By Sundeep S. Boparai
My story is one that resonates with so many. I have been able to meet so many Queer South Asian individuals from all across the world, especially other Queer Sikhs because for so long I felt alone as if I was the only one.
Dealing with the trauma of coming out and being authentic having a Queer family, or a platform from which to collectively talk through the similar struggles we suffer, in many ways defined my ability to deal with the trauma of coming out. It helped me manage the mental health aspects of coming out, while at the same time kept me grounded and authentic to myself. Perhaps it’s something we don’t often associate with social media platforms, but in my experience, platforms like these allow us to share and collectively heal as well, with others who have been through similar experiences. And in that way, the healing process becomes magical, when we are on this journey together.
The American Dream(boat)
I was born and raised in Queens, New York to GurSikh parents who were extremely rooted in Sikh culture and religion. I am a product of a broken home. My father abandoned us and left my mother to raise me as a single mother which in itself is taboo within the Punjabi culture. My father was the President of Sikh Gurmat Camps in Richmond Hill, New York as well as held a Secretary position for a while at the Gurdwara. Therefore, it wasn’t as easy for me to navigate and understand my sexuality at a young age but that didn’t stop people from making jokes or comments about my mannerisms, the way I spoke or moved my wrists.
Growing up in New York City was very difficult. Society and culture have already foreshadowed what is expected of you.
As years went on, I would find myself being a punching bag for the kids in my junior high school and high school as well as my own family and friends. As I transitioned from high school to college, I found myself researching and learning about gay culture and especially the Stonewall Uprising. A movement created by black Transgender people of colour. As I dived deeper, names like Marsha P. Johnson, an activist, drag performer, sex worker who was fearless in advocating for her rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community at a time when doing so put her safety in jeopardy and Sylvia Rivera, Latina Transgender activist were exposed to me, together with Marsha P. Johnson co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, an organization that provided housing and other services to homeless LGBTQ+ youth in NYC. The more and more I discovered LGBTQ history, I was inundated with information.
Growing up, I wish I had a role model to look up to.
Someone who identified as a Gay Sikh and was able to obtain that “American Dream” with the husband, kids, beautiful house and great career. Unfortunately, that was unrealistic as I grew up in this culture. So, I became the person I needed when I was younger. The trajectory of my story along with the LGBTQIA+ movement has made tremendous leaps and bounds. My advice to the young LGBTQIA+ South Asians across the world is to trust your intuition and always believe in yourself. You are your own advocate and you have the power to change minds and bring light to issues in your own inner circles. Be confident in who you are and never let anyone dim your light. In order to navigate issues amongst our Sikh society/culture, it is important to make sure you never let anyone get in your head about who you are and what you represent as an individual. You know you better than anyone else does. You will come across hateful kids and adults who might mock you or taunt you, just know they are uneducated and ignorant. Please do not carry that burden with you throughout your childhood and adolescent life because in turn, it will affect you in your adulthood.
The Importance of (A Virtual) Community
One of the things that helped me come out to my immediate family was the support of my close friends, many of whom I found and connected with through my social media platform - @KingSunnyB. A range of digital media platforms are utilized by queer people of experience to explore gender identity, find support and manage boundaries. As a young cisgender Sikh Gay male, I found myself scrolling through digital platforms like Instagram but unable to resonate with a platform that aligned with my identity. The intersectionality of Queerism and Sikhism was not visible on any such platform. It became imperative that a social media presence focused on providing visibility and awareness on LGBTQ Sikhs be created, hence the birth of @kingsunnyb. Subsequently, being mindful of the rejection, cyberbullying that not only will come from strangers but also certain family and friends was a pill I was ready to swallow. With that being said, the goal was to create a place of solace for Queer South Asian individuals to knowledge share and network and have a safe space to go to when needing or inquiring about LGBTQ resources and or referrals which could range from housing, mental health and safe sex practices as well as just finding comfort in knowing that there are others out there just like yourself going through similar struggles and obstacles.
I started showcasing my authentic self on the digital platform which led to engagement and traction because it was the first time people started to notice an out gay Sikh man who is also rooted in his culture and religion as well as staying true to his gender expression and orientation. I decided that this platform will not only emphasize my authentic self but also emphasize the struggles of others from our communities. Provide a voice to the voiceless. These trailblazers and pioneers need to be recognized and remembered for their efforts in fighting for LGBTQ rights. If it wasn’t for individuals like that, a platform like KingSunnyB wouldn’t even have been able to come to fruition. Pioneers like that showed me that in order to see the change we want in the world, we must become the change we want to see. It was in those crucial moments that the KingSunnyB platform started to heighten as many started to gravitate towards it.
Through this approach, my LGBTQ advocacy started to heighten and propelled my story even further across social media. It was at these moments where I started to be recognized by modelling agencies, magazine brands and other influencers who were aligned with my goal and wanted to act as allies so others could mimic and learn from that. I was signed to a Los Angeles based agency, WestHavenManagement and became a Brand Ambassador for 360 Magazine. Simultaneously, in my professional career, I obtained a Masters in Healthcare Administration from Hofstra University. Currently, I am running the largest LGBTQ Transgender Program in Long Island, New York. I truly believe that my platform and my story manifested this into reality.
It is clear that there is an immense need to normalize homosexuality within South Asian communities. I started KingSunnyB as a way to share my hope that those who would discover the platform would be able to understand that this could be your neighbour, friend, cousin, co-worker. Many of you reading this right now probably know someone who identifies with the LGBTQIA+ community, or perhaps you yourself identify as queer.
For those of you who do identify as queer, my advice to you is this: Try to make friends with other Queer children, join Queer virtual safe spaces and try to find someone in your life that is trustworthy who you can confide in. My close friend circle helped me through some difficult challenges. There is a lot of guilt and shame when it comes to sexuality. You first have to overcome that on your own before you can confidently want others’ support on your journey. It is not easy being a person of LGBTQ+ experience and navigating this world. But, you are NOT alone. KingSunnyB is an essential safe space on Instagram for all of my Queer brothers and sisters. If you are reading this, I believe in you because I once was that young broken child. Just remember, the LORD created you and you are nothing short of a blessing to this universe.
For those of you who don’t identify as queer, but do identify as allies, my advice is much simpler: collectively we should think before we speak hate or spread hate.
About the Author
Sundeep is a Healthcare Administrator for the LGBTQ TRANSGENDER PROGRAM at Northwell Health located in New Hyde Park, New York
This Genderlogue has been produced in association with Gender Is a Social Construct - an upcoming database of creative and researched content that provides their audience with the tool to begin their journey in unlearning the gender binary. You can follow them on Twitter @unlearninggender and follow their affiliated organization Video Out on Instagram (@videoout) and Twitter (@video-out).