Madhuraa Prakash’s journey to self-love as a queer woman of colour in Australia
2 years ago
'A little bit of compassion can go a long way'
“I know so many people would hate that I am here right now, so I am going to stomp my feet and shout my words until you all know I belong.” – Manish Interest aka. Madhuraa Prakash“Manish Interest is what I think would happen if I was able to have the confidence of a straight man,” shared 22-year-old Madhuraa Prakash. Prakash found a love for Bharatanatyam very early on in Australia and this Indian classical dance is what kept her afloat during some difficult times when she was struggling with her identity and with being accepted. “Manish is actually what my parents would’ve named me if I was a boy, so I thought it would be a great drag name and an homage to them. I am very political, so Manish is also very quick to speak out about issues like racism that still exist within the Australian queer community. He’s very proud of his Sri Lankan culture and incorporates that into his performances too. His existence on stage says: ‘I know so many people would hate that I am here right now, so I am going to stomp my feet and shout my words until you all know I belong.’”
[caption id="attachment_130440" align="alignright" width="340"] "I thought about different things like why two women pretending to be in love for dance dramas would affect me and why I enjoyed playing dancing in masculine roles and I guess I realised that maybe my queer identity wasn’t so far removed from being Sri Lankan" Madhuraa Prakash[/caption]
The comfort in expressionPrakash was born in Sri Lanka and her family migrated to Australia when she was around two years old. She has two younger sisters whom she “absolutely adores”. “Bharatanatyam was, throughout my life in Australia, my main connection to my Sri Lankan culture,” she said, adding that finding out that she was attracted to women felt like she was completely forsaking her culture. “Then I thought about different things like why two women pretending to be in love for dance dramas would affect me and why I enjoyed playing dancing in masculine roles and I guess I realised that maybe my queer identity wasn’t so far removed from being Sri Lankan.” As a child, Prakash recalls having sleepovers with her cousins and sisters, where they’d style each others’ hair and create dances to songs and perform them to no audience in particular. “It was always such a fun expression of creativity and probably reflects why I love to perform now as an adult.” Prakash was very boisterous as a kid but she grew quieter as the years added on; she attributes this to the fact that she had a very academic school life and mostly focused on her studies. “I went to high school at Baulkham Hills High and pretty much just kept my head down until I graduated.” Growing up as a gay Sri Lankan girl in Australia has been a rollercoaster ride for Prakash, who thinks the main problem was that she always felt out of place. “I could never live up to who I was ‘supposed’ to be because of my identity. I let people bully and walk all over me growing up because I was so insecure in myself. It led to a deep depression that I am honestly still recovering from.” Eventually, when she started gaining confidence in herself, she met so many incredible and loving people with whom she’s made beautiful friendships. “(I) now get opportunities to help people and share my voice that is bolstered by my negative experiences.” She is candid, however, when she admits that life still can be a struggle. “I am sometimes not taken seriously by people and still get racist or homophobic online attacks for speaking out, but my communities make it easier to handle.” Getting messages from young women – South Asians and/or queer people – saying her story has been valuable to them makes it all worth it. Room to improveEven though it’s recognised as one of the most LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans)-accepting countries in the world, Australia – a country where same-sex marriages became legal in December 2017 – seems to still have room for improvement. For a long time, Prakash felt like she was the only Sri Lankan Tamil gay person she knew. “Australia has definitely come a long way in supporting people who are of diverse sexuality and gender identities,” ventured Prakash, adding that she does feel lucky being able to live there and being able to exist as herself relatively freely. There are, however, still some lingering problems: “For example, there is a lot of difficulty faced by trans people in affirming their identities. Furthermore, there are things like super religious politicians demonising the LGBTQ+ community, the treatment of refugees who are trying to find safety for being LGBTQ+, and general instances of homophobia and transphobia that we still need to overcome.” Prakash added: “In Sri Lankan groups or Tamil groups that we have in Australia to maintain our connection to culture, it is very heteronormative, and some people aren’t supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and so I feel out of place there. Similarly, LGBTQ+ spaces in Australia are majority White and have sometimes had culturally insensitive undertones that also made me feel unwelcome. More recently I’ve met more Sri Lankans, from all over the world, who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and that has been pretty awesome. I hope to meet more.” Although she knew she was gay when she was a teenager, Prakash, like others with a similar experience, suppressed and ignored it for a long time. She came out to herself at 18 years of age. Her family, on the other hand, found out accidentally. “Most of my family found out by accident because I speak out so publicly, which is not ideal. My parents struggled with it and I think still struggle sometimes but they are mostly supportive and have definitely made me feel loved and secure even after I came out.” Since then, many people in her extended family both in Australia and Sri Lanka have been supportive. “There are some people who have said it’s a phase and things like that, but I think people are slowly realising that this is who I am, forever. There is a lot of discussion of my sexuality and gossiping to each other behind my back, which can be quite uncomfortable but at the end of the day, my parents, sisters, cousins, and some aunts and uncles have been so loving, and I feel blessed that I have them in my life.” Prakash, who’s been to Sri Lanka a few times, said that the most recent visit was a difficult one, as she needed to hide her identity because she was not out to her family. Overall, however, she loves being here (Sri Lanka), “especially seeing friends and family, and it is important to me to connect with a place that is such a major part of me”.The world needs more compassionSri Lanka is yet to legalise same-sex marriage and the country is rife with stories of vast injustice and discrimination towards the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and intersex) community. Sharing her thoughts, Prakash said that she is aware that there are many incredible LGBTQ+ activists and advocates who work in Sri Lanka to call out discrimination. “I am so in awe of them. Both countries have their own fights and there are great people who seek justice for their communities, and I am just incredibly proud of all of these people and to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in general.” Prakash describes herself as compassionate, sensitive, and fierce. She has a love for people and has always been focused on making the world better for everyone. Compassion, she feels, is something the world needs more of. “So much of the time people cast aside their fellow humans for greed, power, or bigotry and the world would be a better place if we were less individualistic and came together as communities to help each other grow.” She added that she is admittedly very emotional and easily affected, but this is something she considers a strength. She wants to continue advocating for people who are disadvantaged by certain systems like the legal system and to help give LGBTQI+ people of colour like her a voice in society. She also wants to keep performing because nothing has given her the same happiness or freedom to be herself. “Never, ever feel guilty for your identity,” shared Prakash, adding: “You are not shameful and there is nothing wrong with you. You deserve love and to be proud of your identity. Also, I know it is cliché, but I would say you are absolutely not alone. Be very careful on the internet, but it is a great place to find LGBTQ+ people, who will always welcome you with open arms.”IG: @madhuraasp