My Bittersweet Big Fat Queer Desi-Caribbean Wedding.

Over the last few months I’ve been to three weddings: one was a close friends, one a family-friends, and one a co-workers. A Hindu-Punjabi wedding, a Muslim wedding, and a Hindu-Christian wedding. They were all beautiful weddings and I’m so happy for the couples. As I walked away from congratulating them, the smile from my face gradually vanished and I realized, I’m never going to have this.

Okay, I’m being kind of melodramatic (what’s new…). I will eventually get married, but I won’t have a lot of the things that my straight Desi friends had/will have in their weddings. I really don’t know how to organize my thoughts about this so I’m just going to write out whatever comes to my head in bullet points cus I’m forever 16.



Congrats Tiffany and Krunal!

  • My family won’t come. My sisters and a handful of my cousins will show up, but my parents and religious family will not be attending my wedding. Fear plays a huge role in this decision. I would be constantly worried about what my Muslim family would do during the wedding. Would they try to sabotage it? Turn it into a dramatic scene out of a non-existent gay Bollywood film? I don’t know. One thing I do know is that my parents are homophobic people, and that will likely never change. The eventual reality of me marrying a man over a woman will trigger them to lash out, and I don’t want to experience that. Another reason why this won’t happen is the shame I’ve carried all throughout my life about being gay and letting my family down. This sounds really negative, and it kinda is, but it’s a reality that a lot of QPoC have to face and takes FOREVER to unlearn. I am very comfortable with who I am becoming but I still feel the guilt whenever I hear my parents say “Oh Humza your time is coming! We have to find you a nice Muslim girl!”  
  • Watching my friends being blessed by their parents and elders was so heart-warming but a reminder of another thing that I won’t have. It’s a huge part of South Asian culture to have your parents’ well wishes carry your forward into new phases of your life or important moments. 
  • The places I’ll be able to safely travel to will be significantly cut down once I go from “single” to “civil union”. I already can’t go back to Pakistan because it’s not safe for me (most of my Pakistani family knows I’m gay and I’m not sure what they’ll do with that information) and because I’m kinda over it after having traveled there 3 times. I also have to cross off a handful of Islamic countries off of that list: the middle east, parts of northern Africa, etc. I can already hear the, “Well, you COULD go, but just don’t act so flamboyant”. If it were that simple, no one would know I was gay. I spent a month in Pakistan 4 years ago and barley spoke due to the fear that people would associate my high-pitched voice with my queerness. I shouldn’t have to live in fear or hide who I’m married to in any country. And my honeymoon isn’t going to be on one of those lame-ass beach vacations down south sooo the East better be ready for me.

Humza being straight af with a cow on a farm in Sangla Hill, Pakistan.


My wish is that these feeling will dissipate and lessen the burden of guilt/shame I have been holding on to for so long. Some of the points I listed are unavoidable and I won’t be able to change or deal with enough to satisfy myself, but thankfully I have a great support system set in place. 
If you are having trouble dealing with issues like the ones above, reach out to someone! You never know where you’ll find the best help. If you don’t have anyone to talk to in person you can always reach a support worker at or you can google the one nearest to you. Send us a message if you need help finding one! 
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RuPaul’s Racialized Drag Race

For drag and drag race lovers alike, the past few weeks have been filled with a lot of dialogic and quite disastrously violent conversation between queens and fans in the LGBTQ community. Phi Phi O’Hara, a drag contestant who appeared on season four and now, All Stars 2 of drag race has come under huge fire by many fans for being negative, fiesty and “mean” on the show. The escalation of all this has resulted in Phi Phi receiving negative comments, insults and death threats thrown her way all because of how she was edited on the show. DEATH THREATS. People are stating they want to kill a drag queen because they did not like how she was portrayed on the show.

