It’s complicated: the perils of intimacy across cultures 

Novera Shenin
February 10, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

C/O Jessica Yang

Students share how their existence within certain identities have rewired their approaches to romance 

With the release of season two of popular HBO teen-romance show Euphoria this January alongside the creeping approach of Valentine's Day, it appears as though romance is on the back of most Marauder’s minds.  

While many eager student romantics have been cruising the depths of Hinge and Tinder, or perhaps even decided to try their luck with the relaunched 2022 Aphrodite Project, there remain many cultural barriers in place for queer and racialized students to jump in on the dating apps craze.  

For many such students, romance, sex and intimacy are not solely categorized by a binary of being in a relationship, but is instead a radical journey of self-discovery and constantly questioning whether their vision and presentation of romantic love are valid.  

If the heteronormative expectations of romance were not enough, marginalized students often feel at a loss for how to navigate the intersections of their identities, which comes with countless cultural complexities surrounding romance which leads to vastly different experiences compared to mainstream portrayals. 

Mymoon Bhuiyan, a third-year material sciences student, is an active member of Engiqueers, the largest queer student-led group within the faculty of engineering. Bhuiyan identifies as a queer activist and draws attention to how queer romance is complicated as they bring forth with them institutional challenges to relationships.  

“As a result of added complexity to queer, gay and trans relationships, we see a lot of mental health crises. However, we also see positive attributes such as reduced rates of violence within queer and trans relationships,” said Bhuiyan.  

Besides having to navigate adulthood, queer students can often feel uncertain about which individuals and spaces are welcoming of their identities in the first place given the presence of less than five 2SLGBTQIA+ spaces on a campus of more than 25,000 students.  

Trans students particularly are disproportionately at risk of facing partner violence for their identities. Being queer while desiring romantic intimacy in the same ways that are accessible for heterosexual couples can therefore quickly become a questioning game of whether a romantic interest is safe to pursue in the first place.  

It is increasingly difficult for queer students to identify other queer students to date and have relationships with, especially as many of the ways queer individuals have traditionally used to identify each other with have been assimilated as part of popular trends.  

“Queer aesthetics and culture are being co-opted, the same way much of Black culture has been normalized and co-opted by other non-Black audiences. They are using our words, they are talking like us, but they forget about us,” explained Bhuiyan. 

The queer community at Mac is far from being heterogeneous, with organizations such as the Queer and Trans Club of Colour acting as an avenue for racialized queer students to form community with one another. However, due to complicated cultural understandings of queerness across different demographics, Bhuiyan expressed much of dating for racialized queer students remains hidden underground on hook up apps.  

“There are little to no outlets for queer folks to experience sex in a manner that does not jeopardize their safety. There is a very big difference between celebrating kink positivity and partaking in dangerous acts with strangers. Queer people don’t feel safe being open to dating in the public eye because in the end there is only a notion of acceptability in our culture. If you are a queer brown couple holding hands, you will still likely get ‘the look’,”

Mymoon Bhuiyan

As a Bengali woman, Anisah Ali, a second-year health and society student and the equity, inclusion and diversity officer for the McMaster Bengali Student Association, uses her lived experiences to characterize the perceptions of love within the Bengali community.  

“There are certainly fewer open conversations about romance, intimacy and sex within Bengali households relative to Western cultures. Such discussions are considered very private and are not necessarily talked about openly unless it is being talked about in the context of marriage,” explained Ali.  

The persisting relevance of marriage within Bengali culture comes as no surprise given the countless multi-day intricate celebrations weaved within traditional Bengali weddings. However, due to this strong emphasis on settling down clashing with more casual approaches adopted by North American dating, Bengalis in the diaspora are usually unable to hold conversations about dating, boyfriends, and girlfriends with parents and other family members. While romantic relationships are slowly becoming a normalized rite of passage among newer generations of Bengalis, such relationships are typically held in secret, and are commonly frowned upon by more conservative older Bengalis.  

It is not uncommon for diasporic children of immigrants to learn about sex, romance, and intimacy from other communities, sources, and the internet as it can be uncomfortable to approach parents or older members of a cultural community. Consequently, young adults from communities such as the Bengali community outsource education about intimacy from outside sources to gain knowledge of it.  

“I simply wish that more Bengalis, especially our parents’ age, would talk amongst each other about romance. Maybe it will manifest into something beautiful for each and every single one of us to be fulfilled by this understanding of love to a greater degree,” hopes Ali.  

Whether it is because of our sexual orientation or culture, our identities shape the communities that we are involved in, and in turn, affect our experiences with intimacy. Though love and romance may seem straightforward, the reality of it is much more complicated than what meets the eye.  

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