the Effeminate boys with obnoxious lisps, Pink collars turned upwards. A he? A she? Tainted red lips and stubble. Laugh at their oddity. No punch lines; Just people. Giggle because It feels right to. A cacophony of laughter surrounds you There is no need to be left out of the orchestra. Is there? Do not even dare to know what the word â€œgayâ€? means Until it is too late to take back everything you said. A word to be hushed around aunties. Let them never know the extent of your vocabulary, Let it never be cause for them to criticise your parents. A word to use with a smirk around your friends, A badge of your notorious maturity, A symbol of your rebellion, to utter such a forbidden tune. Ignore the cloud of doubt forming in your head.
Learn quick and fast that life Is never going to be like the movies. See, in movies, gay people are jokes: lighthearted interventions and giggle generators. In the real world, they are rag dolls. Blink back your tears when the same Bhaiya who promised you That the sky was not breaking just because there was thunder Paints two boys the shade of the storm for holding hands. Do not ask your parents “why” with all the rage you can muster. Stay silent. No matter how hard your heart disagrees. Shoot dirty looks at the girl with Short hair and holes in her face. Echo your friends when they call her a Freak. Try not to stare at how pink her lips are. Do not dream about kissing them. Brown girls were not made to be entangled with each other. Melanin rich skin was not painted to be indulged by anyone’s fingertips. Sin is not something that runs in the blood of Indians. Bite your lips and swallow your tongue. Do not try to survive in a world that wasn’t made for you. Do not convince yourself that wrong things could never feel that right. Play back the movie. Laugh at the jokes. Stare at the freaks. There is no pride In being an oddity.
rain to the sea small feet pattered on the gravel street, two seven year old girls thrilled to see each other my thoughts ran wild; i knew at once something was wrong with me. my heart beat faster and then sank, blood chilling in my veins my tiny schoolbag suddenly held heavy stones and the school-gates overlooked a dark chasm. it was impossible, i told myself, and made myself forget, but the memory ate away at me a decade of inner turmoil, years spent scared and confused. convinced i felt nothing for girls, utterly convinced it was broad shoulders and deep voices i desired, i tried to fight the anxiety i’d developed at the age of innocence. i spent many nights curled up in a corner, penning down my every thought. the icy marble floors were so pale and pure, unlike my tainted mind; it was my most closely guarded secret, something i’d sworn to never speak of to even my closest friends, never to write, even in my diary: lined ivory paper stained with blue, purple and pink ink that spoke of fights with my girlfriends and heartbreaks at the hands of boys. “i went for dostana!” my cousin gloated i wondered why my parents wouldn’t let me watch it. “in it, the men are gay” my friend whispered
i asked her what that was, and when she explained, i was only confused; that love wasn’t possible, was it? i was nine years old. “you’re gay!” my best friend yelled at the boy i had a crush on my friend whipped around to snap, “that’s not an insult! my cousin is.” our faces fell as i realised i had never thought of it as something right; i stared at her, wide-eyed, the word lesbian swirling in my head the school bus shook; and his friends snickered “still gay”. i was twelve years old. three girls stood in the shadowy corner of the school grounds barely listening to their chatter, i was watching boys play basketball “i think the girl who sits next to me is bisexual”, my best friend said i asked her what that was; and when i learned it meant liking both girls and boys, the ball was not slamming on concrete, it was hammering at my mind. i was fourteen years old. the lovely girl in my tuition class smiled at me and laughed, i tried not to stare, forcing myself to think of the boy sitting next to me, and it worked, he was perfect; kind and handsome and smart. an obnoxious bully in my class told me every boy thought i was lesbian,
and i was offended and hurt; i acted so straight, he must be lying. i asked my friend about it; when he agreed with me, i felt relieved. i was fifteen years old. i met my childhood family friend after years, and we clicked at once, inseparable for days. sitting at the train station, between laughing at our brothers and talking about the boys we liked, i thought of how she was so beautiful and sweet. tentatively, i wondered if my feelings for her were not platonic. i was sixteen years old. i had just turned seventeen, and i couldn’t take it anymore all i could think of was how i had felt at the school-gates ten years ago i still remembered every word that had run through my mind i remembered wishing she was a boy, because i loved her just as much as i’d love a boy, and that was as terrifying as the universe had been to a child who had just learned that all the glittering stars were long dead, that no one knew what lay beyond, and that maybe none of this was real anyway. i didn’t know what i was, only that i was finally ready to face the truth. i had not realised when the posts on tumblr about being queer had begun to apply to me, when i had started to fall in love with female characters on tv shows too, when i’d started to think of myself as not straight. i was told i was valid no matter what, but i was still confused. i could not explain what i felt, only that it felt like drowning under the empty void of the ocean. it took all of my strength to whisper those two syllables to myself; tears streaming down my face, hands shaking, anxiety crashing through me, my heart threatening to burst out of my chest; all products of ten years of denial and confusion. and suddenly it was clear my thoughts had condensed into something that was beautiful and pure, and at last, my feelings made sense i stood in my balcony, the cool night air quickening to a gust that smelled like rain. that night, under the moonlight, i felt eternal and free. the number 377 still sparks outrage and sorrow in my heart and i crave justice more than anything i’ve ever needed while the laws say i will be a criminal, that i may never live a normal life.
