Five questions with amazing queer South Asians from around the world

Param Singh

BACKGROUND

What was it like growing up?

It wasn’t difficult at all; it felt normal, the first crush, those feelings and all those tricks to see and meet my crush all of it just felt very natural. Sometimes I wondered why am I attracted to males and my mates are to females but I didn’t care about finding why that was. God knows how many times I fell in love in my teens and growing up in India around those Bollywood movies and music just made life just like a fairyland. So I embraced it because to me to love someone and show your affection was beyond the issue of gender and race. And this was taught to us in Gurubani or Sikh Bible.

Anyway life isn’t a story from some fairy tale; after I graduated from college family members started talking about my marriage and all that stuff. My whole world fell apart, I had no idea how to express myself to them; I am the only one I know who’s attracted to same sex. I was in such a dark place for a few years. Anyway with some other family issues around no one bothered to talk about my marriage for a few years. Deep down I knew that this isn’t going to work in India, even if I tell them about me (mind you I had no courage at that point in my life) there is no way they gonna say yes it is okay to be gay and we will accept you and love you no matter what.

COMING OUT

How did you come out?

I moved to Australia at the age of 23 for university and few years later I had graduated and was working as a teacher. Well that was the perfect timing for my parents to say son lets get you a wife. I was like here we go again lol. I was dating someone at that time. Everyday the nagging of my parents and relatives created some sort of chaos in my life. I thought to myself this is not what I want. It’s my life, I need to live the way I want. They need to be told the truth about my sexuality. I wasn’t going to say yes to whatever they had to say and agree to marry a girl. So I sat down with a glass of wine and thought do I really want to marry a girl, make family happy and ruin her life or I can tell them the truth, be the worse son ever, save someone’s life and release that pressure off my chest. Well I chose to come out. And it was one of the best decisions of my life that I have ever made. My parents denied it and one of Aunties (that lives in Delhi thought she will have an open mind but I was wrong), she also denied it and suggested few other things that I wasn’t going to do. Few years later same stuff happened again I had to explain them again (This time with some details). Mum still talks about me marrying a girl and I always go “mum you know what I want”. Anyway cat is out the bag and is alive.

INSPIRATION

What has been your inspiration in life?

Coming to Australia was another best choice that I made. This culture and way of life have helped me to grow as a human and except who I truly am. There’s a lot more freedom here as compared to India in so many ways. Exposure to media, lifestyle and culture truly inspired me to learn about different genders, races and individuals. Speaking of media I came to know about few tv shows like Queer As Folk and Sex & the City. Well let me tell you these two shows and stories in it gave me a huge amount of confidence to do things that I would never do. Samantha Jone’s character in Sex And The City and her attitude towards living life to the fullest without worrying about what others have to say influenced me so much. All of this helped me so much to say that I am a gay Sikh, I am proud of who I am and I am going to embrace it no matter what.

ACHIEVEMENTS

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

I will say my greatest achievement is the lifestyle that I have now have which I always dreamed of in my teen years. I have the real freedom to love anyone, freedom to say to this world that I am a Gay Sikh and freedom of living my life the way I want. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t come to Australia and travelled around the world.

MESSAGE

What is your message to the world?

I would say to others, be strong. I know it is easy to say but as our Shri Gurus have taught us to fight for the truth, you need to fight for yourself and your truth. Stop pleasing others.  You will exhaust yourself if you think you can please everyone in your life. It is your life, know the value of life and every day in it, make the most of it,  live every day of your lives as it is your last day. It is not going to be easy; I still have some bad days even now. You deserve to be respected, you deserve happiness and you deserve to fall in love and be loved.

Param Singh is an out and proud gay Sikh male living in Australia.  We here at Sher Vancouver, think Param is a role model for young queer people of colour everywhere.  If you have any questions and/or want to share your feelings with Param, feel free to contact him via facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karam.param  or instagram:- singh_brah

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Photo Credit:  Agnes Kiesz of Pure Studios

CHILDHOOD

What was it like growing up?

