(Photo courtesy of Shehreen Karim)
Cleveland Charter High School

Embracing my South Asian and bisexual identity

For much of my life, I have questioned my identity as a Bangladeshi Muslim woman identifying as bisexual. My identities seems to contradict each other and to many, I am the first South Asian woman they’ve met who is part of the LGBTQ community.

The intersectionality of my identity conflict with each other since South Asians in the LGBTQ community aren’t represented. Personally, this made my coming out experience even more difficult since I felt this pressure that I HAVE to be sure that I am part of the LGBTQ community since I already am a person of color. To further add to that coming out burden, I am Muslim as well and people tend to believe religion and the LGBTQ community cannot mix. Again, Muslims in the LGBTQ community are not represented, thus making it even harder for Muslims in the LGBTQ community to accept their identity.

An ongoing dilemma that has been in my mind is if I will ever come out to my South Asian parents. Within my bedroom, I have various rainbow pride items scattered around, however my parents do not know what this ”rainbow” is symbolic of.

However, my older brother would constantly ask me “why are is there so much rainbow in your room” and terrified, I would reply, “I just like rainbow.”

I could not keep this up and recently he found out that I am gay even though I really am bisexual, but nonetheless he found out I am gay. He believes that there is strict binary of heterosexual and gay, and that bisexuality doesn’t exist.

He replied to me saying “I think you know what it means Shehreen.”

I stood still not saying a word to agree with it or disagree with it. Part of me wanted to say “Yes I am gay, so what?” but part of me was scared to verbally admit this to my brother and knowing I can no longer hide my true identity. As I stood still waiting for his response to my silence, he said to me “What do you think is going to happen if mom finds out what this rainbow means… I won’t tell mom.”

If anything, this definitely isn’t the response I had hoped for if my family did find out I was gay. I was still silent until he left my room and I felt this uneasiness in his response. I believe that if they did find out, a burden would be lifted but it didn’t. He didn’t say he accepts and loves me, he didn’t say it’s OK to be who I am and instead I was left with a response that made me feel that my identity is a burden that I chose to have.

I kept thinking, why doesn’t he accept and embrace my identity? It was because he may believe that being in the LGBTQ community is a choice. However, given that I’m already a person of color and facing that oppression, why would I actively choose to be part of another discriminated community to add-on to the weight? My identity of being South Asian wasn’t a choice and being bisexual isn’t a choice either.

Coming out as gay when you’re a person of color is harder because when the LGBTQ community is represented, it is centered among white people thus it has become somewhat normalized for white people to be in the LGBTQ community. Certainly, being a South Asian Muslim woman identifying as bisexual isn’t represented anywhere in the media and for me to even write this story and publish it is empowering and serves as validation that we South Asians exist in the LGBTQ community. We are not invisible and we do exist, the media chooses not to represent us. In essence, I am Shehreen Karim, proud Bangladeshi Muslim woman who embraces being bisexual.