Richmond Native returns supporting book on intersectionality in South Asian lesbians
Mala Kumar, born in LA, but raised in the suburbs of RVA, is coming back to share stories of her international travel and read from her book, The Paths of Marriage, which explores issues faced by South Asian lesbians at an event this weekend.
Kumar left Virginia in 2007 after graduating from Virginia Tech and ended up working with micro finance projects in Africa. Her work took her to the UN, but her own sexuality lead to her the decision to leave the organization.
She explained her reasoning in an OpEd for the AdvocaTe published last year:
The U.N. is composed of representatives from quite literally the entire world, so change is slow to happen, and definitions of basic tenets do not evolve quickly. Even if discrimination against a group of people is considered a human rights violation in one part of the world, there is no guarantee that discrimination will be viewed the same way elsewhere. The U.N. has therefore not kept pace with the social norms of progressive cities like New York. One could still be fired or openly discriminated against for certain attributes that are fully protected elsewhere. I had no way of knowing this when I first started my career in international development, though now as an adult, this lack of social progress weighs on my life every minute I am alive.
This feeling of isolation she experienced didn’t start overseas, rather, she remembers her last years in Virginia, speaking in defense of same-sex marriage shortly after the state had banned the practice.
“It was openly hostile, people were booing, whispering to each other,” she said.
This open discrimination and dissent over who someone loves is an issue many South Asian LGBTQ people face regularly, Kumar said.
“If they came out to their families, they would be disowned, or sent back to India, or mugged or raped,” she said, explaining she hadn’t seen much written on the issues this specific community faced.
Having already come out as a lesbian, and having seen some of these issues first hand, Kumar felt she had to write down these stories. “I knew I was somebody who had the time and ability to articulate the messages (of these people) and would not face the repercussions a lot of these people would have to go through.”
It’s hard for us in Richmond to translate the issues we face here with sexuality into international communities, and that’s one of the points Kumar said she was really trying to hit home with her book.
“Being gay in South Asian societies has more to do with gender equality than sexual orientation… In a lot of ways, sexual orientation is a western construct, because if you think of the things you associate with sexual orientation, its not relevant to South Asian dialogs. You don’t marry someone because you fell in love with them or because you’re sexually attracted to them, you don’t build a household or a life with someone for those reasons.”
According to Kumar, people who did prefer sex with the same gender keep these relationships secret, and continue life as normal.
“Even if they’re sexuality attracted and have sex with (the same sex) it doesn’t make them gay,” she explained.
But if these women had a voice similar to those in the West, where they are able to stand up and be heard, that dialog might change.
Kumar touched on the importance of sharing these stories – even as places like Virginia and other US states achieve marriage equality – to leave sections of the LGBTQ racial spectrum out of the fight for equality can do more harm than good.
“As the LGBT community emerges from the ashes, as we are reborn in the south, keep in mind this isn’t just a white or just black movement. LGBT people are found in every race in every ethnicities in every part of the world…”
You can learn more about these issues, and speak with Kumar directly, when she comes to Barrel Thief wine – 5805 Patterson Ave, Richmond, Virginia – this Sunday, 3/8 from 7-9 PM.
You can pick up The Paths of Marriage
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