Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted a lavish, two-week, multi-event, traditional Indian wedding surrounded by truckfuls of friends and family. I am a big believer in the institution of marriage, and though some call it heteronormative or restrictive, I see it as the truest and deepest form of love.
The hopeless romantic in me believes that I will find my soulmate, and I want to make a commitment to them in every possible way — legally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. (Yes, I don’t need a marriage license for that, but I want one. I really, truly, do.)
Wednesday was a historic day for same-sex couples across the nation and I am beyond overjoyed. While DOMA falling is huge, as a Californian, I am even more moved by Prop 8 being shot down. In 2008, I remember having an election night party at my apartment. As the joy and pride at seeing Barack Obama elected to the presidency consumed me, I simultaneously experienced an equally dark feeling as the Proposition 8 numbers started to pour in. Prop 8 had sparked discussions in my home and among friends for months, and I was conflicted. At the time, I was only out as bi, but was in the midst of a severe “heterosexual binge” (for lack of a better term) phase that I’ve realized years later was both about me coming to terms with being gay as well as overcoming my own deep-seeded internalized homophobia.
I can’t accurately describe internalized homophobia to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but I will try. I wanted to be a “normal” girl, who enjoyed sex with men and could follow through on life-long dreams of getting married and starting a family with my parents’ blessings. In my darkest phase of coming to terms with my sexuality, I long believed that I had to resign from those dreams because for some reason I was more attracted to women than men. There was a pit in the bottom of my stomach, where I felt disgusted with myself, every single day for a long time.
The overturning of Prop 8 is for me, a sign of not only how far the mindset of the American people has come, but also how far I have come since my struggles of 2008 and 2009. In the years since coming out to myself, I’ve defeated that internalized homophobia. I am more secure with my butch-ish identity (hello, new haircut!), and no longer filter my desires to discuss my love life amongst close friends. I know now that I am not less of a human, woman, or Indian-American just because of who I sleep with. I am still sarcastic, loud, funny (I am, I swear) and a whole lot more, and, most importantly, I don’t need to change who I am to fit anyone’s expectations.
Today, though I am ecstatic, a small part of me also can’t help but think of this as another step of approval I have been seeking to validate myself. If our government can accept that all (married) people are equal regardless of who they love, maybe my parents, family, friends, and even strangers who don’t understand my lifestyle, will someday, somehow see me as a person who can still get married and be happy and have a family, just like them — and also be a whole person too. It is in times like these that I feel fortunate to be doing the work and research that I am, at both NYU and The Trevor Project. I am committing my life to helping youngsters like me know that it’s okay to feel confused and alone, whether it’s related to sexual orientation and gender identity or not, but that acceptance, happiness, and love are all possible and within reach.
Overall, I know there will still be people who fear and hate, and the LGBTQ community still has a lot to fight for, but this week week we sent a message to them that we don’t need their acceptance or validation. I definitely don’t need it. I hope that the world will just see me as a person, and after this week, I hope that when I’m married I’ll be seen as a wife, not just a “partner.” I’m still me — the same Priya I’ve always been (but obviously better, cooler, and more fab). I’ve accepted that. I hope the world can too.
Priya Arora is a graduate student at New York University, studying Human Development and Social Intervention with a focus on suicide and depression in LGB adolescents. Born and raised in California, Priya has found a home in New York as an intern with The Trevor Project, and hopes to go on to become a mental health counselor for LGBTQ youth. You can find her on her blog and on Twitter @vivalainsomniac.