Hi crush monsters, this is Straddler On The Street, a feature where I celebrate all of you incredible Autostraddle readers by hunting you down, demanding you chat with me, and then writing about you on the Internet so we can all crush on you. Get excited, because butterflies in your stomach 24/7 is a fantastic way to live.
Header by Rory Midhani
Straddler On The Street: Dhati, 21
I met Dhati at The Strand Queer Ladies Speed Dating event in February, and it turns out that was the evening she discovered Autostraddle! A “totally awesome straight friend” dragged her to the event after Dhati came out to her, and the rest is history. Actually, the rest is in this interview that you should read, because Dhati is so interesting and also really sweet and obliging when it comes to my crazy requests (specifically, she told me she’d be happy to be a Straddler On The Street but she didn’t have any recent photos of herself, so I forced her to meet me in Midtown when I got off work one evening and engage in a madcap photoshoot all around Bryant Park…yes, I will go to great lengths to interview every last one of you!).
So who is Dhati? She was born in India, but moved to the Middle East when she was very young. She lived in Dubai for two years and then Bahrain for 14 years. She headed to California for university and is a recent grad from UC Berkley, which she says is the place that helped her out of the closet. She moved to Manhattan on Christmas Day of last year and is hoping to find steady work before her visa expires, but in the meantime she’s hitting the gym a lot and teaching herself Korean. Oh, and FYI, she’s totally single.
You went to UC Berkeley, and said being there “helped you out of the closet.” Can you talk about that?
I wasn’t out — even to myself — in high school and I was choosing between the London School of Economics (LSE) and Berkeley. For some magical reason, I really wanted to go to the super liberal Bay Area. Looking back, I think it’s because part of me knew I needed to be truthful to myself…the LGBT scene in Berkeley is so visible. In [my] sophomore year, I finally mustered my courage and went to a Queer & Asian club meeting. After the meeting, I SHOT OUT OF THE CLOSET LIKE A ROCKET to my closest friends. It was like I found my people.
That’s amazing. Did you start to come out to everyone after that?
I started slow. I worked as a Resident Assistant in the dorms at the time, so some of the first people I came out to were my staff because I trusted and worked with them and it’s a super inclusive, safe community. Then I slowly came out to my friends who were also my residents. When I started telling friends who knew me for longer, it was funny how a few of my older friends were totally not surprised. I think we all knew, but couldn’t say it.
You mentioned your family is somewhat conservative; are you out to them now?
I’m not really out to my parents. I tried to tell my mother, but I had to convince her that I was bi — I’m not — and will someday marry a man — preferably won’t. Now I can’t bring up that conversation and she pretends we never had it. My brother, on the other hand, is totally cool and supportive. And he also totally knew since third grade when he found my diary, haha…
Haha, typical older brother!
Yeah, looking back, I think he even gave my mum the diary. I don’t really remember much from what happened except that I felt like I had done something wrong. It’s funny, at that age, no one talks about sexuality, but I still knew I was different somehow… and that it was “bad.”
Ugh, that’s such a familiar feeling for young queer humans, I think. Can you talk about how you felt when you were younger, before you were out to yourself?
Like I said, I always knew there was something different about me. When I was younger, I may have believed I could grow up to be a man — don’t laugh — because I liked girls like men do. But I couldn’t tell anyone. Whenever people talked about crushes, I would say my crush was some guy who was nice to me at the time. I’d even ask guys out in high school, mostly hoping they would — and they did — turn me down so I could pretend to be upset and hung up about it.
I would never laugh about that. I know there are often misconceptions that many North Americans have about life in South Asia and the Middle East. Do you want to talk about your time growing up there — your own experiences with how it may or may not have impacted your sense of yourself and your process of coming out?
My parents are pretty traditional Indian parents and I grew up in the Middle East. Not really any outlets to be honest. I had a “girly” phase because my mum always commented that her “little girl” wouldn’t dress up and wear cute things. I think I convinced myself that I could do that. Totally couldn’t. Not to say that I don’t have the rare urge to look “pretty” or wear a dress, but I am more comfortable being a “tomboy.”
I wanted to ask about growing up in the Middle East — I’d love to hear about the ways in which it was difficult to be honest there, but also to hear if you think there are any misconceptions about life in the Middle East that people in North America subscribe to?
Well, I guess it [was] similar to growing up in regions of Asia where people are socially conservative and — how do I put this without scaring people? — raised kids with an iron fist. Very involved parenting. Now throw in a whole lot of religion and religious laws — maybe even compare them to the religious anti-gay protesters here — and you get a whole lot of confusion for out LGBT+ friends. Plus fear. It’s still illegal there to be queer, I believe, and it’s not even a great place for women’s rights, though Bahrain is more liberal compared to some of the other countries.
