Five questions with amazing queer South Asians from around the world

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Five questions with award winning social worker and author Alex Sangha

Amar

Photo Credit:  Sandra Minarik

What was it like growing up?

I was born in Kent, England into a Sikh Punjabi Family.  My parents separated shortly after their arrival in Canada.  I was raised by my mother.  My mother was very spiritual, non-judgemental, and accepting about my differences and diversity including my sexuality.  My father still to this day has a hard time accepting my gayness, especially me being out and proud about it.

How did you come out?

I was not happy being gay in my teens.  I secretly went to see a child psychiatrist hoping to become straight.  Not surprisingly, this did not work.  The psychiatrist helped me accept myself and come out.  When I graduated from high school their was no internet and I had no cell phones and I didn’t know anyone who was gay.  I felt alienated, isolated, lonely, and depressed often.  I began to meet queer people at college and university and started to feel good about myself, especially when I discovered that people like Alexander the Great and Michelangelo were gay and/or bisexual.

What has been your inspiration in life?

My inspiration is the Creator and my mother.  I am very spiritual and feel God would not have created gay people if he wanted them to suffer.  I feel it is the duty of all people to help the marginalized, oppressed, and vulnerable and this includes gays and lesbians.

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

I am proud of launching the DOSTI project which is an anti-bullying, racism, and homophobia workshop as well as founding Sher Vancouver and creating a community of people where queer South Asians and their allies can connect, meet, find support, and not feel alone.  I am also proud of my third book Catalyst and the Dignity House project that I helped initiate.  Dignity House is a proposal to develop affordable housing for gay and lesbian seniors in Vancouver.  I am also excited about the Sher Vancouver Out and Proud Project because I feel it is an opportunity to create public awareness and educate the mainstream public about the issues queer South Asians face and the great things they accomplish everyday, everywhere around the world.

What is your message to the world?

My message to the world is learn to love yourself and the rest will take care of itself.  Be proud, be free, and the direction your life will take will be limitless.

Alex Sangha is an award winning social worker, author, and human rights activist based in Surrey, B.C.  For more information on Alex check out his website http://alexsangha.com. Check out  Alex Sangha on Culture Vulture to discuss his social discussion book Catalyst (4 minutes). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKBvXWG9PVU

Five questions with the multi-talented artist Vivek Shraya

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Photo credit:  Karen Campos

What was it like growing up?

Growing up in white Edmonton as a brown gender queer kid was isolating.  I was constantly reinforced that there was something abnormal about me.

How did you come out?

My experience of queerness hasn’t allowed for a definitive coming out moment. I have had to perpetually come out – to my friends, family, and co-workers. My shifting understanding of my own identities has involved perpetually coming out to myself – as bisexual, gay, queer, and a queer person of colour.

What has been your inspiration in life?

I am inspired by people who are passionate, who are devoted to working on being their best selves, who aren’t afraid of taking risks, who are able to seek out and experience joy. I am inspired by my mother, Beyoncé and queer & trans youth of colour.

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

My greatest achievement has been my perseverance as a human and as an artist. Everyday I have lived past 16 years old, and have dreamed of another day, feels like an accomplishment. Every art project I have made feels like a success, despite my own insecurities and an innate understanding of my limitations, despite not being formally trained in the arts, despite being told that I can’t be successful as a brown musician in Canada, despite being continually rejected by funding bodies.

I have dedicated most of my adult life trying to create and provide the kinds of resources and supports I didn’t have growing up, so I feel especially moved when a queer youth connects to my work.

What is your message to the world?

There is nothing wrong with who you are and who you are should be celebrated.

Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based artist working in the media of music, performance, literature and film. For more information on Vivek check out his website at:  http://vivekshraya.com.  

Five questions with award winning author and psychotherapist Farzana Doctor

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Photo Credit:  Vivek Shraya

What was it like growing up?

I grew up in Whitby, a small white town in Ontario. At the time, few people of colour lived there, and queerness was invisible. It took many years to come into my queer South Asian identity.

How did you come out?

I came out to myself after meeting two South Asian lesbians at a lesbian music festival in 1993 (at the time, I’d gone there as a straight ally because I’d heard the music was good!). I couldn’t make the connection between queerness and South Asian-ness until I’d met people who identified this way. Soon after I came out to my family, and I’ve been out to the entire family for almost 20 years. I’ve received a variety of reactions—awkwardness, concern, ignorance, support, celebration.

What has been your inspiration in life?

Writing is a huge part of my life. I’m inspired to write about human experiences of marginalization and resilience. How do we become better people? How do we get over terrible mistakes and traumas? How do we re-imagine and change the world around us?

What has been some of your greatest achievements?

I’m very proud of my novels, and that I won a Lambda Award for Six Metres of Pavement in 2012. It took many years to get my first novel, Stealing Nasreen to publication in 2007, and I’m grateful to the writers and readers who support my work. I believe that a creative practice like writing has the ability to change the status quo, to deeply affect our perceptions of the world.

What is your message to the world?

I think the process of coming out is a unique one for each of us, guided by our own experiences and privileges in this world. There can be a lot of pressure to come out, or to come out in a certain way. Sometimes this pressure comes from the dominant straight world and sometimes the queer community likes to “police” us. It’s really important that each of us expresses our sexuality, gender identity and brownness in a way that is authentic to ourselves first.

Farzana Doctor is an award winning author and psychotherapist based in Toronto.  For more information on Farzana check out her website at http://farzanadoctor.com

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