Original drawing by Sarah Elizabeth

It’s a warm spring night. I’m outside, sitting on a stone wall by the Keeper of the Plains along the Arkansas River. I’m surrounded by lots of people. The torches around the statue light , revealing a picturesque scene at the base where our two rivers meet. Kids bounce around. Couples caress. Intimacy ensures.

I’m in the midst of a destination hot spot for ICT romance. Much to my surprise, I notice that it’s not just the straights holding hands.  An arm locked, older lesbian couple stands behind me as a boy-duo skips gaily along. They blend into the crowd; no one bats an eye. For all the talk of “hetero-hysteria” over public displays of homo affection, everyone seems to be peacefully coexisting.

Progress is in full view. This isn’t something you’d have seen in Wichita ten years ago.

Then my blackberry beeps. I have a new e-mail. It’s from a woman named Neepa. She’s responding to my call from a previous column to interview people from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds about their experience being gay in Wichita. She’s a self-proclaimed lesi-Desi, an Indian woman who loves other women, and has lots to say on the topic of her culture and its attitudes toward homosexuality. She would love for me to interview her and feature her in the magazine, but there’s just one problem—her husband would get very upset.

To my back, two women are being their true, free selves in the presence of all who surround; in the palm of my hand– across a digital divide–another woman’s freedom to be true to herself and those around her is eclipsed. Apparently, closets painted in “White Privilege” open a lot easier than those “Made in India”.

Neepa (not her real name) pours her heart out to me in the e-mail, giving me permission to use the material if I change enough details to protect her identity. She knew she liked girls when she was a teenager. In college, she had several girl-girl romances. That was when she was far away from her parents, though. They knew nothing of her Sapphic proclivities. After she graduated, her family began pressuring her to get married. “In my culture, you had better get married by the time you’re 23 or something is not right,” she explains. The family already had their suspicions, but they decided they could “fix” any problems by rushing a marriage.

She tried to fight off her parent’s instance that she find a guy to “settle down” with, but ultimately that proved too difficult for her. “My parents had decided that I should marry the son of my father’s business partner. It was made very clear to me that I could either do this or be cut off—not just financially, but emotionally. I had to make a choice. It was my family or myself. I choose my family,” she said.

A consequence of that choice is that she’s living a double life. Neepa admits to carrying on affairs with other women. She says her husband has no idea. “I know that lying is wrong, and I want to get out of this situation,” she confesses. “My husband is a good man who deserves a woman who truly wants to be with him. I can’t give him that.” Right now, she’s trying to fight off pressure from him and both of their families to have a baby. She secretly takes birth control. “I don’t want a child to be born into these lies,” she says.

Despite admitting that her choices are negatively effecting herself and everyone around her, she ends her sociological monologue with this chilling line: “There are some cultures that just aren’t ready for the truth. Most Indians will pretend there’s not a tornado, even as it rips their house out of the ground in front of their eyes. I don’t want to get blown away, but I just don’t know how to find shelter.”

The torches dim as I finished reading the e-mail. Under the starry Kansas sky, I’m able to be myself and live my life exactly how I want. Others around me are doing the same. As the waters of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers blend into one body, we blend into one community. Yet somewhere in Wichita, a husband falls asleep in a bed of lies, caressing a wife drained from banging a cultural tango. To the truth through difficult.


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