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and growing up as a child had its good and bad memories as was the case for most of us.

Good memories are that I had a lot of love from my family and I knew that – there was a lot of love between all of us. My mother is the youngest of 14 children and her entire family lived in Toronto, so I grew up surrounded by all my loving aunts and uncles. I had a lot of cousins as well. In many ways, my family, both immediate and extended was my first step into the real world, it was the first society I encountered and the first human connections I built.

It was tough growing up because I felt different and often times ostracized from the rest of my family. I grew up in a very large family so my effeminate behavior was always compared to that of my male cousins. I was always told that the way I acted, spoke, the things I liked and my habits were not normal for a boy. As a result, I always felt odd and different in social settings because I was always scared of those abnormal qualities being highlighted in front of everyone and thus being made to feel humiliated or embarrassed because of it. My dad was very embarrassed about it, so I was always conscious not to ignite any discomfort for him in social situations.

My parents are from South India but born in Fiji as is all my family.  We originally came from Chennai centuries ago.  My mother is Hindu and my father is a baptized Christian.  I grew up learning about both religions but today my religion is “self-love.”

COMING OUT

How did you come out?

I don’t like to use the phrase ‘coming out’ because it implies that the first realization or social acceptance occurs only when you decide to be open about your sexuality. The truth is, there is a step and an entire process that comes before that – a journey of self-acceptance, self-acknowledgement, and the process to find the will, power and courage to acquire and move forward with a new sense of self and a newly formed identity. It’s tough work!

When I chose to tell my parents that I was gay, it was an “I thought I knew my son” kind of moment for both of them. It was the first time in my life where I was openly sharing myself with my family and the first time they would have to start defining me or looking at me as an individual existing outside of their social norms and expectations.

When I told my father, he had a very negative reaction. He has not disowned me and he continues to maintain a relationship with me though we don’t acknowledge my sexuality. My mother was very calm and supportive in her initial reaction and in many ways it allowed me to have the ‘beautiful moment’ that many wish to have when they come out to their parents. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out that she had cried herself to sleep and was very confused.

Later, I found myself explaining to my parents the difference between a gay man, a transsexual, a lesbian and a cross dresser – I realized that both of them never knew what being gay was or what it meant. My parents grew up in a very different time, and with a set of cultural and social standards and responsibilities that I cannot identify with – they need to be understood just as much as anyone else. Telling them I was gay acted as a catalyst, which led to conversations where we all started to discover one another. This discovery exists on a completely different level. It’s tough, but it’s beautiful at the same time.

Over the years, I have kept an ongoing dialogue with my mother and we have very light hearted and candid conversations about homosexuality. I encourage my mother and father to ask questions when they feel the need to. We’re open about it! I don’t have a negative reaction to anything they say and I don’t take things personally – I put myself in their shoes and I try to understand the world from their perspective so that it can be a productive and enlightening conversation for all of us.

INSPIRATION

What has been your inspiration in life?

My family inspires me – and it’s inspiration that I have only recently come to fully realize and acknowledge. We’ve all been through a lot together in our lives, individually and as a family. Now I feel that life has brought us back full circle – to each other. We all have a sense of acknowledgement and respect for each others individuality and how we function today as a family unit. Today, we look back at the things we have been through, the things we have said to one another and situations we have encountered and together, in that reflection we are inspired by one another.

With that said, I am truly inspired by my mother and grandmother. They are two very strong women and have shaped my journey as a person.

ACHIEVEMENTS

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

I truly think the struggle I faced in my life was finding self-love, self-respect and the will and power to be who I was. Once I was able to acknowledge that and find happiness, pride and love in it for myself, I was able to share myself with others. To me, that is an achievement. I was in the ‘dark’ for a very long time, and I saw the light and now I am fully bathed in it. Life is a struggle, but I conquered the biggest one, being myself. I am still on that journey today, but the rest of life I am sure will be a piece of cake…challenges and all!

