Writer and campaigner Aashi Gahlot on her new initiative, ‘SHOR – TO BREAK THE SILENCE’, an online platform that raises awareness about Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) issues witin the South Asian Diaspora community through creativity.
The terms “lesbian”, “gay”, “bisexual”, “transgender” and “queer” certainly do still raise eyebrows.
Unfortunately, they do not raise eyebrows in terms of being a pleasant surprise, but as the subject of contempt, ridicule and confusion; a fact that is particularly true within the South Asian Diaspora community.
The taboos and the silence surrounding the subject of being South Asian and LGBTQ not only prevents misassumptions to be tackled and make LGBTQ awareness possible within the community, but also takes away from many the basic human right to be themselves and to love without fear.
As a British Asian Lesbian I was fed up and frankly offended to find a wide selection of pornography, rather than resources related to being South Asian and LGBTQ, when I would Google for “Indian Lesbian”.
Sex being associated with LGBTQ lives takes away the human aspect, the emotional resonance and the simple fact that actually, we are exactly the same as every other heterosexual person: we fall in love, we break our hearts, we learn tough life lessons and we have amazing successes.
This unfair sexualised portrayal is what provoked me to set up ‘SHOR – TO BREAK THE SILENCE’, a creative online portal reflecting the truths on South Asian LGBTQ lives.
In Hindi, SHOR means to raise your voice, to make a noise, to be heard.
This is exactly what is needed if LGBTQ South Asians are to be accepted and respected as they are: as unique individuals.
Why creative work?
An area that SHOR focuses on is creative writing: short stories and poetry which are written by South Asian LGBTQ individuals around the world.
Stephen King once stated, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie”.
Creative writing has always been a powerful medium through which misunderstandings can be tackled and the many different realities can be presented as they stand.
Reflecting a wide range of issues faced by LGBTQ South Asians through creative works such as short stories, poetry and very soon, short films, SHOR believes that these truths of South Asian LGBTQ struggles and successes – LGBTQphobia and ignorance amongst South Asian society can be eradicated.
What is portrayed through these works is that LGBTQ persons are like any other member of society: unique individuals with their own experiences, dreams, hopes and fears.
For instance, through a lesbian short story “Baba”, a father visits his estranged daughter after several months and meets her wife for the first time. The fears and insecurities, as well as why the father chose to disown his daughter are explored: “But how could he make peace with himself when he had thrown out Astha? It wasn’t so much out of rejection but more out of helplessness, a strange feeling of wanting to protect her. She would be happier if he threw her out, free to live how she wanted. How she should.” (Author: Aashi Gahlot).
Through “Baggage”, a Transgender short story, a young woman who is born into the wrong gender, as male, struggles to confront reality. When she finally does, her mother does not applaud her on facing reality and being courageous, but scorns her:
“I knew it was time. I felt my legs shake, my throat become dry but I walked into the kitchen where my mom stood. I told her: “Yes. I want to be a girl”. She did not talk to me for a few days after my declaration. She scolded. She beat me up. This time it was serious. She reminded me about the family reputation. I choked back the feeling of vomit, suppressing it down my throat. She told me that what I am is a “hijra” (3rd gender). That I am running away from my life problems. What she couldn’t see is that I was finally facing my life problems. I took the ultimate bad decision to end it all. I tried to commit suicide. I failed.” (Author: Sani).
The short films, just like the creative written work, will reflect the myriad of LGBTQ South Asian experiences and enter the sparsely embarked territory of being LGBTQ and South Asian. There is a profuse lack of films made on LGBTQ South Asian issues and without this powerful resource it is no doubt harder to shed light on the issues faced and break down the myths.
Creative writing reaches out and resonates more with some; whereas films resonate more with others.
SHOR wants to provide both options to deliver the message of equal rights and respect for South Asian LGBTQ persons.
Who is SHOR for?
An accessible resource for LGBTQ South Asian persons and their supporters, SHOR aims to provide support and inspire hope for those who are LGBTQ and are experiencing LGBTQ related issues.
However, SHOR is also for those who do not approve of LGBTQ South Asians.
We believe that by tackling the misassumptions and confronting the taboo through creative work, understanding and acceptance towards LGBTQ South Asians can become a reality.
Why it is important to have created ‘SHOR – TO BREAK THE SILENCE’?
Many South Asian LGBTQ persons feel that they can never “come out” and embrace the reality of who they are. If they manage to do so, a lucky minority are accepted and supported by their families.
However, the majority are forced to keep their “behaviour”, their “lifestyle”, their “desires” a secret.
In fact, to keep within “tradition” and to keep the family honour, some opt for a “M.O.C” – A Marriage of Convenience, through which a gay Indian male will find a suitable lesbian Indian female to tie the knot with.
LGBTQ South Asians must realise that they can be themselves and stop their inhibitions from doing so.
That is the only way LGBTQ can ever become “accepted” – not through hiding but embracing reality.
Being “you” is a choice, although a difficult choice.
On the extreme scale, those LGBTQ South Asian persons who do come out are sometimes rejected by their family, believe that they must feel ashamed for being who they are or choose to end their lives.
Why should anyone, for whatever reason, be frightened, ridiculed, threatened or ashamed to be honest and live their life as they truly want?
Section 377, the law that “criminalised” homosexuality in India during the British Raj in 1861 was only lifted barely five years ago – in 2009.
Things are improving but not at a good enough rate.
The silence and taboo surrounding LGBTQ South Asian lives is not only due to the lack of awareness, but a fear of difference which is fuelled by ignorance and misassumptions.
Through reflecting the truths on South Asian LGBTQ lives, we are SHOR TO BREAK THE SILENCE
Help break the silence. Visit www.shorlgbtq.com.