and my heart breaks when my mother rolls her eyes, presses forward, or looks uncomfortable at the very relationships that give me hope. i went for kapoor and sons, praying the rumours were true, and in the dark hall, i was trembling and ecstatic, emotions storming my being as i tried to stop the tears from falling, from breaking down next to my parents. it took me an entire minute to tell my best friends what i am, the words were trapped inside my mouth and i felt like i was choking as they stared at me, concerned, telling me the look on my face was scaring them. i hold my breath, terrified, aware of my every action, when my classmates discuss lgbt issues in class. i try to look nonchalant, but really, i want to dissolve into nothingness. i’m a bisexual girl, living in a socially rigid, post-colonial nation that still follows archaic laws that were never ours. i think about my sexuality constantly and feel myself lying to so many acceptance is a long, hard battle, and while i am not unscathed, the scars are faint, pastel lines across my pale brown wrist that make me proud and empower me. i stand with my back straight, my spine plated with iron flowers grow in the ribcage that once held a fearful heart the cheeks that were stained with kajal-streaked tears now glow and my eyes are happier, shining with love and joy and desire, as the deep brown mirrors the silver of the galaxies inside me. i am no longer ashamed i am beautiful i am worthy of love i survived. - i don’t want heaven anyway, T.G.
i swallow whenever a beautiful actress comes on screen, and wish that for once, she’d fall in love with the female co-star she dances with i wonder what my brother would say if he knew i felt the same as him about her.
(this poem is partially inspired by the song heaven, which made me cry like nothing ever has. accepting myself is the hardest thing i have experienced in the seventeen years i have been alive. i am slowly learning to love myself and be more positive and happy. writing this was very hard but i don’t think i’ve ever been more proud of myself.
seeing lgbt characters on television makes me happy and excited,
to anyone reading this: you will survive, you are valid and you are worthy of love, i promise.)
Solidarity Isn’t a One Way Street Zain Ahmed I did it on a note. I wrote it on a piece of paper. I exposed my being to you, on a dark, cold, January night at the age of eighteen. “Ami, Abu. I am gay.” Those words though so small, so simple, so seemingly harmless, Practically lifted off the sheet and shot my parents cold and dead. These words, though telling my story, Could not express the fear, the anxiety, the loneliness, that I was feeling. These words alone could not replicate the pain I was suffering Knowing that you would no longer love me. Knowing that I had just caused your last wound, Knowing that there would be no healing from this. And with that shot, the blood began to spill, My ami cried, and cried, and cried She said that she had failed me, When I felt like I had just passed my test. My abu told me that I had this “disease,” That I was fraught with illness, When I felt like I had just discovered health. And those scars remain. These scars have never healed. These scars have never molded back into our skins. There was never acceptance, forgiveness, reconciliation, There was never any “coming around,” It did not “get better.” It was done. It was dead. It was over. So then, I told myself, That it was YOU. It was YOU, who made me feel this way. It was YOU, who was stuck in the past. It is YOU ALL, who are “backwards,” homophobic, sexist third world monstrosities, Unable to accept love in all its forms. I blamed you. I despised you. I hated everything that you are, And wished for you to be gone.
``This piece speaks on my experiences as a queer Muslim, and the trauma and pain navigating intersecting identities and isolation from multiple spaces in hopes of pushing for a more decolonial framework in space inclusivity.``
But I learned. I grew. I have healed. I have worked to unpack this. I have worked to deconstruct this, to decolonize my mind. I have learned to decolonize my internalized racism, I have learned to expand my understanding of you. I have learned to stop hating you. I have learned how to forgive you. So when the president of my school’s Muslim Students Association Decided to back out of speaking at our Unity Rally, Because an LGBT presence would be a compromise to his values, So when my queer ex-Muslim friend was at his school’s Divestment hearing, And listened to Israeli supporters talk about their support for LGBT rights, And heard Muslims on the side of Palestine whisper, “Who cares about those faggots, anyway?” So when Every single time, I have tried to trust you people, And time and time again, I am met with ostracization, I am broken. I am weak. The gunshot I shot onto my parents has reflected itself back onto me. I loved you! I have forgiven you! I have forgiven you for every assumption, every punch to my I have forgiven you after you And I still love you! I still
insult, every microaggression, every face. have tried to destroy me. love you.
