"I am not ashamed of who I am, in fact, I am super proud."
Being gay is a forbidden love across communities all over the world, and particularly in the Asian community, it is something that is associated with disdain.
Same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK in 2014 which clearly highlights the length of time that it has taken for people to change their attitudes towards it.
But not everybody shares the same views and being gay is confronted with a lot of opposition. A person only has to look at the 2016 Orlando Shootings to see that it is still a disfavoured issue for people today.
Only 1 in 100 people identify themselves as gay or lesbian because ‘individuals remain reluctant, to tell the truth’ due to taboos.
And for British Asians, being gay is even more difficult. For them, coming out doesn’t just involve bridging gaps between sexuality, it also involves bridging the gap between culture and community.
For older generations originating from places such as India and Pakistan, the notion of being gay is not a natural way to live and is not approved of in any manner. In the homelands, any homosexual or lesbian activity can lead to imprisonment for life, however, it does still exist.
Irrespective of nationality or cultural background, being gay is considered to be completely unnatural and is not readily accepted by South Asian communities in the UK.
Anwar*, a gay man from Yorkshire says: “Being gay in our community is wrong. I feel as long as I can keep it a secret, it’s fine. As long as nobody in my family finds out, it’s okay to do that.”
Acceptance of it is at a very micro-level and mostly on a family by family basis. This depends on how liberal a family is, the realisation that the sexual orientation of their child is part of who they really are, and most importantly, not living in denial.
Yusuf Tamanna says: “My mum, sisters and friends all know that I’m gay and they’re completely accepting of it. My sister told me, ‘Look Yusuf, you be happy whoever you are.’
“My dad still doesn’t know, I doubt he ever will, my family have all told me not to tell him because telling him would do more harm than good.
“Tradition would have it that I shouldn’t be this overt about my sexuality and I’ve received grief from other South Asian gay men who have said I do more harm than good because I’m shoving my lifestyle in their face. I guess that comes from a place of resentment.”
Lack of acceptance can lead to a lack of support and the impact of this can be difficulties for the gay individual.
Amrik Judge is a YouTuber and says that his parents: “Weren’t really supportive at the start but then realised how much not having their support affected me.”
Minali* who is a lesbian says: “To the Asian community, I’m still scared to say in front of them I’m a lesbian or I’m gay. I can’t tell them. They are not accepting openly, the way other communities are accepting.”
Gav, a gay student from Sheffield, says: “It’s better to be accepted for who you are than feel ashamed by such a gift of this nature.
“In the LGBT community, it seems that there is more support and resources for those who are not an ethnic minority and coupled with cultural differences, it becomes harder to accept help.
“Coined terms such as intersectionality can help so much, but in terms of real world, it’s another story.”
Acceptance of gay people within the Asian communities is still a huge challenge.
Therefore, if the acceptance of same-sex relationships is still a taboo within the Asian community, then same-sex marriages are definitely going to be in the minority and most likely, kept away from the community.
A Double Life
A lot of people live a double life by suppressing who they really are when it comes to being gay, especially, in the Asian community.
More and more cases are emerging even with married men with children who may have a bi-sexual or gay side to their sexuality.
The question, ‘What will other people say?‘ seems to be a major sticking point before happiness for many Asians.
Honour remains an esteemed value within the Asian community and some people are forced to marry the opposite sex in order to maintain appearances within society.
Yasar Amin came out when he was a teenager and growing up in Bradford. He is now a campaigner for greater tolerance and equal rights and comments on people living a double life:
“Some people, I know will be in a heterosexual relationship, yet it causes tension and issues there because they are leading a secret lifestyle. It’s conflicting for them. So, they’ll have one life for their family and the local community, and another one for friends and socialising.”
A number of gay Asians decide to pretend to live life as a straight couple through ‘marriages of convenience’ in order to avoid facing the ‘wrath of their families’.
These marriages of convenience are sought after on websites such as saathinight.com. Users typically advertise with posts reading, ‘Seeking MOC with an asexual/gay (straight looking) Punjabi gentleman… I need to marry asap only due to family pressure’.
This is quite tragic because it reveals that people can’t fully express who they are in fear of shame, being ostracised from their family or tarnishing their family’s reputation. These sham marriages cover up the couple’s right to a life of their choice.
Metro is an LGBT support charity and when they carried out a survey asking 7,000 16-24-year-olds about their experiences, results revealed that:
- 42% of young LGBT people have sought medical help for anxiety or depression
- 52% of young LGBT people report self-harm
- 44% of young LGBT people have considered suicide
When people suffer in silence, their mental health worsens.
If they feel that they can’t talk about their problems, then illnesses such as depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies are likely to occur.
Especially, when some gay people may have to deal with self-hate because of whom they are, denial or fear of rejection.
Raj* says: “My mental health deteriorated because of my homosexuality. Knowing that I couldn’t talk to my family about it meant that I had to just keep all of my feelings to myself.
“There were times when I wanted to kill myself because I was that ashamed of being who I am and it felt like I was suffocating.”
Making homosexuality an unspeakable subject in the Asian community means that it is more difficult for those who need to speak about the issue to be able to talk about who they are.
UK Law changes have made people more confident to admit to being gay and ‘coming out’. It is giving that added protection to support their decision.
Yusuf, who has come out, says: “I am not ashamed of who I am, in fact, I am super proud. I make a point of it in some cases because why should I hide away? Love is love, let me love who I want!”
However, it’s not the same or simple for everyone and the majority still find it difficult to whom they come out to and are very cautious of negative consequences and reactions from community and family.
Kammy says: “I thought carefully of who I could talk to about my sexual orientation towards women. I confided in a cousin but she did not take it well. She stopped talking to me soon after and I do wonder if she has told anyone else.”
Until being gay and being British Asian is something that is accepted as being real and something that exists, only then will there be an opportunity to increase understanding of it as not being some ‘health defect’ or ‘something that can be cured’.
Breaking down barriers and increasing the awareness of how hard it is for a gay person in the Asian community is needed. Instead of it being associating with shame, it is something that needs more open discussion to address the huge stigma attached to it.
Blogs like Safar aim to make British Asian gay, lesbian and bisexual communities more visible and accessible. It contains information about social events such as gig nights to engage and support people from similar backgrounds.
Other support organisations include:
As British Asian generations progress, changes in attitude shall hopefully, one day, make it more acceptable to be gay in British Asian society. But until then, the difficult challenges shall continue for coping with being gay and British Asian.