Shaun D’souza: Assigned Indian at Birth
Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and welcome to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme. Queerstories events happen regularly in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and I’m also now hosting them in regional towns. If you enjoy these stories, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast, and consider buying a copy of the Queerstories book: A collection of 26 of the stories edited by me and published by Hachette. I’m really proud of this collection and I hope you enjoy it too.
Shaun D’Souza is a Brisbane based youth worker and LGBTIQ+ activist, and a firm enthusiast of naps, books and tea. Their current projects include tackling transgender homelessness in Brisbane, and advocating for queer people of colour visibility through art and community building. They performed this story in Sydney.
Hello, ladies and gents, and my gender diverse friends. Like all good, insightful, and heartfelt Queerstories, mine obviously starts with Grindr.
You know. Less than three minutes into the conversation, out of absolutely nowhere, this guy excitedly reminded me that I should be out there driving a taxi.
I know. I was like, “Hmm,” and I was immediately reminded that, “Meri maa koi aam khet ki muli nahi hai.”
“Meri maa koi aam khet ki muli nahi hai,” which, in Hindi – the third language I speak – roughly translates to, “My mother is no ordinary creation.” She, along with my father, are both the bombs that make an impact, and the bomb shelter that gives out supplies and sustenance.
Dulseen uckoo, my father’s oldest sibling, lived with her family in Dombivli, the same town where I was born, and every time she cooked mutton curry, maa kasam, the whole room would ravishingly smell like what I imagine heaven to be.
My mother lived for a few good years in Saudi Arabia to support our family, which is pretty incredible, and while she was away, Dulseen uckoo would tell me bedtime stories. “Arre, Shaun, aika re,” she would start off in Konkani, the first language my tongue speaks. I don’t remember much of her stories because back then I didn’t really struggle that much to fall asleep. My oldest cousin’s name is Deepa bai. Deepa in Kannada – the fifth language I speak…
Deepa in Kannada means lamp, and whilst my mother taught me how to stand on a stage and speak like I am the bees knees, Deepa bai showed me how, when alphabets morphed into words to encapsulate feelings, communities flourish. She is the first culture I have ever known. I have thrived in Australia for about three years now, and it’s been a bit hectic, just casually oppressive along the way. To make it easier, some days, I try to forget that I am brown first. I try to forget that my name never used to sound foreign when kids playing cricket in some alleyway would scream it amidst celebrating both Ganesh Chathurthi and Id.
I forget what a crisis it is to wake up without any milk because I have almost forgotten the importance of a household without tea. I forget so much that I don’t even know if I should be offended every time I get asked if I speak Hindu. I try to, and I some days I accomplish… almost accomplish forgetting that I am brown first. Living to be both desi and Aussie, I have become such an intersectional mess that some days when I think in Marathi, I don’t even know if I should be celebrating or cringing. Between my mental breakdowns and the need to remind myself that it is okay to be a queer person, I have internalized enough hate to not assign my skin any further importance.
In Australia – and this was even before I moved here – I kind of expecting the overt, direct racism and wasn’t really aware of the systemic sides to it. I expected boys like Jamie, who refused a relationship unless I came out to my family. I expected people to come up to me and ask, “Oh, so your real Indian name is Raj, right?” Admittedly, I kind of less expected to be asked if I was actually the actual Aladdin – which was back then playing in Brisbane at QPAC – to which I said, “Yep, yep.” It’s Grindr, fuck it.
*Audience laughs and whoops*
What I kind of less expected was real estate agents refusing my right to housing, based on the nationality on my passport. I didn’t expect friends to not being able to tolerate me every time I called out some form of systemic bullshit – reminding me that I am Indian and should be grateful to be here. I didn’t expect people to ask me repeatedly if I work at 7-Eleven, and followed by being told that I should apply because I’ll definitely get the job, or apply to an Indian restaurant because, realistically, that’s the best chance I have at employment here.
I am here as a reminder for us all to be kinder to people that work those jobs that get assigned an ethnicity. Stereotypes are not created by minorities but is a direct result of oppression that we sometimes indirectly tolerate.
I am here to take back your permission to mock an accent that does not belong to you. And specifically, can we just stop bringing up The Slumdog Millionaire every time you see a brown person in the room? I mean, for fuck’s sake. Bollywood is literally not a million-dollar industry for you to not make an effort at a real conversation. You’d probably would get away talking to me about the weather. That’s a better conversation.
I am here as a living example that for some people, survival is equal to getting lucky, thriving is a dream.
My queer story is multi-lingual and is gay as fuck, but I didn’t almost make it. And even though some days I try to forget, it is nothing short of truth that for a country that is so riddled by oppression, I predominantly raised by women who found empowerment within their own means, and that keeps making me stronger.
Jilly auntie. Preeti bai. Elize auntie, whose house, by the way, somehow assuringly always smelled of love. Ruby auntie. [inaudible 00:08:37] than anyone else. Karen bai. Rubia. Ayesha. Helen. Mary uckoo. My mother. My mother. My mother.
My name is Shaun D’souza and, by God, I am assigned Indian at birth. And for every second that I am alive, I will take with me every story that nurtured me.
My best friend Sarah, who keeps guard outside changing rooms every time I want to try a dress on. My father, who is both the handyman and the stay-at-home parent, and has taught me more about non-binary gender roles than anyone else. My boyfriend, who just merely shrugged when I came out to him as trans less than three months into the relationship, and would happily watch Bollywood music videos with me, even though he understands fuck all.
Love you, babe. Happy anniversary.
*Audience whoops and applauds loudly*
We should go Facebook official.
I need you to know that I am not singular. I am every person, culture and struggle that I have survived. And in the same vein, I need you to know that my skin is the colour of earth, and I will selflessly let you find a home in me.
Some days, I glorifyingly smudge my mascara, because at least then you know that you’re looking instead into my mother’s eyes, and similar to her, meh bhi koi aam khet ki mooli nahi hoon. That is reassurance enough that my little saffron-stained heart narrative will never be wiped out. So when I got told that I should be driving a taxi, I rather nicely reminded the gentleman that, “Yeah, I would be driving a taxi but I am currently busy, specifically working all of the 63 jobs I stole from your country.”
*Audience whoops and applauds*
And that, “Here I am – both the bomb, obviously – and the bomb shelter.” My oppression is also my strength. And for every disadvantaged soul that forgets the same fact about themselves, I’ll never stop speaking up for you.