And I don’t blame you. I know that this We have all been colonized, we have all We have all been beaten, and raped, and taken away from us. We are all traumatized, and scarred, we travesty; and now we are just trying to cause any trouble. But I am I am not I cannot I cannot I cannot
is not your fault, been broken by the white man. abused, and have had everything are all clinging onto this fit in, and stay low, and not
tired. I am more than weak. your therapist, I am not your counselor, heal your trauma. I cannot rewind your past. fix this. fix YOU.
Solidarity is not It must be given, I cannot love you I refuse to be in
a one way street. and reciprocated. while you aren’t loving me. this toxic, violent relationship.
Decolonize your mind. There is no human nature. There is no right or wrong when it comes to human love, or human gender. There is only truth, and peace. There is only honesty, and vulnerability, There is only freedom. So let’s set ourselves free.
Zain Ahmed is a queer, Pakistani, Muslim American individual who has experienced the intersection of racism, gender dysphoria, homophobia, and intrareligious adversity. They are a college student, artist, writer, and activist in San Jose. You can find their work on Kajal Magazine and the MOSAIC Cross-Cultural Center student blog. They/ Them/Theirs. brownboilovely.tumblr.com twitter.com/brownboilovely instagram.com/ brownboilovely
SIT IN A MOSTLY WHITE CLASSROOM. Classmates are discussing coming out: how the strategy of staying “closeted” until it is safe to come out is such a major shift from the prevailing wisdom of how important it is to live an open life. Almost exclusively, white people are speaking. I say nothing, remaining in the background. There is a distance between us. That same distance separates us when my mother talks about her co-worker who is “Other,” her exasperating euphemism for “gay”. She doesn’t understand how awful and insulting her words are. I gently guide her through to understanding. I think to myself all the while that there is no way in hell I am going to reveal my “Other”-ness to her. As a person navigating white-dominated circles, I understand that my Brownness is as hyper-visible as my queerness is invisible. The relationship between the two is not coincidental. I exist in separate spheres – South Asian culture and the dominant Western culture – both of which deny my existence. There is a unanimous conclusion that there is no such thing as a queer South Asian. Queer people? Sure, they exist. South Asian people? An entire region of a continent and an expansive diaspora serve as pretty damn
irrefutable evidence to their existence. But queer South Asians? Suddenly, no one knows. The only queer people visible in the mainstream could give you a math equation with percentages of all the different types of white they are. Little old bisexual Nepali me is nowhere to be seen. There are plenty of reasons for this erasure, but a big one is the intersection of racism and a particular brand of heteronormativity and cisnormativity (among other gender/sexuality normativities). White people have always been the most represented and most respectable members of any marginalized groups. There is a sense of protection, a sense of comfort and security in whiteness. To be white is to be relatable, so white faces and voices get pushed to the front of the queer community. This is supposedly so that society will better be able to accept all of us. What actually happens is that “all of us” really just means “white queer people,” and queer people of color are shunted to the sidelines. Whiteness is so encompassing of mainstream queer discourse and culture that no one, not even white queer people, considers the possibility that people of color can have their own, separate experiences of queerness. Even when our existence is acknowledged, we suffer. Our stories only get told through white voices; we are always viewed through a white, imperialist gaze. We are used as weapons against our communities when
white queers decry homophobia in communities of color without acknowledging the history of imperialism and forced assimilation that created those conditions in the first place. I don’t know what it is like to feel safe in any space. I have never felt truly comfortable speaking my mind anywhere. In queer spaces, I am an unacknowledged outsider—one of disappointingly few queer people of color. In South Asian spaces, I am tolerated only as long as I keep the queer part of my identity hidden. No one acknowledges the particular violence committed against queer South Asians within our communities. This includes direct physical harm. It also includes the more indirect social expectations put onto us, most notably through the heteronormative expectation of marriage. Adherence to “traditional” cultural expectations and the model minority (within the Western diaspora) both inflict immense damage on queer South Asians, while enforcing the status quo. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, though many South Asians may be tolerant of queer people in general, they are often intolerant of queer people within their families and social groups. I am lucky enough to have a family that I love. I don’t want to risk that harmony by coming out. My family is my primary connection to my culture; losing that connection would be
