Dil Wickremasinghe: You have to live your life and find happiness

Wickremasinghe shares her experience as a lesbian person of colour and the impact a lack of cultural representation has on people.

A woman wearing glasses smiling in a garden

Pradeep is a gay person from India living in Ireland for eight years. As part of a new series he will be holding conversations with fellow Asian queer people living in Ireland discussing inclusion, diversity and experience. He recently interviewed Dil Wickremasinghe.

Many of us know Dil Wickremasinghe as a broadcaster and journalist. She is also the founder and director of Insight Matters, which is a psychotherapy, counselling, and wellness service with over 75 therapists supporting over 500 clients per week. Dil co-founded Insight Matters with her wife, Anne Marie, a decade ago as they saw the need for an LGBTQ+ affirming and inclusive mental health service. Dil has a keen interest in understanding intersectionality and training as a psychotherapist to support the ethnically diverse LGBTQ+ community.

Dil came to Ireland about 20 years ago. At that time, the Dublin LGBTQ+ community had very few people of colour; it was a minority within a minority. She clearly remembers her first experience at a club; “There were only two Asian lesbians present in the crowd: the bartender and me. I said to myself – ‘Oh, my God, this is fantastic. There is someone who looks like me!’ That happened 20 years ago. Over time, the community has evolved and opened up for people of various ethnicities.”

We discussed why we don’t see more Asian lesbians on the scene. “I think the socializing in Ireland has centered around bars and alcohol. I assume that’s why we won’t see many Asians or Muslims or different ethnicities in bars; it could be a cultural disconnection.” When Dil started working for Outhouse, she set up a  group called ‘Girls Night In’ – it was a weekly social meet-up for women outside a bar or a pub setting. She says, “When you meet someone sober without the social pressure of being in a pub, it tends to be a more real experience.”

When Dil talks about her childhood, one can sense the layers of life experiences she has gone through. Born in Rome to Sri Lankan parents, Dil “was the only child of colour in my school. I got the sense of being different at a very young age. They never bothered to learn my name at my school; they would say ‘foreign child’. I remember scrubbing my skin as a young child to be white, like my friends.”

She recalled that her parents telling her to integrate with school friends, but in reality, they asked her to assimilate, look like them, talk like them, and walk like them to be safe, to not stand out. “I remember the lesson I learned in childhood: if you want to survive as a brown person, you must not attract attention in a predominantly white society.” 

The lack of mainstream cultural representation of lesbian people of colour also had an impact. Dil elaborates, “When I was young, there weren’t any positive role models to look up to. The first lesbian book I read was a beautiful book called The Well of Loneliness, but it didn’t help me picture my future self. My religious parents told me, ‘If you’re going to be a lesbian, your life will be an abomination’.

“At 14, I watched a fantastic movie called The Hunger on Italian TV starring Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. It has a beautifully shot love scene between the two of them. Those images remain in my mind forever, but it was tough because those images consisted of white women. I questioned myself – ‘where did I fit in that picture?’ It certainly didn’t help my sense of self-identity around the colour of my skin.”

Now Dil Wickremasinghe is living life as a mom and wife. She described how she met her wife, Anne Marie Toole at a quiet mental health weekend retreat in the Wicklow mountains. “We felt an instant connection at the first meet. Within a month, I told Anne I loved her. It was a fantastic feeling; I proposed to her six months later. We are missing such connections nowadays because of the apps and other platforms. The innocence and excitement of meeting someone have vanished.”

Every year, the whole family participate in the Pride march. “It is a great satisfaction to walk with my family. Compare to 20 years ago, the community has evolved, and you can see that reflection in the Pride march. As a lesbian parent, it is beautiful to watch that the Dublin Pride Festival embraces the families and ethnic diversity.” Her face brightens when talking about Pride. “Embracing diversity is an ever-evolving process. There are still some issues, but I feel there’s a real effort to keep up with the change. It’s okay not to be perfect.”

Based on her life journey, I asked Dil what advice she would give to people of similar experience. She explained, “At a talk at UCD, I met a highly educated Asian lesbian participant in her 20’s. Her parents are not accepting her as a lesbian. There was massive pressure on her to get married.

“I advised her, ‘Please don’t wait for your parents to welcome your sexuality one fine day – it doesn’t happen in most cases. You have to live your life and find happiness.”

You can follow Dil Wickremasinghe on social media here.

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