South Asian cultures put an unhealthy amount of importance on three things when it comes to women: appearances, society’s perception of them, and marriage. I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of marriage. Growing up, I was groomed to fit into a cookie-cutter shape of the perfect desi wife. From being told to use “Fair & Lovely” to brighten my skin to being scolded for not knowing how to make perfectly round rotis, to being told I need to quit my Bollywood dance team because people would talk.
There’s always this concern of what society will say and think about a desi woman. When we hit a certain age, every action we take is scrutinized and questioned by our families and our communities: “is this something a potential husband/mother-in-law will be okay with or is it something that will hinder your chances of getting a good marriage proposal?”
From the clothes we wear and the color of our hair, to how we do our makeup and how we carry ourselves. From how we speak and what we say to what our jobs are and what we do in our free time. Living under this constant hawk-like eye is exhausting and suffocating.
I’ve been told, like Mousumi, that I can travel without parental supervision only once I’m married. Until then, if I want to leave the state of New York, it either has to be for work, or with my family. While my non-desi friends got to go to concerts and take trips together, I spent my time sheltered in the four walls of my home. Apparently, social activities are only allowed when a woman is tied to a male figure religiously and legally. We don’t treat our men this way. We don’t make them feel like their time is constantly running out or that their lives only begin after marriage. We definitely don’t judge them for every decision they make.
I think that’s unfair and definitely not lovely.
As a desi woman, my culture has made me feel like I am nothing until I have a husband. Herein lies part of the issue: Desi culture is sexist. Our girls are taught that their identities only exist after marriage. We are taught that we must rely on a man in order to have a safe and stable life. We are raised to be dependent and submissive to our male relatives and eventually our partners. Has anyone ever considered that if we raised women to be strong, independent, and confident, they would be able to build a life for themselves first before having to rely on anyone? Is it really that revolutionary of a thought that a woman’s identity is not simply a product of her marital status?
Very early on, I knew that marriage isn’t something I will do just for the sake of it or because I have reached a certain age. I do want to get married someday and God willing I will, but it’s not my only goal in life. It shouldn’t be. Desi culture wants women to believe that marriage is the most important thing in life, but the truth is, it’s simply another part of it. Instead, I’m focusing on myself and my career right now. I knew what kind of life I wanted to have by my 20s and I have been working to make that life a reality.
I’m the girl who was determined to make my way to New York and have a career in the fashion industry. I’m the girl who graduated at the top of her class and got a full ride to college. I’m the girl who hustles during my 9-5 job and then spends my after-work hours still working on various projects whether it’s volunteering, writing, dancing, you name it. I’m that girl who is dead set on building a life I am proud of, and I don’t need a man to do it. I do not need a man to be someone or something. I already did that for myself. That’s what desi society needs to understand. Our women are far more capable and destined for so much more than just marriage.
I’m 25 now. I hear a lot of gossip about my age and my unmarried status. I heard an aunty, whose daughter was already married by 20, questioning why I’m not married yet. Sometimes these questions hurt. Sometimes my anxiety gets the best of me and the teachings I grew up listening to ring in my ears.
I begin to go down this rabbit hole of toxic thoughts: Am I too picky? Should I maybe reconsider one of the proposals I’ve turned down? Am I actually that old? Should I just listen to my mom and take this seriously right now because I’m 25?Should I just settle so that society leaves me alone?
Then I remember why I made the choices I did thus far. I remind myself that I do not need to settle for a marriage that requires the sacrifice of my identity and dreams. I scold myself for thinking that I am old and instead go through a list of things I have accomplished thus far. When I focus on these positives, I am reminding myself, and the world, that my value is not determined by my marital status. First and foremost, I am Subrina Hossain; I refuse to simply be known as someone’s wife when there is so much more to my name.
So the next time an aunty judges me for choosing my independence and ambitions over getting married by a certain age, I’ll remind her that 1) I’m not her daughter and I’m not sure why she’s wasting her time worrying about me, and 2) I will always be known as the girl who is breaking boundaries and making moves. When I’m ready to make the move to get married, I will, but it’s really not anyone else’s concern but mine.
