The remnants of buttery popcorn crushed on fancy velvet seats, whining kids and an overcrowded staff of ushers emanated through Arclight Cinemas in Sherman Oaks, California where Lily worked as an usher.
It wasn’t one of those ordinary Regal or Fandango theaters; it was one of those upscale theaters where tickets ranged from $13 to $15 with assigned seating provided for moviegoers. It was a lazy, humid day. Everything seemed to be going at a snail’s pace because the staff huddled in the back hallway of the lobby. Immediately, Lily’s eyes diverted to one of her co-workers.
“Wow she looks really pretty,” Lily thought to herself. Lily was eager to meet her again. A week later, Lily was able to talk with the girl. Soon after, her co-worker asked her out to the movies and they talked for a good amount of time. Lily felt comfortable with her and soon enough, their friendship grew into a romantic relationship during college.
Summer to reflect
Lily felt as though she were melting like a snow cone in her room this past summer. Her forehead perspired, and she was fanning herself while curling up with a book to read. She had just watched a Bollywood movie and was contemplating the conventional marriage between a man and a woman.
For Lily, a sudden feeling of elation and adrenaline overcame her. Everything was as clear as a crystal ball. It was like a puzzle piece, and the pieces had just finally come together about her sexuality after watching the movie.
At that moment, Lily rushed to the telephone and dialed her close friend’s number. “She always understood my struggle with being bi in high school. I told her, on the phone, ‘I think I’m gay.’”
Lily felt relieved and happy that she had told someone about what she was going through. The bigger question was whether to tell her parents and peers about what she had discovered. But she didn’t know where to begin, or how this would all fall into place.
“Neil told me something…”
The smell of rose tobacco and jasmine-scented hookah smoke filled the night air in New York. Lily and her brother Neil sat in the patio and smoked for a while. The coals were burning bright orange. Lily’s hands were clenched together, with a hint of uncertainty and hesitation.
She couldn’t look directly at her brother. She took a deep breath, and said, “So, I just realized…I’m into girls.” Neil was caught off guard, but was more concerned at that point about what would happen if Lily said a word to their strict Hindu parents about her sexuality.
Lily had withdrawn from her parents because she felt trapped. “I started spending time with other people just so that my parents couldn’t talk to me. I knew my dad would never accept my sexuality because he voiced several opinions during the Proposition 8 controversy.”
One weekend back in California, Lily’s parents had set up a dinner get-together and invited guests. Lily set the china dishes on the dining table, and filled them with mouth-watering Indian cuisine ranging from samosas, fruit, and paneer. As she turned her shoulder away from the dinner table, her mom gently put her hands on Lily’s shoulders and said, “Neil told me something.” Lily’s lips turned numb; her body was frozen in time. Her fingers were shaking as she put the plates back down on the table.
Lily made her way to the family room, and her mother was still standing with an expression of sheer concern. Lily, trembling with fear, said, “Really, what did he tell you?”
“He told me about your secret. He told me something.”
At that moment, Lily’s heart felt as if it had been ripped open. She didn’t want to have a confrontation with her mother before the guests came. Not this way. “Coming out to your parents is something really big. I feel robbed of that. My mom knows I am gay but we don’t talk about it.”
When the guests left, Lily and her mother argued for a while. Her mom was angered at the fact that Lily had told her brother and her mother’s family friend but not her. “You told everyone but me. I can’t believe you didn’t come to me and couldn’t trust me.”
Lily’s face was angered. “This is why I didn’t want to tell you. Because you’re turning it into you and it’s about me.”
Confronting her father was another issue. Lily has not said anything to her father for fear that he won’t be able to face the world’s reactions to his daughter’s sexuality.
“He’s more worried about how the world will take it. I think he’ll think it’s just a phase I’m going through. I don’t think he understands the principles behind it.”
Lily’s father is bold and serious. He believes in strict discipline, proper decorum, and being aware of the consequences of one’s actions. “My dad doesn’t deal with emotions. We don’t hug at home. We aren’t very expressive of our emotions.”
Even the home is filled with constant reminders of religious and cultural sayings. As you walk into the front room, there’s a Ganesh and an Om statue. In the living room, there’s a huge painting of Hindu deities above the unlit furnace.
Although homosexuality is not explicitly looked down upon, it is still “culturally taboo” as Lily puts it. “I don’t think there’s anything against it. In ancient times, it existed because it’s definitely referenced in literature but there’s nothing for or against it especially when it comes to defining marriage.”
Facing the Future
Lily wants that festive five to seven-day Bollywood-inspired wedding with vibrant silk saris, the smell of jasmine rose petals, and the drums beating to the sound of the priest’s words. “I don’t know if I will ever be able to have that. The future has been on my mind lately.” The biggest question for Lily is whether that image can be a reality for her in the near future.
“I think I want to reach a point where my sexuality can be part of my identity. It’s liberating but difficult to channel that energy, so definitely find an outlet for it because it’s an adrenaline rush.”
Four years have gone by at UCI. Lily will miss the campus, the people, and most of all —the wonderful experiences that have helped her find herself. She will miss the daily commotion and liveliness of the student body and being involved with various organizations on campus. Though she notes that she won’t miss the stress that comes along with school, she will leave UCI knowing that her experiences and hard work definitely paid off. This June, Lily will be throwing her cap up in the air during graduation at UC Irvine as she holds her B.A. in Sociology in hand. In the future, she hopes that she can help at-risk children and young adults.
*Writer’s note: names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual.