Boundless Theatre Search
Mailinglist

#ISeeYouLookingAtMe – Growing Up as a Queer South Asian Woman in the UK

Daljinder Johal 17 June 2021

Ideas Space Identity

Rather than returning to India after a divorce, my Nani (maternal grandmother) chose to raise her four children alone in 1980s Wolverhampton.

Growing up in the UK as a working-class South Asian queer woman may have come with certain challenges that other female-identifying creatives will likely explore in #ISeeYouLookingAtMe.

But I had a special space away from the male gaze. With other people, the pressure to fit in meant I had to perform an acceptable version of femininity – and while making sure my younger sister was doing the same, hear my mum be asked: “only two girls? What a shame.”

But I had a special space away from the male gaze. With other people, the pressure to fit in meant I had to perform an acceptable version of femininity – and while making sure my younger sister was doing the same, hear my mum be asked: “only two girls? What a shame.”

With my mum’s sisters, her teenage brother and my Nani, I was allowed to become a person. My youngest aunt gave me copies of Frankenstein and Anita and Me, but also an interest in science with weekend trips to the aquarium and books of deep-sea creatures. After work, the older aunt would sneak us into the cinema with bags of pick and mix and chocolate to watch hours of films and paint our nails in lurid colours when we got home too late. After he’d surfaced from bed at midday, we’d spend summer days with my uncle on Tekken 4, smashing out songs on his drum kit, learning chess and being taken to help set up for his music gigs.

My favourite dish to this day is my Nani’s saag (spinach). With an island of butter in the middle and steaming hot, she told us to have plenty of it so we’d be as strong as Popeye and now, I celebrate her creativity in both food and fashion in an audio project on intergeneration skill-sharing and sewing as survival as she supported the small home where I’d eventually spend all my holidays.

Despite experiences of a supervisor of a high school science festival insisting I should let the boys work while I look pretty or being patronised or harassed as a creative on a film set or backstage at a music gig, growing up with a family full of women chasing their own dreams and ambitions has helped me more confidently pursue my own.

#ISeeYouLookingAtMe is important to speak out against the negative experiences that we hope to challenge and eradicate in our world today. But it’s also a chance to celebrate how we are able to use creativity as a way to share our stories thanks to the support of those close to us and inspire others to do the same.

 

Our Head of Community Daljinder Johal shared her very own story growing up as a South Asian queer woman in the UK.

Join us on the 24th June at our pop-up the Ideas Space to join workshops, activities and a panel talk around gender identity – find out more here.