Maybe this isn’t the mindset that traditional desi society has right now and it won’t change anytime soon, but those in our generation will be the next group of moms and dads and aunties and uncles. I hope that we are not like the judgmental communities we grew up in.
I hope I raise my future daughter to be independent. I hope I raise her to be a force to be reckoned with. I hope she feels empowered and empowers other women to feel the same. I will make sure she knows that her value is immeasurable. I will make sure I never make her feel less than a man simply because she is a woman.
I hope that whomever I choose to marry shares this vision of the future with me. I hope whoever he is, he understands and embraces the fire within me, because it’s not going anywhere. Because let’s face it, desi women are queens and we don’t need a king in order to build an empire. No matter what “manosh ki bolbe.” People will always talk; we might as well give them something good to talk about.
“A weight’s been lifted off my shoulder,” said Shania Bhopa, a graduate student at McMaster University, who took control of the narrative and timeline of her life by freezing her eggs at the age of 25. As a P.h.D candidate in the Global Health Program, her goal is to destigmatize egg freezing among as many young women as possible. Although she was nervous to post the first Tiktok about freezing her eggs, Bhopa knew that her goal was to raise awareness about female fertility using her background in health research at McMaster, and her own experiences. That video went viral with 1.6 million views.
“Knowing the likelihood, especially with my career goals, [that] I can have a happy, healthy baby potentially closer to 35, is very refreshing.”
In the South Asian community, reproductive health and family planning can be sensitive topics. Bhopa wanted to utilize her platform to challenge these traditional opinions about reproductive health. And it’s why Bhopa continues to shine a light on the importance of starting these conversations and destigmatizing egg freezing, primarily within the South Asian community.
So what is the purpose of egg freezing? According to Statistics Canada, in 2021, close to one-quarter of Canadians, aged 15 to 49, changed their fertility plans because of the pandemic.
Egg freezing — which helps to preserve fertility for a later stage in life — continues to serve as a way to give individuals leeway to live life intentionally, without conforming to societal pressures. This is an important consideration, as research shows that by age 35 the chances of conception decline to 66% and continue to decrease as individuals age. What egg freezing provides is a feeling of freedom and liberation for people with a uterus, so that their decisions are not influenced by when they should have children.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into understanding the stigmas that exist, the importance of having these conversations, and the insight gained as individuals like Bhopa take fertility into their own hands:
The journey through fertility
“My purpose of going through fertility treatments at 25 is to buy myself time, to get closer to my purpose in my professional life, so that hopefully one day I can be super intentional with my time as a mom when I’m ready.”
According to Dr. Togas Tulandi, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University in Montreal, medication is given to stimulate the ovaries so they produce eggs. The eggs are then removed for freezing and storage. Needless to say, the treatment can be costly. The initial egg freezing procedures typically range from $5,000 to $10,000, while the ongoing storage expenses amount to approximately $300 to $500 per year. Despite the financial commitment, freezing eggs is a valuable investment.
Bhopa documented her 11-day egg freezing journey through a TikTok series on social media. She shared the ups and downs throughout the two-week duration, addressing public queries and comments including those on how this was accepted, given her South Asian background.
Societal expectations, cultural norms, and traditional beliefs often contribute to the apprehension and lack of open dialogue regarding fertility. Breaking through these barriers is essential to empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health care and reproductive journeys.
“My biggest reasons for doing this are both reproductive health and family planning. These are sensitive topics, especially in the South Asian community,” said Bhopa.
They are particularly “sensitive” because in South Asian households, conversations around women’s health, periods, fertility, and related topics, seldom occur openly. Bhopa’s story serves as an example of the power of embracing one’s fertility journey and the liberation it can bring.
