When I asked one of my friends a while back of her first impressions of me this is what she said:
‘It was like you hated being Asian.’
I laughed at disbelief and went onto defend my position of how I didn’t hate being Asian but actually, once I went away and thought about it, she was right. I was a self-hating Asian. Now THAT is a sentence I have never said before.
When I was younger I so badly wanted to be Western; like, completely Western. I was rejecting my South Asian culture before the community even had the chance to reject me once they discovered my sexuality because that’s what I assumed would have happened once they found out. I appreciate just how silly it sounds but that’s genuinely how I felt for a long time as I was growing up and discovering myself and indeed my sexuality.
I saw the West as a liberal safe-haven with freedom whilst I felt the East was strict and conservative. Allah only knows just how shocked and lost I felt when I learnt through research for a university assignment that it was actually the British Empire that imposed the anti-sodomy laws in all of its colonies obviously including India (and subsequently the laws passed onto Pakistan and Bangladesh) which was strange at the time given that the other Western empires didn’t do so but anyway, I digress… Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about elevating one culture over another but rather realising that both have their strengths and weaknesses and that both are integral parts of me.
The saddest part for me in all of this has to be the impact that it has had on my ability to communicate or rather not be able to communicate in my mother tongue of Urdu/Mirpuri. I understand more of my mother tongue than I can speak in it and I certainly can’t write it, except for maybe my name. I can just about get by with day to day conversations like small-talk but nothing too in-depth. I find it incredibly frustrating when I am trying to talk to mama (my grandma) and I just can’t think of the words I need as she only speaks Urdu.
Recently, I have embarked on a journey to reclaim my culture and reconcile it with my sexuality. One of the ways in which this has materialised is through a project via Twitter through the hashtag of ‘#QueeringAsianDress.’ It was actually a friends hashtag that I adopted too. I love it so much because it allows me to be who I am in all my diversity and indeed hybridity (of Western and Eastern cultures) whilst also giving me the freedom to explore my culture and my sexuality at the same time through the medium of fashion or rather dress.
[Note for readers: For anyone reading this who speaks Urdu, Mirpuri or Hindi please communicate with me in these languages primarily and if it fails we can then resort to English to explain words etc until I get better inshallah. It will be very much appreciated!]