Today, I woke up feeling angry about the colonialization of my country. I woke up feeling the burden of all that we lost; some we know about, so much more we don’t even realize. I woke up feeling my generational trauma triggered. Weirdly, I’ve felt this loss of culture, loss of history so much more when I left India.
I think about that a lot. The distance gave me clarity, allowed for emotions to come out which didn’t seem to have space there. Or maybe I had felt them so much in India, felt everyone else feeling them too, that after a while, it became white noise in the back of my head.
I did a presentation recently about decolonizing gender binaries and the representation of it in the way South Asia treats hijras. I looked for research and anecdotal articles. I didn’t want to take anything written by white people for it, or by anyone who wasn’t South Asian. I didn’t want to hear colonizers talk in covert ways about the impact of their actions on my country, without acknowledging to the slightest, what they did. It hit me hard how little research had south Asian people on it. I would have liked to be surprised by the lack of hijra or other TGNC people on those researches, but that level of idealism died a long time ago. So, I dove deep into Alok Vaid Menon’s articles and interviews. If you don’t know about Alok Vaid Menon, read about them and follow them. Now.
One of the many many reasons I love Alok Vaid Menon is that they are so unapologetically Indian, that they remind me what “Indian” is supposed to be…was supposed to be before the British came and destroyed that. I hope India would look to them, look to Vikramaditya Sahai, and other incredible queer and non-binary activists and friends, who are trying hard to remind the world what India is under the layers of forced white assimilation; trying to remind India.
It’s especially important now, especially with a government which touts philosophy akin to “make India great again” but seems to have no clue about what made India great in the first place. A government which claims to be following norms set in Hinduism, but is only remembering what serves its agenda, forgetting all the other parts of the religion which were so much more diverse and inclusive.
Transness, queerness…these are as Indian as chaat and pakoras. Hell, they probably predate most of what we associate with “Indian” today (or even what we associate with “Hindu”). It hurts that that’s something that seems to be forgotten. That it took so long to get a colonial-era law (article 377) repealed and there was so much pushback. That even in the most educated of families, my family, my friends’ families, queerness and transness is just not something which is easily accepted, let alone understood.
My friends who do identify on the queer or trans spectrum in India, find themselves wondering if they would be able to live in India as who they are openly, and be safe and happy, or are their true choices to either hide or to move to the West. The irony of the countries of colonizers, who destroyed our culture of acceptance and inclusion, being considered as closer to safe havens, enrages me. There is this idea that queerness and transness are “western” or “white-people” things. “Yeh sab yahaan nahin hota” (all this doesn’t happen here), “kuch zyaada hee amrikan tv dekh liya isne” (they’ve seen too much American tv) or “videsh jaakar videshi ho gaye” (they left India and are no longer Indian) are very common one-liner thrown at those who may be queer or trans.
When one thinks of Indian sexuality, the Kamasutra is probably on the top of what comes to mind. The next thing is probably just some thought around taboo or repression. “Indians don’t talk about sex or sexuality. That is our tradition. Talking openly about sex is a Western thing, an American thing.” And yet, somehow, somewhere deep in our history, we wrote an entire book dedicated to sex and sexuality.
Then we forgot about it, till white people “rescued” it and gave back a version they found more acceptable. One without queerness and gender binaries broken. And because of all that lost history and culture, we went with it; we didn’t have a choice. And so we did what we were taught; shunned, isolated, abused, and marginalized lakhs of people.
Is anyone else as furious about the whites appropriating yet another part of indigenous and other people of colour’s cultures, and making the rest of the world believe that it came from them? And now, they walk around as moral authorities, trying to get the rest of the world to be as “open and accepting” as them.
They do this in the UN, trying to make the whole world make queer issues human rights issues. And though that is something the world should do, white countries, western countries being the leaders of that argument is aggravating, and it’s whitewashing (emphasis on “white) over the hand those same countries played in making others more conservative.
As a counseling student, something I’ve come across often is the concept of generational trauma. It’s something I discuss with my clients of colour (a phrase which depicts a whole other level of colonization) constantly. We talk about what triggers it for them, how it plays out in their daily lives, how it impacts their identities. What is colonization if not collective generational trauma? What is this idealization of white people if not trauma bonding? Having the world look at America, Canada, and even the freaking UK being seen as “developed nations”, as leaders in anything connecting to queerness or transness, is making a complete mockery of the generational trauma which they instilled into the minds of billions.
I see my generational trauma play out in so covert many ways daily. There are probably a million more ways I don’t see it, but it still exists. But recently, I’ve been feeling the pain of it more, feeling the rage growing from it more. I have this deep sorrow about not knowing so much of my history, a deeper sorrow about how much of it has been lost.
I also feel regret that I speak the language of my colonizers better than I do my mother tongue; that as a dancer, I held western dances in higher standards than Indian ones, giving the latter up to pursue the former. And a thousand other small things. I don’t know what to do with that rage and grief. It’s just there.
I wonder how we would have been if we hadn’t been colonized at all, without all this generational trauma suffocating us. Would we have been leading the charge to make these ‘developed’ countries, these white countries more accepting and inclusive?
To be more colourful, opening their eyes to what humanity could look like if only they weren’t trying so hard to enforce a single norm onto everyone? Would we be teaching them how to be better, rather just falling to the 200+ years of training we got in believing that white people are better than us?
I wonder how I would have been if I had grown up in an India which at least remembered its roots. What would my gender have looked like? My sexuality? My relationships with other Indians, with people of different ethnicities? I also wonder about how who I am today would have been treated in an India which remembered its roots. How would it be different? How much more open would I be and with whom?
What would we look like if we were to start acknowledging our collective generational trauma? Would families be more accepting of their queer or trans children if they were to realize that the society which shuns them is who’ve forgotten their roots, not those children? What would India and Indians look like in a world where we work through our collective generational trauma?