Given that Bhopa is a woman in her mid-20s, she sees egg freezing as a way to help her future self. She is calling it a birthday gift for her 25th year. Most of all, she expresses,
“It’s like, you graduate…and then you’re supposed to get married and have kids. But I think it’s important to take control of our own narrative; we don’t need to feel this pressure to have kids when we’re not ready.”
“Why at the young age of 25? What was your parent’s reaction? How was this accepted?” These were just some of the questions that circulated Bhopa’s social media page as she brought awareness to fertility planning.
In order to understand the beneficial impacts that freezing eggs can have on the course of one’s life, we need to first create spaces for people within the South Asian community, and beyond, to feel as though they can prompt these conversations without the resulting stigmas.
All South Asian women should be able to make informed decisions surrounding their fertility journey; whether that is through understanding the options that exist, the associated costs, the procedure, the support that’s available or anything else. To achieve this, we must break down the discomfort within our households surrounding fertility conversations by challenging ourselves to make historically uncomfortable conversations comfortable.
November 27, 2023November 27, 2023 5min readBy Aysha Qamar
“Sort Of” fans are having all the feels as the iconic, non binary-focused series is coming to an end with its third season. The show, currently streaming on CBC Gem, has paved the way for broader conversations on inclusivity, representation and just existence.
“Sort Of” is a heart-warming story that challenges traditional labels by depicting a character who encompasses several marginalized identities.
Sabi Mehboob — a non binary, gender-fluid millennial — is the youngest child in a large Muslim Pakistani family. Throughout the series, we follow Sabi’s journey in empowering themselves and refusing to fit into a mould for others’ comfort. The series reminds us how labels impact people and how they must not define people.
Sabi is played by award-winning Canadian actor Bilal Baig, known for being the first queer, South Asian and Muslim actor to lead a Canadian prime-time TV series. Baig not only stars in the groundbreaking and award-winning sitcom, but has also directed and co-created it.
The show however, hasn’t reclaimed praise just because of the community it focuses on. It’s the authentic, personal and funny storytelling that leaves a lasting impression. “Sort Of” resonates across all genders, races and ages, with the stories within it being relatable universally despite how one identifies.
Baig and co-creator Fab Filippo announced the show’s third season would be its last in a heartfelt social media post in October.
“We know how much the series means to a lot of you — it means so much to us too,” the statement read. “We set out to tell a story about a kind of transition in Sabi’s life, and how those around them also change — and we feel in this coming season that story came to an end in a way that felt right for us.”
“We’re aware that series like ours, shows that feature queer and trans characters, tend to get cancelled early on, and we know that’s been happening a lot recently. We want to say that’s not what’s going down here. We made this third season knowing it would be our last. … We’re also aware that this show is ending at a time when trans communities continue to be targeted and trans rights are being constantly attacked. Our hope is that this series can continue to affirm lives and spark conversations well after the final season drops. Sort Of will always exist, despite all the transphobia in our world.”
Reflecting back on the statement and decision to end the show in its third season, Baig shared that they and Filippo felt the story had come to its “natural” end.
“When you look at all three of the seasons together, I think it will feel like we’ve captured a really specific moment in time and in Sabi’s life, as well as, the other characters around them,” Baig said. “That felt right.”
Season 3 of “Sort Of” picks up right where Season Two ended: the sudden death of Sabi’s father. While undergoing the stages of grief, Sabi is also processing their romantic life including the aftermath of their kiss with Bessy (Grace Lynn Kung). The season is filled with big life choices for Sabi and is all about “transitions,” Baig said, in an exclusive chat with Brown Girl Magazine.
Speaking of the season’s big moments including how Sabi deals with grief and what happens after the kiss, Baig said “it felt kind of cool to let it end there.” They added that the story is meant to feel “real and authentic” and continuing it would “feel false.”
“Much of the feedback I get is from people who say, it feels like we’re watching real humans talking to each other. And to uphold and maintain that quality, I feel like three is a good number.”
Baig reiterated that playing Sabi “has been such a gift,” adding that the character “felt refreshing from the start.”