devastating to me. In this way, many of us hide our queerness from our communities. We have little other choice. Where does that leave us? I am tired, and I am bitter. I wait and I watch as the distance between queer South Asians and their full identities remains a gaping, daunting expanse, and we are left stranded. That distance needs to be bridged. I should feel safe in queer spaces, and I should feel safe at home--but there are so many things that I, and so many other queer South Asians need before that is even a slight possibility. We need visibility. We need to be able to tell our own stories and affirm our own existences, without fear of violence or retribution. We need safe spaces, where we can freely speak, exchange experiences, and develop our own sense of identity and belonging. Above all, we need the validity of our humanity acknowledged both by mainstream queer culture and by our own cultures. We need to be allowed the full complexity of our identities: to be, unquestionably, South Asian and queer. Tumblr: hmwhatthehell.tumblr.com
“I created the attached piece about a year ago when I was still questioning my sexuality and gender identity. It was meant to display the conflict I felt between my cultural background and the sexuality I identified as at the time, which was gay. Of course, it doesn’t apply much now, because I’ve discovered that I’m a transgender male and bisexual, but I still think the piece speaks a lot for itself.”— Ajay, he/him Tumblr- @trashthecistem Instagram- @3cheers4queers
Undying Hope. “I sent you to school to study, not to learn about all this nonsense.” I remember so clearly the tone of mother’s voice when she shouted those words at me and slammed the door. I was only fourteen when I fell for my best friend. We were so naïve to think two Indian girls could brave this world together. We really thought we could make our families understand some day. Yeah, we were young and the relationship sank quickly, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if it lasted… Would I still have to choose between making my family happy or making myself happy? No one should ever have to choose between their love and their loved ones. Would I be thrown out of the house if I were to choose the former? As progressive as the world is becoming, why are Desi families still so stuck on the idea that love can only happen between a man and a woman? We happily watch movies like Dostana and Kapoor & Sons, but when it comes to reality we shun gay people. My grandma constantly reminds me not to befriend too many gay people at college in fear that they will ‘influence’ me (whatever that means, Naniji). We want to become a modern society but what’s point when our mindset and thinking are all still so damn backwards and old-fashioned? I may be dating guys now; does that make me straight? I honestly can’t say. I can’t put myself in a box anymore. Lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual, I just want to be able to love who I love without feeling like I have to be afraid of letting my family down. — Daashayani Govindasamy Pillai
Fashion student, Singapore
A. Ali is an artist who focuses on the intersection of Queer, Desi, and Muslim identities. Ali hopes to continue pursuing art as a way to create social change and fight homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, and other important social issues. Ali wants to fight discrimination towards these communities and has been involved in several organizations that focus on educating others and community building. Some specific issues that Ali is passionate about are ending the model minority myth, abolishing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and stopping terror rhetoric. Aliâ€™s work is featured throughout this Zine.
WHAT is YOURS Avni You are in middle school when your head hung down in shame has already become an old friend of the prayer room floor in your home. You are a sinner. You have always been a sinner “like the rest of your people”. But these are different sins that bring you on your knees, before the old, golden idols in the prayer room. These are not the sins the kids at school and their parents say you share with your parents and their parents, for worshipping “those gods” rather than accepting “the Lord and Savior”. These sins take root in your mind’s protests against the gender designated by your birth certificate. The revolution that sits on your tongue does not rise for many years. These sins manifest in the blushes that don’t show on your brown face when you’re with someone and it feels a lot like the crushes kids tell you about except this someone isn’t the “right” gender. They never are. They laugh at people like you. They laugh at color, whether it’s the melanin in your skin or the hues of the rainbow you are too frightened to claim. “If I ever met a gay, I’d never be friends with them,” Your “friend” tells you. The others agree. Too late, you think, at first. Later, you wonder if your “friend” was right all along. “We’ll find you a nice husband after you graduate from college,” One family member says.