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I was so proud of a this episode because I finally got to be in the top 2 after being told every week you weren't good enough. I realized after filming All Stars……my place isn't on this show and in front of a camera where context of a simple thing can be twisted into such a vile way. I really sat back when they called me to be on All Stars and said, this time I am going to show the world the Phi Phi so many people who have met me love and support. I don't care anymore who sees this, I don't care anymore if people are mad that I told the truth, I don't care if people think I am handling this in the wrong way. There is no right way to handle this except stand your grounds and speak up for what is right. I am tired of the hurt, heartache, pain, death threats and threats of violence I have received because a few story producers felt it was okay to go to bed at night cozy with their paychecks from manipulated and twisting the context of my words. I went into All Stars with a gleam of hope that I was going to finally have this redemption I was promised since season 4. The people that hated me before….let's face it…they were never going to like me and that is okay, their loss not mine. But, I deserved a fair chance. From day 1 in the confessions I told my story producer I will not say XYandZ because I did that the first time and it got me in trouble. This time I watched myself and they still played and twisted when I am stating facts as I am playing mind games. I got in NUMEROUS arguments with her discussing how she would never understand why I am quiet or don't talk as much as I do because I have to 100% watch what I say because of the grave I dug in season 4. She contiued to say I was doing nothing but a disservice to myself by not giving them what they want. Unfortunately for her, my mom raised me that integrity and respect goes a lot farther in life than reaping joy off the misery of others. I am so grateful for the doors that RPDR has opened but I have learned now that "family" is just a word used to sugar coat and mask the demons of the machine. They have made it acceptable and normal for people to be okay breaking me down…that is not love or family.

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The above example is just one instance where Phi Phi has tried to speak out about the poorly constructed editing of the show, only to receive a flash flood of violent, and hateful messages. As much as I love the show and adore Phi Phi O’Hara, I could go on and on to argue the problematic issues with the show: the white-washing that occurs, the lack of diversity on the show, etc. However, I want to bring one issue to the forefront with Phi Phi. This hatred for Phi Phi O’Hara is completely racialized.

Before I go any further, I do have to say that, although I’m not sure how Phi Phi personally identifies, she is bi-/multi-racial and a person of colour. It is of no coincidence or surprise really that the queens who get targeted with this hatred the most happen to be people of colour. Jasmine Masters, RPDR season 7, went under huge fire after she was eliminated from the show. This escalated to the point where RuPaul posted a message on his social media telling his fans, to literally, leave her alone. Jasmine became the victim of racism where she was called the N word among many others, again, for her portrayal on the show.

To add to that number, Kennedy Davenport received similar treatment, as did CoCo Montrese. As an example, fans of the show have gone to mock Coco by associating her makeup to that of Doritos for its orange-esque glow. Again, this is anti-black because Coco explained that she was using orange as a highlight because many makeup brands do not support darker skin tones. However, this orange joke completely plays on the fact that makeup is harder for darked-skinned people. There is inherent privilege in being able to make fun of people who are not supported by make-up companiests. The fact of the matter is that predominantly white, gay fans of the show feel comfortable engaging in overt racism to these queens, and do so, using their edited pitfalls as justification for this behavior.

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Smile inside and out

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RuPaul’s Drag Race, as much as I love it, is problematic in that it allows whiteness to thrive during its production and post-production. There are many critiques of the show (which you can all find online) that have outlined the ways in which whiteness is upheld. Why is it that every time blackness is represented and performed on the show, it is a “ghettoified”, “banjee” form of blackness? Remember on season 5 of drag race when Monica Beverly Hills, a trans- BWoC, tried to denounce and battle these norms of blackness expected of her? She got eliminated that episode. On season 7, the queens had to perform a parody based on the black-centric show Empire with a predominantly NON-BLACK cast. Bob the Drag Queen, the winner of RPDR8 and that challenge, was commended not only on his performance of the character but as a “ratchet” queen. It is extremely problematic that the show is able to market off of a specific type of performed blackness while at the same time, exuding violent racism and anti-blackness to the queens when they leave.

