Ani Abdul Halim
Tue Jun 30 2020 04:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
“It was the night before a gun control rally in Texas. I had been living two separate lives for the past few weeks, one at home where my parents knew me as their son, and another in the outside world where I had come out.
I had already introduced myself as Ani to a group of student organizers in the area. It was my first political experience and I wanted to go to the rally presenting as myself. This meant that I would have to come out to my parents, a moment I was dreading.
I was far too afraid to say it to their faces, so I wrote a note explaining that I have always known I am trans and wanted to be known as Ani. I slipped the note under their door and went to bed, barely able to sleep from anxiety. I had witnessed years ago how flagrantly bigoted their response was to me coming out as queer. I prepared myself for a far worse reaction.
The next morning, I went downstairs to find my parents waiting for me at the kitchen table. My note was open in front of them. To my surprise, they said they didn’t mind whether I thought I was trans or not, and it wouldn’t change how they treated me. They also said they wouldn’t be calling me Ani, and that I would always be [deadname] to them.
In retrospect, that should’ve been a dead giveaway to their true feelings. When I came down in my feminine outfit—a rally t-shirt tucked into a pair of DIY denim shorts—it was clear. They immediately harassed me about how I presented and demanded I change clothes, but I stood my ground. They continued hurling abusive words during the car ride downtown, saying that my presence as a trans person would ‘derail the entire movement and distract from the rest of the rally.’ I suspect that they only said that to make me see myself the way they did—a freak and a monster. To them, I was the stereotypical sexual chimera that trans women are often reduced to, and nothing more.
My parents didn’t offer me emotional support growing up, even as their ‘only son’. Why would they support me now? After coming out, my parents stopped taking me to dawats and urged me not to come out publicly online (which I had already done). They irrationally claimed that ‘if news made it to anyone in the Bengali community who worked senior to my father at IBM, he would be fired.’
I reached out to my sister and her husband. They flew across the country and I stayed with them in a hotel to discuss my options. We decided I would move in with them and finish high school online, so I could live in a secure environment. I can’t express how grateful I am for their love and care. Without their intervention, I’m not sure I would have survived halfway through 2019.
Since then, I’ve had space to explore my gender identity. I found that I feel just as uncomfortable performing hyperfemininity as I am performing masculinity. I realized I am nonbinary and that the liberation of identity I was seeking was not a dichotomous option.
To all my queer and trans Bengali brothers and sisters who haven’t come out to their families, I know there’s not much I can say to make you feel any less queasy about the prospect of coming out. It can be very ugly and once you do it, there’s no going back. If you are preparing to come out, stay strong. Never let yourself believe the hate targeted towards you. To be a caterpillar metamorphosed into a butterfly among worms, how could you be disappointed when you shine the brightest? As queer and trans Bengalis, our existence is simply revolutionary, and orthodoxy lives in fear of liberation.”