Our Voices The Orinam Blog

Dykotomy: growing up lesbian in India

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Lesbian. Lezbian. Lez-beeyun.

I took the longest time to say the word. Even longer to put my name in front of it. When I first caught grasp of what it meant to me, I’d mouth it ever so slowly, never letting the sound of it escape my lips for fear I might actually hear it. When I mustered up the courage to whisper it, I hated the way it sounded; it seemed so dirty, filthy, unnatural.

It’s the first word I’m teaching my kids to say. Not mum, not mommy. Lesbian.

One rainy day, I was wrestling my conscience in front of the bathroom mirror and I couldn’t contain myself. Index finger pointed at the center of my reflection’s accusatory nose I roared, “Lesbian!” The argument was over. I smiled. It fit. I said it again and again. By the end of the day, I was Samira, a lesbian. The rainbow was in plain sight.

My story isn’t one for ages. It won’t go down in history books. But it has started conversations. Conversations that aren’t had often enough growing up in India.

I am a woman, a lesbian, and an Indian — three wonderful minorities that have, over the years, created a strong personality I am proud to call my own.

Before I moved to the United States, I lived in Chennai, India, for 23 years. I’ve never been in the closet. Well, not really. I’ve always been butch — short hair, boys’ clothes, a gentleman’s manner, and of course, a way with the ladies. But in India, not being in the closet doesn’t necessarily mean being out of it. As long as you keep the tongue tied and let the blind ignore the obvious, being a lesbian is a piece of cake. But it wasn’t so much about being gay as it was about being different.

It was a daily routine of playing the tomboy for my family until it got so old everybody knew I wasn’t growing out of it. It was time to talk. But silence was all I ever heard. I ended every sentence just as soon as I put the words together.

I must’ve been about 18 when a cop cornered me at the end of the street. To him I was a young boy with an attitude problem. I had it coming. Let’s just say what happened next wasn’t pleasant and I didn’t leave the scene unscarred.

I didn’t say a word. I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell anyone.

I moved to the U.S. a few years later. I wasn’t trying to escape; I’d learned to live with my life and I did a pretty decent job of it. I took to the stage. I sang. I wrote poetry, stories and plays. I had a job. I did well for myself. I didn’t know what I was missing.

When I came to Tampa, all I could say was, “I am gay.” I still couldn’t stomach the word lesbian. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I liked being gay. I was okay with it, proud even. But I couldn’t talk about it. Not with my roommates, not with my Indian friends.

I haven’t met another gay Indian woman in Tampa. I wonder where they are, sometimes if they are. As the self-proclaimed, stand-alone Indian lesbian in the area, I have taken it upon myself to educate the rest of the Indian population in Tampa about the LGBT community as best I can.

Conversations can answer questions and deconstruct stereotypes. Sometimes, it’s just as easy as that. Sometimes, it’s not.

Indians can be difficult and incredibly confusing at times. An undeniable mythological history filled with subjects of sexuality and I hadn’t heard anything about it until I looked. I mean searched. More like dug deep into Google and pulled it out. I’ve heard an Indian wrote the Kamasutra. I’m beginning to think that’s a conspiracy, a big one.

I love being a true Indian, one who can embrace the honesty of an inclusive culture. But it isn’t the only culture I’m a part of. After years of contemplation and trying to marry the two, I now wear both flags with pride.

Three and a half years later and I am an obnoxious lesbian. The stage knows it. My audience knows it. My pen knows it. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube know it.

The world knows it.

As for my family in Chennai, some conversations are just easier with strangers.


Orinam’s note: An earlier version of this essay was published on Creative Loafing’s LGBT blog

Comments

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  1. Your story gives me hope. And you couldn’t have been more correct, ‘three wonderful minorities’. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I understand your internal conflicts of coming out.
      It definately requires a lot of support and confidence.
      Goodluck and just remember that there are many more of us and we should support each other. :-)

  2. i wonder if you have mellowed now that you are more free to express yourself, more comfortable in your own skin?
    i hope you are and let others see the light that shines from you.
    share you light (enlightment).

  3. I am from Chennai, who realized her sexuality once I came away from home to study in scotland. I have now embraced it fully, but I do not know where I should I go from here. Just waiting for the life to unfold in front of my eyes. Your post is very inspiring and helpful to know that I am not alone in this struggle. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. Hello I’m Indian and lesbian . I was adopted when I was two years old. Too Wisconsin , in all white , Swiss town . I was the only Indian well actually the only person of color . So my story goes on, I love my parents who put me in so many things . Like soccer , basketball and played the violin for 14 years . Growing up it was hard knowing your different , then when I reached the age 14 I started to have feelings towards women. I wanted to deny it as well and I hated myself for feeling that I had another diffrent part of me . I still had not come to terms being Indian , now how can I come to terms being a lesbian as well . I had no one to look up too . Then I went to college in Northren Wisconsin . That’s when I had my first Indian professor . We talked and I told him what I was feeling . He was a great role model and I picked my major after taking his classes . I thought then I could hide these feelings for women . But I couldn’t and fell for a girl for the first time .my story is long . But I agree you need to wear both flags with pride .