We have to realize that 95% of the slang used on the show and in our queer communities such as “werk”, “slay”, “yas”, etc. were appropriated from black and latinx queer and transgender people of colour. I’m sorry white gays, they weren’t coined by you. SO ultimately, I’m not trying to generalize, but there is an issue when white gays use their whiteness and white supremacy to attack queens of colour like Phi Phi O’Hara when they leave the show. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to justify racism because you do not like how a person was portrayed on the show. Especially a person who been extremely outspoken about the poor treatment she received not only from her editing but the production management of Drag Race directly.

Why didn’t Alyssa Edwards receive the same treatment when she fought with Jade Jolie? Why didn’t Morgan McMchiaels receive that same treatment when she fought with Tatianna and Mystique Summers? The list goes on.

My final point here is that this negativity spurred towards these queens of colour is directly impacted by how they are racialized. Because we live in heteronormative, racist, patriarchal society, those in positions of power (and in this regard, I’m talking about white people in terms of race) have a sense of ease and comfortability directing racist comments to the queens they don’t like. However, they will have no problem screaming and shouting for queer rights when they feel they are the victims of homophobia. Even then, most of the time those LGBTQ rights leave out queer/trans- people of colour. Also, I’d like to include that I’m writing this as a bi-racial queer man of colour, one who has a white mother. And also, one who is a huge fan of RuPaul and all the queens of the show – just because I am critical of what I see on television doesn’t mean I don’t respect RuPaul or the work that goes into the show. (*I have to say this before someone tells me I don’t know anything because I haven’t lived the “white experience”.)

Moral of the story: leave Phi Phi O’Hara alone. She’s sick and talented and we love you for it.

Check out more of Phi Phi’s 365 days of drag project on Phi Phi’s IG!

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[ 195/366 ] #365DaysOfDrag

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Why I’ll (probably) Never Visit Pakistan Again.

I hesitated writing this blog post because I am afraid of the backlash I will receive for critiquing Pakistan, a country I was not raised in, but am culturally connected to because of my parents. But I realized that remaining silent on a socio-cultural issue that bothered me so deeply was the wrong thing to do. I need to talk about it and create a space for discussion for people like me and Qandeel, who are looked down upon by members of our community.

In the light of recent events taking place there, mainly the murder of Qandeel Baloch, I fear for my safety and the safety of Pakistanis who resist conventional societal norms. Qandeel was murdered by her brother in mid-July for ‘dishonoring the family’ with her bold (bold for Pakistan, at least) videos and social media posts. The issue of gender subordination in Pakistan is a huge one that needs to be dealt with, but it’s hard to spark a change in a country that’s run by oppressors that hold such archaic beliefs.

What saddens me more than anything is the reaction to the murder from Pakistanis in the GTA. One of my Facebook friends posted an article on her page. The reaction from her friends was one I did not expect; one from children who were born and raised in a country as progressive as Canada (in comparison to Pakistan). I saw comments like, “Watch her videos on her page and her recent music video and then u’ll know why!”; “I pity her family more. The insults and abuse they faced [are] because of her reckless actions.” I was in shock. These are comments from women defending the murder of an innocent life, who tried to liberate females in one small way from the oppressors that constantly engage in misogyny in Pakistan! It scares me that these women are being passed down values and beliefs that do not give women freedoms but rather take them away. Especially in a nation that does not value the lives of women. I know it’s hard for immigrants to unlearn the norms that they were raised in – it may be nearly impossible. I’ve seen it with my own parents. However, humanity isn’t something that you learn. Supporting the death of a human rights activist (yes, Qandeel was an activist – her existing and performing against social norms was a form of activism) is WRONG.

The ‘honor killing’ that was committed and the reactions like the ones I posted above also add to the negative picture the media has painted on Islam. Although I no longer follow the religion, I will continue to say that it is a peaceful religion; it’s the extremists that make it seem awful.

So, why won’t I go back to Pakistan again? It’s because if the country isn’t safe for a woman, it will be HELL for a gay man. Before the death of Qandeel I thought I might visit one last time, but that won’t be possible now. Literally anyone who is opposed to the views of the people leading the country and upholding outdated laws will be put on the chopping block. It’s sad. It’s such a beautiful country and I’ve had so many great memories there but I’m not going to put my life at risk. I applaud the people who are stuck in Pakistan and trying to make a change; I really hope that the future generations won’t have to face what the current ones are going through, especially the women and LGBTQ voices that are almost never heard from.

