Despite existing literature describing South-Asian LGBTQ+ identities as ‘complex’, this community is often under-represented within psychological research. Much of the literature in existence has also been conducted through a Western lens, and largely infers that individuals who identify with these communities are plagued by obstacles when navigating their identities; leaving them unable to form a stable sense of ‘self’. However, this Westernised approach, along with the lack of research may result in this community being ‘silenced’ or ‘othered’. Furthermore, exploring these rich, diverse identities through a Western gaze revokes the ability, and personal agency for these individuals to create identities which are meaningful for them, and representative of their uniqueness.
This research sets to explore the identities of second-generation, South-Asian, LGBTQ+ individuals in the United Kingdom. For this community, difficulties regarding
identity have often been found to contribute to higher rates of mental health distress, due to the multiple demands and expectations placed on their ‘self’. Dialogically exploring identity narratives allowed for the consideration of individual’s internal and external worlds, alongside capturing processes of identity navigation and the impacts of wider discourses. Furthermore, pairing the values of narrative inquiry with queer theory concepts permitted a more transparent, flexible and fluid discursive framework; allowing individuals the freedom to speak about, and understand their identities on their own terms. For this community, such notions were especially important to consider, permitting for identities to be conceptualised, expressed and understood in a multitude of ways. Furthermore, this approach allowed for the interrogation of systems of power, often embedded within knowledge production, cultures and histories, chiming with anti-colonial practices.
Presenting the accounts of eight, second-generation, South-Asian individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, this paper examines how individuals understand, share and ‘perform’ their identities in the UK. In-depth exploration of participant’s narratives also allowed insight into the meanings attributed to their intersectional identities, accounting for how the ‘self’ is constructed amid varying social, cultural, religious, ethnic and/or personal contexts. Due to Covid-19, the research was conducted online. Semi-structured interviews were recorded, before being individually transcribed and analysed using dialogical narrative analysis; attending to what was communicated/performed when expressing their identities, how identities were constructed, ‘positioning’, ‘multi-voicedness’.
The analysis of each participant’s narrative is shared individually, organised under inter-related themes which reflect a facet of their identities. Each participant shared and performed their narratives distinctively, offering insight into how their identities were constructed, and the meanings attributed to these. Similarities identified in ways of articulating, understanding and changing identities across narratives are also reflected upon and outlined. These are: ‘active ownership of identities, activism and challenging norms and fluidity’. Each seemed to strengthen individual’s sense of ‘self’.
In addition to contributing to the limited literature focusing on this community in the UK, a key reflection from this research is the idea that despite adversities South-Asian, LGBTQ+ individuals face when navigating their identities in the UK, identity transformations experienced by this group were used to respond proactively to social, cultural, religious and relational forces, all of which seem to directly discriminate against them, and others. Implications for Counselling Psychology include the need to be more mindful of the complex identities held by South-Asian LGBTQ+ individuals, alongside increased attentiveness to the interactions between sexuality, relationship diversity and other distinct identity intersects. Counselling psychologists may also be able to draw on their leadership identity to promote systemic change, both within services and communities. Such ideas align with the social justice philosophies of the profession, alongside the importance of being reflexive, ethical and collaborative; all of which are encompassed within this research.