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