Crown The Brown Celebrates Pride Month with Khinali Bagwandeen
Crown The Brown celebrates pride month with the one and only Khinali Bagwandeen. Khinali is a 24 year old journalism graduate residing in Durban, currently working in the digital marketing field. Not only is she working and a lover of liberal arts, but this graduate is obtaining her masters in Communication Science as well!
Khinali completed her studies at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. This was a pivotal point in her life because being on her own away from family really gave her time to ponder and fall into finding herself. Khinali Bagwandeen is the youngest of three girls.
Her family, culture and music mean the world to her! Fortunately enough for us, we were able to learn more about this stunning individual and finding herself! Here is what she shared with us,
June is Pride Month, What does Pride Month mean to you? Why is Pride Month important?
To me Pride month means being grateful. As much as there is still so much progress left to be made. This month means we have already come so far and we have a lot to be grateful. I am grateful for those who took their personal struggles to a public and political level to eventually get us the liberties the LGBTQ community currently have.
In addition to this, I also feel like this month is a little nudge of reassurance to those who are still afraid of coming out or those who are still in conflict with themselves. This month is to show them that it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to do everything at your own pace and there is an entire community ready to support you.
As a South African Indian. The youth struggle to feel liberated whilst being stuck in old traditions that we were taught. What do you think is the biggest struggle when it comes to Indian communities and old school traditional views regarding sexuality?
The biggest issue with our Indian community is the good ol’, what will people say? As Indians we are brought up to believe that the opinions of others matter the most. With the influx of social media at this point as well. It has reinforced this belief that if we put ourselves out there, someone is going to have something negative to say.
Indian parents go on this whole vibe that they just want what is best for their children, but little do they ever believe that this best is allowing their children to have the freedom to love and be whomever they want to be. In most cases, we do what we can to please our parents so that “what will people say?” becomes a non-issue.
We study, we work hard, we prioritize education, we prioritize family and in essence, this should be enough right? Wrong. The elders in our community generally have lives planned out for their children. Planned out even before they’re teenagers.
This pressure from living up to expectations creates the stigma that being anything further from what is “accepted” is wrong. Yes, we cannot blame our elders because they come from a different generation, but if we don’t try to provide them with an understanding, we are failing ourselves and them.
As the youth we need to understand that choosing to be who you are deep down isn’t wrong. Just like how it is not wrong to choose to study something that isn’t accounting or medicine. It’s okay to change up the plans your parents and elders have for you because at the end of the day, this life is yours. You are living with the consequences so we should live the life we want.
You are an avid member of the LGBTQ community and you are publicly known within South Africa. Did you struggle to identify with yourself at the beginning? What was your journey regarding opening up and finding yourself in terms of your sexuality?
Okay so the truth is, from a little girl, I have always had a very strong personality. I have always been sure of myself. I am very unapologetic about my ways, whilst this might have been a little bit of a flaw. It worked in my favour when dealing with my sexuality. I never felt a sense of shame. Certainly never felt a reason to change who I was to make others happy, because I’ve always believed in every aspect of my life that this is me, take it or leave it.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t have any struggles, I did, mostly with myself and trying to sift out what was best for me. I spent years being the only girl I knew with such a different view on sexuality so often I would wonder if it was even right to be so liberal, but as I grew older and I had access to different types of people.
I started to see the world from a different lens and this helped me deal with all those questions and insecurities.
With regards to dealing with this publicly, again, I’ve never really cared about what people have to say. You either support me or you don’t. Those who don’t, simply don’t matter. Having my partner also made this easier. She is a very private person compared to me but her emotional maturity helped me deal with the times when I’d feel a little down.
Our relationship is built on support. We have a great understanding on how we go through things together even if it affects just one of us.
With regards to my journey, it is a long one. And I would love to share it one day. This will most definitely happen one day! Just not right now.
When did you know you were ready to open up about your sexuality?
I didn’t know. Honestly, it just happened. It was never such a big dark secret. Everyone who really knew me, knew I was a very liberal and open-minded person. I had no reservations when it came to share my opinions on sexuality, but I would never attach any personal anecdote to this.
It wasn’t something I was purposely concealing; I just didn’t have the motivation to go through the emotional turmoil that might come after. I believe that you need a strong person beside you, someone to go through this with. Some might disagree and say that it is about you and just you. But I feel this motivation comes from something that makes it all worth it? If that makes sense.
When I moved back home after 4 years, I realized how unfair it was for me to be around my family, especially my sisters, and not be able to share my happiness with them. We have always shared everything with each other, and I felt like I was cheating myself by not telling them something so significant.
I would go out on my first few dates with Sasha and I would come home and itch to share my day with Kajal or Kashmir but I would have to hold back because I’d remember what a huge part of my life I was hiding from them.
Meeting my partner and not being able to tell my sisters was my biggest motivation.
What would you say you feared the most about coming out, especially to friends and family, with such a public platform?
I know there are many fears that I could’ve had. But I have always lived my life very courageously, my main fear had nothing to do with what outsiders would think or say, it had nothing to do with how people would treat me, or who I would lose. All that mattered to me during this time was mom.
She is the stricter of my parents. My dad and I have always had a close connection, so I was lucky enough to know he had my back. My mom was a little more old school and I feared being rejected by her.
Being nonchalant about the opinions of others has made this process much easier for me. My support structure extends to my cousins and a small group of friends, and these are the people that mattered. Other than my immediate family, I am close to my extended family, and despite coming from such different generations. My cousins have also been really supportive. Some of them have even surprised me.
With regards to public platforms, as weird as this might seem, I am not big about my social media. I really don’t put much thought into what I share and how it looks. If I like something, if it makes me happy, I share it.
I don’t share my struggles, I don’t share my downs because honestly it’s no ones business.
