gender india identity
A reflection on coming out as agender, and the intersections of my queerness and Indian identity, as seen in Vancouver Pride's 2021 Pride Magazine.
This piece originally appeared in Vancouver Pride's 2021 Pride Magazine.
Like many folks, I found an opportunity to confront my relationship with gender during the pandemic and engage in gender fuckery. It took nearly a year, but I finally came out as agender. I came out as pansexual five years ago, so I am already intimately familiar with the ongoing, lifelong process of coming out. Coming out, Part 2371. But who's counting?
"I will be deprecating my she/her pronouns," I said to my co-workers. We work in tech, so I have been using metaphors to explain this to my co-workers. People need to, "upgrade their systems to use xe/xem instead," I said, "or they will receive warnings or error messages when they use she/her pronouns."
I wish I had a way of explaining the same things to my grandmother in Chennai.
Even if I could get my grandmother to xe or they me in English, what options would I offer her for our other shared languages—Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi? As a linguist, I'm uniquely positioned to ask these questions and come up with answers, but I have felt isolated. I don't know how to bring up these questions in the predominately white, monolingual, English-speaking, North American queer spaces I'm a part of. It has felt isolating to know so few Indian queer folks to discuss this with. I don't have access to the kind of comprehensive resources about these things as I do in English. And I have been apprehensive about coming out in Indian spaces, never entirely sure how my queerness would be received, as queerness is sometimes perceived as Western or a white thing.
The pandemic changed this for me. Having in-person connections drastically limited made me value my online connections highly and now I have several Indian queer friends. Twitter is conducive to navel-gazing and an incredible way to find queer community and, especially, Indian-origin queer folks.
The conversations I've had with my Indian queer friends mean the world to me. Discussing options for gender-neutral pronouns and words for family members in Indian languages with people who get it is liberating. Especially when talking about nonbinary identity. There's a persistent and pernicious stereotype about nonbinary bodies being white, skinny, and androgynous. My body type is nothing like that, and a big part of that is my genes! Talking about this breed of dysphoria with folks who have bodies like mine makes me feel seen.
Ember, Moss, Steel. Another trope about nonbinary people is the tendency to adopt noun names. Part of the desire to conform to this stereotype is rooted in a desire to be seen as valid, accepted as legitimate. My name is Vasundhara, a Sanskrit noun that means earth—in one way, I conform to this stereotype. But Sanskrit is a language with grammatical gender and Vasundhara is feminine. Other Sanskrit options limit me in the same way. Yet as much as I want to discard my femininity, my name means so much more than that. Every time I make people pronounce my name properly, it is a gigantic Fuck You to colonialism. Giving up my name for an English noun would be a huge loss—a loss other Indian enbies understand.
The loss of community. Coming out to cishet Indian folks, first as bi/pan, now as agender, has produced a range of reactions from welcome and requests for more information, to mild apprehension, to subtle jabs and even outright disgust. "Your life will be easier if you choose not to be gay, or downplay it," is a common refrain heard by queer immigrants.
We also feel the loss of our queer history. Queer immigrant history is often not deemed worthy of preservation. I think a lot about what queer history means to me—not just in the context of not wanting to repeat the mistakes of our past, but also to understand where I come from, and to feel grounded by a connection to my ancestors and my history as a queer person.
Pride has been a time for me to contemplate my queerness. In 2019, I went on a queer history walk where I learned local queer history and was thrilled that our guide had taken care to pay attention to the lives of trans, Indigenous, and immigrant stories in particular. I think about that and wish there were more accessible opportunities to learn these stories.
Pride has also been a time for me to celebrate being queer! The year I was in the parade, I wore a giant bisexual pride flag like a cape and danced in the sun for three hours straight. A teen wearing a pansexual pride flag and watching the parade hugged me and they almost cried. I was hugged by folks in "Free Mom Hugs" t-shirts and saw older queers, gorgeous drag queens, pups in hoods, and my beautiful queer friends. It was a beautiful, happy day. I was so, so proud.
Coming out as agender has made me feel like something within me has settled. The last time I felt like this, I was desperate for a chance to get outside and tell everyone, "I am a pansexual woman!" Pride fulfilled that need. Now that I have figured out I'm not a woman, I'm agender, I want to shout it from the rooftops. And hey—yelling it from my roof is more pandemic-safe than hugging strangers.
Although Pride in its traditional form is not possible this year, I hope to hug my close friends and celebrate our flaming homosexuality in person, perhaps with a mini-parade! And I'll certainly do a number of virtual things—including the Pride Society's Queer History Panel, lots of Zoom dates with queer friends, and maybe even a gender repeal party in gather.town!
Vasundhara is a queer, agender Indian Canadian (by way of Singapore) who is very gay and very tired. Xe gets excited about language, code, and birds. You can find xem on Twitter @VasundharaNLP or on the web at vasundharagautam.com.