- Mashiat Mutmainnah
A personal journey into the hearts and minds of four groundbreaking South Asian creatives.
A foreword :
The process of Becoming is a confusing continuum in which life ebbs through us, slowly shifting our values, attributes, choices and on a deeper level, our identities with a tinge of slight permanence. As a results-oriented person, the idea of becoming is unsettling, sometimes even layered with deep seated fear of the unknown. But it is this unknown of who I will become that intrigues me and pushes me to evolve.
Yesterday was National Coming Out Day in the US and June 2021 was Pride. Though coming out is sometimes a part of many peoples’ journeys to becoming their authentic selves, evolving looks different for everyone. It’s also important to note that in places within and outside of the US, the act of coming out or just embracing who you are is a statement, a stance that requires one to be vulnerable and vigilant, especially in intolerant, violent and polarizing environments.
Through this special edition of JORE, I wanted to honor the strength, resilience and the beauty of becoming our full, authentic selves by showcasing the journeys of four amazing LGBTQ+ South Asian creatives; Ravjot Mehek Singh, Noman Ahmad, Lana Patel and Dora babu. I reached out to each creative with this core idea and together, we fashioned four different shoots, each narrating a deeper story on what Becoming means to them.
Due to the pandemic and timing, many of the shoots were virtual and the creatives not only did their own make up and styling, but also had to shoot the scenes with minimal direction from a laptop. Many, many thank yous to Ravjot, Noman, Lana and Dora babu for trusting us with your narratives and for patiently waiting for this issue.
On a personal level, this whole project was also a process of Becoming. As my first creative direction piece, I wanted to become the person I’ve always wanted to be, a storyteller who could weave intricate tales and evoke emotion through a series of images. Yet, this person was also someone I greatly feared. I feared that I wasn’t enough for her. What if it’s not perfect? What if I am spurned by the creative community for butchering such an important project? What if, what if, what if …
But as I transcribe Ravjot's and Dora babu's journeys and capture Lana's and Noman’s evolutions, I am reminded that fear is an essential part of the process of becoming. For fear is a sign that it is time for us to be brave.
And fear is not our only companion. As we start to accept and show up as our authentic selves, we also attract the community, love, validation and inner peace that is waiting for us on the other side, waiting for us to thrive.
So I hope, dear reader, as you make your way through this very special issue, you too find the courage and the confidence to take charge of your own narrative. Because it isn’t about who you will become, but rather what you are doing to become.
COO and Creative Director of JORE.
Ravjot Mehek Singh
My sister, Mehar Singh, has been one of my biggest allies in life, in so many ways, especially when it came to hiding my identity as a pansexual from my parents. When I was 14, she came to the mall with me on one of my dates with a girl. My sister saw me holding hands with my girlfriend at that time. Even though she was five years younger than me, she understood and has supported me ever since.
This was before a time when being a part of the LGBTQ+ community was relatively normalized. Back then, we never talked about coming out and we weren’t given any formal education around being LGBTQ+ and navigating the world. So I am always amazed by the fact that she understood me and accepted me at such an young age.
We obviously have gone through our own ups and downs as siblings. But, she has always respected this side of me and has kept my story safe. I know that for a lot of LGBTQ+ folks in our community, their siblings, parents and families turn against them. They tend to have no one. I am grateful that my sister has always been supportive of my choices without judgement.
Today, my sister and I go to Pride events and do advocacy work together. It’s amazing to have my siblings by my side. They don’t judge me for anything and they view me as a human being first and foremost. I am always so appreciative of their radical acceptance of me and of my humanity.
CD's note: Ravjot is an award-winning filmmaker, activist and artist who caught my eye for the past year and half. Her confidence in showing up authentically and unapologetically is awe-inspiring and I knew that I wanted to work with her as soon as I conceived the concept for the shoot. In contrast to her strong and bold online persona, I wanted to capture a softer, more vulnerable side to her. And we were able to bring that out through the her unbreakbale bond with her sister, Mehar, who is an absolutely captivating. Two sisters, side by side, trusting each other with their whole hearts as they become a pillar of strength and change for their family.
Makeup, styling and photography by Ravjot and Mehar Singh. Creative concept, photography direction and post-production by Mashiat Mutmainnah.
