NRI Voice: The American Dream
Coming out to an Indian family is very challenging, says United States-based Cornell student Narayan Reddy.
Narayan Reddy, a junior at Cornell University majoring in American Studies, was born and raised in the United States. But his Tamil parents ensured that he and his sister stayed close to their culture.
“It’s in the food we eat, the movies we watch, and the local Tamil communities we’ve been a part of wherever we have moved across America,” Reddy tells Little India. “Unfortunately, I was never taught the language or wasn’t classically trained in any art form — music or dance.”
Reddy was born in San Antonio, Texas, and has lived in five different American states. For the last 14 years, Manassas, Virginia has been his home.
Reddy realized that he was gay when he was in the fifth grade but repressed his feelings for a long time. It was his brown identity that helped him suppress his inclination, he says, as romantic feelings are often strongly discouraged in many Indian societies.
The 20-year-old student writes profusely about the issue of sexual orientation and tell us about the challenges he faced all these years.
Growing Up Queer
Coming out to your family is always difficult and being born in an Indian family adds up to those difficulties. The families I saw around me pride themselves on the successful lives of their children — mostly because they make it to high ranking schools, could go on to become doctors, and of course, who they will marry. I was considered an ideal son in high school since I showed no interest in girls and concentrated on getting good grades.
My family, I feel, is more progressive than some other Indian families I know, but even then, they wanted me to become a doctor. When careers are pre-decided, things like their child is queer is not even in the realms of possibility. It made me feel like it was impossible for me to come out to them as it would destroy the life they dreamt for me and would also tarnish their reputation in the community.
I feel that parents from other cultures are surprised when the news is broken to them and worried about how the child will cope with it in the future. But when it comes to Indian parents, there is so much that is associated with a child’s identity, making the experience that much harder to go through.
I have fully come out to my sister and she has been nothing but supportive ever since. My psychiatrist told my father, without my knowledge, that I might need “LGBT support groups” and at that point, I told him that I was gay. Initially he asked me if I had AIDS and later he said that he sort of understood a little more about why I was so broken up, considering this was in my head too.
That was more than a year ago. We haven’t really talked about it much since. He still thinks it’s because I’m sexually frustrated and it’s just a phase and that I will probably marry a girl in the future.
However, once he told me that being gay doesn’t have to define me, and I could still be whatever I want regardless, which I really appreciated. It was more than I could ever ask from an Indian father. He or my sister never told my mom, but she was snooping around on my Facebook profile and found a picture of me in drag (Rocky Horror production at my school) and repeatedly asked me if I was gay. I kept denying it, but I think she has a hunch that I was lying and hasn’t broached the topic ever since.
Currently, my parents are aware about it but don’t want to bring it up, and hope that one day it will go away on its own. But I am hopeful that eventually they will accept it and make peace with it.
Dealing with Guilt
I hold a lot of guilt for who I am, but I’m slowly dealing with it. I know a big part of why I still feel those things are because of the culture I belong to and have been raised in. It has taught me that I should feel guilty for who I am as it destroys all the dreams my parents had for me — dishonoring their sacrifices as immigrants to this country.
There is definitely a bigger emphasis on appearance within the queer community, especially with queer men that isn’t nearly as strong in straight men. In the community I have grown up, caring about things like fashion, hair or skin-care was a sign that you didn’t care about studying or your future. If boys expressed a liking for these things, they would say, “oh so now you’re a girl.”
I never cared about my appearance since I never really put myself out there until now. But now, I have realized that it’s perfectly normal to want to feel good about myself, for myself. Honestly, the culture I was raised in, and being Asian American in general, is also a big part of my identity that I don’t intend to renounce.
Facing Discrimination in the Community
The student body is generally accepting of queer identities. So, I don’t really worry about someone yelling a homophobic slur to my face while I’m walking across campus. I do still try to act “straight” when I’m talking to someone who doesn’t really know me, but other than that I’m relatively comfortable now. However, it’s a problem that this queer acceptance is very white.
I went to my first formal organization, made by one of the queer students, at Cornell last semester, and I felt really isolated. It didn’t feel like I related to their queer experiences. I ended up talking to this other gay South Asian student I knew. There is a lack of supportive space for queer people of color at Cornell. There are more factors to consider before we can all fully celebrate and be proud of being queer.
Friends as a Support System
It took me a year to come out to my friends in college, or even make friends in the first place. My hall was filled with computer science majors who all became my friends during freshman year. I was very scared that they would find out about my gay identity. We didn’t really talk about things like being queer in the first place, for the most part they talked about coding and I just added comic relief to the group. I came out to one of them who checked in on me throughout freshman year. He was the most empathetic and socially aware of the bunch.
I’ve also had some nearly lifelong friends — kids who grew up with me in our little Tamil community. Unfortunately, they figured out I was gay, and have used it to harass me since then. I dread seeing them now and I haven’t come out to them. It’s sad that I grew up with these people!
I think that it’s just another indication that being queer is such an overdue conversation within our community at large and should be addressed soon.