As for stereotypes about the region, well, it really depends on where you’re talking about. Bahrain isn’t a terrifying place to live — before the people started rebelling, but that doesn’t concern us foreigners — for anyone, really. It can be a pretty luxurious place too. But Saudi’s not a fun place to be a woman, let alone LGBT+. I’ve heard some terrible stories. But I dare say don’t put that impression on the ENTIRE region. I feel like as long as the religious laws dominate, civil rights progress isn’t really an option.
I feel a little jumbled in my thoughts about it. My childhood was great — I was safe, had a good education, plenty of freedom to grow up. But that’s because my family was well off there. It’s the same as here — money helps make things smoother, right? Even if you’re part of an oppressed class, it helps.
Yes, that definitely makes sense. Money can be the great equalizer I guess, even when things aren’t really equal.
Exactly. So I loved Bahrain as a child. Not so much as a young adult.
Moving into the future — you said you came to Manhattan a few months ago. What is your ideal plan moving for what happens next?
Erm…get a stable job? I really hope to stay in the United States. Just because it would be easier here. I’m staying with my awesome brother right now and trying to settle down. However, my heart was left in the Bay Area, so part of me still hopes I can go back there. But you know, if none of that happens, I guess I’m off to India when my visa expires.
What will you do if you move back to India? Or are you just hoping that won’t happen?
I am creating back-ups in India for sure. My father is a very organized person so it would simply not do if I wasn’t prepared for everything! As for the hoping it doesn’t happen, my perception of that has changed a little thanks to Straddler On The Street, in fact.
Oh! Tell me more!
One of the Straddlers On The Street — Jaime — mentioned what it was like to be queer in the South and how people move to follow LGBT+ friendliness. That’s totally what I was doing — trying to stay here because I could breathe a sigh of relief. But India has a vibrant and very brave LGBT+ community all over the country, especially in the big cities. They speak out, march, and deal with the consequences there for the sake of themselves and for the sake of others. It’s noble. And I feel that having had a taste of being out of the closet, I am not going to get back in. Maybe I’d join that cause. It’s one worth joining for sure and fighting for rights here is one thing, but there…each additional person is more valuable.
I’m so glad that reading about someone else’s experiences made you feel more comfortable. That makes me super happy. Moving away from some of the heavy stuff, I have to ask you my favorite frivolous question… do you have any celeb crushes?
Always an awkward question! I could be safe and default to Emma Watson, because damn!, or Charlize Theron, because hot damn!, but I have to be honest. As an insane fan of K-pop, most of my celebrity crushes are Korean singers. So if you really want to know, Jeon Hyosung [leader of South Korean girl group, Secret], Son Ga-In [member of Korean girl-group Brown Eyed Girls] and BoA [referred to as the Queen of Korean Pop] would probably be my queen crush. It was super hard to limit my answer to three of them, haha!
Yes of course I really wanted to know! I’m glad you were honest. Do you have anything else you’d like to share with the Autostraddle community?
Hi, community! Congratulations on finding something as awesome as Autostraddle. Now go share to all, so that maybe they too can find something to inspire them!
If you would like to be featured as a future Straddler on the Street, please email vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com. Include a few photos, 3-5 sentences about yourself and put “Straddler Submission” in your subject line. Approximately a million people have submitted so far, so please be patient as Vanessa goes through her inbox — you’re all sexy with really smart brains, and don’t you forget it!
DHATI. DIMPLES. YOU’RE KILLING ME.
Best of luck in your job hunt, for realz.
It always makes my heart sing whenever I see brown queers on Straddler on the Street! Dhati, our coming out stories are really similar, as I came out to my coworkers when I was an RA as well (but at San Francisco State).
I hope you can swing by the Bay sometime! It’s still pretty awesome over here!
agreed! huzzah for desi queers, and cheers from new york. dhati, you have the most adorable dimples on the face of the earth, oh my god.
Yay desi queers!
I’d been out as queer for a little while, but it was not long after I moved to the Bay Area and found my first girlfriend that I came out to my parents. Scary stuff especially because they were expecting a wedding with my ex-boyfriend (who had known I was lesbian for a year or so; he was there when I had my OH SHIT moment) and so a lot of it was letting their dreams down. I don’t look forward to having to leave the US, but I hear you on visas being a pain in the arse.
If you do come back here let’s hang out!
