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Tamil. Brahmin. Iyer. And Gay.

By Pooja Garg Email By Pooja Garg
June 2022
Tamil. Brahmin. Iyer. And Gay.

Archith Seshadri is hardly a stranger to the Indian community in Atlanta. More than a decade ago, this prolific networker became a role model for those seeking to reinvent themselves professionally when he switched from a promising career in IT at Accenture, a Fortune Global 500 company, to become a broadcast journalist. Watching Seshadri report live on TV as the Atlanta Bureau Chief for WJBF NewsChannel 6, an ABC affiliate in Augusta, Georgia, one can see the wisdom of his decision to switch—he seems quite a natural as a TV reporter, and a good one at that.

With his consistently positive outlook, his belief in himself, and his success in leveraging social media and networking skills, Seshadri has become quite an influencer. With his initiative and enthusiasm, Seshadri is constantly broadening his horizons, personally and professionally. He has appeared in Pyramid, ABC’s popular prime time game show, teaming up with rapper Snoop Dogg. In 2016, Seshadri managed to land an enviable position as an anchor for WION, a subsidiary of Zee Media, one of India’s leading channels. He relocated himself to New Delhi for two years for that stint. Besides being a journalist, he’s a food blogger, actor, fitness enthusiast, and yoga teacher.

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 “Unintentionally, I have always been breaking conventions,” says Seshadri who graduated from Georgia Tech and had a successful career in IT before turning to TV journalism.

Not surprisingly, Seshadri was seen as one of the most eligible bachelors in his circles. Many attempts at matchmaking came his way from his parents and other well-wishers. Meanwhile, a different story was brewing within Seshadri when it came to the quintessential Indian expectation of getting married and settling down. His success and confidence were not enough to shield him from the inner turmoil that came from slowly coming to terms with his sexual orientation.

In the following interview, Seshadri unpacks some of those emotions, conversations, and lessons from his journey of coming out as gay in the Indian- American community that still struggles with the LGBTQ orientations.

You came out in a TV interview. What made you decide to come out publicly?

I always wanted to help someone going through the same experience as myself. I wanted to channelize pain into purpose. I didn’t have anybody to look up to during my own journey—whether it was my move from engineering to journalism or when I now identify myself with the LGBTQ community. There are so few South Asian journalists in the U.S. even in 2022 and even fewer South Asians who have come out as gay. So, if I tell my story, it will help the next generation understand that this is okay and normal. Everything in life is about teaching yourself and others—whether it’s the people you have met, or even those you haven’t met. As journalists, we tell stories! I’m grateful that I work in the media so that I could share my story. I think it’s important to share stories authentically for the greater good.

You came out in your 30s. Why? Did you feel this was the right time for you? Or was this the time that you felt you understood your sexual orientation?

I think a bit of both. Not to take away from the death and doom of Covid, but there is always a silver lining [to life challenges]. The pandemic definitely made me realize that this is the one life you get, and you should live it as you want.

It also took me time to know myself. Society programs us to live [conventionally]. I always assumed that I would grow up, work hard, and have a wife and kids. In my 20s, I don’t think I paid much attention. I don’t think I knew well enough who I was and who I wanted to be until I was in my 30s. When my parents started setting me up for marriage and introduced me for matchmaking, I got confused. I didn’t know for sure if I was gay or if it was a phase or if I was feeling this way because I hadn’t found someone. That’s when I started thinking more and analyzing. I went to India and lived alone in Delhi. At that time, I was experiencing and creating my identity, and it was sort of the starting of that self-realization process for me. Now I know, and so I need to speak up. Otherwise, I would be the silent sufferer, and that’s not fair to you or me.

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Was it difficult to explain to your family?

I told my family in 2020, and it was difficult. I don’t think my parents grasp it. They think it’s an Americanized concept. My parents left India a long time ago. So, for them, India is what it used to be at that time. My brother is very chilled. He was very supportive. It’s a lot easier to tell people of your own generation as they understand what the concept of the word “gay” is.

The other thing that made it difficult was my own overwhelming guilt. My parents are the two most important people in my life, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I come from a traditional family where the roadmap is laid out clearly for you—college, career, marriage, and kids. For my parents, marriage is the epitome of success and I felt like a failure. They were looking forward to my marriage and here I was bursting their bubble. Also, as the elder son and big brother, I had a sense of responsibility.

