I’ve spoken about this in my newsletter of late, but I’ve been doing an intense, introspective journey this year to help me process unresolved trauma and remove the limiting beliefs I have about myself and my life. As part of that journey, I’ve realized (or re-realized) what I knew as a teenager but suppressed – that I do not only identify as a woman, but I also identify as non-binary. That means (for me anyway, because everyone is different) that while being a woman represents some of my experience, it doesn’t reflect all of it. I currently prefer the pronouns she/they (I say ‘currently’ because I don’t know where this gender journey will take me, but this is where I am right now.)
I won’t go into a lot of details about how I felt growing up, or about how I was pushed into the ‘box’ of being an ultrafeminine South Asian and how wrong it felt for me. I keep saying ‘for me’ because I want to respect everyone’s journey. My saying I don’t identify as ultrafeminine doesn’t discount or invalidate YOUR experience if you do identify that way. This is kind of the point – WE CAN ALL EXIST, HOWEVER WE ARE. Neither of us is ‘wrong’ for existing.
Yet, I am not the only one on a journey – my characters are too. I spent time outlining some of the characters and their backgrounds and, even way back in 2014 (!) when I started writing the books, I always knew 2 things – that Ethan was bisexual and that Carolina is also female and nonbinary. (Side note here: gender and sexuality are 2 entirely different things, and I firmly believe that, like most things in live, there is a scale. Our brains like labels because it can quickly sort information but, just like my own gender journey, the labels don’t fully define who I am.)
When I started brainstorming Ethan’s story before I actually wrote it, I had a storyline reflecting his bisexuality, but when I started writing it, I got afraid about the backlash I might receive and left it out. I’ve gotten a lot of racism, sexism, and lots of other -isms in my real life, and writing is my safe space. I can express things in my books that I can’t always do in real life, and I didn’t want to deal with a lot of hate and negativity from a book I wrote. I do regret that, and someday I may go back and write an alternate version of that book. Or I might incorporate his bisexuality into the upcoming Vollywood series that will feature him and Anda. By the way, Ethan loving Anda doesn’t mean he can’t love or like others. Relationships aren’t always ‘binary’ either and there are a lot of different ways to love.
Carolina is a character that will be very emotional for me to write. I originally named her after my dear childhood friend, Caroline, who passed away from an illness far too young. (Carolina, by the way, is pronounced Car-uh-leen-a, not Care-o-line-uh like the US state). My friend was a brilliant artist in my opinion, so I wanted to honour her in some way in my books, though that is where the similarities end (all my characters are fictional, after all). I didn’t realize that Carolina’s gender journey was reflecting my own until this year (I think my subconscious was trying to remind me sooner about what I’d repressed in my own life, though I didn’t listen). When I finally write her book, it will reflect more of her journey and the real-life struggles there are when you try to be your most authentic, iconic self.
There’s so much more I could say about these topics, and I may say more in time. I will say that some close friends know the ‘true’ me (and now you!) though most of my family wouldn’t accept me so I haven’t shared it with them. There is a lot in South Asian culture that punishes those who don’t conform to the ‘box’ they want to put you in, especially if you’re female, so I’m letting my instincts guide towards what’s best.
As we are coming up on some crucial elections in the US, I will encourage all of you to vote. Vote.org has resources that can help you by your specific state. Not only are women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights at risk, but so are our basic fundamental freedoms. Please go vote!
Last note – I will be moderating comments for this post and I have a zero tolerance policy for hate. Life is hard enough for each of us – let’s all choose to be kind and accepting and inclusive of each other.