Thursday, February 12, 2009

Are South Asian gays happier than their straight counterparts?

Couple of nights ago, I was at an event/panel session, titled “Tell Me a Story,” organized by the South Asian Women’s Creative Circle (SAWCC). It was a déjà vu moment for me since a few months ago I had presented my work as a panelist. That was a momentous occasion in my ordinary life. I value the focus of SAWCC and especially these panel sessions where South Asian creative women get a platform to showcase their work.

The event on Tuesday, with a huge turnout, had a very niche focus: panel on queer South Asian art. The panelists comprised of success stories in their own right: Ashu Rai, Chitra Ganesh, D’Lo, Sonali Gulati and Gayatri Gopinath. The panelists and the organizer did a magnificent job of keeping everyone intellectually and emotionally intrigued.

The evening was an eye-opener for me. I was at the event with two of my friends. Just as the session got over, I said to one of my friends, “I had no idea there were so many South Asian gay creative women in New York City.” I was part mesmerized and part bewildered. A very close friend of mine (an advertising guru) and I always whine about how few South Asians we see in our field of communication. For some reason, most of my writer/communication professional friends (be it Indian or non-Indians) are all straight people though I have gay and bisexual acquaintances. It isn’t an intentional effort; it somehow just happened. I guess, subconsciously we all knit and live in our own cocoon where you don’t have to explain your existence.

It was inspirational to see how these women had effectively defied the banal, regimented doctrine. South Asian societies can be very conventional and stereotypical in their expectations--especially of their women. Get married, be happy with your in-laws, bear children, write off your life etc. Plus, there is that pressure of pursuing careers that PAY well instead of ones that make you content. Pragmatism overrides happiness. Notice how most Indians are into IT, medicine, and finance. Unless you studied these professional courses, you were labeled as an under-achiever! How many of us, who grew up in India, live our own dreams? Our life is indebted to the society in the form of emotional blackmail. Our passions got buried along with the responsibility of being “the ideal child” and eventually, the “successful adult.”Success is such a loaded word.

Before the activist-types jump down my throat, I am not condemning or condoning lifestyle choices—be it heterosexual or homosexual. To each their own. However, I can’t help but wonder if our South Asian straight world is more pseudo with our appearances. Are South Asian gays, on some level, happier than straight folks? Perhaps the unwarranted ostracizing by the society works as their strength and muse? It gives them the opportunity to follow and live their dreams while we still dream about our dreams and follow our family’s aspirations for us. Sadly, life is too short to carry someone else’s desires on your shoulders.

I can't imagine the journey was easy for them (be it professional or personal), but they did it and are blissful. That counts towards a lot. I can't say that for most South Asian straight people I know. We all succumbed to the societal pressure in some form or the other. Why else do so many of us go to bed saying, “In my next life….”

More until next time.

Copyright © 02.12.2009

“I don't want to earn my living; I want to live.”


Anonymous said...

pondering...why didn't you tell about your presentation????

S said...

Good point to reflect on albeit South Asian or not! Though South Asians are also too proud to admit the faults in their society!

SB said...

I liked your blog, their journey to professional and personal bliss can be quite rocky.

Anonymous said...

I feel that.

Our passions got buried along with the responsibility of being “the ideal child” and eventually, the “successful adult.”Success is such a loaded word."

Anonymous said...

as a queer south asian (who is friends with many of those panelists), i must say that your analysis of happiness as it pertains to "gay" south asians is a bit simplistic.

i think what you're getting at is the issue of normativity. there are plenty of gay/lesbian south asians who follow societal pressures, versus plenty of other "straight" south asians who choose non-normative lives (as anarchists, in open relationships, as atheists, as community organizers and artists, etc etc). it has little to do with one's sexual orientation.

queer-ness is a politic. it entails making non-normative choices. i urge you to think about this issue in less black and white terms.