- Sanzana Syed
Imposter Syndrome: LGBTQI+ Edition
“I’m bisexual, apu.”
Many thoughts were reeling in my head when my 18-year-old cousin confessed this during one of our Facetime chats. We were in our PJs (9 am in Bangladesh, 11 pm in Toronto) and openly discussing what kind of food we’ve been into lately.
Naturally, I responded positively, saying how happy I am for her and how I’m bisexual myself. I asked if her parents knew, to which she confidently said yes. Her certainty made me realize that regardless of what her parents think, she felt empowered to confront them and define the person she is.
At that moment (and a couple of days more), it made me reflect on my situation. As a Canadian-Bangladeshi womxn, I’ve kept my sexuality private from social media because I didn’t feel it was necessary. I recognized I was bisexual at 19 and ran with the idea, selectively telling people who interacted with me on a day-to-day basis. Up until very recently, I publicly announced I was bi on social media.
Coming out is a very Westernized term, which makes sense why I never truly felt like I “came out of a closet.” To some, I’m not “fully-outed” because my parents still don’t know. From my experience, being openly gay is a privilege. Being able to tell your friends and family without caring about any repercussions isn’t possible. Our parents “know more than us” is engraved in our memories. That ideology comes with emotional burdens. Being anything but straight isn’t celebrated with rainbows flooding the streets like during Holi. Instead of colours, it’s shock, guilt, and impending trauma.
When you are a South Asian moving to a different country, it is incredibly challenging to leave your old culture and learn new customs. It’s a constant battle of what was okay back home isn’t OK here in this new country. One has to decide whether to keep to their tightly entangled roots to their home country or adapt and change to the new culture.
For example, when I was little, I would’ve said my first language was Bangla. However, my father decided that because we live in Canada, I needed to learn more English. As a result, I can’t speak Bangla fluently.
"I’ve never been with a man either, so how do they know I’m straight?”
Many of us are constantly reminded of our roots by our parents. Being gay in Canada is far different than being gay in Bangladesh, much less any South-Asian country. My cousin explains society treating it like a phase in life. ‘Behaviours’ that aren’t part of the typical culture, like queerness, are a fad or trend in life they’ve all been through, but once you grow up, you’ll see things differently.
“The first thing people asked me when I said I was bisexual, was ‘How do you know you’re that if you’ve never had sex with a woman?’” she said during that same phone call. “But the thing is, I’ve never been with a man either, so how do they know I’m straight?” She explains the insensitivity that people (specifically family) have is invasive to her privacy and acknowledges it’s no one’s business who and when she’s had sex.
I’ve ‘celebrated’ Pride Month privately. I would have this longing to attend a Pride march, to paint my face and wear bright colours that exist outside of my dark-toned wardrobe. Longed to have interactions with my closest friends to bake me a white cake, and inside, it’d reveal the colours of the bisexual flag. I never truly felt I could be a part of that community, that I deserved it. If I didn’t publicly announce it or tell my family, it made me feel like an imposter.
Bisexuality is a valid experience and identity.
To fill that need, I would celebrate myself. I would do the things I love, give myself a little extra self-care because it’s my month, and share social media posts supporting the queer community. I definitely don’t encourage celebrating Pride privately. I’ve realized over the years it’s quite a lonely experience. I can understand the need to, however, and suggest for all the things you long for, do it yourself. Nothing stopped me from changing my wardrobe even if I wasn’t comfortable marching just yet; neither was the cake. I learned over time the things I sought for can easily be provided for me, by me.
Ultimately, bisexuality is a valid experience and identity. Any internalized imposter syndrome that I’ve felt isn’t because I’m bi, but because of a culture that doesn’t give me the tools to talk about myself authentically.
Emotionally Immature Parents
‘Shobai ki bolbe?’ (what will people say) is a phrase my mom would say without saying it. She is always ready to critique how culture and society are in Bangladesh and single-handedly place herself as their voice. For example, she pointed out a beautiful woman on TV with short hair and labelled her as a lesbian because “All lesbians have short hair.”
"...the fact remains you’re bi whether you wanna do that in stripper heels or a potato sack."
We know this isn’t true. Cutting your hair a certain length is a personal choice and has nothing to do with your sexual orientation. And like how my best friend explains this, “...the fact remains you’re bi whether you wanna do that in stripper heels or a potato sack. How one dresses says more about their personality than their sexuality.”
It’s reasons like this that I don’t want to come out to my mother. These toxic off-hand comments demeaning women come across as such a negative thing. It was incredibly uncomfortable for me to listen to that and made me question my own identity: if I was a lesbian, would I also cut my hair short?
I’ll be frank here; my mother has lost the privilege of knowing my sexuality. And if I accidentally end up outing myself, it wouldn’t matter anyway because I honestly don’t care. I could go on about generational trauma within the South-Asian community and still never run out of words. That’s how much of it exists. My mom would read this post will never have the emotional capability to understand the entirety of this post, and will instead see, “Sanzana is bisexual” and come to her own conclusions.
While writing this, I struggled to find any research and statistics on LGBTQIA+ South Asians, especially when it came to credible and recent studies to explain my experience. Instead, I found more support and mental-health groups. I was curious if any groups were offered to parents and allies with an LGBTQ+ child or member in the family. I discovered Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies (DRPA), a virtual support and discussion group that caters to South Asian families and friends of queer individuals.
Zara Ahmed became a volunteer for DRPA when the pandemic hit and realized a more vital need to reconnect with more queer Desis. They attend the monthly meetings as someone who needs support and a facilitator to organize and run the sessions. Zara mentions one of the things that give them hope about the group and community are the aunties.
“To see adults and elders in our community use words like trans where so many others refuse to use and acknowledge. To hear my proper pronouns from elders is a very powerful experience. They literally show you how easy it is.”
Zara is 33 and came out when they were 21. They had a very supportive family and welcomed the news. Very recently, Zara discovered they were non-binary and switched between pronouns up until last June. Their parents and family were not as respective to that news.
“It says a lot. To be queer, but only a little bit.”
Zara shared how many free support groups are available for queer Desis who need a safe space to talk and build a community based around them. While therapy is excellent and helpful, it’s not easily accessible. Individuals need a space to feel affirmation and joy, and Desi Rainbow is one of many places that can provide that.
To anyone reading this who isn’t ready to share your sexuality, it’s okay. It’s a scary world, and it’s a hard place to be your true authentic self with many limitations. There’s no right or wrong way of doing things; it’s how YOU do it. It’s my truth, and I can choose who and when to share it.
It’s so easy to listen to that inner critic inside you that has a way of making you feel horrible about yourself (and, as my therapist says, could be a reflection of what others have said to you). If there’s one thing good that came out of the pandemic, it’s to take our time slowly and be a little gentle with ourselves. Younger me suffered a lot alone, and she had no one to teach her how to accept the person she is becoming. I would consistently keep my head above water so that maybe someday I could see how I made it to the shoreline, how I salvaged food and made a home for myself.
And that’s the person you see here today. Sure, there are times I feel like I’m still drowning and doubt myself. My inner critic is telling me I’m not the right person to speak on this. If anything, the opportunity to tell my story, made me realize I’m the perfect person to write this. This is my story; yours will be different. And if, while reading this, you find yourself relating and recognizing similar feelings we’ve shared, I believe I’ve done my job in letting you know you’re not alone.