Kashish Chopra - Miss (Lesbian) Congeniality
|A lot of people were shocked to find out that Miss Congeniality 2003 was a lesbian. A Desi kuri who likes other Desi kuris? Wow!! But after the initial reaction, you realize there is no reason to be surprised, just love it baby!
|by Peta Cooper w/ Tasmia Khan
The article that started a buzz about Kashish Chopra (posted earlier in the year on our message board) wasn't just another pageant posting because this Miss Congeniality 2003 isn't your average pageant winner. She's young, outspoken, and a lesbian. Most people find it hard to come to terms with their sexuality - whether you like the same sex or swing both ways. This beauty queen came out of the closet in 8th grade and her integrity kept her from shying away from her true identity. To me, she has broken the stereotypes that the media has always attributed to gay people. And after hooking up with her for the interview, I found her to be "Kash," a woman with a big heart and a motivating soul.
Peta Cooper: In 2003 you won the title of Miss Congeniality at the Miss India USA pageant in New Jersey. So I wanna know - can you kick ass like Sandra Bullock?
Kashish Chopra: You seem to have forgotten the fact that I am Punjabi! Need I say more?
PC: My bad, I should have known better! Ok, let's get down to business, do you think your parents will ever come to terms with your sexuality?
KC: In time, I know they will. All parents love their children and want the best for them. In their minds they constantly worry about my future and the direction of my life. But that's understandable because of the jaded view they have concerning the gay community. They believe that my sexual orientation will negatively affect my chances of a family, a successful career and my happiness. They are concerned that I will face isolation from the Indian community and from society in general. But this is simply the result of our families and peers not taking the time to understand the fact that we are no different from anyone else. This acceptance on their part can improve the exclusion that gay people feel from society. Our own culture is based around the importance of family. How can a culture so focused on family ostracize someone because of his or her sexuality? My own parents have always supported my achievements. I know I have made them proud with the way I've grown up. But when it came to my being a lesbian, they initially did not know how to respond. The community has created a false and stereotypical impression that homosexuality is synonymous with going against the meaning of being "Indian" or being "a respectful member of the community." However, my parents realized it wasn't so easy to reject the daughter that they love. The circumstances they were in gave them the opportunity to learn about homosexuality and understand it rather than submit to a misconception of it. They can see for themselves that by being gay, I am neither forfeiting my dignity nor my ability to attain the future they dreamt I could find.
"I've been out of the closet since I was in 8th grade... my future wife (would be) Rani Mukherjee..."
PC: Now that's a mouthful! Do you see yourself as sort of an icon for Desi women - especially those who are coming to terms the way you have?
KC: I feel weird calling myself an icon, but I know I'm in a position to reach out. I've been out of the closet since I was in 8th grade, but I never felt completely connected with my community. There are parts of my identity that cannot relate to the culture and the social construct I live in. But I was lucky because living in Washington DC has allowed me to enjoy diversity and the gay community here gave me a sense of normalcy about my identity that the media and school did not. I knew that I had support. At any age, people look at the media hoping that there is something or someone that we can relate to. Who did I have to relate with? When I was growing up, I never saw gay South Asians who could affirm the experience of what it is to be gay and Desi at the same time; nothing to affirm my place in both the Indian and gay community. I take great pride in my identity but there have been difficult times. Until a year and a half ago, I did not even know there was a gay South Asian community. I used to think I was one in a handful. Before, I needed to look at the Indian media as well as the gay community to relate to because they both only fulfilled a part of my identity - one being my heritage and the other my sexuality. But people can look to me and see that it's okay to be both culturally integrated as well as gay. We can take pride in culture and homosexuality.
PC: Have you been approached by men saying offensive comments to you about your sexuality? You know, words like dyke and so on.
KC: I have had to deal with comments like that my entire life. I just don't pay attention. People like that will always be around, as will people who think I cannot be a dignified Punjabi woman because of my lifestyle. But these people need to stop being scared of what they don't know. When it comes to guys finding out I'm gay and commenting like that, I just hope they realize how ridiculous they are acting. Perhaps they're gay men and are just too scared to admit it. Just kidding (winks). It can be rough though. I was harassed before I became involved with the media, but over the last year I have dealt with it on a greater level. Usually it's because some people feel threatened by things they're not familiar with. But I admit my Punjabi temper has flared up a few times at clubs to defend friends I may be with. It's unfortunate that people are childish and closed-minded. I'm just there to enjoy the party like everyone else, so why do people have to snicker if I am at the bar getting a drink? It's not like I am making out with someone at these parties, Indian or other. So whether I am holding a girl's hand or just out with friends, I just ignore those comments.