When asked how the role differs from other queer and trans roles on screen, Baig noted that Sabi’s complexity and humor in the show was “intentional” and based on real-world experiences including conversations with both trans and non binary friends.
“It’s like representation for the quiet, exhausted by the world, people who totally exist in the queer and trans community.”
“It always felt like our representation was either we’re not talking because we’re being killed or we’re these super political activists, who are educating everyone around them — which is all real — but think about somebody who doesn’t say everything they’re thinking, who has a lot of feelings but doesn’t speak on it all the time. We don’t always have to be sassy and witty or fabulous.”
The dark humor in the show “humanizes Sabi” and is “the way into so many peoples’ hearts.” Baig added, noting that humor often helps one process the trauma they are carrying.
While many have questioned whether or not Sabi’s character was based on Baig’s own life, Baig confirmed they are not and addressed the fan-based rumors noting that Sabi is relatable because of the obstacles they face and the many identities they hold.
Baig identifies as a queer, trans-feminine, while Sabi is non binary or gender fluid. Baig shared that playing someone who is “guarded” and not “super trustworthy” had been fun and in the last season especially, Sabi goes through a “transformation” that speaks truth for many “vulnerable and marginalized people.”
The show was able to capture “how transition looks like for so many different things for so many different people,” Baig pointed out, speaking of the small and big life experiences we follow Sabi on.
“It’s not one thing; it’s not only defined by whether you want to change things about yourself and your body or not…it’s so much more nuanced than that.”
Speaking to the identities Sabi holds, Baig said they wanted to depict “multiple different kinds of trans and non binary bodies and experiences” that they felt were “lacking in media” or “not being represented at all”
“We’re not all the same. We’re different and evolving, just like cis people are.”
Baig added that while intentional, the identities of these characters were not hard to develop “because it just felt real and right.” They also lauded the team behind the show, noting that it included several people of color, women and non binary folks.
“Cis characters are presented alongside trans characters,” Baig said. “We are a part of this ecosystem and we cannot be erased.”
When asked about the challenges and current climate of how trans and queer people are treated, Baig shared that it “has been challenging” to work on projects like this and shared how assumptions associated with people “at the intersection of any identity” can be problematic.
They also spoke of the statistics associated with trans people, often negative or fatal. According to a report by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights group, at least 33 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been killed in the United States since November 2022.
Baig noted that working with a team that is diverse and accepting is what helps lift the weight off the constant heartbreaking news.
Sharing their gratitude for their team, Baig noted that making the show’s atmosphere and environment safe was a priority to ensure “people felt like they could really be themselves and come to work fully as themselves.”
In terms of a takeaway from the season finale, Baig said that they hope people internalize that “we’re all transitioning” whether or not our transitions look the same. Believing that will create “more empathy towards trans people.”
January 1, 2023January 1, 2023 7min readBy Brown boy
Wyatt Feegrado is a comedian and content creator from Walnut Creek, San Francisco, California. Feegrado moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Feegrado always wanted to be a comedian and grew up watching “The Last Comic Standing” with his mom — his favorites being Alingon Mitra and Sammy Obeid. In 2020, Feegrado starred in the TV show “Bettor Days,” on Hulu and ESPN+, as the character Vinnie bets on the baseball team The Astros and wins big. Feegrado also has a podcast called “First World Problematic,” along with Vishal Kal and Surbhi, where they talk about a range of topics such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, and will be dropping an “Indian Matchmaking” Reunion show. Currently, in Bangalore, Feegrado is performing his first show in India, at the Courtyard in Bangalore. He was previously on tour in the United States. He recently dropped the Amazon comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate.” Continue reading to learn more about Wyatt Feegrado.
Do you feel that your upbringing in Walnut Creek and your personal experiences are what molded your comedic style?
