Pride, at least to me, is community. It is a place where you can belong, where you can feel accepted to be yourself. My first Pride was Birmingham Pride 2011, 28th May. Given that I am terrible at remembering dates shows how pivotal an experience it was for me. This was the first time I could be me, proudly, in the streets, in front of public, marching and chanting. I saw other people like me: Black people, queer people, trans people.
This was so important for me, for us, as Black people and as trans people. We exist in a world where we are not represented in the media or our taught histories. The little representation that we have has been fought for, clawed and grabbed. How disheartening that no Black trans women got an Emmy nomination for their work in an excellent revolutionary TV series celebrating and chronicling the lives of Black trans women? How disparaging is it that we see more Black trans people in the news for being the victims of violence than we see lauded and celebrated?
I am a proud British Indian, and a fairly devout Hindu. I must admit, growing up, this caused me to internalise a lot of homophobia and transphobia. I mean, a good Gujarati boy doesn’t have these feelings, isn’t queer or trans, just isn’t this way. I am lucky that I have moved past this self-hatred and I can sit here and notice how ridiculous, how wrong, those feelings were. I sit here with so much more knowledge about my culture and my religion. Hinduism has a wide and varied history and mythology full of queer figures. This is a religion of genderflipping deities and queer heroes. It is a religion which recognises that people aren’t always male or female; there is a ‘tritiya prakriti’, a third nature. Which then begs the question, where did all that pressure to conform to normative society come from? What caused my self-hatred and denial and hurt for all those years? Why did I have this idea that I couldn’t be Hindu and queer?
In one word, Colonialism! The invaders of Empire swept away the acceptance and tolerance of pre-colonial India. This is an empire who imposed their own legal system, erasing the pre-existing rights and protections of queer people. The British labelled the third gender community as a Criminal Tribe. Anyone not conforming to the traditional British ideals of masculinity and femininity could be fined or arrested. This criminalisation seeps into a culture’s very soul and can forever taint it. Previously tolerant communities were taught to other the non-conformists; that their very identity was a criminal act.
The effects of colonialism are still present in Black queer people now. Colonialism distorted my view of my own culture. We see the world through a colonial lens, the system of values and principles which we hold true, based on colonial sensibilities. These lies and twisted truths made me think my culture did not accept me. This is what we mean when we talk about decolonising the school curriculum. An ongoing process to remove the traditional Western viewpoint that we assume is correct. An ongoing process to recognise the validity of another cultures’ way of seeing the world. And for the sake of Black trans kids, as educators, we need to let them see that their own cultures deem them valid.
This is increasingly important due to racism within the LGBT+ community. Over my time in the movement, I am witnessing a rise in the idea of the tolerant West vs. the oppressive East. The idea that the West has won the movement (#lovewins) and now must save those poor brown gay men from their own cultures. Please don’t forget these white saviours caused this oppression all those years ago under the guise of civilising the poor primitive societies. Being Black in the LGBT community is traumatic enough (No Fats, No Femmes, No Blacks) without the community telling us that our self-hatred is a product of our culture.
If there is one message that I want you to take away, it is a simple one: Transphobia is racism.
I’ll give you a couple of seconds to absorb that before I explain myself. Transphobia is racism. What I mean by this, is that a denial of my non-binary identity is an act of racism. If you say that non-binary people don’t exist, you are saying that your traditional white Western understanding of gender is correct. You are saying that my Hindu understanding of my own gender identity is wrong. Non-binary gender identities exist the world over. It is a narrow colonial view which says that they do not. Being anti-racist means fighting colonialism. Being anti-racist means fighting the oppression of Black trans people. Being anti-racist means striving towards accepting the diverse understanding of gender in the world.
I shall end full circle, to go back to the idea of Pride. Like I said, Pride is that feeling of community, of feeling like I belonged. The sixteen year old me, with all those feelings of self-hate, could never imagine feeling accepted enough to stand and speak about these things at events or write them in a blog. Pride is a movement, it is progress as a community and individually, so that everyone feels like they belong.
This blog post is adapted from a speech given by Hiten as part of the NEU digital pride event: Rioting with Pride, hosted by Black LGBT+ Educators Network on August 4th 2020. The NEU definition of Black encompasses all members who self-identify as Black, Asian and any other minority ethnic groups who do not identify themselves as white.