I grew up in a household of strong Indian matriarchs. There is no one in this world my papa praises more highly than my dadi or grandmother.
I remember visiting dadi in Faridabad, Haryana in India for a family holiday in 2018. It was a month after I received my HSC results. I am 19 now but at the time, I still felt like a child. It wasn't as cold as it should have been for January. My mum and I were sitting in my dadi’s room wrapped in blankets and drinking chai.
Dadi asked my mum what I'd be doing in the next few years. She said she wanted to see at least one grandchild married before she dies. (You see my grandmother had actually set up a fund when I was born. It was for my wedding 20 years down the line. I was six days old.)
Dadi is warm and feels like home to me. She calls my mum ‘baby’ and speaks in a dialect of Hindi that I only half understand. She calls me by the pet name ‘lali’ which means my ‘darling girl’. She is kind, a phenomenal cook, and stern but ready to laugh over the smallest things.
But even as I contemplate my university prospects and have four scholarships and an advanced physics degree lined up for me, my grandmother would ask me about marriage. Thankfully, mum steps in and tells her I’d be studying and weddings are off the table for the next decade.
But it led me to begin questioning: should I ever come out to my grandparents, or let them live in blissful ignorance?
Should I ever come out to my grandparents, or let them live in blissful ignorance?
You see I’m born Hindu, turned agnostic. I was born and raised in Haryana, India and migrated to Australia with my family when I was seven. I realised I was Not Straight when I was 14.5 and non-binary sometime around 15.8.
I came out to my parents around the time of marriage equality debate at 16. My mum didn’t talk to me for three weeks but slowly accepted that I am queer.
At the same time, I was raised in a pretty progressive household. Being a girl didn’t really stop my family from making sure I had every opportunity to succeed. But as I grew up, I began to realise that every freedom I had was conditional on how it affects the family name.
I’ve been encouraged to go full-steam-ahead for so much of my life, but was forced to a grinding halt once I hit my mid-teens. Once I became a ‘woman’ every action on social media became a hot topic of discussion between the Old People in the house and me. I couldn’t outright support or be queer publicly.
You see, being queer and non-binary isn’t really something that matches my family’s idea of what the eldest child in the family should be like. It’s left me at odds with myself wondering: Do I live for myself and my own happiness or do I live to please the family that has made me the driven person I am today?
I cannot fathom losing them and this makes me think maybe it’s worth suppressing my identity around them.
I was raised on the idea that no matter what happens family will be by my side. But the asterisks I see on their love - the conditions that I need to meet to be given their protection strikes absolute terror in me. I cannot fathom losing them and this makes me think maybe it’s worth suppressing my identity around them.
My dadi passed away in India last year in March. She died not knowing who I was and I still regret it. One of the things I asked myself in the month after her death was: "Should I have told her I was queer?"
She always wished for my happiness, made sure I never cried in the house, gave my parents and aunts and uncles hell if I did. She was the matriarch of the house and no one dared to speak against her because she was a primary school teacher and her voice was stern and loud. The times I would wonder if there is something resembling an after-life I would talk to her and ask her – "Are you watching over me and are you happy for me? Is this okay?"
‘Are you watching over me and are you happy for me? Is this okay?’
Recently I had a talk with my grandpa, who was visiting Sydney. I had only recently just figured out that I want be a teacher. I was bone tired. I had been up since 4am for work but I wanted to tell him before I went to bed for the night. He looked at me with so much pride I was taken aback. He said it made him very happy. He then followed by saying he wished that my dadi knew. It brought tears to my eyes.
If I had told dadi I was becoming a teacher, I think she would have celebrated it every single day. It stands in stark contrast to the speculation I feel on how she might have reacted to my sexual and gender identity.
But then again, who am I to take away my grandparents dreams of my future hetero-normative life plan with the inevitable disappointment and anxiety that will come with me disclosing my identity to them?
We come from different times. My grandparent’s struggles defined the majority of their early life. When I listen to any one of my grandparents talk about their childhood, it makes me cry. But part of me wonders: Is it so bad to wish that they’d accept me and love me for the whole me instead of the ideas and expectations they’ve held since my birth? This I’ll never know the answer to.
Priya Singh* (pseudonym) is a Sydney-based writer.
This article is an adaptation of a spoken word performance made for the ‘Queering the Brown’ event in Redfern, developed and hosted by film-maker Gary Paramanathan. You can follow Gary's podcast ‘The Skin We live In’ here.