Walnut Creek, for people who have never been there, is frankly a very white place. I must’ve been one of four or five Indian kids in my high school of 2000. I think growing up like that, you begin to believe that it’s a bit ‘odd’ that you’re brown. Part of finding my comedic voice was changing that perspective to say; it’s not weird that I’m brown, it’s weird that you’re not. That’s the paradigm shift — I don’t move through the world trying to impress people, why should I? Who are they? They should be trying to impress me.
What was it like attending the Tisch School Of The Arts and what classes helped shape you as a person?
I hope I don’t get too much flack for this…but I don’t really think that NYU helped my career very much. Being in New York helped me immensely, it raised the ceiling on what I could achieve. I really appreciate NYU’s approach, they teach art as a fundamentally collaborative discipline, which I do believe it is. However, that’s just not how I learn. I’m a competitive person, I want to be pitted against my fellow students and prove I’m the best. That motivates me. I would say, if you want to use NYU or any art school to your advantage, understand that classes are only half of what you’re supposed to be doing. That was a pet peeve of mine, I used to see my fellow students finish class and simply go home. That’s not the way to do it in this industry. Every day, after school, I used to go to two or three open mics, send in self-taped auditions, and make opportunities of my own. You’re betting on yourself — so go all in.
What was the process of creating the comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate?”
In terms of writing the jokes, it’s the culmination of studying joke writing for 10 years. But I was approached with the opportunity in March or so, and I had my reservations to even tape a special — I’m a perfectionist so I wanted all my jokes to be some of the best ever written. But that’s just a bad strategy in terms of trying to make it in life. When an opportunity falls in your lap, you have to take it no matter what. Worry about whether you’re ready later. One time I was cast in a commercial for Facebook that required me to do skateboard tricks. I lied and said I knew how to do skateboard tricks at the casting call. I landed the commercial and then started practicing how to skateboard. I think the most important lesson in comedy you can learn is how to believe in yourself when nobody else does. I always have the confidence that I will rise to the occasion.
What was it like getting your special on Amazon Prime?
So Four by Three, the amazing production company that produced my special, has a very good relationship with Amazon, as they’ve produced a lot of content for their platform. They handled distribution for me, and together we made the strategic decision to also release De-Assimilate on YouTube. I think because of the over-saturation of streaming services you have to pay for, combined with the renaissance YouTube is having, where a lot of the content will have TV-level production value, more and more young people are turning to YouTube as their primary source of content. People are always asking who is going to win the “streaming wars.” My dark horse candidate is YouTube.
As a comedian how do you deal with hecklers?
So many comedians are mean to hecklers. I hate that. There’s no reason for that. They’re a person too and it’s not right to berate them unless they truly insulted you first. In my opinion, there are three types of hecklers — the heckler who is just too drunk, the heckler who thinks they’re helping the show, and the heckler who actually hates you or thinks you’re unfunny. I think only the latter deserves to be berated. The rest of them I try to work around, and tell them they’re interrupting the show in a way that doesn’t interrupt the show in itself.
What was the first joke you ever wrote and your favorite joke you have ever written?
Oh god this is going to be horrible. The first joke I every wrote was:
“Shawn White is a professional snowboarder, but a lot of people don’t know he is also very skilled in Curling, his hair”
That is so bad. I’m embarrassed. At least it disproves the BS some people say that “funny isn’t learnable.” That is NOT TRUE. What they mean is the infrastructure for funny scant exists. There’s no Standup Comedy Major in Art Schools or Textbooks that teach joke writing. There will be one day, but for now there isn’t.
My favorite jokes I write are jokes that I really think encapsulates the zeitgeist. My favorites on the special are the joke about how Jesus’ Disciples are Brown, and how the Vaccine is the first time anyone in the US has gotten healthcare for free.
Are there any jokes that you regret telling in front of an audience?
