For many South Asian queer and transgender individuals, addressing both their queer and trans identity with their Desi families is akin to a balancing act. But an anthology, which recently celebrated its first anniversary of publication, shows that addressing both queer and Desi identities don’t have to always be a conflict.
A year ago, Aparajeeta “Sasha” Duttchoudhury and Rukie Hartman put together Moving Truth(s), a collection of stories from queer and transgender South Asian individuals to bring conversations surrounding gender and sexuality home to families and communities. Hartman and Duttchoudhury, along with contributing writers, celebrated the anthology’s first anniversary on April 23 at the U Bookstore.
“A lot of what some folks wrote about is the negotiation of two identities that seem contradictory, and I think that contradiction folds when people are openly accepting,” Duttchoudhury said.
So often, they said, conversations or approaches to understand gender and sexuality within Desi communities involve feelings of discomfort, fear and silence. They and co-organizer Hartman wanted to provide a resource for their communities to address those feelings, for example, in the context of coming out as queer or trans to Desi families, or finding support systems while growing up and exploring LGBTQI identities.
At the first anniversary event, with approximately 25 people in attendance, the co-organizers talked about the process of putting together the anthology. Some contributors also read excerpts from it, followed by a question-and-answer session.
Duttchoudhury said when they and Hartman had the idea for the anthology, picking the topic came naturally: family.
“The topic was easy to pick in a sense that my relationship with my family really shifted when I was in college because of moving out,” Duttchoudhury said. “Their growth and my growth and our struggle together have kind of been a lingering thing for me personally.”
Duttchoudhury said they realized that while in college at the University of Washington, they had resources like Q Center as a place to explore and understand deeper issues of gender and sexuality, whereas their parents don’t have either language or resource to talk about such issues. Feelings of both confusion and frustration then are put on Duttchoudhury, who is also dealing with the same feelings.
“I’m the only one they can talk to about these things—I’m a source of their frustration but also the place where they kind of process it,” they said. “So what [Hartman and I] wanted to create was a resource for families, but also for queer and trans South Asians to unearth that really tender place around family.”
The anthology features 13 stories of familial relationships that revolve around gender and sexuality. Duttchoudhury said the range of stories shows that families address the topics in different ways. While there are sometimes hurt and pain involved within these relationships, there are also others dealing with such feelings from a place of love and care.
Harsimran Bagri, one of the contributors, says collections of stories like these are important because Desi voices are often left to the margins.
“These stories in particular are typically silenced intentionally, whether that’s implicit through culture or explicit through people not wanting to deal with the subject matter,” Bagri said. “By silencing these stories, you’re silencing the individuals … and take power from these individuals.”
In the year since Moving Truth(s) was published, the contributors have had the chance to reflect on their relationships with their respective families. One of the challenges of the writing process, Duttchoudhury said, was that the writers were working through families and problems in a public way. Some wondered whether that meant “dishonoring” their families by publishing their problems. They often took caution with the angles they took for the stories to ensure that their stories are authentic.
The process went for a little over 10 weeks, with a few rounds of peer-editing and a final round of editing with the publisher.
“That was all really helpful because … for the first time not only were we writing down our stories, but people who [edited it] had stories like that and had that nuanced understanding of what it means to be a queer Desi or trans Desi person relating to their families,” Bagri said. [It helped] the stories come to a reconciliatory point as opposed to a painful point.”
Some contributors even gave a copy of the anthology to their families as a way to share their perspectives and experiences with family members and then giving space for them to process.
“It’s like an entry point for conversation where you have distance, where you don’t have to be reactive,” they said. “And I think this is a gentle way of creating space versus like moving out is a very dramatic way of creating space, which for a lot of us, that’s what we had to do.”
Duttchoudhury said people who don’t see themselves as being affected by issues surrounding queer, transgender, and Desi identities can still get use out of the book, as those people can be support systems to those who are affected.
“I think about my family not having people to talk to about this—if their neighbors or friends had language around gender and sexuality or just very open about these things, then at least [the family] have some sort of outlet,” they said. “I think that would save a lot of grief in terms of negotiating what is and what should be.”
Bagri said a year after publication, the first anniversary event had powerful moments where people could speak their truths and laugh, cry, listen and celebrate all that has happened since.
“[I remember] holding that book in my hand for the first time and realizing that these stories have been written down now,” Bagri said. “Even if not everybody in the world will read this book, they have been written now and they can be a resource for those that come after us … and these stories are still happening.”