MESSAGE

What is your message to the world?

My message to the world is to be yourself, to love yourself and always value yourself. We face so many instances in life that put all of these into question in our eyes and in the eyes of others. It should be our mission to never let go of who we are once we find that comfort and that level of inner piece.

For those of us still on the journey to discover our true selves, just know its always a journey and it will never end. Once you find your inner piece and self-acceptance you will always evolve and I wish you all nothing but love and luck!

BIOGRAPHY

Daniel Ashwin Pillai is a celebrated Producer; Director and Host/Media personality whose passion for telling stories have landed him as one of Canada’s most sought after entertainment experts.  Like many in the media and entertainment industries, Daniel’s passion for entertainment began as a young child while watching Bollywood movies with his aunts.

A strong writer and project manager from the onset, Daniel moved on to pursue English literature at one of Canada’s leading universities, the University of Toronto.  After graduating with an Honours Bachelor of Arts, Daniel worked to obtain a Masters of Arts in Communication and Culture from the joint program at York and Ryerson University. Daniel’s educational pursuits didn’t end there, in 2010, Daniel graduated with a Graduate Diploma in Asian Studies from York University and in 2011, Daniel earned a Post-Graduate Certificate from the University of Toronto’s Public Relations/Publicity Marketing program. Daniel is also a certified ESL (English As A Second Language) Instructor and has dedicated his time to teaching the English language, both spoken and written to new migrants to Canada through various educational programs at University of Toronto and Centennial College.

With his commitment to education and desire to constantly learn, it is no surprise that in less than five years, Daniel Ashwin Pillai has quickly become one of the go-to experts for all things entertainment in Canada, especially Bollywood cinema.  A notable figure on many red and green carpets across the world, Daniel’s energetic personality and commitment to fact finding and thorough research have landed him interviews with some of the Bollywood and Hollywood’s largest celebrities.  Notable interviews by Daniel include: Hillary Swank, Freida Pinto, Adrien Brody, Alan Cumming, Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014), MASSARI, Celebrity Fashion Designer Naeem Khan, Nazneen Contractor, Sakina Jaffrey, Rob Stewart, and David Rocco. Daniel has also conducted interviews with notable Bollywood celebrities and personalities such as Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Rani Mukherjee, Priyanka Chopra, Neha Dhupia, Dia Mirza, Vidya Balan, Zeenat Aman, Parineeti Chopra, Anushka Sharma, and Jimmy Shergill – just to name a few.

Having taken over the helm at ANOKHI MEDIA as the Director Of Online TV in 2013, Daniel produces, directs and hosts  two of ANOKHI MEDIA’s Online TV channels: Pulse TV and Spotlight TV while also training new on-air talent, and showing budding producers, directors, camera operators and editors the real deal when it comes to media and entertainment.

Daniel was also a regular contributor for OMNI TV’s hit National Entertainment show “Bollywood Boulevard” has published several celebrity interviews, movie reviews and editorial pieces for The Wall Street Journal. Daniel has been featured in well-known news outlets across Canada including The Toronto Star.

Daniel’s insightful interviews and energetic personality on camera have made him a must-have at every well-known red carpet across Canada. As a prominent media professional, Daniel lives in North Toronto and devotes his free time to various human rights initiatives.

Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/DanielPillaiOfficial

Twitter  @Daniel_Pillai

Instagram  @daniel.pillai

Email  daniel.pillai@anokhimedia.com

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What was it like growing up?

Interesting!

Born and raised in Pakistan (growing up all over) till the age of 18, I went to college in the US and lived there till 2005.  Now I call Vancouver home and am a proud Canadian of Pakistani origin.  Growing up in Pakistan was interesting.  I always knew that I was “different”, and was made aware of that in cruel ways and taunting jeers by my peers.  When I came to the US for college I was able to finally think for myself.

How did you come out?

Slowly!

I realized at the age of 23 that I am fine, normal and not alone.  I came out to myself.

