Hasina Juma
Author, Hasina Juma

Generally, there is a lot of misunderstanding of what it means to be a bisexual. In the South Asian community, the stigma is exponentially amplified.

We live in a day and age where the media and social media shapes the way we see things and influences how we perceive others who appear different from us. When I look at the world around me, I find it hard to find people like me.

When I look at social media platforms, I see various celebrities and high profile individuals who are part of different cultures come out as being part of the LGBTQ community, but I don’t see individuals like me.

When I watch shows on North American television channels or on online content providers such as Netflix and Hollywood movies, I see a more positive representation of the LGBTQ community with actors from a variety of backgrounds, but again I don’t see individuals like me.

So who am I looking for? I’m looking for someone who is Canadian born, ethnically belongs to the South Asian community and is part of the LGBTQ community. In my case, I identify as a bisexual, an individual who sees a relationship between two people defined by the connection they have and not the gender. This is someone like me.

I’ve seen the South Asian community definitely make strides forward over the years, but I feel like we’re still an invisible group. The topic is very much taboo in the community as it is seen as something that happens in the larger Canadian society, but not in the South Asian communities. A telling illustration is in the 2017-18 GLAAD Where We Are on TV report that noted only 4 per cent of LGBTQ characters on U.S. cable networks are Asian Pacific Islanders and 12 per cent are multiracial or of other races.

Generally, within the LGBTQ community and society, there is a lot of misunderstanding of what it means to be a bisexual. In the South Asian community, the stigma is exponentially amplified. I feel like people have an easier time understanding people who identify as lesbian or gay but have their minds are boggled when it comes to understanding what it means to be a bisexual.

I knew I was bisexual at the age of 24 years old but immediately brushed it off as being false. In my mind, coming out would mean I would have to move through the feelings of guilt and shame of being different from the norm in society and would open the possibility to be shunned by those that are near to me namely my family, my friends and my South Asian community.

How the news would be received by my South Asian community was important to me as the community is a pivotal part of my life. It’s a group of people with who I have a connection and am able to socialize, celebrate important milestones with and use as a support system to help me get through the challenges times. The thought of people in the South Asian community finding out about my bisexuality terrified me because I feared people would judge me and see me as being different from the norm. Since we’re a tight-knit community, I feared that once people found out the news would go viral in the community. I feared that my family members would be judged and shunned from the south Asian community because of my bisexuality. In my head, the fallout would be so massive that repressing the feelings and pretending to be straight was a much safer option.

After being in the closet for 10 years in 2014 I started the journey to come out to myself, my immediate family, extended family and the South Asian community. Unfortunately, we live in a society where being heterosexual is the norm and if you don’t fit into the norm then you need to make a safe space for yourself within your world where you can be honest with who you are with those that matter. The alternative is pretending to be someone who you are not just so you blend in and that wasn’t a price I was willing to pay anymore. I was ready to express my true feelings of love and affection freely and not being ashamed about it. I was ready to live a life where I was fully able to talk about my life, my dreams, and my hopes as freely as heterosexuals do on a daily.

The coming out process took a lot of strength, courage and lots of inner reflection. It required me to overcome the guilt and shame of being perceived as different from others, to accept and love all parts of me, to be confident in who I am and know that is enough. Despite the challenges, it was so worth it. The process in its self was an act of self-love. After many courageous conversations, my immediate family and extended family accept me and love me. I am truly humbled. The bond between us has strengthened after my coming out.

I’m still not sure if I fit into the larger South Asian community. I know if I am visible in the South Asian community then others will see that I am just like everyone else, but sometimes I feel it’s hard to be in social spaces where you know that the structures don’t allow you be who you are.  I am still feeling things out and seeing what feels right for me. It’s a work in progress for me.

For now, I’ve created a new tribe for myself with people who see me, understand me and unconditionally care for me.

My wish is that we truly see all people in the South Asian community especially those who feel invisible or feel like they don’t belong. My wish is that we have courageous conversations with each other so we can connect with one another at a heart level with honesty, love and compassion. My wish is that we as a community create safe and welcoming spaces so people can truly be who they are without feeling like being themselves will result in them being judged, stereotyped or ostracized.  My wish is that as a community we take steps to being open to different ways of being in life and that one way of being is not better than another.

Now that I’ve come out it doesn’t mean that I won’t face challenges going forward. It just means that I have more assuredness to face those detours along the journey of life hopefully with the support of some allies. For me, the post-coming out is a journey where I embody who I am in all spheres of my life. It’s about not boxing myself as a bisexual, but being a wholehearted being with a soul just like everyone else in this world.