When I moved from India to the USA at age eight, I experienced the challenge of “feeling different” for the first time. I was teased for the way I looked, smelled, and spoke. I tried to fit in and belong by behaving as white/American as I could. That was my first closet: when I tried to deny my skin color and ethnicity. In college I began to acknowledge the richness of my South Asian culture with the help of my girlfriend.
At the age of 26, I found the perfect woman to marry. Before proposing, I explored my subtle attraction to other men. I wondered if I might be bisexual and questioned the stereotypical roles I was supposed to play. My earlier experience of internalized racism had conditioned my unsuspecting self to exist in a second closet: that of my internalized homophobia. It took some time for me to begin to admit this to myself.
Being uncertain of my new self-discovery, a part of me wanted to run away, and I transferred through my multinational employer to India. Though all of us in my family had Green Cards sponsored through my father’s employer, I had held on to my Indian passport to maintain some sense of my origin. However, I got my US Citizenship before I left. I wanted the ability to return to the US, my home since the age of eight.
Depending on one’s immigration status, one cannot leave the country for a prolonged period of time without jeopardizing the immigration process. Even with a Green Card and almost two decades of living legally in the US, that insecurity loomed.
I knew that for so many of my immigrant peers the options were much more restrictive. They were uncertain of their future status and some never became eligible to work or become full citizens. It is very important that immigration reform expand options for employment and citizenship for people like me, the families of employment visa holders. These freedoms, to work and travel, were essential to my journey.
After spending a number of years in India testing my values and peeling back the layers of denial, I got a better sense of my own identity. Staying in the “gay” closet was not healthy. I finally acknowledged that I am a homosexual. That breakthrough led me to start building a new community. Then, after being back in the US for a number of years, I seroconverted and realized that being HIV-positive was yet a third closet to contend with. I faced further discrimination and learned even more about disparities. I now try to lead a healthy life, open, and with integrity.
I can now be at ease with myself and others. I volunteer and help others who have at some point of our lives felt the strain of isolation, stigma, or being a minority within a minority. We must work on the issues affecting our overlapping communities. I believe that by sharing our experiences we can help spare others the pain and consequences of silence. I believe that other LGBT/HIV-positive immigrants should have the chance for living with equality and dignity. That is why I support immigration reform with a fair path to citizenship.
Asian Pride Project (www.asianprideproject.com), Kat Rabbitt Productions (www.katrabbitt.com), and Brian Chamberlain