When I did come out to others, I came out in college in a very inclusive environment surrounded by close friends.

I had being doing Improv Comedy with a college troupe for some time and they were the first to know. So Improv has been a huge creative outlet and source of support in my life. I still pursue this passion through Queer Prov –  I am a Main Cast Member, and current President of the Society behind it.

Coming out to my immediate family was (and still can be ) an uphill struggle.  At age 23, I was dealing with the labels the American society felt necessary to categorize me by: Muslim, Pakistani and now an openly Gay Man.  Yet none of those made sense to my Pakistani family.  I was the first one who had come out in our family, which is a Western and New World concept.

I was put through some harsh realities and learned some tough life lessons.  And so did my family.  I learned to be patient and forgiving – a tough lesson but it took a long time for me (and my family) to learn.

Things are not perfect but I am finally at a point in my life where I can proudly tell my near and dears ones that this is who I am, this is where I am at and you can meet me here!

 

What has been your inspiration in life?

One Word:  Family

My Step-Grandmother was a Woman who went against the tides.  I grew up admiring her grace and her courage.  She survived the brutal Indian Sub-continent partition, sacrificed her marriage so that her Husband can have children and raised her late Husband’s family as her own.  She lived a good life and defied all odds to stand up and support what she believed in: Her Family.  

This zeal for life was passed down to my Father (not her biological son) who also excelled in what ever he set his mind to.  I am inspired by them daily and aspire to achieve such greatness through such humble deeds.  

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

Staying True to Myself:

When I look back at where I started my journey and where I am at now, I feel like I have traveled the world in order to be myself.  Yet during this journey I never lost sight of who I am.  I was raised to be an honest person and that foundation has brought me here.  I had stood against some incredible odds and challenges, sometimes knocked down by some great forces.  But I kept getting back up because I did not want to lie anymore and pretend to be someone I am not. I was just being honest with myself which in turn made me more open to others. And by doing that I was able to set myself free from years of subjugation, norms and expectations that were not true to me.  I become a better human – not just for myself but also for people around me.

What is your message to the world?

Take one step

One day (I know and hope) none of us will have to tell or explain to the world who we are.  Times are changing, things will evolve. But for now – Just be willing to admit to yourself who you are – honestly and sincerely – That is the first step.  Once you do that – you would surprise yourself.  I admitted to myself I am Gay.  I took that step for myself, and now here I am!

Aamir Khan was born and raised in Pakistan, lived in the US and now he calls Vancouver home.  He is a proud Canadian!

C2Logan_Smirk copyPhoto Credit:  Ian Brown

What was it like growing up?

I grew up in Ottawa, Ontario and I don’t think I realized I had an ethnicity until I was well into my teens. I remember getting sent home from Kindergarten because I had painted Kalamine lotion on my face. I was trying to have freckles like my friends did, but the brown crayon wouldn’t show up.  I was raised Catholic but I am unpractising.  My Mom’s family is from Goa and my Dad’s from Bangalore, India.

How did you come out?

I never liked school much, but one year….my mom saw I was happy to go. She asked what had changed and I told her I had a crush on my teacher but I wouldn’t tell her who. She took me to pick a bouquet and mentioned that it’s alright to have a crush, and to acknowledge it, but leave it at that…after all, it was student and teacher. When I gave my math teacher in Catholic school a bouquet of flowers, I think he was surprised….and just said, ‘Sit down’. I didn’t think anything of it…or make the connection. I was a happy kid with a crush that my mom said was ok.

Although I doubt she knew the crush was on a guy.

What has been your inspiration in life?

Sitcoms and comic books. They taught me everything from when to laugh to when to leave. Comics taught me a bit of Science, a bit of History, a bit of Art and how to leave space in a story for the audience to jump in. Sitcoms taught me there is a rhythm to language and that presentation of a story can almost be as important as the story itself.

