I interviewed British Pakistani Muslim Adil Khan just weeks after he had come out to his friends and family about being gay. Adil was somewhat tense yet animated as he recounted his experiences and told me in his interview that as a South Asian man, and more specifically a Muslim, his sexuality often met with contempt and disapproval.
Adil talked about the rejection he faced immediately after telling a Muslim friend of eight years that he was gay. He discussed the homophobia faced from many in the South Asians whilst also speaking about the unexpected and welcome support he received from a friend of British Sikh heritage – Kam.
Adil had disclosed before being interviewed, how his extended family had refused his presence at a family funeral – someone ‘like Adil’ was simply not welcome at these family gatherings. His mother however had a different response. Despite these proposed ‘Muslim ideals’ that were being forced upon Adil, his mother had accepted him for who he was, and this I could see gave him immense strength.
Adil started his interview by talking about his experiences with the Pakistani Muslim community, and then the Indian community more generally. There were some similarities in the way he was mistreated and many differences too – finding one community more accepting of him than the other which is discussed further in his audio visual interview.
A particular obstacle for Adil was the ways in which his male South Asian friends had responded to him. A number of Adil’s Pakistani Muslim colleagues had started to make homophobic jokes and comments in Urdu in the workplace – often referring to him as a ‘gandu’ – a highly offensive and derogatory term in Urdu for a gay man. It was disturbing to think that people still carried such outdated views on homosexuality but not least surprising given that the conversation on LGBTQ rights is still an evolving one in some communities. The bottom line for many of these people was this – you cannot be Muslim and gay. It was one or the other, but never both.
One of the most interesting factors about Adil’s journey was his interaction with a friend and colleague called Kam. Kam was the third heterosexual South Asian male that Adil had decided to tell that he was gay, and given his past experiences with both Pakistanis and Indians, there were a number of reservations hovering over his mind.
“What if Kam reacts badly?” “Will I recover from another friend rejecting me?” “Can I do this?” “Will Kam still see me as the same Adil?” “Will I survive another rejection?”
These questions ran through Adil’s thoughts until he eventually disclosed part of who he was to Kam. It was a big moment for Adil, and the outcome as you will hear in his interview, was not the one he feared.
Kam is a cisgender, heterosexual South Asian male who recognises his privilege in a heteronormative society. In his interview, Kam mentions the need for serious change in attitudes towards LGBTQ issues effecting South Asian’s of all faiths and communities because of the lasting effect this has on individuals. For instance, LGBTQ communities are at a higher risk of mental health problems and whilst the reasons for this are complex and not always understood fully, there are strong links to discrimination and bullying, homophobia, biphobia or transphobia as its root cause (mind.org) – something Kam recognises as a problem in the diaspora as a whole.
Although homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK 50 years ago, four in ten people in Britain still think that gay sex is ‘unnatural’. In addition to this, being BME and queer means facing double the discrimination. Issues like racism and Islamophobia in white queer spaces, and homophobia, biphobia or transphobia in BME communities, still bring significant problems to queer Desi’s. Being Asian and gay can mean a number of difficulties for many British Asians.
I had approached a few heterosexual South Asian men when setting out to write and record this blog in an attempt to air their responses about gay men. Not to my surprise, many had declined to comment on record but had a lot to say about gay men away from a microphone. Some of these men were even convinced that they were not homophobic despite comments such as the ones outlined below.
“I don’t mind them, as long as it isn’t around me” “I don’t have a problem with batty-boys but like, I don’t get it” “If my son was watching tv and two men kissed, I would change the channel” “Why do we have to have gay pride paraded in our face all the time?” “I don’t have a problem with them, but they should be gay behind closed doors”
Small minds with pitiful thinking. I was massively frustrated and disgusted by the blatant homophobia disclosed by so many ‘accepting’ and ‘inclusive’ heterosexual South Asian men. This tells us a lot about LGBTQ attitudes in our communities, particularly where the men are concerned. Naturally following this experience, I was delighted to include Kam’s contribution to this story.
When I approached Kam for an interview there was no hesitation on his part. He said something along the lines of ‘a conversation that needs to be had and I’d be happy to be a part of it’ – more people thinking like this please!