“We’ll let you pick your husband, if you want,” The other says. “Until you’re older, don’t talk to boys,” They both say. They didn’t mean it like that. Didn’t you know, this homosexuality nonsense is against Indian values? And for once, none of the Americans you know, who deem themselves experts on every societal issue in India because they watched a film about slums once, has a problem with this view. You learn what the word “transgender” means on the day you reach the so-called milestone of girlhood: menarche. It is the first word to tell you that what lies in your mind holds more importance than whatever is in your pants. Your only support at this time is an eating disorder forum. It is a toxic wasteland where you are given more tips on how to make your body less feminine (i.e. fat) than any solace. “If you’re not a girl, then you’re a transgender guy,” These men explain, as if it clears up all of your uncertainties. There are two boxes and you don’t fit into either of them. Men tell you stories of being called tomboys while growing up, binding their chests when girls their age started wearing bras, and dreaming of sex reassignment surgery. You realize these are not quite your stories. You still settle in the
wasteland because they are someone in a world that tells you there is no one. (Later, you realize that's the main reason anyone stayed there.) “People like that are mentally sick,” Some say. You are in no place to argue. You fell down the rabbit hole ages ago. Maybe people who love like that or
“The revolution that sits on your tongue does not rise for many years“ don’t fit their assigned genders are sick in the head. But you’ve met men and women, sick in the head, who love and lust in the right ways, so anyone can be sick. Or maybe if you get hurt everyday and don’t know how to heal, your wounds will fester. The only cure you have been told of, for mental illness and for not being heterosexual or cisgender, is prayer. The general consensus: it is a lack of faith that brought you to this hell on earth. When you are in high school, you find salvation in stories you stumble upon while researching Hindu narratives. Bhagiratha, the great king
who brought Ganga from the heavens to Earth, was born from two women who made love to each other. Ardhanarishvara is an androgynous deity, a composite of Shiva and Parvati. The Kama Sutra describes people who married people of the same gender and lived together, either openly or in secret. In the great epic, Mahabharata, Shikhandi, a man who was deemed a woman at birth, whose wife spurned his anatomy, rode on Krishna’s chariot and was pivotal to the victory of the Kurukshetra War. The Western taxonomies of sexual/romantic orientation were not present in ancient
India. However, there was a strong concept of third gender (tritiya prakriti), which encompassed identities that may be described as gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex in English. When British Raj spread Victorian values, like the Western gender binary and the ban on homosexuality, throughout the subcontinent. “Immoral” became the standard English translation of words like napumsaka, aravani, and svairini. This history, you have been robbed of, now sits in your hands. No one can tell you that these feelings are new sins when your kind are ancient and divine. And yet,
Image by Femmeboi Godess Chosen name: Saara
South Asian co-founder of Noor (LGBTQIA Muslims* of Seattle). Artist, writer; and activist. Tender tears of a gender queer, good boi as a bad femme, slowly accepting they as them, writing for their soul and not for others, they love to create from the pain of lovers.
you realize these are not truly your words. You are part of the diaspora, in a postcolonial world. You are the product of multiple nations, a hybrid of the East and the West. Your story does not lie with white Americans who do not bear your burdens, nor does it lie with Indians in the past. There exists no true utopia in the past for you, because humans are always marching towards the future for them. You live to see celebrities and people around you talk about their orientations and gender. If
you don't find your story, you will write your own. You will ride in the divine chariot through this battle. You have burned in hell fire and you will let the world know it until we are all righted by Time and Justice.
Avni is: Gujarati Nonbinary American
A Short History
The first time I heard the word “queer,” I was in middle school. It was during a free period after lunch where we were allowed to venture outside for fifteen minutes before running to class again. I was sitting in the grass when I overheard my classmate mutter to a friend that their cousin was queer. It was a statement in a whispered hush, a matter of deepest shame. “I’m so sorry,” said the friend. “I’ll pray for you.” Clearly, being queer was not a good thing if people felt the need to pray for your extended family because of it. My first experience with the word was as a derogatory term, a word synonymous with “embarrassment,” even though I didn’t hear it hurled loudly in insult. I filed it away in my head, categorizing it with slurs like “faggot” and “fairy” and “pansy,” a word used in cruelty and ignorance.
“strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric.” — Oxford English Dictionary
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “queer” originated in the early 16th century as adjective meaning, “strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric.” Occasionally, it also meant “of questionable character; suspicious, dubious.” (OED) It wasn’t used as a slur for LGBT+ people until the early 20th century, when it started to be used as a term for effeminate young men. By the end of the century, it was almost universally recognized as a derogatory term that referred to the LGBT+ community in general. In 1990, the American LGBT+ community set out to reclaim the word. In a movement that began in New York during that year’s pride march, during which a group of activists referred to themselves as “Queer Nation.” (Marusic) Since then, individuals have used the term to describe both their otherness and their inclusion within the LGBT+ community. To many, the term has become positive, a flag under which they can embrace their own and others’ sexuality and gender identity.
Disclaimer: This article contains anti-LGBTQ+ slurs.
In a 2013 Huffington Post article, writer and thenstudent Nadia Cho writes that the word is “a worldview characterized by acceptance,” and goes on to define the term as an umbrella under which individuals in the LGBT+ community can unite and leave their categorizations behind, and to “challenge everything that’s considered normal.” (Cho)
To many, the term has become positive, a flag under which they can embrace their own and others’ sexuality and gender identity. Today, a generation of LGBT+ people gladly identify as queer while other members of the community still associate the word with the hatred, cruelty, and ignorance they experienced (and continue to experience). Wikipedia’s definition of the word is presented with a rainbow flag and reads, “Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual or cisgender,” while “Smear the Queer” is still a game played in schools. The term is still in transition. The hateful past some say has been reclaimed is still not entirely in the past, but the newer meaning is full of hope and acceptance for this community.