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

My goal as a six year old was ‘to be in a film’….so I did that. Then I started producing books, and my book ‘dr.a.g.’ was chosen as a VIP Gift at the Sundance Film Festival and I was given a commendation by the Governor of Nevada. I’m excited for the sequel ‘Burlesque’, which we’re in the midst of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for.

However, I’m most proud of a little novel for kids I wrote about a penguin who wanted to fly. It really taught me I could tell a story well, and that book is in my heart.

What is your message to the world?

As an actor, as a writer….and as a book producer…my message to the world is that – Everyone has a story worth telling. Just make sure you know who you’re telling it to, so you can tell it in a way they can hear. Don’t lose your message in the mire.

Christopher Logan is an actor (Connie and Carla, Saving Silverman, Tron Legacy, Once Upon A Time) based in Vancouver, B.C. who produces books that celebrate diversity and inclusion in order to raise funding for independent film.  For more information check out his website at http://www.bookthefilm.com and his Kickstarter fundraising campaign at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1369663719/the-burlesque-coffee-table-book

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dr.a.g. Cover Photo By:  Austin Young

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BURLESQUE Cover Photo By:  Karl Giant

Photo Credit:  Cristóbal Guerra

What was it like growing up?

I grew up in a predominantly white, socially conservative, middle-class environment in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I was an only child; my parent divorced when I was in middle-school. I come from a bi-cultural background; my mom is Gujarati and my dad is Kannadiga (from Karnataka), both Hindu. It was confusing and challenging to navigate all the cultural dissonance in my life and while I struggled, I know I had an easier time than many other young queer kids of color.

 

How did you come out?

I feel strange about the term ‘coming out.’ It feels very binary (in and out) and that does not feel natural to me. Telling my parents that I wasn’t going to ‘marry a woman and have children’ was extremely difficult but liberating for me. I don’t advocate for everyone to open up to their families like this. For some, it isn’t safe. For others, there is no need to say it explicitly. Families have their own ways of understanding and incorporating queerness and there is not one formula.

What has been your inspiration in life?

My friends and chosen family are what inspire me. Their stories, their struggle, their resilience and their passions keep me going. I would encourage queer youth to lean on the people they trust. There can be such power to be found in building community.

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

I think my greatest achievement in life was allowing myself to find success. I define success as loving who I am, loving what I do and loving how I do it. I’m still working out the kinks but I think my greatest barriers have been my own self-sabotage. Convincing myself that I’m worth all the happy things that come my way was hard but I think I’ve got it down now.


What is your message to the world?

I find that we’re unduly hard on ourselves and each other, especially within communities fighting for social justice. I wish for us to be more gentle with ourselves and be more compassionate. I want to develop a politics of radical inclusion and love. I think that will take us a long way.

 

You can find out more about Uliya at http://www.uliyamusic.com

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Photo Credit:  Peter Ride

 

What was it like growing up?

My family migrated from East Africa, where I was born, to Toronto in the early 7O’s. It was a difficult time for visible minorities. Canada was not yet multi racial in any way and there was a lot of racism. I grew up in a violent, inner-city neighbourhood, which was challenging.

How did you come out?

I came out in degrees at first. To my brother and close friends initially. But then my parents found out and it all got fast tracked. They were horrified and tried to convince me to ‘change.’  But now, after many years of working at it (on both sides), they are supportive and accepting.

What has been your inspiration in life?

Other artists have inspired me. The work of pioneering South Asian queer artists like Pratibha Parmar and  Sunil Gupta. Toronto artist-activists like Richard Fung, John Greyson and Dionne Brand used their work about queer politics (amongst other issues) to form public queer identities and then forge communities –I was lucky enough to be part of those communities. Feeling part of a community, even a movement, was vital for me in coming out and accepting my sexuality, and making peace with being South Asian and gay.

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

Relationships: my supportive and accepting relationship with my parents; and my 22 year old relationship with my partner Peter Ride.

What is your message to the world?

To paraphrase Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of this revolution.” Finding—even creating—pleasures and joy, even in struggle, has saved me again and again.