This is why this blog and my social media posts are so important to me. Qandeel rose to popularity because people, especially South Asian women, could relate to her and looked up to her as an inspiration. Her visibility as a woman bending social constructs was helping young women put their rights on the forefront of changes that need to be made in their respective cultures/societies. There are so few queer Desi voices that are open and unafraid to speak and it’s because of events like this one. Our voice and our presence is important. If that means I have to sacrifice going to my ancestral homeland to help liberate young queer youth, then I’m ok with that.



My sister and I in Balakot, Pakistan (2011). 

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Divas of Drag: Detroit

April 1st, 2016.

I’m not really sure how we initially heard about Divas of Drag but it was an amazing experience! Divas of Drag is a drag show that was organized by Mimi Imfurst (RPDR Season 3) and we traveled all the way to the depths of Detroit, Michigan to see some of our favourite drag queens. I, (Ryan) got super stoked because Yara Sofia and Trixie Mattel were gonna be there and I love for both of them. Humza was super excited to see one of his biggest drag inspirations – Milk! Any RPDR fan knows that Milk is the epitome of campy-glamour-creativity all mashed into one (very tall) human.  

Anyways, we chronicled some of our travels through the vlog you see below so please watch! My video editing skills suck but whatevs, #iphonelyfe. This was one of the first time Humza and I had gone out in full drag since Halloween so were both pretty nervous and excited all the same time. Check it outttt. Humza: And ignore my stupidity and road rage thankssss. 😛 


Serious talks tho, this trip was also kind of scary. Drag has become a lot more globally recognized within popular culture largely because of Drag Race. Pre-Drag race, the only exposure drag culture received was from RuPaul her/himself and maybe a couple other hetero- celebrities who would perform in drag as part of a skit or within a comedy *cough* SNL *cough*. However, if you wanted to see the drag queens in your local town, you would have to go to your city’s village and actually step into a drag bar to see the kings and queens perform. However, with the popularity of drag race, it’s becoming much more common to see queer and non-queer people alike engage in the art form.

While we think it’s incredible that the art form has escalated to a point where queerness can be celebrated in such a public sphere, you must always remain cognizant that drag is a act of visible queerness. By this, we mean that engaging in drag performs one’s queer identity in a visual format. As soon as the common person sees a queen, they automatically assume that the individual is probably queer. Sometimes, this can be dangerous. Both of us growing up in Toronto, and entering the drag scene in drag for the past couple months, I have never felt unsafe or fearful of harm in Canada. However, Detroit was a different story.

As soon as we entered Detroit, we were hassled by a customs officer who sort-of? She mockingly joked about us going to a drag show and asked if we were drag queens. This was within 10 seconds of stepping into the city. I get that it’s their job to be aggressive and find out what we’re doing but we just felt really uncomfortable as soon as we left. She let out an insulting snicker as Humza told her that we were going for a drag show, followed by the comment that we were packed awfully light for the occasion.  As we walked through the streets trying to find food, the aura surrounding the city was… disheartening? People could tell we were outsiders (maybe in more than one way), and Humza and I got shouted some negative remark from a passenger in a car that was driving by. That hadn’t happened to him in ages before that moment.