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How did your parents react?

As much as your parents love and support you, you also worry as you don’t know how they’re going to react. I did not want to “wrong” someone by getting married traditionally and ruining their life. I felt that 2020 was the year to be honest, upfront, and tell them.

But I also wanted to tell them in a language that they would understand. While it is my life and journey, it is also my job to help them understand.

From teaming up with Snoop Dogg on Pyramid game show to hosting events, Seshadri has done it all. 

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I told my parents right before Christmas in 2020. I told my mother first—after practicing the speech several times in the shower, and over many months. My mom did not quite understand and thought I was just giving an excuse [for not marrying]. I told my father shortly after and he had a better reaction or at least listened. Then they both sat down, and I explained to them that I am not interested in girls but boys. Their first reaction was that, “We don’t know anyone like this in our family.” They said this may just be a phase. I also couldn’t give them any examples in India because homosexuality is still very much a taboo. I also told them I was doing this in the most honest, authentic way. I was not throwing someone in their face abruptly or saying, “This is the person I am marrying.” I have always been respectful, kind, and courteous, and written my own path, and this is no different.

True! A lot of people in our community, instead of coming out, get married under pressure from family…

Yes. Since my parents didn’t know, they had been setting me up with girls on shaadi.com and other matrimonial websites; and I wanted to tell them that they were wasting so much time on something that was not going to happen. That also catapulted my decision to come out to them. Now, of course, they’re not setting me up.

I was clear that I’m not going to misrepresent myself, I am not going to ruin someone’s life. I had to be authentic. Now, when I meet someone new, I share my journey and normalize the conversation. My orientation is one part of me, but it does not define me. If you are straight, it does not mean you can’t be anything else. We don’t have a party for coming out as straight, so we don’t need to for coming out as gay or lesbian or belonging to the LGTBQ family. Hopefully, in a few years, no one has to worry about “coming out” and people can just live, let go, and be accepting!

Have your parents come to terms with it now?

Fast forward to 2022. While they don’t pressurize me or set me up with matrimonial alliances, I am not sure if they have still fully grasped it. I do think it comes from a place of fear. Parents want their children to be happy. I think they worry about what people may think, how relatives may perceive me, or that I may always be alone and not find someone. But as an eternal optimist, I say to them that I have always made intelligent decisions whether it was changing careers from engineering to media, moving continents to anchor in India, and now when I am owning my true identity and sharing it with the world.

And yes, I am still very much single and hope to find the right person when the universe allows it. So, Rishta Aunties, you can definitely set me up!

How has the response been from the community?

Nine out of ten people have been supportive, and I am very grateful for that. But there were some—as I call them—“keyboard warriors” on social media. Some relatives blamed my parents. That was difficult. I have avenues for conversations, but my parents don’t have that support. So I hope people can offer understanding and empathy.

Going by your experience, do you think Indian-American community is too conservative—even more conservative than Indians back home—to accept LGBTQ orientations?

I am a Tamil Brahmin, and we are a conservative society. In fact, Indian-Americans are all relatively conservative. We need to acknowledge that and set the conversation correctly—whether it’s about being gay or about career, divorce, not having children, and so on. These are personal decisions. Why is it anybody else’s decision? Even with therapy, why do we have to have a stigma attached to it? Recently someone said that their sister got divorced. I was like, congratulations! Why does it have to be a sad thing? I look at this analogy: if we are not happy about our job, then we try our best to make it work. But if it’s toxic, we just need to walk away. I think there’s a level to which you can accept, but [you must] also do what makes sense to you. You walk in your shoes.

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“Parents want their kids to be happy. They worry about me. But I tell them not to, as I have always made intelligent decisions. My brother has always been very supportive,” says Seshadri.

Do you think your identity as a Tamil Brahmin inhibit you or help you when coming out or when you started to understand your sexual orientation or at any other time? Whether in making people understand, seeking support or resources, or in any other way.

Being Tamil Brahmin and Iyer, in an ideal world, I think my parents wanted someone who was vegetarian and from the same caste. For a long time, I also thought that it was something I wanted—finding someone who speaks the same language, has a similar cultural and religious upbringing, and can relate to our festivals, food habits, and films. But I don’t think the caste or religion necessarily played a role in not coming out. I think it’s one’s own journey.

The societal pressures of getting married constantly weighed down on me. I also noticed that it was the first topic people brought up, especially relatives or people who felt it was your job to get married or you have simply not arrived [if you haven’t married]. I am quite close to my aunts, uncles, and cousins around the world. When we met in person pre-pandemic, the question that came up—with a dose of guilt, more often than not—was, “your parents are growing older,” or “you should be more responsible and focused in your life,” or “marriage is like insurance to help you when you are old.” While it all came from a good place, for me it also got to the point of “I don’t have any updates, and this is not a project that I have to constantly give a status update to.” As a society and culture, I think we should change that mindset of constantly putting pressure on people and asking them about being in a relationship, dating, marriage, kids, etc. These are very personal topics and not everyone is always at liberty to share or even have anything to share about.

I love and value our traditions like respecting elders, honoring our religious festivals, and appreciating our cultural roots. But it’s also about a balance of the two cultures and finding the happy medium between the east and the west.

How do you feel now that you have come out?

The funny thing is that when you come out once, you also have to come out several more times again and again. It can be very exhausting. But, the one reason we come out is to normalize the conversations about the LGBTQ community. So, it’s for you as well as everyone else too. Everyone is learning. In fact, I’m learning about being a member of the LGBTQ community, about the many challenges—including those of mental health—that we face. I’m energetic and positive; and in many ways, I’m traditional and conventional. I’m no less religious or Indian because of coming out. One of my cousins said, “Nothing has changed, you’re the same person!” So, you eat what you want, and you do what you want. It’s important that people uplift each other. We’re all so different, and that’s the beauty of the Earth. Otherwise, it would be boring.

Did you at any point feel that you were given this difficult card?

Initially, I was like: why me? I would go to bed crying so many nights. But then I realized that it’s not a bad thing. There’s this quote that says that things happen for a reason or a purpose to help you. So, when you think like that, then you’re not playing the victim card but the growth card. You’ve been given this question paper, answer it the best you can.

So much needs to be done about normalizing narratives about the LGBTQ community. Since you also work as an actor, what kind of role do you think cinema can play in doing that?

In Bollywood, mostly we see that happiness is only for the straights. We have had films in the past where the LGBTQ community was made the laughingstock. But now we are seeing films like Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui and Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan. I am also very glad to see more LGBTQ storylines in mainstream media and in TV shows like Netflix’s The Fame Game. I hope Bollywood and OTT platforms share more about this because we see it in American media but not so much in Indian media. I think cinema plays a big role in normalizing these conversations.

This is also why I need to share my story. I am not a role model, but if my journey can inspire even one person, then that’s a win.

What kept you centered through all this?

I said to myself: whatever is meant to be, will happen; otherwise, let’s enjoy the journey. What also helped was being able to get into deeper discussions. Doing a lot of acting and yoga helped. It’s funny how life in other aspects helped me in [this aspect of] life. I’m now a yoga teacher. There’s this quote by Mark Twain that says that the two most important days in life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. I think God gives you these opportunities when you are ready for it. It helps to introspect. Whether it is time with family or friends, it is very important. It may not pay the most but it’s good to be in a city where I’m with my family and I’m very content. And if you are happy within, then you’re happy around others. When you are at peace with yourself, you project that energy into the world.

Self-care is especially important in these circumstances. Were there any steps you took to take care of yourself?

Meditation and yoga helped me a lot. Setting the right intention and purpose is the key, I think. We live in such a busy world—and I like being busy—but we also need to shut down and analyze our thoughts. I love reading self-help books. I don’t journal but I do write quotes. When you see my Facebook wall, you’ll see quotes about things that have actually happened [in my life]. Whether we’re straight or LGBTQ, we’re just human beings and all the other identities are branches of the tree. I don’t see myself wearing rainbow flags and colors, though I do support people who do that. My biggest goal is to normalize conversations around the LGBTQ community, and just live like a good human being and someone who can inspire and be inspired by others.

“I am still very much single and hope to find the right person when the universe allows it. So, Rishta Aunties, you can definitely set me up!”

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There are a lot of kids in our community who are more prone to abuse and dating violence due to the stigma attached to being from the LGBTQ community. With no support from family, they are more dependent on their partners. Anything you’d like to say to them and their families?

I would like to tell the kids to be comfortable in their own skin and not ask for validation from others. Don’t give them the power to call you names on the basis of heteronormative rules. Be confident and don’t give them the attention. You don’t owe anybody anything. People who want to criticize will always do so.

Also, there are so many organizations, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Always go with your gut. Sometimes, we overcomplicate our lives. We live in a beautiful world, and we have access to a lot of things. We live in a country where we’re not persecuted for [our sexual orientation]. So just don’t be a victim, know who to trust and how much. There’s human trafficking and cyberbullying, so don’t just trust anybody on Instagram or the internet. Learn to cut off. And speak up if you’re not able to manage it. Don’t just trust internet articles. I think this generation is more accepting of all genders. Nothing can tell you that you’re right or wrong. If you feed your brain good and positive thoughts, if you believe you can do something, you can! 

What would be your advice to someone who would like to be an ally to the LGBTQ community?

I always say that in a world where you can be anything, be kind. If somebody you know is unsure [of their sexual orientation], don’t ask them. Support them without hinting or forcing them to tell their story. If someone trusted you and said something, protect their identity as they may not be comfortable yet. Let them share their story at their own pace. A small kind compliment from you may make them think, “If I feel like sharing, then this person will be open.”

Learn about other people, races, and religions. Have friends who may not look like you or have the same orientation as you. Say nothing if you don’t know what to say. For example, when I informed my cousins, most were very supportive, but some also said, “Just don’t tell the elders as they may not like it,” or “Just stick to one person for safety reasons.” These are hurtful stereotypes. If you’re unsure about something, educate yourself before pointing fingers at others. People from the LGBTQ community are going through a lot, so don’t add insult to injury.

Any message to others in the LGBTQ community going through similar challenges?

There is no timeline for self-realization, no right or wrong identity. You need to own it. Nobody else will know or understand. Realize you are important. There is only one of you. You are the gift that’s been given to you, use it wisely. So, take those risks and succeed. It will always work out; trust me—take it from someone who’s walking that path—and spread that [positivity] to those around you. Sometimes a failing, a divorce, or a coming out can be a new door. So, if one door closes, a better door opens. Like actresses say that they’re grateful for the auditions that they did not get. So don’t judge yourself. Believe that you deserve it. Then the universe will serve it. If you don’t do it, who will?


Currently on a USC Fellowship for Impact Reporting, Pooja Garg is City Editor & Community Engagement Editor of Khabar magazine. Member of Cobb County Domestic Taskforce, she is Founder Chief Editor of The Woman Inc., an advocacy and literary nonprofit magazine. To connect with her: Linktr.ee/poojagarg or poojagsingh@gmail.com.

 

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Atlanta / Georgia___________________________

 

Raksha: www.raksha.org

Atlanta Q and A (Queer and Asian): www.facebook.com/ATLQandA

GA Safe School Schools Coalition: www.gasafeschools.org

PFLAG Atlanta: www.pflagatlanta.org

Georgia Equality: www.georgiaequality.org

Nationwide________________________________

 

Desi LGBTQ+ South Asian Hotline: www.deqh.org | 1-908-367-3374.

South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance: www.sasmha.org

Trikone: www.trikone.org

Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies: www.desirainbow.org

Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies: www.facebook.com/DesiRainbowParents.

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance: www.nqapia.org

South Asian Awareness Network: www.saanatum.com

Satrang: www.satrang.org

Masala Boston: www.facebook.com/bostonmasala

SEWA Asian Indian Family Wellness: www.sewa-aifw.org/lgbtq

South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of New York City: www.salganyc.org

Queer South Asian Collective: www.facebook.com/queersouthasiancollective

Rangoli: sites.google.com/view/rangoli-pittsburgh/home

Parivar: www.facebook.com/ParivarBayArea

Khush: www.khushdc.com

Queering Desi Podcast: www.queeringdesi.com

GLADD: www.glaad.org

Orinam: www.orinam.net

Gaysi: www.gaysifamily.com

Are you from the LGBTQ community and facing physical or mental distress or abuse?_____________________________________

 


(Sources: Raksha, Human Rights Campaign, The Trevor Project, SAMHSA, DEQH, Love Is Respect)


 

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