Reeta Loi CEO Gaysians, writer, musician & DJ (aka LOIAL)
What was the journey to finding your identity like?
I always knew I was attracted to girls but only started exploring this at University. I dated guys and I dated girls and worked it out. However I desperately did not want to be gay. I knew what the repercussions with my family would be, so it was a difficult personal journey. I grew up with a lot of emotional blackmail and threats from my parents that my sisters would be married off and sent to India if I didn’t tow the line – so I lived a double life while at Uni. I remember the first time someone asked me if I was a lesbian and I felt entirely disconnected from that word, I couldn’t own it and in fact I probably rejected it. I guess I started to embrace that part of myself when I met a woman that I fell in love with and entered into a long term relationship. That’s when I decided it was time to come out to my parents. I knew I was a lesbian, I was happy and I’d found love with an amazing woman. It took me ten years from first dating women to getting to a point where I told my parents when I was 28. That may not have worked out, but I’m grateful for having experienced the love of the relationship I was in.
How did your local community and family react during your coming out?
Well that’s a Bollywood storyline in itself but in summary; I was disowned by my family. Aside from some contact with my brother,
I’ve had little to no contact with my family for over 12 years. Like most South Asian families, there are lots of us and we spend all our time together and at each others houses. It’s a huge loss when that is gone because it’s not just your family and friends you lose, it’s also your language, customs, festivals, food, music, films, fashion and so much more that forms your identity. I always knew that was the likely outcome if I came out to them, they’re fairly conservative. Everyone in my family had an arranged marriage and I was next. I managed to fight to go to University, despite being a girl and the first person in my family to go into further education. As a Dalit (Untouchable caste) family, it was extremely rare for someone in my circumstances to have had that opportunity, especially at that time, and it’s something I’ve never taken for granted. It’s also why I’m a firm believer in education for girls.
What do you think could be done to help promote the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the Asian community?
We need allies. We need more people to be talking about the subject of homosexuality to South Asians. Whether it’s your friends or your family members, we should all be talking about positive legislative change like the repeal of Section 377 in India in September. This is a huge landmark ruling that is an opportunity to shift the perspective of South Asians that are homophobic and don’t know why. If it goes unchallenged, it can’t change.