As soon we got ready, we even contemplated not going in drag to the show. This was because we were scared. Legit. We went online and saw the amount of LGBTQ hate crimes that had happened in the city and I admit I was a bit terrified. We had to order two $15 cocktails to calm ourselves down. LOL. We ended up leaving the hotel with every eye on us, to disapproving looks and disgusted facial expressions. I have never felt this way in Toronto. We hopped into an uber right away and raced to the club. Both of our anxieties were through the roof. Side note: The elevator stopped at a floor on our way down to the lobby and opened to two kids, around 6 and 10 respectively, and they stood there stunned before running away. LOL #awks

Given all of this, we need to commend the queens who do this on a daily basis, especially in the cities that aren’t as safe as Toronto for LGBTQ peoples. I love that heterosexual and non-queer people are embracing drag as an outlet for expression, but it’s important to remain aware of who this art form is for. There is a privilege in putting on conventionally “feminine” makeup when you are a self-identifying female because when you go out in drag, you’re impersonating a men who is trying to look like a women. BUT, you are still a woman and people will still perceive you as such. PSA: I’m not saying cisgender bioqueens shouldn’t do drag. Not at all. I think it’s awesome. I’m just saying be aware of your own experience because likely you would not have felt the same fear as we did as two queer men of colour. A queer man with a wig and painted face does not receive the same treatment as a heterosexual cisgender woman does.

The show itself was AMAZING. The highlights for us were Milk’s plastic bag couture, Gia Gunn giving us some Kabuki realness, and Trixie tap dancing (what?!). After the show, so many audience members came up to us and praised our looks and took photos with us. It was amazing to get this recognition away from home. One man came up to Humza and looked him in the face, and said ‘Thank you’. He said that the drag Humza portrayed was so authentic and unique, and to continue doing it to represent the aesthetic and the culture he was portraying. If you know Humza personally, you know this almost brought him to tears LOL. Needless to say the drag audience at this show was amazing. ❤


Check out some of our pictures below! One of them was shared by Milk herself! 😀



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Pulse Nightclub Shooting

I feel so sick right now.

50 people dead. 50+ people injured. That’s nearly a third of the people that were in Pulse nightclub last night.

It’s 2016 but I feel like the terrified teenager I was in 2007 when I was still praying the gay away. My heart aches for all the people who have lost their lives and everyone around them whose lives they’ve touched. We’ve come a long way but we still have so much work to do. We still face discrimination on a regular basis and this was a tragic reminder of that. Even in 2016, to be visibly queer is dangerous. To celebrate one’s queerness in such a simple way – by going to dance and have fun at a queer bar – gets met with violence. Part of me is anxious to go out into our Gay Village but I know that sitting at home and being worried will do nothing for the community. We need to stand up for what we believe in. It also allows us to reflect on the comfort of living in a country where obtaining a lethal weapon is not so easy. Canada have may many flaws in its legal system, but at least easily obtaining a firearm is not one of them. Regardless, it’s important to represent our communities and stand together especially in times of great sadness, such as this one.

I (Humza) would also like to say that this is not the fault of Islam. This had nothing to do with the religion. This man knew nothing about the true teachings of Islam, and as someone who was raised in the faith, I can attest to that. Although I no longer follow the religion, I feel sympathy for the backlash my Muslim brothers and sisters will face. This is just another tally to the enormous list of “Islamic terrorists” that we’ve had to deal with for over a decade now. People enact physical violence – do not cast blame on an entire religion of people for the atrocious actions of one person. Do not use this horrific event to legitimize Islamophobia. Queer Muslims exist and are victims of this trauma as well.

To support the victims of the shooting, donate here:

Stay safe during this Pride Month. Lots of love from the both of us. 

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Happy Pride Month, Toronto!

It’s Toronto’s first official Pride MONTH! Yes – A full month of celebrating the LGBTQ community! I cannot begin to express how excited I am for all the events that Pride Toronto has worked on planning throughout the year. It will definitely be a good time for all!


Happy Pride, Toronto! PS: Shout out to our girl Whimsy Thrift on the bottom left!