PC: You're majoring in business, correct? What type of business would you like to get into?
KC: Good question. It's funny picturing myself in the real world! I actually just finished my BSBA in International Business at Suffolk University, but this fall I'll be doing my masters in Philosophy & Social Policy at George Washington University. Who knows what I will do afterwards? I'd love to do diversity or international strategy consulting, but right now I'm not quite sure. I wouldn't mind becoming a host on MTV INDIA or a Bollywood actress... at least I have a good business foundation to fall back on.
PC: Now a juicy question. Say I was to cast you in a movie - who would you want your love interest to be? This applies to both Hollywood and Bollywood actresses.
KC: This is a tough one Peta and I admit to having thought about this many times! After all, there are so many beautiful actresses in Bollywood, and Hollywood too. My friends all know that I can't get through this question without mentioning my future wife - Rani Mukherjee. Is the typical answer supposed to be Aishwarya? I definitely shouldn't turn down the casting offer for obvious reasons! As far as Hollywood goes, Angelina Jolie is always a nice choice! I have to admit there are quite a few that I wouldn't mind as on screen love interests...
PC: That's funny because my ex wanted to marry Rani Mukherjee too! I guess Rani is attractive to other women huh? Do you feel the Desi GLBTQ community is under represented in the mainstream dating Desi sites?
KC: Absolutely. I don't think you will see an ad for me on Shaadi.com. I've definitely noticed that the GLBTQ community isn't considered on matrimonial or dating sites. Why is that the search engines on most of these sites don't have the option of a female seeking a female? Have you ever seen a male seeking a clean-shaven Sikh doctor in the paper classifieds? If you have then wow! It would be nice to see those ads for the gay South Asian community. On desi sites the GLBTQ presence is not visible and the rare inclusion is usually mocked with close-minded commentary.
PC: For those who admire you, what type of qualities do you look for in a woman?
KC: I look for women who include their heritage as part of their identity and future; someone who is intellectual, driven, outspoken, and able to deal with a stubborn Punjabi woman like myself. I look for women who are serious but also enjoy life and can find a good balance. It's hard to find someone who is willing to let themselves fall in love or care for someone without getting caught in the world around us. It would be nice to meet someone who is unafraid and ready to go out and seize what is theirs. Did I mention she needs to know how to deal with my crazy Punjabi personality?
PC: Given your crazy Punjabi personality, what can a woman expect when she goes on a date with Miss Congeniality?
KC: She should not expect to know what kind of person I am... everyone always assumes they know what I will be like from hearing about me or reading about me. My dorky nature, my wild side, or my serious romantic side come out depending on the situation... never underestimate the ability of a Punjabi Miss Congeniality! I'm a random person and love keeping people on their toes, but I am definitely a romantic type at the bottom of it all. My outgoing personality has been deemed 'slightly intimidating at first' by a few.
PC: I got a trick question for you... Limca or Thumbs Up? You never know - one of their marketers could be reading this! And you can boot Karisma Kapoor off their ads! (winks)
KC: I would have to choose Limca, YEAH BABY! You heard me! And I would love to boot Karisma off an ad or two...
PC: Any final word for the DesiClub.com readers?
KC: I would just remind readers that there are many aspects of the South Asian community and each part is beautiful and unique. We all love our heritage and we take pride in how our Eastern heritage and Western culture are assimilated in every individual life. It's important not to forget the love we all share for this unique South Asian identity and that no matter what our careers or life choices are, we can come together to create a community that is looked upon with envy and admiration. Don't accept the sayings and conditions around us, but challenge and pursue them to achieve self-understanding. That is the only way we can prove we are willing to listen and understand one another as well as our community. And I'll see you at the next party!
Do you have any thoughts on this? Feel free to send Peta an e-mail @ Peta Cooper.