MY PARENTS ARE PAKISTANI and they both were born and raised in Pakistan. I was born in Berkeley, California and raised in the East Bay Area. My parents identify as Pakistani, but for me, saying I’m South Asian or Desi is much more comfortable. That’s partly because the relationship of British colonialism and the establishment of Pakistan is interesting to me. And partly it’s that we come from a culture that was in India for so long. Even the way Muslims in Pakistan practice Islam, there’s a lot of influence from India. I don't like the divisiveness of national labels, but I also don’t believe in the erasure of the differences. I think the differences are valuable. I'm still figuring it out.
The pre 9/11 experience is that nobody knew where Pakistan was and nobody knew what it was like. I'd be like, oh, it’s over near Afghanistan and Iran and India. And people would be like, oh, so you're Indian? And I’d say, no, I'm Pakistani. It's a whole different country. The post 9/11 experience is...well I think my mom still tells a lot of people that she's Indian because in all fairness, her parents were, and sometimes it's safer. It’s not exactly the safest thing in the world lately to be Muslim or to be Pakistani or to have any sort of affiliation with Islam.
I'VE HAD TO OVERCOME a lot of internalized racism and that was really challenging. I mostly contribute that to spending my most formative years in corporate Christian suburbia. I think it took me into my mid-twenties to realize that people don't just hate me, they’re just racist. I remember how someone I worked with refused to learn my name. I kept correcting them every time they said my name wrong and so they just stopped using my name altogether. And that was a horrible feeling, you know, and not the first time that I've experienced that either. Or the last.
> I don't think I'm anything even remotely close to what my parents expected out of a South Asian daughter, and that was even before my queer identity came along.
I basically flunked high school. I changed my major in college nine times. At one point my mom had basically told me she gave up on me. Before she was like, be a doctor, be an engineer, be a lawyer, and then she was just like, just finish college, get any degree.
When it came to my queer identity, I had a revelation last year when I was in London that I was queer. I was twenty-nine. I always sort of knew that I’m probably a little bisexual, but I grew up in a conservative family and I thought, if I can choose, I might as well pick the path of least resistance and just stick to men, because it'll just be easier.
I'm pretty sure the first thing I did when I got back from London was cry. I was so upset because I was like, how did I not acknowledge this about myself? I consider myself so self-aware. And also just like, why me? Being queer is so beautiful, but also the way the world is set up for you is so cruel. I spent a lot of time crying and bargaining and seeing if I could backpedal, but also having moments of just like, are you sure? And I definitely went through the phase of Googling, how do you know you're queer, and pretty much every article was like, bitch, if you’re Googling it, you're probably queer. Now I look back and I'm just like, the shit you were doing was queer as fuck. How did you not know?
I’M KIND OF OUT to every other circle, but I’m not officially out to my family. I’m not hiding my queerness from them, but it's just not a conversation I've had with them yet. I’ve had a pretty difficult relationship with my family for quite some time, but mostly, in this last year that I've been learning about my queerness, I was in a really sensitive space temporally and energetically. I really just needed to focus on my own experience, because my relationship to my queerness was so fragile at first. And honestly growing up in an environment where you frequently heard about people that our family knew in Pakistan getting arrested for being gay…how do you come out to that?
So as far as the melding of my identities goes, I’m still working on that. I grew up in a South Asian community in a very particular part of California where everyone's very by the book and very just middle of the road, like keep your head down, mind your own business, make an income, raise a family, don't do anything. So there were no queer people in our community that I was aware of and the only queer people I heard about were spoken about in rumors and hushed reverent tones.
I RECENTLY HAD A BIG MOMENT of being like, oh, I need other South Asian people that are also queer. Because it's not the same experience when you're queer and white, or queer and Black, or queer and Indigenous…it’s just different. Especially with the challenges I knew I was going to go through.
> The decision to be out, but also not come out, that was something that I think was very specific to my background, because I'm not going to live my life in fear, life's short, but also it's not anyone's fucking business.
So if anyone has questions about my queerness that aren’t from a place of great intentions, I don't have to answer them, and I’m giving myself permission to sort of do that.
SAMIA ZAIDI (she/they) is an artist and filmmaker based in the East Bay Area and Los Angeles. She’s also the founder of Pitch, Please, a design and consulting firm for directors' treatments, moodboards, and pitch decks for motion content, still photography, and experiential design. You can follow her work here.