I share my relationship so openly only because I do want people who are struggling to deal to know that there is hope! And I do only share happy moments with my partner, my public platforms are very filtered in the sense that as much as it might seem like I am letting off on a lot, I am really not and this is important for anyone in a relationship trying to make it work.
So coming out on a public platform was the point. I realized it shocked so many people that Sasha and I were so open with each other and I decided it was useful to use this as a means to show others that it is really okay!
As South Asian females, we often struggle to open up because we face more pressure and judgment, especially in a patriarchal society. What were the challenges or obstacles you faced once you became public about your sexual orientation?
Some people might disagree with me, but I don’t think the patriarchy is the reason it is harder for South Asian females. The patriarchy is the reason it is so challenging for South Asian males. Our communities place such importance on being a “man” and masculinity is just so fickle. All these conventional definitions and norms make it more difficult for males.
Think about it, a female with female friends has it a little easier, because as women. We can relate and empathize way quicker than guys. But a guy coming out to his heterosexual male friends must be prepared for the worst on basis of this patriarchal idea. I personally believe it is a common occurrence. I will give credit as times are changing and this is not always the case.
This does not mean females have it easy. I just don’t believe a patriarchal society makes our sexuality harder to navigate as compared to how trying it is for men.
Also remembering that it is not just about being gay. It’s also about those who are struggling with gender identity. This is a struggle I feel South Asian communities don’t discuss often enough, especially here in South Africa.
From a personal perspective, we all experience challenges in different ways. What might be gut wrenching to me, might be only a third of someone else’s challenge. I’m blessed to say my biggest challenge was with myself, and not my family as one would expect. I also share in the challenges my partner faces, and its rather emotional to see someone you care so much for go through something that you simply cannot help with.
What would you say was the best part about opening up and finally having a sense of acceptance regarding your sexuality and who you are as a person?
Being free in my environment. I think that being myself so freely and openly is one of the reasons my relationship has managed to flourish as opposed to past relationships. In order to grow with someone else and in order to not be detrimental to partner, you need to be comfortable with who you are. I feel that ever since I’ve opened up to the world as a whole, I’ve grown into a better, more confident version of myself. None of which would’ve been possible without the support of my family.
How do you think us, as a South African Indian community can showcase support towards the youth struggling to identify with their sexuality?
Small gestures mean everything. If you are someone who does not have anything supportive to say, don’t say it. I think it’s always important that if you are in support, don’t be afraid to shut down those who have dreadful things on say on social media or in real life.
You don’t have to belong to the LGBTQ community to be an advocate of what being a good human encompasses. If you see someone close to you struggling in silence, show them small signs of support. Until they’re ready to share. As a community that empowers the youth. We also need to empower them to believe that we don’t need to fit in boxes.
The South Asian community is infamous for putting everyone in little boxes. This is where the problem starts. We don’t need to be who the world wants us to be, we need to be whoever makes us feel at peace.
And if that means you’re a girl that girls, or a boy that likes boys, or born a male but identifies as female or gender neutral, or you don’t like anyone at all, who even cares? If your heart is pure, that’s all that matters. And that’s something my dad has taught me, he is the reason we grew up in such an accepting and non-judgmental environment.
We love celebrating love and we adore your current relationship! Congratulations! What advice would you give other young girls, especially stuck in families with old traditional views pertaining to finding ways to open up and liberate themselves with regards to their sexual orientation?
Thank you! I adore my relationship too! LGBTQ relationships sometimes work a little differently because of the risk you are taking by merely falling in love with the person. Before you get into a relationship ( as with any relationship) you must always be sure of your partners ability to not just stand there and watch your life fall apart.
Being with someone like Sasha has helped me be brave. Our opposing personalities fit perfectly into each other and even though we have our clashes, we never forget the bigger picture. Love is really just love! And once you start to believe that in your heart, the fears start to seem a little further away.
I am a very soppy person and I believe loving a good person fiercely will create a sense of fearlessness in your life.
I think you need to always be ready to come out. Only we understand our own family structure, so never be pressured or manipulated by a partner or potential partner. Never do it for anyone other than yourself.
It is a risk you are taking because you will never know the outcome, but nothing feels more liberating than being who you truly are to the people you love most. It is also difficult for families who have old traditions to understand sexuality and gender, so always go in with an open mind and understand that your family might also need help understanding you. We can’t always expect the, to just get it because we have been exposed to different worlds. Give it time. This is advice I’ve received from almost everyone who has been in the same situation.
You took time to deal with your sexuality so it is important to afford those you love with time to process and understand too.
Unfortunately it can’t happen over night, so always be open to the different ways it might go and don’t let anyone guilt you into changing your mind. Try not to let the dreams anyone else has had for you affect the life you want to lead! Being true to yourself is where it all begins.
When it comes to relationships falling into this journey, IF you choose to do this with a partner, your partner needs to be supportive in all the right ways. You also need to remember that they might be going through their own battle and as overwhelming as your problems might be, help goes two ways.
Sasha and I have built our relationship on a mutual understanding that we can’t always pretend like our relationship is always going to be accepted. There is a time and place for everything and you have to work together to understand when this is.
We never try to force our relationship upon those who may feel uncomfortable. We never PDA or over exert public affection if we know there are older people around, etc. As much as we want to just live freely, you must always have a sense of understanding that not everyone is just going to get it and if you are mindful of that, you can never go wrong.
Khinali states that talking to someone who isn’t that close to you and has gone through something similar before is also useful. It is called the LGBTQ community because we are a community. We are always willing to help each other better our situations and deal with our emotional wars.
“I am not the best giver of advice but I do try my best so if anyone ever needs a little push, I give free nudges and words of encouragement!” – Khinali