Eeeeeeee this thread of desi queers is making me so happy! Like seriously, I’ve had SUCH a terrible week but now I’m all giddy and fuzzy inside. My mother is Malayalee by heritage but raised up north, and while it took awhile for her to accept the fact that I was gay (in fact, I’m pretty sure I had the exact same bi-but-I’m-gonna-marry-a-man conversation with her) she is very accepting now, and I can even talk about crushing on girls with her AND SHE’S FINE WITH IT. Hopefully things go well with your parents, but in the meantime if you need to be fed/worried over in a way that only an indian mother can provide, you guys should totally visit me in ohio! seriously. if only becuase then she’ll have other people to worryfeed besides me and my brother :D
i’m malayalee as well! haven’t come out to my parents, though, waiting until i get my first degree before i face that hurdle. it’s good to hear your mother’s more comfortable with it now, though. and agreed, desi queer meetup is definitely necessary, with FOOD. bring on the porotta and curry I AM READY.
Yeah, I have a Malayalee mother and Tam Bram father. So I totally feel you haha.
I have faith in my mother, though, to eventually accept it. And sometimes I wonder whether dad knows, but is just in denial. You know how it is.
Desi queers what what! :)
I came out to my ‘rents when I was 19…my mom has come a LONG way in accepting it. My dad has never spoken about it. It does get better! But sometimes you have to wonder what they are thinking. The other day my mom made a comment about “when you meet a good man….” So, there’s still some work to be done. But at least she acknowledges that I have always dated females. Lol. So, there is hope!
If you think your knows, he probably does… I don’t think there’s a single person in my family I’ve come out to who hasn’t said some variation of “I guessed years ago.” Needless to say, this is not what I was expecting.
Honestly, my experience has been that the hard part is everyone saying it’s okay, and then refusing to talk about it ever again. So nobody rejects you outright, but it’s not like you get to be out and proud or anything– I’m still expected to keep up appearances. Maybe this is horrible, but sometimes I wish I had just been disowned.
Also I second/third/etc. a desi meetup, because I’m tired of feeling like I’m the only one! I would totally learn to cook for that.
“Honestly, my experience has been that the hard part is everyone saying it’s okay, and then refusing to talk about it ever again. So nobody rejects you outright, but it’s not like you get to be out and proud or anything– I’m still expected to keep up appearances. Maybe this is horrible, but sometimes I wish I had just been disowned.”
THIS THIS EXACTLY THIS
OMG I WAS JUST GONNA COMMENT ABOUT AUTO-DESIS!
Yep you definitely get the award for cutest smile/dimple!
Just freaked out about all of the kpop references in the crush section. BoA omgggggg.
Best dimple ever, btw.
DIMPLES O WOW.
No way HI DHATI! You were my RA!
OH HAI JAMIE! :D Didn’t know you were an Autostraddle reader! :P
Have been for awhile :P haha it was such a surprise coming on here and seeing your face and being all WAIT WHAT I KNOW THIS PERSON. Great article btw!
Ahhh Ga in and BoA lovelovelove…not only are you super cute but have great taste as well! :D
Ga In and BoA are flawless queens, autostraddle needs more kpop lovers in general :P totally loving your taste in music and you seem awesome :)
Haha I’d love to sit down with queer kpop lovers and try and figure out who’s queer in kpop.
As you prolly know, there’s a few tumblrs devoted to exactly that sort of speculation. Dhati-sshi, noril chongmal kyeowo yo. ^^
AhhhhH!!! Dhati!! I’m a resident at Putnam and I remember seeing you around last semester. We went to some event together with other RAs/residents. Dhati really is the sweetest person in real life you guys, no joke. It warms my heart to see you on this site!
Aaah! And you read Autostraddle (that makes you automatically cool)! I wish I knew you better before I graduated :(
Visas issues pretty much anywhere = yech. Best of luck with the job search (even though it’s pretty hard to beat Amber (f(x)) for general Kpop cool ;) )!
Despite having one of the cutest baby pics EVER, I felt the need to say this…..
“I could be safe and default to Emma Watson, because damn!, or Charlize Theron, because hot damn!, but I have to be honest. As an insane fan of K-pop, most of my celebrity crushes are Korean singers. So if you really want to know”
This the the second time I’ve seen Straddlers of color feel the need to put a disclaimer up before they list their crushes who are non-white celebs. Being attracted to women who may not be deemed attractive or may be overlooked by society’s standards or even lesbian society’s standards shouldn’t require an explanation imo.
DHATI! We danced at the last Stonewall Girlnation! So glad I know your name now.
What an amazing article. I just started a blog titled “Lindy the Lesbian Librarian” and would love to get feedback. It deals a lot with dating, and being a lesbian librarian.