  5. very hard to accept this, at times im ashamed of myself. But i want someone to fill this emptyness that can only be filled with another woman

  6. We still not understood women in this part of the world…We still believe women get raped just because the way they dressed and moral policing them…long way to go…We are not grown up yet…sadly :-(

  7. Hey everyone,
    It’s Sam, the author of the article. First of all, thank you all for taking the time to comment. Knowing that there are so many out there who take away something from my work makes the sharing so much more worth it.
    To all of you struggling with being gay or just being different, let me tell you this from my experiences. It’s pointless wanting to be like everyone else when clearly you are so much more. Embrace the difference, embrace the b.s. the world hands you, feel every emotion, I promise you will come out stronger for it.
    Have I mellowed down? Yes, I have. Enough to understand myself and the world around me, but not enough to lose sight of the good fight

  8. hey! thank you so much for being a great inspiration! I’m a 2nd year med student at Kolkata. Somehow, i have always been aware of my attraction to the same sex. But it was only over the past six months that i finally came to terms with my sexuality and accepted it.
    “short hair, boys’ clothes, gentleman manners, a way with the ladies…” This describes me too ( well, except hair. i wear mine shoulder length). I came out to two of my friends and I’m lucky they too it very positively. But I don’t think my family will do the same.
    My biggest fear, though, is not my family’s reaction. It is, being alone. Till today, i haven’t come across any lesbian around me. Even if i have, i don’t know, it’s such a hush- hush here… still, I’m holding on to hope that someday I’ll find my Princess!!

    1. yeah. my biggest fear is not acceptance from my family or society, its the fear of dying alone. its too sad majority of us prefer staying silent and act straight . its too hard being a lesbian in India.

  9. All the same feels. Bet there are a ton of south asians, indians, sub continent folks with similar stories waiting to be told. Probably the hardest is coming to terms with oneself. Everything else is secondary there after. Keep telling thesee stories till they are seen as mainstream. :)

  10. This is, wow, three years late.
    I’m 15 years old. I’m from Kerala, but I don’t live in India. Let’s just say my family and myself stay in a place where being gay isn’t exactly appreciated. (A nice way of saying “punishable by death”.)
    My mother’s side is settled in Chennai, so I can relate to you. If you’re seeing this, know that I can relate, and I haven’t been able to do that before.
    When I was younger, I was pretty much convinced I was a boy. I played football with all the boys in my class while all the girls scorned me for being a ‘tomboy’, but funnily, I didn’t really mind. I was happy with the boys and that was that.
    But then we grew up, and the hormones began kicking in. Before I knew it, the boys were trying to kiss the girls and the girls mooned over them with all the soul they had.
    As for me, I tried so hard to fit in, even chose a boy and tried to “crush” on him, like all the others were doing. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t, and it seriously puzzled me.
    Seventh grade, and I couldn’t take my eyes off this one girl. I went back to my childhood thesis that I was probably a boy – this confirmed my desire to bind my chest with bandages, my fascination with girls and their bodies, short, short hair – people often mistook me for a boy.
    (I once went a whole half hour chatting with an elderly woman at the grocery store pretending like I was a boy. She kept calling me ‘son’ lmao)
    By eight grade, I’d learnt the drums, had electric blue tips for my hair, didn’t know the difference between mascara and eyeliner but knew how to work the consol my eighteen year old cousin brothers played with.
    I was called the ‘boy’ of my class. I can’t say I didn’t like it. C:
    Ninth grade, I started noticing one particular girl. We’d been friends for nearly two years, she was even in my gang. Squad. Whatever.
    Anyway, I remember looking at her one day – the way she tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, how her eyes crinkled into black crescent moons when she laughed.
    She was single handedly the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, Ruby Rose included in the list.
    I couldn’t muster up the courage to tell her, because it was so weird liking a girl then. Must’ve been our age.
    So I tried to let it slide, but it never did. She made my heart shake, bend and break. I fell into the rabbit hole.
    And I went nearly every day cursing myself about what a fuck-up I was.
    But we got close, her and I. And something, SOMETHING about her screamed at me to not ever give up.
    I didn’t, and that wasn’t a mistake.

    Slowly but surely, it begun. Her lingered fingers on mine, secret smiles from across the room, meaningful hugs. And eventually we were kissing, in our own universe, and feeling her relieved smile on my lips – it was brilliant. Is brilliant.

    She still makes my heart shake, bend and break.

    c:

    p.s. sorry if this is kinda cheesy or unrelated, but I don’t talk much and words don’t come easily to me either.

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