References: “Queer, Adj. 1.” Def. 1. Oxford English Dictionary. N.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. Marusic, Kristina. “So What’s Up With The Word ‘Queer?’.” News. MTV, 06 July 2015. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. Cho, Nadia. “Being Queer Means...” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 June 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. “Queer.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. Madhu Koduvalli is a tech writer and freelance editor. Twitter: @madkodly | Tumblr: orderofthepygmypuff
untitled It’s didi’s wedding, ma. You’re holding a mehendi cone Laughing and teasing her, As you write his name Into her soft little palms; The boy she fell in love with. I can’t help but wonder: Would you laugh just as hard, ma? As you write her name in my palms; The girl I fall in love with? Would you write it at all, ma? —A.B.
coming out twice
brown girl, brown girl, what do you see? a family that can’t look at me.
brown girl, brown girl, what do you hear? the slurs thrown at me by my peers.
brown girl, brown girl, what do you smell? the pieces of me destined to burn in hell. brown girl, brown girl, what do you taste? garam masala thrown in my face. brown girl, brown girl, what do you touch? other queer hearts, but not that much. brown boy, brown boy, what do you see? the judgement of those surrounding me. brown boy, brown boy, what do you hear? their taunts, their barbs and all their jeers. brown boy, brown boy, what do you smell? the beginning of a revolution, let’s go out and rebel. brown boy, brown boy, what do you taste? that little girl’s narrative which is being erased. brown boy, brown boy, what do you touch? my praying hands that i grasp like a crutch. —Kiran
Kiran (they/them, he/ him) is a teenager who’s not 100% sure if he wants to date Zayn Malik or just become Zayn Malik, after they transition. He also really like outer space and wants to be a librarian some day. Follow them at @hlfbloodprincex on Twitter for feminist rants and Star Wars.
“It’s Not Enough Until I Get Myself to Like Vagina” Elton J. Fernandez on LGBT+ Life in India
Sarika Sethia... yaar, main uske baare main tumhe kaise samjhau? Wo mataki aankhein, wo khushi bhara chehra, wo hasee jo dil ki dhadkan bandh kar te... However, while all those things are true, she’s also FULL of filmy dialogues, so watch out! Born and bred in London, Sarika’s always kept her home country of India close to her heart. Right now she’s focusing on using her platforms to bring awareness to issues she’s passionate about. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat: @sarikasethia
This month’s theme for the #reclaimthebindi zine is LGBT+, and when I learnt this I was stumped. As a cishet woman, I have no personal experience with such matters. What on Earth was I going to write?
professional beauty channel. His tutorials are beautiful and created with the modern working woman in mind.
I first stumbled across him when looking for a Deepika Padukone makeup tutorial last summer, and I stuck around because right in Perhaps a news piece on LGBT+ rights in his very first video he mentions the need for India? Nope, boring. A list of my favourite skin tone representation in the media. Erm, LGBT+ desis? LMAO nice try! There aren’t HELL YES! His charmingly frank, I-amenough out desis for that! unashamedly-me personality and his skill at applying beautiful makeup kept me hooked But then it clicked: I should turn the conversation over to someone who knows what and I quickly became a big fan. they’re talking about and can effectively utilise Elton was kind enough to let me interview him, this platform. And the first and only person and while the focus is on his experiences, I also that came to mind was Elton J. Fernandez. made sure to take advantage of the fact that Elton J. Fernandez is a makeup artist and hair he’s a makeup artist and asked beauty-related stylist in Mumbai. He is not only famous for questions – it would have been a disservice to our #glazeddonutgoddess readers not to! regularly doing celebrities’ makeup and being in publications like Vogue India, but he also Without further ado, I’ll let Elton do the talking! has his own YouTube channel: India’s first
LGBT+ Sethia: To start with, could you tell our readers how you identify, to give them some context?
Sethia: How aware were you of your sexuality before you came out? Did you struggle with it for a long time or was it something you always knew?
Fernandez: I’m an adult homosexual man.
Sethia: Can you tell us about your childhood? What was your home environment like (in regards to people who weren’t cisgender and/or heterosexual) and how did this affect you? How religious was your family? What was your relationship like with your sibling(s) at that time? Fernandez: My mum and dad were religious but very urban, chilled parents. I was raised in the most cosmopolitan city of India - Bombay! I was raised Catholic and my brother was 2 years older and we never got along until we were young men in our late teens. As a child, I was an altar boy in church and was taught that being anything other than heterosexual is an abomination and gets you front row tickets to the burning fires of Hell!
