West Indian drag queens are not easy to find in nightlife, due to cultural constraints. The gorgeous Sundari, the Indian Goddess, is one of the more high-profile representatives of that community, and in some sad ways she’s suffered for that. But you can’t keep a good queen down! Sundari’s got two appearances scheduled this month, a ton of charity work to tackle, and a top spot in the Queens Pride Parade this weekend! Let’s meet Sundari.
Thotyssey: Hail to the Goddess! How are you today?
Sundari, the Indian Goddess: I’m doing awesome! Exhausted, but doing awesome.
So, let’s get right to it! You currently live in south Queens, right? And you are of Guyanese descent?
I current live in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York. And yes, Guyanese descent.
Ok cool. Tell me a bit about the LGTBQ Guyanese/West Indian community in Queens, or in NYC in general. Do they have venues where they can safely come together?
We have a large population of LGBTQ Caribbean individuals in NYC, especially in Queens. Currently, the only safe space for Caribbean LGBTQ individuals is a monthly Support Group called Unchain, which is hosted by The Caribbean Equality Project at the Lefferts Public Library in Richmond Hill, NY. The next support group is June 13 from 6pm to 8pm.
There are usually LGBTQ events [there] to bring unity, support, and acceptance, and to promote culture. It is a safe space for all to attend, regardless of race, gender, religion and sexual preference.
Do Caribbean- and West Indian-American LGBTQ people face lot of prejudice within their culture?
Within the LTBGQ Caribbean community, there has been a lot of progress due to the number of individuals stepping up for their rights, and to organizations like Caribbean Equality Project. There are many allies who support us.
In Boy Mode, you’re known as International Dancer Zaman, and you’re a dance teacher as well as a performer. What styles and genres of dance do you excel in and teach, and how long have you been dancing?
International Dancer Zaman is trained in Kathak, Odissi, Bollywood, Chutney, and Soca. I’m currently teaching a “Dancercize Class” using Bollywood, Chutney, Soca, and classical dance styles to help individuals “Embrace Their Inner Sexiness,” tone their bodies, have fun and be outrageous. The class is for adult 18 and over. Classes being held in Richmond Hill, Queens, every Monday & Wednesday evening from 7-8pm.
I understand that you became Sundari in order to dance in a certain cultural style that only women are generally permitted to dance in.
Initially, yes. as I developed as a Caribbean Drag Queen, I learned that I have a much greater purpose where I use performing arts to showcase the Caribbean culture with in the LGBTQ community, bringing unity, peace, love and equality for all.
How did you learn to refine your makeup, wigs and costumes? Did you have a drag mother?
My first transformation was done by my drag sister, Detoxx Busti-ae. She has inspired me by teaching me how to do my make-up and wigs, and has even made some of my costumes.
Currently, I do not have a drag mother.
How did you meet Detoxx?
Detoxx and I meet at Escuelita.
RIP Escuelita. How did your family and close friends respond to Sundari? Or do they not know she exists?
My close friends are very supportive and proud of Sundari. Some of my relatives know about Sundari, and are very supportive, especially my loving mommy, and siblings. My dad does not know, but I believe he has an idea.
Three summers ago, as Zaman, you were assaulted with a blunt object at a Richmond Hill venue in a homophobic attack, at a time right after the NY legalization of gay marriage when there was a rash of attacks on LGTB people. If you don’t mind talking about it, what exactly happened to you that night?
I attended a Duck Curry Competition in Richmond Hill, Queens, where my fellow LGBTQ friends and family were attacked for being LGBTQ. A member of a Tassa group used a Trophy and bashed over my head, leaving me with a 7″ laceration on my head.
It was terrible. A little good came out of it, though, because several people in the West Indian LGTBQ community and beyond did come out and speak at a rally for you shortly after the attack. Their words and visibility were very powerful, and sent a strong message to the community. Does the whole experience just seem like a daze to you now?
I am very grateful, for those who put the rally together and came out. The message was indeed strong. The whole experience is deep within my heart and made me the person I am today: stronger, knowing I am alive for a greater purpose.
That’s the best thing that could happen. Was your attacker ever prosecuted, by the way?
Damn. The wheels of justice turn slowly, or sometimes not at all.
It was an honor to perform at the AIDS Walk show benefiting the CEP AIDS Walk NY Team. It was not my first time performing at a gay venue stage out of drag. However, it was my first time performing at the historic Stonewall Inn, in front of my biological mom, who was in the audience.
My first time performing out of drag at a gay venue was at Esco Night Club in NYC 2012, for New York Caribbean Gay Night.
And you’ll be performing as Sundari in a non-gay venue on June 3rd, for the Chutney Fiesta Summer concert at the Maracas Night Club in Richmond Hill. Will everybody be cool with Sundari there? And what are you planning to dance that night?
On June 3rd, 2016 Sundari will be performing at the Chutney Fiesta Summer Edition concert to be held at Maracas Night Club (which is not a gay night club) in Richmond Hill, Queens, along with legendary Caribbean artists like Rooplal Girdharie from Trinidad and Tobago, and others.
I plan on performing a cultural performance including Bollywood, Soca & Chuntey music, while keeping true to my Caribbean drag character.
The promoter Rehanah Abrahim Maheepat, from Trinity Promotions Inc., is very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and I am honor to have this opportunity. I pray the audience will be open and accepting to having a drag entertainer on the stage.
Honestly, they might not even realize you’re a man!
Then, June 5th is the Queens Pride Parade, where you’ll be marching! You’ve marched there before, right?
Yes, June 5th is the Queens Pride Parade. I will be marching with the Caribbean Equality Project. Yes, I have marched before, where I won the title “Best Queenie Award.” I will be performing as well, on the Queens Pride main stage after the parade, for the first time as a Caribbean drag queen.
Illumination is the Caribbean Equality Project’s annual “Glow Pride Party.” It’s an event to celebrate Pride, and I will be celebrating my 31st Birthday at this event. There will also be performances by Detoxx Busti-ae (who’s hosting), The Lethal Assassins and Sean Kulsum.
Happy Almost Birthday!
Thank you! My birthday is on June 19th.
So, do you have any interest in performing more in the Manhattan nightlife venues as Sundari?
I hope you do! Tell me about the Momentum Leadership Program you participated in recently.
In the past 90 days I was honored to have completed the Momentum Leadership Program with 39 incredible individual,s creating these results: we raised $170,000 for charity, paid off $137,000 in debt, added $150,000 to savings, generated $5.8 million in additional income, entered into 7 new romantic relationships, had 2 engagements, volunteered over 800 community service hours, released almost 300 pounds of body fat, had 23 new job promotions, started 27 new businesses, and fed 54,000 people!
That’s extraordinary, congratulations! It’s a relief to know that you’re out there in the world, advocating for us! Finally: If someone in an intolerant culture or environment is afraid to come as as LGTBQ, how would you advise him or her?
I would offer that person to seek out LGBTQ organizations like Caribbean Equality Project, in which they are comfortable to offer help. Don’t be afraid, there is support for them, and that they are not alone.
Words of comfort for many out there! Thank you Sundari!
Sundari, the Indian Goddess will perform for the Chutney Fiesta Summer Edition at the Maracas Night Club in Richmond Hill, Queens on Friday, June 3rd. She will march with the Caribbean Equality Project in the Queens Pride Parade in Jackson Heights on June 5th, and perform on the parade stage afterwards. On June 18th, she will perform for the Illumination Glow Pride event at the Naresa Lounge, in South Ozone Park, Queens. Sundari can be followed on Facebook and Instagram. See the graphic above, beneath the video, for International Dancer Zaman’s contact info.