Between all the dancing and partying, the drag queens and glitter, the glow of celebrity faces on our city, it’s easy to forget the struggles of people within our community, especially the ones of those who will never be able to rid the burden of the proverbial “closet”. I am one of these people.
I grew up in a Pakistani-Muslim household. As a disclaimer, I have nothing against the religion or the culture, or my family. Islam is a peaceful religion and I know hundreds of amazing Muslim people. Some of the most accepting people I know are Muslim. I have nothing against the country either. I’ve been there twice during my childhood, and once as an adult. The most recent trip there was as a fully realized gay man. It’s a beautiful country and so rich in a culture that is inefficiently displayed in Toronto. And I love goats. Goats everywhere. Everywhere.
From an early age people I’ve been surrounded by homophobic people. I have memories of my parents seeing news regarding LGBTQ issues and saying awful things, and reciting the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. I remember a member of my family saying that God turned gay men in pigs and monkeys. It wasn’t these stories that made me upset; it was the tone in which they were said. It was full of disgust. As someone who was just discovering and coming to terms with parts of their sexuality, it was off-putting to hear. This is what festered a cycle of self-hate and confusion for the majority of my teenage years.
I knew I was gay in the fourth grade; I knew it before I even knew the word ‘gay’. At this point it was just a “Oh, he’s cute” phase. I was more preoccupied with whether or not I could beat Misty in Pokemon Blue (confession: I cried once when I couldn’t beat her). I was in religion classes for two hours every evening at this point and it played a heavy influence on the way I behaved in my every day life. I was told not to listen to music because God would pour molten lead down my ears, not to stand up for the national anthem because apparently I owe this country nothing (wtf?), limit the amount of television I watched (actually useful advice), and not to draw. The last point really made me question what this teacher was telling me; I had an incredible gift that she told me to suppress, for if I didn’t, God would ask me to bring my creations to life when I died. One of her own daughters was an incredible realism artist, so I don’t understand why I was fed fear-filled words by her.

Middle and high school were equally as homophobic for me. I went to schools with a large population of South Asian students. These kids I tell ya… brutal. I would be called a khusra or faggot at least once a day. If this wasn’t bad enough, I started to become more feminine presenting after high school and these words started being used at home. I’ve had family members call me a khusra before. Khusra is the Punjabi word for Hijra (third-gendered


Hijras/Khusras in India. Photographer Unknown.

individuals in South Asia). In South Asia this is an insult used on men who are feminine in any nature, and has a negative connotation; it’s similar to calling someone ‘gay’. I’ve screamed at family members in the past for calling me a khusra and they would laugh because it meant nothing to them. To a gay man who is unable to come out to his religious family, it is a lot more than an attempt at an insult. It was a constant reminder that if I chose to came out, I would be disowned. In the culture that my parents were raised in the family’s honor came first. To disobey the religion that was tied to this culture would tarnish the family name and the person would not be associated with any longer. I’ve seen it happen with several family members in Pakistan. My parents inherited these teachings as soon as they started a family. It was their duty to lead their children on to the ‘right path’, hence the religion classes at such a young age. I knew by my late teens that coming out to them would not be an option.

This is something that a lot of QPoC have to deal with on a regular basis. I get harassed by my parents about marriage on a weekly basis and all I can do is roll my eyes and say I’m not interested in marriage. I am out to my cousins but the relationship with some of them has changed because of this. They are more reserved with me, and when they see pictures of me and my gay friends there is a look of unease that washes over their faces. It’s painful to watch and only makes me dread that reaction that someone from my parents’ generation would have. It’s frustrating to have to live a double life, but this is a reality for a lot of kids.

Growing up, I didn’t have a gay-desi role model. I didn’t think it was going to get better, and honestly, if I wasn’t such a positive person, it wouldn’t have. This is why representation of minorities and ethnic groups is SO important within gay communities. Everyone needs someone to look up to. However, because the default representation of queerness is ingrained in whiteness, queer people of colour are severely isolated. Look around us. When was the last time you saw a queer image that wasn’t attached to a smooth, twinky white body or a muscular white jock? We’re not hating on white people, but there’s a reason why queerness is defined through images of whiteness. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: RuPaul is still one of the few racialized queer figures we have.


RuPaul at a pride event in the 1990s.


Almost 30 years after his big break in the 1990s. 30 YEARS. I mean, sure we have Todrick Hall, and a few others but representations of queerness are still dominated by people who look, act and embody people like Tyler Oakley, Troye Sivan, and many other white queer people. How many queer people do we have that look like me or Humza? Or an indigenous person? or a black person?