Kam is an intellectual character with an open mind. He cares little for the reactions of others in the South Asian community where prohibited topics like queer Desi’s are concerned and rejects the idea that people should not love outside of society’s self-made love-boundaries. He debates that race, gender and faith, are just ways to compartmentalise people into social groups, something he never believed in, and this made for an insightful interview.
It was also interesting to learn that Kam’s sexuality had come under question by the gay and straight men he had previously worked with (alongside Adil) for supporting LGBTQ communities as a heterosexual brown man. The main suspicion was how could Kam be straight if he supports the LGBTQ voice? As I spoke to people around him I heard comments like:
“No straight man supports gay men” “Its more women that do that” “he must be bisexual, if he isn’t gay” “his shirts are ironed to perfection – that’s not normal” “Have you seen how white his white shirts are?” “straight men do not groom themselves to that extent”
Some of these comments were stupid and others just bizarre. I am a heterosexual woman and I can assure you, I would not be impressed if my date turned up in a dull white shirt that needed ironing! These gender stereotypes are half the problem and when you think about it, this is quite tragic. Here is someone who wants to use his position as a heterosexual to combat homophobia in a society focused on condemning LGBTQ individuals in his own small way, and we have men preoccupied with his sexual orientation in an extremely unhelpful manner.
Most discouraging of all about these comments was that a gay man had started these whispers. Then at the back of that, heterosexual men who knew both Adil and Kam were given free reign to question Kam’s position as a man and straight ally. This behaviour demonstrates how patriarchy steers its ugly head towards us, and my immediate response to these illustrious statements in an attempt to overthrow patriarchal attitudes is this:
First of all. Stop. Stop defining masculinity through the narrow archaic hetero-male lens. Now challenge the idea that only LGBTQ men should support LGBTQ men and ask yourself, is this really my idea of what masculine is? Are you not perpetuating toxic masculinity yourself? Is this how you respond to the very few genuine male allies? Can heterosexual men not support their queer friends and family members without being questioned on why? Can we not create an atmosphere where men are able to share their human side exempt from machoism without placing that akin to femininity in the negative? Can we revisit these pre-conceived notions of masculinity before criticising someone’s intentions based on his or her sexual orientation? The most pressing question here however is this – should *anyone’s* sexuality even matter??
Perhaps before interrogating someone’s sexual orientation based upon their political views on gender and sexuality, we should challenge the patriarchal ideals engrained into our societies first. Maybe let’s contemplate on that before allowing idiocrasy and verbal diarrhoea to stir the pot of patriarchal bullshit.
Being gay does not demean a man’s sexuality or masculinity, and being supportive of gay rights as a heterosexual man should not subject anyone to scrutiny. A true LGBTQ ally is not someone that attends gay pride once a year and posts it on Instagram. An ally is someone who actively does something to push for social change, in the way that Kam has by placing his opinions next to the already loud and proud LGBTQ voice that strives for social equality. It is important to use your privilege to start a conversation. It is important that Kam recognised this as a heterosexual male from a BME community and it is important that people will hear his voice alongside Adil’s. This is what we should be focused on as a society – not the former. People fall in love with men or women because of their sexual orientations, not because of choice – you cannot help who you fall in love with. You are who you are, and who you are, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or in Adil’s case Muslim and gay, is perfectly ok.
Evidently, more conversations need to be had on these subjects within the South Asian diaspora and this starts with addressing the toxic masculinity and patriarchy. Kam’s voice offers a much-needed breath of fresh air in this interview (as you will hear), one we need to hear more of because of the challenges queer Desi’s face. People do not become their sexuality (it is getting tiring saying this, and I am someone with privilege!), they are much more besides. Sexuality is determined by biology, people are born with it. More to the point, instead of focusing on why people are LGBTQ as if this were a ‘problem’, let’s now fight the prejudice they face together. You never know, someone you love may just be struggling with a battle of their own…
Disclaimer: It is useful to note that since conducting this interview Adil has changed his adoptive name Adil Khan to his birth name Anil Sohal and now goes by the name of Anil – he has asked that this be shared in the blog.
In part two of this blog you will hear both Adil and Kam’s Interviews in an audio-visual format. Keep following for more on this story.