 Ian Iqbal Rashid is an award winning Canadian poet, script-writer and filmmaker based in London, England. He founded Desh Pardesh in Toronto in the early 90’s.  For more information on Ian check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Iqbal_Rashid

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What was it like growing up?

I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines to a Sikh family. Growing up, I  often asked myself  What is love? What is sex? What is abuse? I did not fit in into societal norm that media tries to convey. I always knew I was gay, but I had to suppress it because it is not accepted in the hetero-mainstream society. Overcoming bullying as a child, sexually abused by a family member, introduced to sex in my childhood years, and confusion on the concept of religion, at home (Sikhism) and at school (Catholic) was also part of my growing up.  I had to define religion myself along the way in that everybody is treated with respect and equality,

How did you come out? What does that mean to you?

I came out to my parents who were visiting me in Canada at that time and my parents tried to push the marriage thing on me in order to get permanent residence as fast and efficient as possible. After I came out, statements from my parent’s were  like “This is abnormal, you need a psychiatrist,” ” why are you choosing this path?”, “That’s a sin in the eyes of Guru Nanak,” “Medicine will cure you,”  Until today, I’m 24. They are still silent on this topic and don’t want to discuss it. That’s fine with me, I have to live my life without regrets.  Coming out to me means freedom from the lies of media, coming out means to be proud as a person and create my own path by loving myself and fully understand the depth of life and my existence in this world.

What has been your inspiration in life?

My inspiration in life is the pain, struggle, and growth that I endured in my life. I am a spiritual person and always connected to God and the universe whether its sadness or happiness. I am inspired by myself and the experiences of other queer South Asians. The fight for existence, the fight for immigrant status in Canada, fight for being queer South Asian, and fight for independence is very inspiring for me and for others. Our life is not limited to one thought or one view what media tells us to believe. We just expect that we have to accept and love ourselves in order to attain full happiness and be able to love and appreciate others.

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

The greatest achievement is to love myself and to love God, universe, and higher power. To achieve permanent resident status in Canada despite being taken advantage of in the workplace. The perseverance and patience that I have achieved through conflicts and struggles in life. The love and support that I achieved from friends and acquaintances.

What is your message to the world? 

I would like to share to the world that always do what you love most and appreciate your life as a wonderful journey. There will be obstacles, but we just have to deal with it along the way and challenge ourselves so that we can strive and succeed in this world.

Everyone should identify what they are good at, not just blindly following others. Be unique and awesome and try to make a difference in the world.  Hard work will pay off in the end.

You’ve got one life and mind as well … make the most of it and bring Change and Empowerment to the world.

Jaspreet Singh Chahal is a gay activist and Sikh immigrant based in Surrey, B.C. He is proud to officially become a permanent resident after seven and a half years of living in Canada.  Jaspreet is currently employed as a sales representative.

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What was it like growing up?

I was born and raised on the beautiful island of Fiji, tradition territory of the Polynesian and Melanesian people.  My ancestors were brought from India as exploited indentured labourers to work on sugar plantations established by the British colonial government. When Fiji gained independence in 1970, a controversial and racially divisive constitution was created followed by violent military coups that continues today in the subjugation of Fijians born from Indian ancestry. I was born in 1979 in a racially tense environment. While I questioned my sexuality at an early age, my racial identity took precedence. My extended family moved to Canada in the early 80’s and my family fled Fiji in the late 80’s to Vancouver which is the traditional territory of the Coast Salish People.  This became our new home. Here, my knowledge of colonization and its effect grew and I found amazing friends who supported my passion for justice and together we found love and light.

How did you come out?