Of course. Referring back to my answer to the first question, any joke that has the underlying presumption that it is ‘odd’ to be brown — which is a genre of jokes that many Indian-American comedians in history have been pigeonholed into — I regret saying those type of jokes when I first started. Now I do the opposite. Sometimes I’ll do a joke about how Jesus was brown in Texas just to piss them off.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
Flying to Nashville to shoot Bettor Days for ESPN+ was great. I was just out of school at the time so it felt amazing to make money, travel, and work. Also the sets were fun and I’m still friends with the cast. And then getting to see myself on TV for the first time — thrilling.
Can you tell us more about your podcast First World Problematic?
Yes! First World Problematic is the comedy podcast I host with Vishal Kal — yes the same one that broke Nadia’s heart on Indian Matchmaking — and Surbhi, another close comedian friend of mine. We’re all Indian-Americans, and we discuss a wide variety of topics, such as dating, pop culture, and just in general make a lot of jokes. ALSO! We just released an Indian Matchmaking Season 2 reunion special — we brought back all the cast members of season 2 for a tell all! In Jan we plan to do a Season 1 reunion.
Who do you look up to in the world of comedy?
Man. I’m a student of a looooooooot of comedians. So so so many people I look up to. Steven Wright and Dave Chappelle are my first loves. When I was a kid, I used to think standup was just time pass, until one day I stumbled upon Dave Chappelle: Killin Em’ Softly on YouTube. That is what made me realize that standup can be high art. That is when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. Steven Wright is the comedian who first inspired me to write jokes, many of my first jokes emulated him. I have learned so much about modern Joke Structure from Dave Attell, Emo Phillips, Dan Mintz, and Anthony Jeselnik. Bit structure I take directly from Louie CK and Bill Burr. As for my comedic voice, I learned so much from Paul Mooney. Listening to him is what I feel really unlocked my approach to comedy, the way how he is so mean, so aggressive. He talks about white people the way the media talks about black people. I always thought us Asian people needed that, an Asian comedian that talks about Asian-American issues, but not with the friendliness you typically see Asian comedians portray. He taught me to be in your face. And Chappelle taught me how to be nice about it.
Do you feel that South Asian comedians can be easily pigeonholed?
Historically — unequivocally yes. In the modern times, much less so. I very much think South Asian comedians in some sense pigeonhole themselves, by trying to emulate past South Asian comedians, who were pigeonholed by the market. I do think now, and it is completely because of social media, there is a market for every kind of comedy. Like I said in my previous answer, I’d like to be a South Asian comedian with the confrontationality that we have historically only seen from Black comedians.
But you know who is really pigeonholed nowadays? Female comedians. This may be a tangent, but if there was a Female comedian that talked about Female issues, with the hostility towards men that Bill Burr will occasionally have towards women, in my opinion she would likely be the GOAT.
How do you feel social media such as Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat have changed comedy?
Social media has been a truly beautiful thing for comedy. It has completely decentralized the power structure of our business. Back in the day, if you wanted to get famous, you had to do comedy that appealed to the white men who held the power at the networks, at the talk shows, in the writers rooms. They still do control all those things, but now because of social media the people watching our stuff are representative of the population, and we can grow our followings because the market is wider. Now if you have a social media following, you have all the leverage, and therefore you see a multitude more styles of standup comedy out there. Also social media in my opinion is the third great comedy boom. Seinfeld made standup a household art form, Netflix made it possible for people to binge watch standup, and now Tiktok and Instagram have proliferated standup to the point where it is EVERYWHERE. There are more comedians than ever and there’s a bigger market for standup than ever.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
Us Indian-Americans are at a very interesting financial and cultural intersection. Indians are the richest ethnicity in America, and culturally Indian parents will generally pay for their children’s college, unlike other ethnicities. If Indian parents were to hypothetically support their child to go into the arts, just like they may support them in getting their Masters degree, I believe Indians would have an astronomically higher chance of making it in the arts than anyone else. The greatest gift you can give your artist child is financial support in the early stages, since we all know the early stages of the arts make next to nothing. We just have to get rid of the Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer only BS that I would argue is a remnant of the Caste System in India.
Also, remember to call white people Euro-Americans. It helps the movement!