How Henna Is Helping Proudly Brown And Queer Individuals Reconnect With Their Heritage

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06/19/2022

In a rebellious move against the gender binary, as well as notions of toxic masculinity imposed by their South Asian heritage, brown gay men and non-binary individuals are adorning their hands with traditional henna with pride. The word “forbidden” comes up quickly when asking a South Asian gay man about their first memory of henna. Shazad Hai, the co-founder of Rangeeta, the world’s biggest LGBTQIA+ Bollywood event in Toronto, remembers being “mesmerised” by the bridal mehndi (the term used in Hindi, while henna originates from the Arabic), that his aunt wore when he attended her wedding aged 10. “I just remember being very captivated by it,” he says. “After she got married, we were all at her place and I kept on asking to look at her hands.” However, the adults around him reminded him that a boy was not supposed to be so curious about the traditional tattoo. “Anything in which I was trying to express myself in a feminine kind of way was forbidden, which included mehndi,” he says.

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