I knew I was different when I was 10, I came out to myself when I was 13, but didn’t come out to my family and friends until I was 15; those 2 years in-between were among the loneliest. I came out to my family because everyone in school already knew and I wanted my family to hear it from me directly. There was a lot of confusion and tears, not to mention the fear of what extended family members would say or think. My family came to Canada for a better life and I felt that pressure and obligation. I started a gay/straight alliance in my high school because I was sick of hearing all the hatred while some teachers and adults turned a blind eye. The GSA was the first such group in any high school in BC and partly because of the colour of my skin, it became a juicy news story for the media. My extended family learned of my sexuality through the news on TV. Half of my extended family disapproved, falsely blaming my family/mother for raising me this way and the other half understood who I was. Through many difficult conversations over the years, my family has now become incredibly close and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive family.

What has been your inspiration in life?

I am inspired by people and their courageous stories of struggle in challenging systemic forms of oppression personally and politically; speaking up and speaking truth to power without taking power from anyone. The love and understanding provided by my mother is a constant inspiration in my life. Being surrounded by friends who do so much good in our world keeps me on my toes! My husband of 14 years. Sometimes when we are with family, my husband, who is white, says something or does something that shakes our cultural norm and that helps me question all the ‘norms’ we’ve built into society; what was once not talked about, is now open for discussion.

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

To question tradition without losing history, to adapt without losing integrity, to live my values without being swayed by populist ideals, being surrounded by loving friends and family, to be constantly learning on ways of doing all of this better.

What is your message to the world?

If we spoke up when we witnessed injustice, if we challenged ourselves to practice what we preached, if we treated each other equitably and with dignity, if we were to unleash our creativity to its maximum, just imagine the world we would have created for each other.

Romi Chandra Herbert is a social justice activist, facilitator and educator helping to build inclusive communities around the world.

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Photo Credit:  Brittany Kwasney – Bright Photography

 

 What was it like growing up?

 I grew up in an affluent Sikh household with parents who valued social status and “what would people say” more than anything else. My actions or inactions would either add or delete from the family standing in society. I always questioned the status quo, especially the treatment of girls and women, which soon made my parents view me as the troublemaker and as someone that needed more controlling. I felt I never belonged in India and often felt infuriated by the treatment of women, yet helpless to be able to make a change. I often felt alone in questioning the world around me as everyone else seemed blind to what I was seeing and feeling.  Everything in my being made sense when I immigrated to Canada at 13. All of a sudden I found myself in a world where it was ok to be an individual and express myself.

How did you come out?    

I was 18 when I came out to myself. I never questioned it. It was like, huh…..this feels absolutely right. So right that there is nothing to question about it. I lost a couple of friends, but I never seemed to struggle with it. I had some deeper sense within me that knew that nothing could be done to change this and everything was ok as it was. My struggle came with my parents for 10 years who refused to believe I was gay. They thought it was a phase and that it would change. When it didn’t, they resorted to persistent unkind words at which point I made the hard decision to cut ties with them. Their shame of me and my life was not my burden and I choose not to be defined by their shame.  While I was waiting to be unconditionally loved and accepted by my parents, my life was passing by. I looked around and realised that I already had love and unconditional acceptance in my life. It came from my partner, friends and extended community so I decided to cherish and enjoy what I had and leave behind what I couldn’t change. Life has a way of surprising you. My brother recently reached out and it’s been great to slowly build a mutually respectful and accepting relationship with him. My door is open to my parents as well. Whenever they are ready to be proud of me and come to terms with my life. I am not waiting for them and fully at peace with things as they are.

What has been your inspiration in life?

Many things inspire me. The courage to experience this life on your own terms, audacity to think big and think differently and even the tree outside my window that sheds its leaves when it is time to let go and has no problem with change. The desire within each of our beings to always search for its wholeness and peace amazes me. The impermanence of life inspires me to fully be in each moment good, bad or indifferent.

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

Moving through this world as my truest self, proud and having created a life with my partner, friends and community that nourishes me and our community. I absolutely love my work. I get to create events and inclusive spaces that foster a sense of community, acceptance, pride and fun for all members of our community. It amazes me that all I had to go by was a niggling little feeling in my gut even as a child that pushed me to question the status quo and it wouldn’t let go until it created exactly what it was seeking.

