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.


Kansas White Boy, Interrupted.

ImageEvery wonder why the rainbow is synonymous with gay culture? Those six colors that fly proudly on flags and are affixed affectionately on bumper stickers are actually a representation of diversity. The gay community is unique as a minority group in that it has no monolithic ethnic, racial, religious, or cultural heritage. It’s simply a collection of people whose sexual orientation is, well, queer.

Although white isn’t a color in the “gay rainbow” it’s certainly the unofficially color of the gay community.  Just as with society at-large, gay Caucasians get the lion’s share of attention, power, and respect. Meanwhile LGBT people of color, many of whom come from cultural backgrounds averse to homosexuality, are marginalized two-fold. It’s not uncommon for them to lose their family because of their sexual orientation and then subsequently have difficulties finding acceptance from their gay peers because of their ethnicity.   If you’re openly gay and not white, you probably feel like you’re running with a double edged sword pointed at your abdomen.

Recently, I got to witness this pain up-close when I met a guy named O. He was born and still lives in New Jersey, but his parents immigrated to the US from Pakistan. O is about as American as you can get, insisting on eating a Wendy’s hamburger every time  I opine about the food at ICT’s Indo-Paki Bistro, Zaytun. The first time that we talked, I felt an instant spark. His personality was an enticing blend of intellectual brilliance, geeky precociousness, and political savviness.   I wanted him. He wanted me. Unfortunately, reality got in the way.

When we start a relationship, we usually bring our baggage with us. The luggage that O was carrying was given to him by others, though. His parents moved to a foreign country and brought the values from their mother land with them; meanwhile their kid grew up with an exclusively American experience, feeling detached from the traditions his parents held dear. He made a very brave move by coming out in high school—something South Asian kids don’t do because it scorns the family’s name. Right around the time he began getting harassed in school for being gay, September 11th happened. Suddenly, he was a fag and a terrorist.

One night, O tearfully confessed to me that he felt ugly, dirty, and disgusting.  He couldn’t be with me because he could barely tolerate himself. Everywhere he turned, he was being told that he was sub-human and less-than. At the intersection of personal freedom and cultural reality, he had become a dart board for all of the world’s social phobias.

I realized then that there are some things my white entitlement just can’t grab. Kansas white boy, interrupted.

This experience has also interrupted the focus on this column. It’s time to make Homo on the Range more reflective of not just the iconic rainbow that’s supposed to represent everyone in the gay community, but also more reflective of the rich cultural diversity within our city. So, I want to hear your stories! Over the next few months, I want to profile a gay Wichitan from a different racial/ethnic background. I’m particularly interested in finding a local Middle Eastern/Indian, African American, Latino, and Asian to talk to about the conflicts between personal honesty and cultural traditions. Identities can be concealed and will be held in the strictest of confidences.

E-mail me at jasonaarondilts@gmail.com.  Gays may be a divergent group of people united by a simple trait, but we can coalesce to increase understanding and awareness within all communities right here in The ICT.