Humza’s story is really important, and especially so,  given that it’s Pride Month. While we’re both super excited for all the amazing events that are about to take place, Pride can also be a troubling time as well. I’ve (Ryan) have become increasingly more annoyed with the attitude some people carry that to be queer, you must be ‘out’. Remember everyone, the closet is a construct! AKA: it doesn’t actually exist. For many queer people of colour, coming out isn’t an option. It definitely isn’t for me or Humza. Personally, I don’t think I’m ever going to be 100% ‘out’ and I don’t think that devalues my queerness in anyway. My paternal family comes from the Caribbean where homo-, queer- and transphobia is rampant. I’m not just talking about slurs thrown towards people occasionally; in the Caribbean, people have been brutally attacked, and murdered for presenting queer. Essentially, if you look visibly queer, you’re a target of violence. This is scary. This is part of the reason why it’s so important for me to do academic research and work with queerness in Caribbean communities. Coming out is much more complicated for QPoC in general because of reasons such as this. There are many cultural limitations and boundaries to coming out and it is extremely problematic to penalize people for choosing to not be 100% open with their families.
Please, please refrain from telling queer people of colour to just ‘get over it’ and come out – it’s really not that easy. Or safe.
Keep your mind open this Pride and most importantly:


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Some Thoughts On Indian Arrival Day

While this really has nothing to do with drag or queerness, May 30th is quite important to me and I wanted to write about it. Today is Indian Arrival Day. Some of you may have never heard of this holiday before, and to be honest, I wasn’t aware of it until about five or six years ago. While it’s mainly only practiced on the national scale in Trinidad and Tobago (and Mauritius as well?), it’s an important day for many West Indians in the Caribbean and in diaspora.

Indian Arrival Day commemorates the first “migrants” to Trinidad from India in 1845. I don’t really want to turn this into an essay or academic dissertation, but I do have to talk a little bit about history for a second if this post is going to carry any weight. Most often, when non-Caribbean people are asked about the West Indies, what comes to mind? American-owned resorts, palm trees, coconuts, beaches, reggae and probably a bunch of other representations that Western media has attributed to this culturally rich and diverse region of people. It’s not surprising at all that representations of “Indianness” have been left out of these images. In my experience, when asked what my ethnic background is by colleagues and strangers, “Trini” is not the first conclusion many people go to. Sure, I have brown skin and carry the common Indian surname ‘Persad’, but I don’t read as ‘Trini’. My biraciality obviously plays a  role in this given that I carry an anglosaxon name and have a Portuguese-Canadian mother. Because of my lighter complexion I often get assumed to be Indian, Mexican, Spanish and surprisingly Filipino. 😐 Literally, I’ve had Filipino aunties – STRANGERS OFF THE STREET – come off the street and speak to me in Tagalog. Regardless of all my struggles with my racial perception, I descend from these Indian migrants who landed on the shores of Trinidad in 1845.

This day is important because it reminds the West Indies and our diasporas that we, Indo-Trinidadians, NOT Indians, have a place, voice and role in the formation of our communities. We arrived in the Caribbean not by willing immigration but by forced indentured labour. In many scenarios, the British empire tricked, deceived and bribed


East Indian woman in Trinidad, c. 1900.

North Indians from the provinces of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar onto boats, often not informing these laborers where they were going, what they were doing and what the future held for them. Our ancestors lived in horrible conditions, did not speak the languages of other inhabitants in Trinidad, and were massacred for practicing Islam and Hinduism and resisting the authority of white supremacy and racial discrimination. I do not want to equate the experience of Indo-Trinidadians to that of African slaves who were brought to the island through the Trans-atlantic slave trade, but some Caribbean scholars in effort of describing the trauma and abuse Indians went through, have described the Indian experience as the “second slavery.” The British, Spanish and French colonized us, christianized us, and have made it nearly impossible for us to retrieve information about our origins in India. While it’s great that many Europeans and other people alike have resources available to them like, colonial powers often did not keep records of marginalized and colonized peoples, because to them, we were simply products of manipulation. As a result, marginalized populations, especially those affected by colonization, are often left in the dark with regard to ancestry.

