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Navigating Queerness in Indo-Caribbean Culture

Written by: Shivanie N. Mahabir

It is a privilege to be able to tell my story. Not all members of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and more) community can say this— especially those who are Indo-Caribbean.

My name is Shivanie Mahabir and I am part of the Indo-Caribbean and LGBTQ+ communities. While I am giving a voice to other LGBTQ+ Indo-Caribbean people, it must be remembered that my experiences are not universal – they do not describe what all LGBTQ+ Indo-Caribbeans face.

When I was a kid, I was unlike other girls my age. I was more interested in playing sports and Pokemon with the boys than with the girls. Yet it was not until I was fifteen years old when I started to question my sexuality. For years, I thought that there was something wrong with me. I tried to “fix” my sexuality. Maybe if I pretended that I had crushes on boys instead of girls, then I could make it true. But that was not the case.

By the time I graduated high school, I knew that I wanted to spend my life with another woman. 

I use to feel that I was the only gay Indo-Caribbean person – even though I knew that it wasn't true. What made me feel this way was the isolation of not only being unable to meet other Indo-Caribbean people in LGBTQ+ spaces, but also not being able to meet other LGBTQ+ people in Indo-Caribbean spaces.

Two years ago, I finally met other local Indo-Caribbean people who were also part of the LGBTQ+ community. They too shared with me similar experiences of being Indo-Caribbean and LGBTQ+.

As Indo-Caribbean people, we are all too familiar with the phrase “what will people think?” 

What will they think about the things we say? Or the things we do? And what about the way we dress, the way we express ourselves, and who we love? I consider myself a visibly queer person. I have short hair, I don’t wear makeup, and I have what is traditionally considered a masculine gender presentation. Despite all of this, my aunties and the uncles constantly ask me questions about whether I have a boyfriend or make comments about “my future husband.” But it is not just the aunties and uncles who say such things – it is the moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, cousins and family friends. It is comments like these that reinforce compulsory heterosexuality, the idea that everyone is, or should be, straight/heterosexual. It is comments like these that make LGBTQ+ people feel like they do not, or should not, belong.

It is comments like these that made me think that I needed to pretend to be someone I am not for half my life.

Queerness is often ignored in Indo-Caribbean culture and when it is spoken about, it is usually with disgust. We are made to feel like there is no space for queerness in Indo-Caribbean culture. But we, as Indo-Caribbean people, must challenge these ideas. I have the privilege to be out to many of my family members, including my parents. I know that not all other LGBTQ+ people are lucky enough to have family who support and accept them as they are. To achieve the change that we need in this community, we cannot rely solely on the LGBTQ+ community to be educators. The rest of you must also stand up against homophobia and transphobia by educating yourselves and standing up against homophobia and transphobia in the community.

In this blog series, I will aim to create spaces, dialogues, and narratives that bring together what it means to be Indo-Caribbean and LGBTQ+ and how we can work together to dismantle the harmful concepts that have been a part of Indo-Caribbean culture for too long.

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