The struggle to find the right vocabulary to describe same-sex attraction or nonbinary identities is shared by many Americans whose families speak Asian or Middle Eastern languages at home. Many have said they are often at a loss to find terminology that is both accurate and affirming in their ancestral languages because the vocabulary is either stereotypical, offensive, or nonexistent.
Community advocates say that’s why they have been working to create more inclusive words and phrases that fully encompass the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) umbrella. For example, some in the Filipino transgender community have started using the words “transpinoy” and “transpinay”—which build off the words for “Filipino” and “Filipina” used by people in the Filipino diaspora—because the existing terminology is considered a slur.
“Oftentimes, people come out in very isolated little islands, and that isolation makes it very hard,” said Ameera Khan, an activist with the Muslim Youth Leadership Council, which works on LGBTQ, sexual health, and reproductive rights issues.
Khan, a Bangladeshi American who grew up speaking Bangla, Urdu, and Arabic in addition to English, said finding others who share a language and culture can often help break that isolation.
“Using only English words to describe one’s sexuality or gender identity when talking to relatives can reinforce this idea that queerness is a Western idea,” said Amina Mohammad, a member of the Muslim Youth Leadership Council. “That can be especially problematic because a lot of immigrant communities say things like ‘this is not part of our culture, this is an American thing,’ when a child comes out,” she said.
“While communities in Asia may change their language usage, immigrants usually use only what they learned before moving,” said Aruna Rao, founder of Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies, a South Asian American LGBTQ support organization. When the group’s members began translating materials into Hindi and other languages, they quickly realized how delicate the task could be.
“Many of the words we found were just really formal, literary terms that date back hundreds of years but are not in everyday use today,” said Rao, who was inspired to start Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies after her child came out as transgender. “There are words in Hindi that literally mean ‘attracted to the same sex,’ but those words made no sense to most people.”
Rao said another issue Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies had to navigate was how to best reflect the linguistic diversity of South Asia, because a word that makes sense in Hindi does not necessarily work well in other regional languages. The group is working on creating materials for posters and public service campaigns targeted to Indian American parents of LGBTQ children.
Roa said that after consulting with members of the community on the project, it was decided that phrases like “LGBTQ” and “gay” could be transliterated into Hindi and Punjabi scripts for the posters. She said this was done because the general population would already be familiar with those terms.
“I think that people are grateful to discard the older words and move toward English vocabulary that doesn’t carry negative connotations,” Rao said.
Read Full Article from NBC News (NY) (10/10/20)
Author: Lakshmi Gandhi
News summaries © copyright 2020 SmithBucklin