Puneet Kaur Dhillon posted a photo on Instagram and unintentionally hailed a firestorm of comments, assumptions, questions, and critiques about her personal life. In light of this, she shares her experience and thoughts about the Sikh community, American society, relationships, and LGBTQ issues.
Inspired by the many various responses/inquiries I’ve received after posting the above picture of myself and a friend I consider family, I feel compelled to voice my thoughts, take it or leave it.
Initially, I thought twice about posting this photo. But then I thought how crazy is it that I automatically knew it would be received with increased attention and would not immediately be casually accepted, even by those who are supportive of me.
I realized the post would instigates two taboos (if not a few more) that have somehow become “normal” societal stigmas: 1) Homosexuality 2) Displays of affection/love/kinship/connection between two individuals of the same gender, which are intrinsically and essentially part of healthy human behavior within any platonic bond.
So I posted it without conforming to a more “acceptable” picture or without using clearly distancing or defining language demanded by these societal stigmas.
The responses I received included inquiries asking if the other person in the picture was my partner, inquiries asking if the post was me coming out, expressions of support from those who assumed that was me coming out, sexualized responses from random males and previous partners, and responses via the family/community grapevine asking other members of my family the same questions about my sexual orientation (but not asking me directly). I was, however, spared the hateful and enraged responses I know are frequent, many, the most objectionable, and the least productive.
What I found as equally surprising as the number of responses, was who was asking. I was being asked about my sexual life by people that I hadn’t spoken to in years, people that were at best acquaintances, people whom I’ve had little to no interaction with, people who are my relatives yet, did not ask me directly.
What this experience revealed to me, and what essentially prompted my repost with an added response piece, was my objection to the entitlement people feel they have to another’s personal life whenever it relates to the topic of sexuality, gender, or orientation. This in turn also revealed to me that I disagree with society’s hyper-focus and obsession with knowing information relative to another’s sexuality, gender, and orientation. Showing support for a mistreated group in society does not mean, in exchange, unbounded access to the personal lives of the individuals within that group. This attitude most likely results from human curiosity which I do not discourage (curiosity is healthy), however I also encourage tact, respect, and recognition that the existence of one’s curiosity does not mean one is entitled to the information that quenches it. Sadly, there is a common understanding and realization that if an individual opens their private/personal life to society, it will inevitably be handled inappropriately.
If you are traditionally oriented or if you fit into a traditional gender role, your sexual life and experiences are mostly safe from scrutiny, allowed to remain private, and even celebrated in media and society. Sexuality, honest self expression, and finding comfortability within yourself are human rights of passage that all individuals experience. These journeys can be the most difficult and uncomfortable parts of the human experience. They are also the most necessary, precious, and rewarding journeys within the search for a fulfilling life. ALL should be allowed the same safety, privacy, and respect relative to their sexuality, gender, and orientation.
This whole thought process made me realize how very far our current reality is from where we should be as stated above. This is why I said please “continue to speak out, show support, demonstrate solidarity, illuminate ignorant minds, etc.” as is direly needed. At the same time keep in mind every individual’s right to dignity and privacy regarding their personal life as it relates to their sexuality, gender, and orientation.
I believe the Sikh path teaches us to not only accept, but to learn from everyone equally, no matter religion, life experiences, gender, social norms, etc. Did the Gurus not include teachings from a variety of different disciplines when compiling Guru Granth Sahib? I also believe Sikhi is a way of life that teaches practicality with an emphasis to focus on what is relevantly important. Did the Gurus not refocus attention and value away from rituals, socioeconomic status, and commonly accepted practice only to replace the focus on reason and meaning? One of the things I LOVE about Sikhi is that (maybe by design) it is not set up to be a specific dos and don’ts rule book for every situation imaginable. This allows its guidelines and teachings to be timeless in a sense, so they can better keep up with the ever changing social norms and nuances of different eras. The burden then lies on the individual to apply the principles and teachings to the current situation and times. Therefore, I believe it is not only the role demanded of a Sikh to stand up against social injustices, but also to be that safe haven for those who cannot find it elsewhere. Has it not always been taught to us, not only in principle, but also demonstrated throughout our history, that the persecuted can find safety and acceptance within our sangat? This is why I believe individuals who are targeted because of their sexuality, gender, or orientation should feel free of fear, fear that they will be rejected or punished, when in the presence of an individual/community that truly practices the Sikh way of life.
I stand for normalizing reception of both spectrums, gender and sexuality, in their entirety(s). My hope and belief is that people should receive all expressions of gender and sexuality as casually as native New Yorkers receive their fellow commuters on the train every morning: with indifference rivaling the infamous unwavering demeanor of the Queen’s Guard.
Please understand, I believe these discussions need to be had and support needs to be expressed vehemently (in our current climate especially). At the same time realize, even in doing so we are no where close to where we should be. The need for these discussions is demonstrative of the issues. I strive for a society where individuals can live as freely as is promised by not only The American Dream, but also the Sikh way of life.