The problems faced by the queer community are unique to the country they reside in. While we all agree that a lot of progress is made by now, we still have a long way ahead. On that note, let us meet Alyy Patel. Alyy is a 23-year-old gender-fluid ‘womxn’ with Gujarati roots. She was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. And here’s her story.
Realizing that I was different:
It wasn’t this huge one-time realization for me. I dated this girl in grade 9 — I dated her before I knew what gay/lesbian meant in a Western context. I was never exposed to LGBTQ+ so I didn’t know that two women dating was seen as “unacceptable” or something that required a special label. She told me she liked me. I initially said something along the lines of presuming I like guys, and she said something along the lines of thinking she did too until she met me.
Eventually, I thought about it for a day and remember talking to a friend that told me all women feel a bit more affectionate towards each other but I have always liked boys therefore I am straight. So I called this girl and told her I liked her too. Then we started dating.
The only time I actually conceptualized my relationship with her as a gay relationship was when other students started asking if I am a lesbian because of my relationship. The only time I had heard the word lesbian in prior was grade 5 when a classmate called me a lesbian — I didn’t know what it meant and he refused to tell me what it meant so I came home and asked my Dad. He said it was a bad word that I should never say again.
Meeting My Partner:
Praanee saw me at Pride Toronto’s 2018 Dyke March. I wore a shirt that said ‘not all lesbians are white. Praanee pointed it out to her friends. The representation of queer South Asian womxn excited her. However, we didn’t get a chance to speak that year. Fast forward to Pride 2019, Praanee saw me on a mutual friend’s Instagram story and asked them for an introduction, after explaining that she had seen me the year prior. We connected shortly after and planned our first date at Glad Day Bookshop– a queer cafe in Toronto’s Gay Village, that is very special to me. We immediately bonded over our common experiences and here we are now!
Problems South Asian Queer Community face in Canada
Microaggressive racism and erasure that invalidates the possibility of being queer and South Asian is a big one. Racism more broadly is a huge one, and the problem of invisibilization perpetuates it because no one sees anti-Asian racism as an issue that needs to be dealt with. We don’t even exist at the margins of the LGBTQ+ community and South Asian communities. They outright ignore us. For this reason, it’s really difficult finding each other as a community to resist our invisibility.
How I became the founder of the South Asian Queer Womxn Community
My queer activism started in grade 11 or 12 (2012 or 2013). The love for my community drove me to do this. There was a desire to make spaces better and increase representation for others alike. I didn’t have any queer representation growing up and it felt incredibly lonely. My wholehearted goal since I started until now has just been to ensure that the next generation doesn’t have to feel as alone and invisible as mine did. I founded the Queer South Asian Womxn’s Network (@QSAWnetwork), I do research into racism experienced by queer South Asian womxn, and I use my platforms for related advocacy purposes. I also work to advocate for increased visibility of queer Desi womxn in mainstream LGBTQ+ spaces.
My Advice For Those Questioning Their Sexual Identity
Please don’t let white LGBTQ+ culture be your first exposure to queerness. Any racialized queer representation is better for understanding your own identity or homosexuality in general. I cannot stress enough how important it is for your initial exposure to LGBTQ+ concepts to be culturally sensitive. White LGBTQ+ representation tends to be homonormative and capitalistic, which makes it difficult for QTBIPOC to relate to it.
Also, if you’re a queer South Asian looking for community/representation, check out the Queer South Asian Womxn’s Network (FB/Insta/Twitter: @QSAWnetwork). Whether or not you decide to come out, immersing within a queer desi community is a really meaningful experience. Many of these virtual communities are sensitive in regard to identity confidentiality, which makes it better/safer. It is also important to remember that you are still extremely valid even if you choose not to come out — it doesn’t make you any less queer. People love you, no matter how you choose to express your queerness.