My journey of becoming is very atypical. It isn’t what you typically see in film or media. For me, coming out wasn’t by choice - I didn’t have a say in it. I was outed by someone who was very close to me, a family member. And it spread like wildfire.
Even though it was a great betrayal, looking back now, it’s not something I can blame anyone for - because it's uncharted territory. We have never had any other person go through something like this in my family, and within my community, there isn’t any context on how to deal with this. So that sparked a lot of anger within myself. And I was the only one who could understand it, deal with it and cope with it.
A lot of the inspiration for Becoming comes from the emotions of having to deal with this process on your own. My closest friends gave me words of solace and support, but we all knew that this specific predicament is not something lots of folks go through. There were lots of internal frustration within me, but most people couldn’t tell from the outside.
If I had the chance to go back, I don’t know if I would change anything. But the good news is that now, I am at peace with myself. Social media has come a long way. People are being exposed to others who have similar stories and are able to find connection and hope. Even if my family doesn’t completely understand me, I remind myself that as much as this is my journey, it's a journey for them too.
CD's note: I met Noman in Miami and was intrigued by his background in medicine and dance. His journey to Becoming concides with these two loves of his lifes. Medicine requires absolute surgical precision, whilst dance is requires one to free their burdens through movement. And I wanted to showcase this juxtaposition of emotional restraint and freedom form his story in our shoot.
At an outward glace, he is reserved, careful not to show too much. But inside, there is a fire within him, exemplified by his movements against a raging sunset. There is so much pain, anger and frustration, yet he moves with such beauty, elegance and accuracy. As he begins to gradually to accept himself, the water erodes away his anger, allowing him to fully submerge into his identity.
Makeup and styling by Noman Ahmad. Photography, creative concept and post-production by Mashiat Mutmainnah.
For me getting to a point where I’m able to be myself is a daily on-going project! Even in the future this process of exploring my whole self will always be a ‘work In progress’! The most important thing to me as a desi non-binary person is that I continue this journey by embracing, loving, (un)learning, healing, taking up space, growing, practicing radical self love and become more of myself without any fixed destination! I’m slowly realizing that I’m worthy just for ‘being’, not for ‘doing’!
CD's note: Dora babu's authenticity, love for life and their dedication to respresenting non-binary South Indian folx were components that were essential to this project. Their resilence and strength of leaving India and coming to the US as a non-binary, queer international student reminded me that navigating who you are amidst big life changes requires a strong foundation of self love. And I wanted to showcase that through them wearing a soft pink South Indian silk saree against a gorgeous green background.
Their soft, serene gaze exemplify the inner peace that comes fom accepting one's self and being happy in their own skin. I hope more folks from all backgrounds are able to learn from Dora babu as they push through big changes in their lives to emerge on the other side.
Makeup, styling and photography by Dora babu. Creative concept and post-production by Mashiat Mutmainnah.
Becoming as metamorphosis is the thread of my life. I felt for so long that I was in the process of becoming the person I've always been. Through this incredible project, I was able to showcase the stages of caterpillars into that metamorphosis that gave birth to the butterfly that I am today.
CD's note: Lana Patel is a boundary breaking multi-hypehante and trans activist. She has been a constant supporter of JORE and helped us learn more about how to advocate for trans lives. Without a story of her evolution, this issue would have felt incomplete. Lana's heritage as a Afro-Carribbean and a Indo-Carribean is in itself complex, and her commitment to representing both sides of her rich culture , whilst standing up for trans issues in the LGBTQ+ community is extraordinary. In this shoot, the theme of metamorphosis was central to showcasing her narrative as she sheds her adorned cocoon to embrace and share her brilliance with the world.
Makeup, styling and photography by Lana Patel. Creative concept, photography direction and post-production by Mashiat Mutmainnah.
At JORE, our mission is to amplify South Asian authenticity through activism and diaspora story telling. We strive to make this mission a reality by showcasing members of our community and supporting their endeavors. This issue particularly focuses on the journeys of members of our South Asian LGBTQ+ community, who are working extremely hard and navigating difficult environments to ensure that the next generation don't have to face these struggles. We ask that you please support our creatives by following them at : @ravjotmehek, @maythemelon, @itsgnomesy, @lanapatelxoxo and @telegu.queer.