What is your message to the world?

We have one precious life to live, be proud of who you are. You are perfect just as you are. Reach out for help and surround yourself with people that cherish and nourish you AND never forget to have fun!

Mandy Randhawa is the Event Producer at Flygirl Productions, one of North America’s leading lesbian event organizers. For Mandy, who grew up in an environment steeped in intolerance, creating exquisite opportunities for the queer community to experience wholeness and celebration is a way of sharing with others the influences that helped her through the hardest times – joy, spontaneity, and shaking up the dance floor.  For more information check out: www.flygirlproductions.com

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Photo Credit: Anirudh Thorat

What was it like growing up?

I was born and raised an Algonquin Territory on Turtle Island, also known as Ottawa, Canada. I had a middle class model minority immigrant upbringing in a household that was culturally Hindu in the 80’s & 90’s. I was surrounded by many people’s from around the world, but we were all considered minorities to a predominant White Canadian culture. I always had a feeling of being an outsider as I didn’t feel at ease within the “normal” of being a girl, “normal” of White culture, “normal” of “middle class South Asian” culture, “normal” in ways of loving I saw around me.

 

How did you come out?

Coming out happens everyday. But looking back I came out to myself around  the age of 10 or 11, but because of internalized homophobia and not having other Queer South Asians around I had a good decade of confusion, shame, and guilt. I also felt a lot of guilt about sexualizing other women in a way that I had been sexualized in traumatic ways as if I was replicating “the male gaze”. As I started to recognize this wasn’t the case, I came to love this core of my being totally connected to my spirituality  and emerged into my being as a Queer Polyamourous Fluid Femme (cuz my gender isn’t fixed either!)!!

I came out to my parents in my late twenties. There were some years of seeming acceptance, but they continually waver in their struggle to accept my being.

My extended family knows- many say they just want me to be happy and that feels so good. Others ignore it when it’s brought up. And there are others who don’t know or at least pretend that they don’t.

Some of the South Asian Community I grew up with knows and some don’t. There’s a lot of gossip, but I pulled away in my late teens as I didn’t vibe with that and I felt I wouldn’t be accepted. Based on some reactions from folks I have come out to, I think many would accept now. I hope.

 

What has been your inspiration in life?

I’m really inspired by the amazing Queer and Trans People of Colour I have met across Turtle Island (Canada & USA), and India who courageously make art, community, chosen family, and who live beyond the constraints and constructs of society. Coming out is not for everyone though, as some folks might face real danger in doing so, however by building with each other we can make spaces to hold each other in our wholeness.

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

Achievement and goals are funny things. Ultimately, the times I feel at greatest achievement is when I’m at ease and joy through acceptance of where I’m at in my journey. I feel the process of learning more about Yogic & Vedic practice and medicines, as well as making and sharing theatre and music have offered my being much healing, allowing me to enter into a state of wholeness. Being able to share the same with others’ at this point in my journey is so satisfying.

What is your message to the world?

My life’s work is dedicated to deconstructing colonial boundaries between art, traditional medicines, spirituality, and politics. To create and offer spaces that allow our communities to flourish beyond the trauma our systems have and continue to create.

Being queer asks me to move through the world with courage and the strength of vulnerability that allows journeying beyond the constraints of normalized ways of existing in our world that often fragment and disconnect ourselves from our own beings and each other.

Living this truth is honouring and reclaiming ways of being that were diminished through colonization.

It is rooting in deep spirituality and ancestral wisdom while cultivating a unique balance of “masculine” and “feminine” cosmic energies. It is having fluidity and flow in my gender and redefining how love is shared and expressed.

We have existed for Millennium.

For me being Queer is being in Purna/ Wholeness.

nisha ahuja is a theatre artist, actor, movement-based theatre creator, singer and writer who has created and performed across Canada, The Netherlands, and India.  she also shared Yogic medicine and Attmic energy healing. Learn more about nisha at www.nishaahuja.com

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