The body my immigrant parents may never understand
The news broke with a phone call from England. A distant relative, calling my Sri Lankan American immigrant parents in Connecticut and asking them, “Do you know what your daughter is putting on the internet?”
They said, “What’s the internet?”
It was 1991; the World Wide Web didn’t exist yet. My computer-savvy boyfriend had gotten me online. I spent much of sophomore year writing erotica, smutty and explicit, and I was posting to newsgroups—text-based forums that let me talk to people all over the world. I signed my own name to arranged-marriage wedding-night tales and raunchy stories like “American Airlines Cockpit.”
They called me in Chicago. My mother was so furious that she alternated between screaming at me and not speaking. My father said, “You have to take it down. Take it all down, immediately. Take my name off it.”
I responded, fighting back frustrated tears, “I can’t take it down — it’s not physically possible. The internet is forever.” True enough. But it’s also true that I could have tried to take it down; I could at least have made the stories much harder to find. I didn’t want to. Mohanraj was my name too.
For years, I told people that it didn’t even occur to me that my parents might find out. I was the only English major at the university who even used her email; almost no one I knew in person was online. But perhaps on some level I knew exposure was inevitable. Maybe I wanted to get caught, to finally have it all in the open.
I was living at college, half a country away. Freshman year, I’d kept my first real boyfriend a secret from them, a secret that churned my gut with the fear of being caught. When I held John’s hand on campus, even months into the relationship, I still felt the electric thrill of it, skin to skin. I was giddy and young and deeply in love. But I carefully kept an eye out for any South Asians. You never knew who might be playing the role of the good girl, who might know someone who knew your parents. They would inform on you, a snitch in the night, and then, catastrophe.