Today I am happy to give this space to Vanshika Prusty, one of the authors in the Keep Faith anthology edited by Gabriela Martins, where they will talk about the relationship with their religion and their queerness. This is only one of the many personal stories that brought this anthology into existence. If you’re religious, faith is one of the many aspects of yourself that will intersect with your queerness, and this essay focuses on that.
Keep Faith is an anthology for everyone who has ever wanted to read a collection of diverse and queer stories with a focus on faith, in a broad sense. It’s out now and you can buy it on Gumroad!
TW: Self-harm mention, depression mention and mention of non-acceptance from family for sexuality and gender.
I was sixteen when I figured out that I’m bisexual.
I’d just moved from India, where I’d known of only three sexualities: being straight, being gay or being a lesbian. And only one out of those three were okay in my conservative family. So, you can imagine how deeply I repressed my feelings towards people who weren’t cis-men.
It wasn’t so much that there wasn’t information accessible on Queerness and being part of the LGBTQIAP+ community, but more so that it wasn’t easily accessible to me. On top of that, I didn’t have the encouragement to seek out that information as a kid or a teenager when I was surrounded by people who were disgusted at even the thought of someone not conforming to straight, cis-centric views of romantic and sexual relationships. I would’ve been ridiculed at best, and I don’t even want to imagine what would’ve happened at worst.
After I moved to Canada, when I was fifteen, a friend (at the time) of mine and I discussed queerness. I was fascinated at the fact that I could so openly and freely discuss this with someone and moreover, on the fact that a community of people who loved so freely existed. When she told me that bisexual people, those who are attracted to two or more genders, existed, I knew that that was me. I remember my exact words being, “I’m bisexual, I’ve always been bisexual.”
That conversation didn’t resolve all my issues with sexuality and gender. But it was a start, and it put me on the right path to find the labels for myself that I was comfortable in. After the conversation, I also realized that I had a lot of unlearning to do. Unlearning of internalized misogyny, homophobia and transphobia that I’d eaten up from my parents’ friends, and from conservative Indian news that promoted these bigoted views as patriotic and as what ‘good Hindus’ did.
And in my unlearning, I distanced myself from my religion because the news we’d watched in India, and that my papa put on in Canada, too, framed hating people who are queer as something every Hindu should be proud to do. It was quite possibly the worst thing I did to myself.
In the years I denied myself the love I held for my religion, my depression got worse, I selfharmed more often, and suffered in school. I hated everything about myself that made me who I am. I hated that I was from India, that I was from a Hindu family, that I wasn’t born in an accepting family. It didn’t help that my sister tried outing me to my parents because she was angry with me. It was even worse that my parents called me to say they didn’t believe her because ‘no kid of theirs is going to be disgusting’. Yeah, 2015-2017 were absolute hell for me.
My parents aren’t violent people, that’s not what I want anyone to take away from my
reluctance to tell them. I don’t think they would hurt me physically if I told them that I’m a bisexual, non-binary woman. I think it was the fear that they may not love me anymore—that their love isn’t unequivocal or limitless; that it is conditional—that has kept me from telling them. So, I felt like I had nowhere to go. No one to ask for help, no one to understand me.
This loneliness—this fear that kept blooming in me. It sent me into a spiral. I felt suffocated every single day until I finally fell on my knees, quite literally, in front of my gods in the prayer room we have at home. I don’t even think that’s where I was going, but that’s where I ended up.
My parents are from Cuttack and Ranikhet in India, and they have different rituals and
basically different religions, if you really look into it, but they worship similar gods, and their most important god is the same: Jagannath, or RadheKrishna. Him and Radhe are the gods I grew up worshipping the most. I was attracted to them from a very young age as it is; to their story, to their morals and…just…them. In general. I don’t really know how else to explain it than that I felt at home if I knew they were with me, or near me.
I remember the night I cried my eyes out to Krishna and Radhe. I begged them for guidance. I screamed at them for the world they’d brought me into. I pleaded that they take me away. I was so angry with them, and so desperately craved their help. It was the night that began my understanding of intersectionality. Slowly, I grew to understand that, to be queer, I didn’t have to deny myself other parts of me. I understood that there’s no one way to be queer. I can be religious and I can be a bisexual, non-binary woman. I can worship my gods and love who I love, be who I am. I understood, not fully, but slowly, that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
The next day, or so, I started writing what would become Droplets of Starlight. I knew it
wasn’t going to be a novel from the get-go, but I also knew that it was something I needed to write. Something I needed to do for myself, and myself only. I didn’t think I’d ever share it. In fact, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to share it because it came from such a personal place. Although, that’s not new. My writing has always comes from a personal place. Sometimes it’s from happiness, sometimes from a burden I’ve carried for far too long.
I feel that art cannot exist in separation from its creator. So, everything I write, in one way or another, is deeply personal. Droplets of Starlight is no exception to that. It was, perhaps, the first time I understood not to force myself to be separate from my art, something I’d been trying so hard to do with all my previous manuscripts. I think my art is better for it. I think I am better for it.
Writing Droplets of Starlight has been an honour. To write a story about a girl finding her
way to a place of happiness in her community is an honour. To write about her love for her gods, about her love for her family and the girl of her dreams…it has all been an honour.
Keep faith, in the broad sense of the word. It doesn’t have to be a religion, unless you want it to be. It doesn’t have to speak about the universe, unless you want it to. It doesn’t have to be about anyone but yourself. Keep faith, in other planets and other houses; be it in the face of danger, grief, or while you spread your arms and laugh. Keep faith the same way you keep hope, bright and shiny, ever present. Keep faith in all your queer, beautiful self. Because you deserve it.
This is an anthology of 14 short stories, by 14 queer authors, where faith and queerness intersect. Incidental, purposeful, we-exist-and-that’s-why queerness. And faith meaning whatever you want it to mean.
An anthology edited by Gabriela Martins, with cover art by Kess Costales, and short stories by Adiba Jaigirdar, Bogi Takács, C.T. Callahan, Elly Ha, Gabriela Martins, Julia Rios, Kate Brauning, Kess Costales, Mary Fan, Mayara Barros, Megan Manzano, Shenwei Chang, Sofia Soter, and Vanshika Prusty.