Fernandez: I’ve had interactions of a sexual nature with boys since I was a child. It wasn’t sex as adults understand it, but just touching each other and playing silly games. As a young man, I was taught I needed to have a girlfriend, so I certainly went out looking for one! But it never felt organic to me, like it did when I was with people of the same sex as myself.
Sethia: Do you still struggle with your identity? Fernandez: Not at all. I’m 100% certain of what makes me tick.
Sethia: Although you were living in Hyderabad independent of your family for university and your early career, you’ve also talked about how the homophobia you experienced there is common in “small-minded cities”. Did this impact your coming to terms with your sexuality while you were in the closet? Can you give us a sense of what life in the closet was like for you? Fernandez: I think most people tend to lose contact with the bigger picture when they live in close-knit communities that promote smaller personal agendas. In India, where sexuality isn’t commonly talked about or discussed, it’s tricky to come out of the closet because you have nowhere to look for answers! I remember being incredibly nervous when I told my first friend that I wasn’t straight like him. It was a nightmare! But such a burden lifted off! Gradually, coming out becomes like a reward, and doing it feels easier to do. I have also lost a few friends in the process, but oh well!
Sethia: Would you mind telling us a bit about the homophobia you faced in Hyderabad? Fernandez: People were always snickering, poking fun at me, being disrespectful and intrusive. I’ve been gay-bashed a couple times by groups of homophobic men that randomly pick on people they consider easy targets. I’ve had chilli powder thrown in my eyes. It was ridiculous.
Sethia: Let’s talk about the big moment: coming out. How did you feel once you’d come out for the first time? Did coming out change how you felt and thought about yourself?
depressing and frankly, I’m happier when I don’t hear from her. I know it’s cruel to say something like that about the woman that gave me life, but only I’ve walked in my shoes. I’ve tried hard to change her mind by just being my own strength and guide, by Fernandez: It’s just like a weight being lifted off one’s single-handedly elevating my life respectably and by shoulders, less guilt from the burdens of secrecy and being a compassionate hardworking human being, but it’s not enough until I get myself to like vagina. having to live a constant double life, covering traces of white lies. But really, I just remember taking a deep How bizarre! breath and feeling so free, bursting into tears as I told My father has tried to accept my sexuality, but feels myself to always stay strong and never let people’s chained by his Catholic upbringing. I do respect opinions of me weigh me down. that. And I respect that he isn’t constantly preaching down condescendingly and trying to cure me of some Sethia: How did your parents react to your coming disease, like my mother does.
out? How did your sibling(s) react? How long did it take for everyone to come around? Are there family members who still treat you differently?
Fernandez: My parents went through their initial shock and opposition, but as we continued to talk, I tried to be as blatantly honest as I was sure of myself and what I wanted. However, gradually with time, guilt got the better of my folks, and they slowly gravitated more towards religion and penance and prayer, wanting to reserve our seats in heaven as a Catholic family. My extended paternal family were always petty, super judgmental and holier-than-thou. My rude uncle would keep saying to me in front of other family, “You look more and more like Michael Jackson as you grow!” It was always hurtful to hear, and confused me because I never understood what kind of happiness he could’ve received by sharing that kind of opinion of me, with me! I’ve severed bonds with anyone that’s made me feel like I was less worthy of happiness than them, simply because of who I chose to lie naked with. My brother is 2 years older, and he’s incredibly supportive and lovely. I love him.
Sethia: How are your relationships with your family members today? How involved with your life are they? Have you introduced any of your partners to them? When I was a child, my mum was everything a child needed to grow independently - she was strong, funny, beautiful, fashionable, stylish, and a total city girl. I loved that. My coming out caused her to spiral downward into self-blame, looking skyward for forgiveness and help. It’s been 13 years since I came out, and she’s still waiting on Jesus to make me hetero! Fat chance! Our relationship is broken,
I’ve tried introducing conversation about my longterm partner, but my parents aren’t interested in discussing anything related to what they call my “lifestyle”. The only good thing my paternal family has ever given me is my talent and love for music. My maternal family, however, has always been more loving. Granted, everybody has differences and that’s alright. But to be able to love beyond it, is truly a gift. My aunt Pamela has been my firmest believer and my strongest supporter, and I love her deeply.
Sethia: Could you describe the difference between being out in Mumbai and Hyderabad, and give us a sense of the atmospheres and attitudes of each city? Fernandez: Bombay is far removed from every other city or town in this country. It’s a state of mind. People are exposed to so much more than themselves. Hyderabad has money and power, and that’s about it. For the most part, it’s painful growing up in Hyderabad if you identify as homosexual. People in Bombay seem to be busy with working hard and making ends meet. It’s a less judgmental, more desensitised bunch of workers that live and let live.
Sethia: How receptive do you find international cities are to LGBT+ people? Fernandez: Luckily, I’ve always felt free and uninhibited as a responsible homosexual man everywhere I’ve travelled, except my own country. That said, I’ve never been to any other country that belongs to what we know as the Third World.
Sethia: How involved are you with the LGBT+ community (in India)?
Fernandez: I don’t see myself being at the core of gay rights activism or anything because it’s too much politics and intellectualising, and that’s just not my thing. I value good intent, good sense and compassion above all else. I am however, at the core of the social circuit within the gay community in so much as my work is respected and acknowledged, my presence and opinion and support is valued, and I feel part of a very lovely community. I love walking at the Pride Parade with my friends, and my social media is an extension of everything I believe in.
Sethia: On your Youtube channel you make a point of using Indian women with dark skin and Indian features (like the video with your housekeeper Sanjana, which, by the way, was adorable!). Can you elaborate on your thoughts regarding representation?
Sethia: Is being involved with the LGBT+ community important to you? How much would you say you’re in conversation with contemporary issues?
Fernandez: In many ways, I’m just fed up of seeing only cookie-cutter Stepford wives for celebrity influences in India. Our leading commercial stars are all fair-skinned, sometimes even foreign, bland and without any unique human personality or skill. I just feel like I’d rather watch a regular person like my housekeeper Sanjanaji than any heroine, because she has so much more character, wit, personality, style and charisma!
Fernandez: Yes, I do think it is important to be involved with the larger community that I belong to. Like I said, I’m smart and definitely keep abreast with most things, but I do not see myself as an intellectual whose opinion is indisputable like God’s Holy Word.
Sethia: Have you ever faced colourism because of your skin tone?
Sethia: How do you see the future of LGBT+ rights evolving in India?
Sethia: How do you feel about personally wearing makeup? What look(s) do you like the most right now/think suit you the best?
Fernandez: Slow and steady. It’s easy to be unhappy with the fact that change hasn’t yet arrived, but the process, to me, is important. We need to continue to trust in the magic of time and process.
Sethia: What steps are needed for positive change, and how can our readers be a part of that? Fernandez: Shed labels, refuse to wear labels of colour, race, ethnicity, sexuality, age, gender. Love unconditionally. Literally without conditions. Love because you have so much to give, not because you have this and this and that and this to receive. Question everything, and especially your elders and leaders, and their motives. Question your own. Look for logic and reason in your answers, not tradition or culture, or blind faith. When you see any sort of discrimination, even when it’s a passing remark, call it out, and raise a flag.
Fernandez: Constantly. I only get told I’m beautiful when I’m out of India. This is of course, besides my darling friends who are beyond wonderful!!
Fernandez: I’ve always loved it. I love bending gender norms and playing around. I wear lashes and lips and blusher and brows and hair extensions too! I love stretching my personality to be different people when I feel like it. I love how my face wears a big black bindi. It’s my thing for 2016!
Sethia: Do you ever get shit for wearing makeup? How do you deal with it? What advice would you give to people whose families tell them off for wearing “too much makeup”? Fernandez: Yes, but like I learned from Game of Thrones, a lion does not concern himself with the opinion of sheep. Haha! To the condescending family members, I say “peace out!”
Sethia: What would you say your USP as a makeup artist is? What makes your work different? Fernandez: That I simplify things and do not take 20 minutes to do what can be accomplished in 2 minutes.
Sethia: What are your favourite makeup products? (Be specific for our readers, please!) Fernandez: There’s a bunch of products I really like: • Nars bronzers in shades Casino and Laguna • Anastasia Beverly Hills highlighter kit • Maybelline Dream Velvet foundation range • Maybelline Colossal liner • Maybelline Brow Drama mascara in dark brown
Sethia: As the self-styled Brow Guru, what is your eyebrow philosophy and what are your favourite products to use on them? Fernandez: Open up the face, and let the eyes do the talking, whilst still being natural and bushy, but groomed! I love Maybelline’s BrowDrama mascara because not only do they fill out sparseness with colour, but they also comb through hair and keep them glued in place for hours!
Sethia: How would you describe your personal style and aesthetic? Fernandez: Chilled out, easy and fun, street but chic.
Sethia: What does your personal diet and fitness routine look like? Fernandez: I’m pescatarian. I do not have aerated drinks unless as a mixers with alcohol. I only drink socially. I only smoke weed. I have a personal trainer Rakesh who comes home thrice a week to keep me slender and toned.
Sethia: Lastly, do you have any parting words for our readers? Fernandez: Get laid. Make love. Never buy a car without understanding the engine, the body, and how well it drives you, or how well you can drive it!
You can find Elton at: youtube.com/eltonjfernandez Facebook, Twitter & Instagram @eltonjfernandez