Excerpts from oral histories by queer and trans south asians. Video by Anum Awan. Music by Arooj Aftab.
Excerpts from oral histories by queer and trans south asians. Video by Anum Awan. Music by Arooj Aftab.

That heartbreak or that pain that suddenly
someone else sees you is just too much.
I had to lie. I had to learn how to lie.
And I think that that's a really
interesting motif in South Asian culture,
because it's something that we all do
and yet we're all filled
with so much shame for it.

I never had the luxury to come out
because everyone already said
I was a faggot before I articulated that.
Because my body betrayed me,
that meant I did not want
to see any video recordings of myself.
That meant I did not want
any voice recordings of myself.
I had to come out like three times.
Like I came out as gay.
And then I came out
as a genderqueer person.
And then I came out about my drag.
What's scary about naming it is,
then you're really saying
this is part of who I am,
and for me giving it a name
means giving it space.

The varied and multiplicitous quality
of transness is something
that accommodates a lot of psyches,
and I thought that was an amazing thing
after this sort of rigidity of the kinds
of queerness that I grew up with.
It was so liberating to be
in this kind of multicolored
world of possibilities.
I felt like suddenly I was
on another planet
where I belonged.
This whole community
has existed way long before us
and will continue to exist.
Where the fuck was this
when I was growing up?
Like, where was this?
Why didn't I have it?
Honey, remember this thing
— life went on
before you cyber age queens.
So we paved your way
to walk onto the cyber age.

It was never really about
a repressed desire
that was there — it was more
about my actual embodiment
being policed into a binary.
I existed in this very South Asian
male cis-driven community,
where I was told that,
we'll do your hair
and you can do all that,
but tomorrow we are going to Tahoe,
and you cannot be dressing up like that.

My whole life has sort of been
experiences of rejection in different ways.
Being rejected for being queer,
but then whether it be
in a Caribbean community,
I'm rejected because of my queerness,
but also my cooliness,
my brownness,
my South Asianness,
my Indianness.
I recognize we're different,
but also trying to navigate
where are there strict borders
and where are there
not strict borders?

Being trans is not a question of
reinventing yourself necessarily.
If you can see that all the things
that were causing all the misreadings in the past,
there was something
to that dissonance
like static that suddenly becomes a tone.
I'm not afraid of my idiosyncrasies.
I'm not afraid of my contradictions
because I've never felt safe.
I don't know what safety feels like.
And it’s a pretty bold move
to be like this, I know.
So much of the surveillance
of trans people is that
we have to be known
because if we're not known,
we're a threat.
And that's a transphobic framework.
Like we deserve to be
unknowable and we deserve
to be complicated
and thorny
and chewy.

For so long, I wanted there
to be this community.
Even within this niche group,
like a lot of intercommunity
problems where these patterns
of privilege outside of these axes
are presenting themselves.
Regardless of how we've been
treated by our communities,
we will never allow
our stories to be used
to advance Islamophobia.

Drawing and creating worlds
through drawing is almost
analogous or a parallel strategy
to creating your own world
as a trans person.
Wait, there's a political project
that is invested in disappearing people
like me, so I'm going
to respond with the vehemence
of the opposite.