Thanks to an outpouring of support, we made our fundraiser goal in JUST FIVE DAYS!!! Thank you if you’re an A+ member or if you donated. This support means that Autostraddle can survive through January, that we’re okay for now. But as we look ahead to an actually pretty scary 2023, we have to acknowledge that we need more monthly A+ members on our side in order to continue to keep this space around. So many of our incredible writers and team members wrote posts for the fundraiser, and we’re going to run them through the 12th, during our Monthly A+ Member Drive. If you sign up at the $6/month level or higher as a monthly member before the midnight PST on the 12th of November, you’ll get a bonus pack of 4 stickers, too, on top of the usual perks. So, what do you say? Will you join?
When I first started delving deeper into queer media and narratives in 2019 after — what else — a bad breakup, I mostly found essays by people who knew they were queer but struggled with coming out. Essays, primarily, about broken connections with families that once loved them.
I don’t mean to diminish the pain of that story, but it isn’t mine.
The question I kept finding myself asking was what did it mean to come out when those bonds never existed in the first place? And inextricably tied in this was the question: what did it mean to be queer and South Asian?
I applied to write for Autostraddle with no expectation of ever getting hired but with a small hope that perhaps, I’d be able to tell my story, which I knew had to be bigger than myself. All of the Bollywood movies I saw growing up were a testament to the fact that mine and my family’s experiences could not be unique. But no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find that queer coming out story.
The story of how love didn’t exist in a family, wasn’t allowed to, couldn’t — love was a Western concept, after all, as my mother constantly told us growing up — and so it was easier for me to not feel what I knew I could never have. The story of how, having been raised in a culture where women’s bodies are endless sources of disgust and women’s lives are not their own, I stamped down my own desire. The story of how, even as queerness gained more public traction in the U.S., because white people were always the face of it, I could never see myself clearly for who I was.
Coming out stories are practically an icebreaker in this community, but I have long maintained that I don’t have much to say about mine: coming out wasn’t hard for me. Coming into myself — well, that’s another story entirely.
In one way or another, delicately or brusquely, people ask me, How? How could I have not known, not had an inkling, even an idea of it when I was younger? I always struggle with that question, because the real answer involves explaining the emotional abuse, neglect, and isolation I was raised under, and the lasting trauma that has shaped my life.
Three years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to use those words. I wouldn’t have been able to name it for what it is. I still remember, when my sister’s friend, a social worker, once observed, a decade or more ago, that our parents were emotionally abusive, how taken aback I was by her choice of language. I knew the circumstances we grew up in were not good and more than anything else, what we all sought was freedom. But to call it abuse? Surely not. Surely…
It’s incredible how deep denial can run, isn’t it?
From what I’ve read, from the advice questions that people have written in to us here, I think many of us who endured some extent of abuse as children, or who didn’t know we were queer until we were older, or both, can relate to that. Overcoming that denial is, in a way, a coming out of its own.
To come into myself, to really integrate my queerness as an essential part of myself, I needed to start telling the stories I had been holding in for so long. The stories that no one knew except my sisters, and at some point, we all stopped talking about them because we just wanted to live in the freedom of the present. I won’t speak for my sisters but for myself, at least — because I didn’t want my childhood past to define me. Because to do that would mean that unspoken sorrow and grief and pain were all I could ever have.
There are things that I’ve never told my closest friends, some of whom have known me for over a decade, since long before I knew I wasn’t straight, and have loved me every step of the way. They’ve all known for as long as we’ve been friends that I don’t have a good relationship with my parents but not why. One of my dearest friends once hesitantly and carefully asked me, over a year after we had become close, why I never, ever mentioned them. “I was afraid to ask, in case your parents had passed away or something,” she said.
Incidentally, the very first therapist I ever saw, when I was in college, once observed that I never, ever talked about love, except when I was talking about music.
There are emotions I’ve never had words for, things I didn’t know how to say, didn’t think I was allowed to speak of, quickly realized others would never understand, and so I drowned myself in music, letting the most despairing melodies I could find express the things that I could not. Love was one of those, sure, but there were others deep in that well, intertwined with it.
Several experiences over the last three years have made it possible for me to start to open up. But one of the definitive and most powerful ones has been writing here.
Autostraddle took a chance on me after the 2019 fundraiser. I had no professional writing experience and no training, and yet this space took me in with open arms. It is not an exaggeration to say that I would not be here right now, were it not for the support of readers like you.
I won’t say that it’s always been smooth sailing, but one of the things I appreciate about this team is the willingness to grow, and, in particular, Autstraddle’s real commitment to inclusion over the last three years. Having so many people of color at the helm has made a huge difference. Carmen and Kayla understand that I will never have a neat story that can be packaged nicely and ends with an easy moral. My essays are all open questions, all spaces for me to work through the ultimate question of my life, one that I’m not sure I will ever have a real or definitive answer to: What do I do with the childhood I had?
I cannot even begin to tell you the world of difference it has made for me to try to write through these memories, faded as they are, mere shadows but ones that continue to loom large over my life. I sent the very first personal essay I wrote for Autostraddle to my sisters, friends, and even old acquaintances who have supported me along the way. This was well over a year after I had already come out to all of them, after my first relationship had started and ended. But this was my real coming out, both to them and to the world.
Do you know, when I first pitched that essay to Kamala, I asked her if I could publish it anonymously, and she, of course, agreed. But after I finished it, I wanted to put my name and my face on it, set the words to the sound of my voice. This was my story, the best answer I could give to all the questions I have gotten about my family, about my love interests, about why I thought I was straight for so long, and I wanted the world to know it. I needed the world to know it.
Autostraddle gave me the space to, in the words of E.M. Forster, “choose a place where I wouldn’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all I am worth, facing the sunshine.”
I can’t think of a single other publication in the world that would have given an unknown, inexperienced writer that kind of opportunity.
I have so many stories in me, still, left to tell. This is only the beginning for me. But in order for me to continue, to continue to be seen, I need Autostraddle to continue, too.
This place runs on the continued support of readers like you. It simply couldn’t without it. And so, I am a paying A+ member and always will be, because it is the one small thing I can do to give back a tiny sliver of everything I have gotten from being able to write here.
There are so many others in this world, who have stories they need to share: to be seen and heard, to work through the experiences that shaped them, to come into themselves. Let’s make sure Autostraddle is around for them, too.
You can help do that by joining A+. Will you become a member and support Autostraddle today?