June 24, 2021 / Source: The Bizz USA
By Aaryana Sharma; Edited by Haarika Kalahasti
As a South Asian teenager growing up in the United States, I quickly found that it’s often difficult to find appropriate South Asian representation in mainstream media. Books, even books written by South Asian authors, often “white-wash” their main characters and erase authentic experiences from the characters’ narrative in order to make them more “American” to make them “appeal” to a larger crowd. White-washing is a process by which publishers encourage the writer to add more vague experiences, which attempt to resonate with a larger diaspora than unique, authentic experiences which reflect individuality and specific cultures. While this may make the novel sell better, it often makes the minority reading the novel feel misrepresented.
As a writer and a victim of white-washed novels, I wanted to rewrite the narrative to include authentic, personal experiences and problems I had seen in the community. At the same time, I didn’t want my story to reflect a Bollywood drama, typically a storyline with intense drama and bias. Instead, I wanted to tell a more unique story: one with South Asian teens in an LGBTQ relationship, and another that reflects our lives as children of immigrants, the generational gap with grandparents, the feeling of having a dual identity, the stark new experiences which do not resonate with our parents’ experiences, and the newfound feeling of individuality.
I began writing “a butterfly story” after one of my close friends shared her own experience with coming out. Inspired by our conversation, I wanted to write about a South Asian LGBTQ relationship. I wrote the story in poems because I feel as though that poems are more intimate than typical paragraphs or stories. Inspired by “Wonder” by R.J Palacio, I wrote the book from different perspectives, allowing each character’s narrative to be fully illustrated, to highlight multiple sides to the same situations. As explained in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer known for her short stories and non-fiction novels, and the common South-Asian stereotype, a single story can be misleading and more than often, not explain the entire narrative.
As I wrote “a butterfly story”, I made sure to include realistic conversations and normalized interpretations of LGBTQ relationships. I understood from my peers and the media that LGBTQ experiences are often seen with a feeling of hesitation, but also with an overall understanding and acceptance. I portrayed this normalized viewpoint in my book by making sure the main character was accepted and acknowledged in their household, not rejected. While I understand that isn’t always the case, I believe that the more normalized a situation or relationship is, the more understanding people are of it.
When it came to sharing my story on a larger platform, I was interested in self-publishing from the start. I decided to self-publish on the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing portal. Now, the paperback version can be purchased on Amazon here under my pen-name “Aary”.
While I understand that my story alone has limited power, I hope that it sparks LGBTQ+ South Asians to share their authentic experiences and add to the important narrative. The first step to increased representation is the integration of minority characters with unique experiences in mainstream media. By taking this first step, I invite others to share their stories. These stories will add to the immigration diaspora’s diverse narrative and encourage others to contribute their authentic experiences without being westernized by publishing agencies.
If this interests you, we highly recommend checking out "a butterfly story" and consider purchasing it here!