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In Conversation With Sarav Chithambaram

Ranjani Saigal

Sarav Chithambaram is the CEO of MEDIA-FACTORY LLC which is a Media production and consultancy firm that is producing a documentary titled "Its my life – South Asian Queer story in America" where he for the first time he is bringing together GLBT and straight memebers of the South Asian community to discuss the very sensitive issue of dealing with South Asian Queer lifestyle.  He is a software engineer by profession and lives in Cambridge, MA.

He volunteers his time to help several causes. He currently serves  the Fenway  HIV Vaccine trials Community Advisory Board  and  the steering committee of Queer Asian Pacific Alliance  a Boston based  GLBT organization .  He is also a former Steering Committee member of MASALA (Mass. Area South Asian Lambda Association).

He learns Bharatanatyam from Soumya Ramanathan and is delighted to have the opportunity to realize his childhood dream to learn dance.

Can you describe  the challenges you have faced as a South Asian Gay man in America?

 As a South Asian gay man, I face the same issues that any gay man or lesbian women in this country faces.   In addition to that, I face few more problems as an immigrant,  South Asian and  man of color. Being a South Asian Gay man,  I feel like a minority within a minority community.  Neither I visible here (in US) nor in India.

South Asians for the most part don’t understand me and have no clue where I am coming from and what I go through.  It’s a constant battle to educate my fellow South Asians that I am gay and I am born this way.   It’s a constant battle to convince them that it is not a phase in my life but that my sexuality is part of who I am and it is here to stay.  Moreover, I didn’t become gay after coming over to the states and I was born this way and I realized this in my adolescence. I feel its my burden to carry my sexuality rest of my life and no one will speak for me, standup for me other than myself.  I am left to fight for my equal rights, dignity, respect, acceptance along with my fellow Gays, Lesbians, Bi, Trans brothers and sisters from different communities in this great country. 

I feel sad that my sexuality defines who I am and the rest of my attributes gets ignored.

What motivated you to work on a documentary on South Asian GLBT community? Who is your target audience?

The documentary   “Its my life – South Asian Queer story in America” is a personal journey for me.  Since I came-out a few years back in the Berkshires, my life has changed a lot.   After a few years living in Berkshires, I moved further east and during that phase in my life, I got involved with MASALA (Mass. Area South Asian Lambda Association).   I met many first and second generation Queer South Asians.    This was a life altering experience and I grew as a person and I felt very comfortable about myself my sexuality.  I felt that I belong here and I am not alone and that there is a community which treats me with love and respect.  This experience helped me to become an activist and an active community member.  I felt the need to tell some of the compelling stories and  our experiences thru film medium. This is an attempt to create a “Positive Visibility” of the  Queer South Asian community and generate much needed awareness and acceptance and start a dialogue within the community.   So I decided to start my own company MEDIA-FACTORY LLC and started producing this documentary. 

I would like this film to reach everyone in this great country and all over the world.   This is an honest dialogue between the Straight and Queer SA communities.  To my knowledge this dialog is yet to happen and this documentary makes it a reality.   After watching this documentary I want the SA straight community to treat us like their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends etc and give us the due respect and dignity we deserve and welcome us with open arms.   And also hope this helps parents, siblings and friends of Queer SAs to accept their loved ones for who they are. It is not wrong to be gay.

In your documentary you have brought together straight and gay people of South Asian origin. What has that experience been like so far?

Bringing together both the communities for this project was not that easy.  Many from both communities are not comfortable to be on camera and also didn’t want to express their opinions for the public to view.  It took a sweet talk to get to agree some of the participants to appear in the documentary.  

The experience of interviewing both the communities was humbling and educational.   Everyone has their own views about many issues like Racism, Homophobia, cultural issues in a foreign country, domestic violence, gender bias etc,  I was surprised at some responses.   I got some of the prominent SA community members to participate in the interviews and thru all these experiences I developed new friends for rest of my life.

How did you learn to make a documentary?

I don’t have any formal training to make a documentary.  I started with an idea in my mind and willingness to do something for the community.   I talked to few experts, read blogs and materials online and I just jumped it to film making.   I learnt a lot thru this process and it’s a life altering experience.      My educational background as an Engineer helped me technically to breakdown the process and enabled me to tackle this humongous project on my own.

What kind of misconceptions about the GLBT community do you encounter amongst the South Asians? How do you address them?

As I said earlier,   here are some of the misconceptions about our community and I will try to clear them.

   1. This is a phase in our life  and we will change
Truth :  Absolutely this is not a phase in our lives,  we stay the way we are.   If someone thinks sexuality can be changed from gay to straight, do you think there is a possibility that  straights can become gay?
   2. This is a western life style and we adopted to it when we immigrated to western countries
      Truth:  No its not true,  there are gays in India, Pakistan, Srilanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and all other South Asian countries.  This is not something we adopted for our convenience. 
   3. A guy loves a guy because he didn’t find the right girl.
      Truth :  This is not true.   I fall in love for a guy because I love him the way a man loves a women or a woman loves a man in the straight world.  
   4. Gays and Lesbians cannot make a good parent
      Truth : this is not true,  they make wonderful loving parents as any other straight couple would be.

We hope to create positive visibility for the GLBT community and create awareness and work towards acceptance by the straight community.  

Do you have a message for our readers?

We are liberated by the greatest leader ever in world “Mahatma Gandhi” .   He taught us tolerance,  Ahimsa, peaceful coexistence.  Its time to follow his words.  GLBT/Queer  community is no different from any communities.  We are a group of loving,  respectful well educated,  law abiding, community oriented, spiritual,  artistic individuals.   Moreover we are someone’s brother or sister or daughter or son or uncle or friend, so please treat us the same way you treat your own.  After all we come from a society which cherishes in giving respect and kindness to strangers.  

How can the readers reach you about this documentary or how can they get involved in this project?

Readers can email me at writesarav@gmail.com  at anytime to talk about this project or getting involved in this project.  I am looking for various talents to help me with the post production of this project, I would love to hear from many of the readers.

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