One of the benefits of living in today’s age is the increasing acceptance of different types of love, which only a few years ago, may have been regarded as taboo.
Many of us relish the right to freely express who we are and underrepresented groups often embrace the opportunity to reframe global thinking and stick their middle finger up at the status quo. On 1 March, Finland become the 23rd country to make same-sex marriage legal, which got us thinking about how little we hear about the experience of women in love… with women.
Many heterosexual women proudly count a gay man as one of their BFFs, but things are quite different when it comes to Black or Asian lesbians. Often regarded as taboo in the Black and Asian community, the experiences of lesbian women of colour is one that we arguably don’t know nearly enough about.
We asked two women to share their experiences and thoughts.
Pamela Rani Chabba
“I define my sexuality as lesbian or gay or queer depending on my mood. I remember going to register at a new doctor’s surgery and as the nurse was weighing me, she asked if I needed birth control. I said “No, I’m gay”. Her response was “No, you’re not, you’re a lesbian, only men are gay”. I was NOT impressed. I thought to myself, ‘Excuse me! Can I be allowed to identify my sexuality myself’?
I was around nine or ten when I first became aware of my attraction to other girls. There was this gorgeous girl at school called Lucia who all the boys followed around. I followed her too. During the 80s. the prevailing narrative everywhere, not just culturally, but in the wider community, was decidedly a straight one. I pretended to fancy boys as all my friends did. It wasn’t until I got to university at the age of 19, that I told a male friend about my sexuality. I had kept my attraction to women to myself for 10 years, until this point I had not told anyone about my feelings.
When I came out, no one would go out with me! I was told that I looked wrong, my hair needed to be shorter and that I shouldn’t wear dresses as the perception was that I was trying to attract men (even though I was in a lesbian bar)! Women were also confused about my ethnicity. My fair complexion had people guessing a range of mixed backgrounds but the minute I told them I was Asian I would get lots of stupid comments like; “Are you going to have an arranged marriage?”
Even though I was ‘out’ and allowed into the lesbian community, I felt very isolated. I only knew one other Asian girl who was out, and she committed suicide.
My mum asked me if I was a lesbian when I was 17 when we were on a flight to India but I was just not ready to tell her it at all, although I think my parents always kind of suspected. I never brought home a boyfriend and had a succession of very intense “friendships” with girls.
I’ve definitely been talked to and perhaps treated differently because I’m an Asian woman. I turn up at a gay club in Indian wear, and everyone from the bouncer to the barmen would ask me what I was doing there. The people I meet in the club always assume I’m religious and women who would become girlfriends would fall into two categories: those who would just pretend I was white or something; never referring to my ethnicity or those who would constantly talk about my ethnicity in a nosy, sometimes slightly racist way, with stereotypes of submissive Indian women in their minds.
I think the Indian way is to avoid talking about things that they are uncomfortable with, sexuality being one of them. I think that was the approach my parents used. However, my mum loves my partner. I think the turning point for her was when she observed the way my partner looked after me whilst I recovered from a serious illness, it really brought home to my parents that I was in a real relationship, with a partner who really loved me.
It annoys me that the media always depicts parental responses to Asian queer kids as negative. It increases fear and makes coming out even harder for Asians. I’ve not gone out of my way to announce my sexuality to my extended family but I have gone to family functions like weddings with my partner who is amazing. I never thought in a million years I would eventually find an amazing woman and settle down.
The hostility from some heterosexual Black and Asian people mirrors that which they face from the wider white community. We shouldn’t have to choose one identity over the other. If anything, we are doubly, or triply if female; “oppressed”. We all need to stand together, especially now, to fight inequality.
I’m a woman who loves women and I wouldn’t change my sexuality for anything.”
Chardine Taylor Stone, Cultural Producer, Writer and Activist
As well as identifying as a lesbian or queer, Chardine also calls herself a ‘Femme’, a woman who is attracted to women who have masculine appearances, these women are known as Butch and/or Studs.
“It took me a while to realise that I liked this in a woman as you don’t really see them in popular media. I had been in heterosexual relationships for a long time and have dated both women, men and those in between. Yet there were things I always felt drawn to reading LGBTQ literature and being in Queer spaces. I was fortunate to have my friends and mother to talk to about my feelings.
I’m quite feminine in appearance so some people look surprised when they discover my sexuality and preference. I occasionally catch ‘the look’ which says a thousand words but is never actually followed with any words!
Despite being told that sexuality or gender is not important in discussions around race, they are. People “back home” are still in danger because of colonial laws left over by the British. It saddens me when parts of our community display homophobic attitudes as I just think we have a long way to claim back some of our Queer history. And “treatments” like the conversion therapy are abuse and should be banned!
There are loads of BME lesbians and Bisexual women. We are everywhere. There are also a range of scenes; the Black club scene, the artsy scene or whatever else you are interested in. But I do think we need more BME LGBTQ spaces. In general, we need more visibility.
Black and Asian lesbians ARE the wider community; we are not in a small subculture somewhere. We are everywhere and achieving a lot for our community. Angela Davis, who is a Black icon, is also a lesbian and people seem to forget this. It’s so important that we remember who we are and not let history erase us.”
Image credits: www.123rf.com.