Review of “Desigirls!”

 
 

The one thing the two women share, however, is the solace they find
in SALGA, the South Asian Lesbian & Gay Association of New York
City
. For Priyanka, who is an out, politically active South Asian, SALGA
meetings and events provide her with the opportunity to connect with
those South Asians who are the most similar to her. A finds profound
strength from the organization, as it is the only place where others
understand what she’s going through as a queer Indian woman, both
culturally and religiously, and make up the group — the family — that
supports her. 

Perhaps the most poignant moments of the
film are those in which various South Asian women discuss their coming
out stories and the struggles that are uniquely South Asian. After
having her heart broken, A finally finds the courage to come out to her
brother, who is surprisingly supportive and proud of his younger sister.

Piali and S also share their distinctive coming out stories, which
range from parents’ total acceptance to outright physical abuse and
denial of financial help. S notes that although her parents watch The Ellen DeGeneres Show and
are aware of gay culture in America, the idea of a queer daughter
is repulsive and completely unacceptable. 

The film helps to elucidate
the murky and precarious situation of coming out to a South Asian family
and the fear many South Asians — as well as other immigrant communities
— have regarding tarnishing an upwardly mobile group identity. This
leads many South Asians to forcibly closet themselves and sacrifice
their happiness for the sake of the greater community’s reputation.

While
films like I Can’t Think Straight and Fire showcase queer
South Asian women’s experiences and conflicts, Desigirls! is the
first to shed light on what it means to be a queer South Asian in
America.

Srivastava also delves into the unique community-building
aspect of the queer South Asian community with her depiction of SALGA,
which, for individuals like A, facilitates a liberation once a month
that encourages members to free inhibitions and learn what it’s like to
be around other queer South Asians for the first time.

Opportunities for
socializing, activism, and consciousness-raising provide the beacon of
support for many struggling queer South Asians like A and S, who feel
comfortable being themselves only in the confines of the organization.

With
the establishment of SALGA and other resources in the nascent South
Asian queer movement, Priyanka says she has noticed a rejuvenation of the queer
South Asian community in New York over the last year. The more resources
are made available, the more queer South Asians are able to at least
grapple with their identities and find a safe place to explore their
queerness. Ashu also observes a "whole new generation of young, queer
South Asians" who are increasingly more out, open and aware.

Since South Asia is home to
over a billion people, there must be at least a million more stories out
there waiting to be told and queer women aching to be out and open. One
can only hope that the more we talk about our identities, the more
accepting the community will be of queer sexualities.

Whether one is a woman from a strict, Hindu-Punjabi family like S, an
unconventional family like Priyanka’s, or a queer woman from a
progressive Sri Lankan family, she has a story to tell. In Desigirls!, Srivastava
beautifully captures a few of these nuanced stories and opens up further
discussion about the intersectionality of sexuality, gender, and
ethnicity in an American cultural context. 

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