As a result, Trinidad has become racially divided in many ways between Afro- and Indo-Trinidadians. Often, we, as Indo-Trinidadians, have been seen as simply a “minority” in Trinidad, docile in contributions to the formation of a national identity. This is quite far from the truth. While we arrived after our Afro-Trinidadian brothers, Trinidad would not be what it is without the interracial syncretisms (being the processes of mixture), and hybridities that have formed our diverse and unique culture. As an example, it is almost impossible to go to a carnival event, soca fete or Caribbean family party without dishes such as roti, or curry goat/chicken/lamb/beef, etc. Soca, the party music you hear at Carnival and other club events, would not have developed the way it presents and sounds today without the Indian musicians who brought Bhojpuri folk songs and instruments like tabla and mrdangam. As a result, Chutney-soca would have never came into formation. However, I need to make it clear that ALL of these cultural customs and traditions are not credible to solely Indo-Trinidadians. Of course not. Afro-Trinidadians arrived in Trinidad as slaves decades before any of the first Indians showed up. In addition, their emancipation (freedom from slavery) only came just before Indians were brought to the islands. As a result, our society evolved through a process of mixture between Afro-Trinidadians, descendants of West Africa, and Indo-Trinidadians. While we, Indo-Trinidadians, are often left out of discussions and discourse when dealing with the Caribbean, we carried a pivotal role in our nations formation.


“Newly Arrived Coolies in Trinidad” – Photographer Unknown.

I guess I have a few key ideas and statements that I’d like to express on Indian Arrival Day to my fellow Indo-Trinidadians, Afro-Trinidadians and coolies (yes, I am reclaiming that word) throughout the diaspora.

  1. Be proud of who you are. Colonial powers have been trying to pit brown peoples against black peoples in the Caribbean for CENTURIES. The nation and culture as we know it would not have existed without either of us.
  2. Do not let people refer to you as an Indian. I do not say this with any offence to my Indian friends and colleagues. But, we are not Indian. We were removed from India many centuries ago and our customs, traditions and attitudes have developed and evolved within a society that is much different from the one’s seen in India. Most of us don’t speak Hindi. Why? We were forced to speak English. Most of us don’t have physical ties to a past in India, besides the ones constructed in our memories. Why? Because we were removed from that land and only 8% of us ever returned. We are not Indians, we are Indo-Trinidadians. We are Caribbean people and we are West Indians. Do not deny us our Caribbeanness simply because we fit into a structured mold of “browness” that others have constructed for us.
  3. This is again for my South Asian friends. DO NOT ever try to claim our Indo-Trinidadian culture as your own. Chutney-soca, tassa music, dhantal, etc. are all traditions indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago. They may be influenced by India but those rites are inherently Trinidadian. You can enjoy them, partake in our culture but do not deny us what is ours by attaching yourselves to it.
  4. Remember this day is also important for Afro-Trinidadians and douglas, Trinidadians who identify with a mixed heritage of African and Indian ancestry. There is a ton of anti-blackness that goes on in Indo-Caribbean communities and frankly, its atrocious. Of course, this is much more complex than I have described here but remember that we have the privilege of having a national holiday to celebrate our heritage and reflect on our pasts. I do not know if many Afro-Trinidadians could say the same. While indentured labor involved traumatic events, massive prejudices and violent acts of racism, the transatlantic slave trade was a system that is incomparable to what succeeded it. The ramifications of that violence is felt actively today in ways that I as an Indo-Trinidadian will never understand. However, as we reflect on this today, it is also important to acknowledge that the prejudice that was enacted upon us has dramatically diminished in comparison to the overt acts of racism that the black community faces. Be cognizant of these narratives and be willing to listen. #BlackLivesMatter

Happy Indian Arrival Day everyone. ❤ #Woiiiiii #SweetSweetTnT



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