“I won’t come out because of the Asian culture and community”.
Bisexual and British Asian – two labels that many people think don’t go together, frustratingly for bisexual British Asians.
In spite of the LGBT+ community making great strides over recent years, the topic of sexuality is still a taboo in the British Asian community.
More difficult, however, is the LGBT+ community’s attitudes to bisexuality. Bisexuals can feel too straight for the LGBT+ community, but too gay for those who identify as heterosexual.
Therefore, where does this leave bisexual British Asians? Belonging to neither community can be an isolating experience.
In fact, those who identify as bisexual experience mental health issues at higher rates than any other sexuality. This makes it even more important to listen to and address the problems of the sub-community.
DESIblitz uncovers some real-life stories of bisexual British Asian and the challenges they face.
Kiran* is a young Punjabi student, currently studying Fine Art.
She hasn’t come out to anyone except her best friend last year. She’s currently dating a guy and recently told him.
While he’s accepting of her identity as a bisexual British Asian, he didn’t take it that seriously and she worries:
“I don’t think he really gets it. Because I’m quite a girl and feminine, it doesn’t fit his idea of what a lesbian or bisexual woman looks like.”
She tells us that she’s known about her sexuality for a while but has been dating her boyfriend for so long that she’s never acted on it.
Indeed, she feels the extra pressure of her boyfriend being a family friend.
On one hand, she’s unhappy with his attitude to her sexuality. Nevertheless, having told her family about him and receiving their approval, she’s reluctant to disappoint them.
She’s currently talking to her best friend about it, who has been “a rock” for her. Although she’s anxious about relying on her too much:
“We’ve always been very close, like sisters really. Sometimes my boyfriend worries that we’re too close, which is annoying as it doesn’t work like that.”
“She’s straight and I don’t see her like that. Being a bisexual British Asian doesn’t mean I fancy everyone. I still have friends of both genders and for my friends are really important to me.”
Instead, she’s keen not to miss out on the chance to really explore her sexuality and identity as a bisexual British Asian before it’s too late:
“I know it’s a bit typical but I’m only at university for one more year.”
“Being away from home has given me a lot of independence but it also feels a bit more of an environment where I can experiment.”
“I worry about graduating and then having my life mapped out for me without my input.”
Danish* is a British Pakistani in his late twenties and lives in London.
He mentions that this makes it easier for him to be more honest about his sexuality:
“It’s a bit of a stereotype but I’m from a small town where everyone would want to know your business. In London, I feel anonymous enough to hold my partner’s hand in public.”
He came out to his mum shortly after acknowledging his sexuality at 16. Even then his story to finding an identity to suit him hasn’t been a straight-forward journey.
Danish tells us:
“I met a guy at school. Super confident about being gay even though people would sometimes still make fun of that at college. He was so okay with it that they didn’t have much to make fun of.”
They secretly dated for a while but an interracial relationship added to the pressure. Although he ’d quickly come out to his mum, he’d identified as gay.
While she was reasonably accepting, she felt he was too young to know better and kept quiet about the topic.
Consequently, Danish never told her about his boyfriend. Even after they’d broke up, something still plagued Danish.
“I came out as gay as that was all I knew. Of course, I thought girls could be bisexual from TV. You see them making out with each other, but I never thought about guys.”
Laughing, he adds:
“It’s funny really, it’s like it didn’t exist for me. But then there were the internet and chat rooms. As soon as I realised, it was like a lightbulb going off!”
Danish’s story highlights that there’s not always a clear path to find the right term. Sexuality can be far more complicated than people realise.
“It’s not a 50/50 thing. I realised that I’d never stopped fancying girls but it’s just less than guys.”
“There’s been a few girls that I’ve dated and one long-term relationship. But for the most part, my relationships have been with other men.”
“I have a bit more a type with guys and it’s easier to find that rather than looking for something less certain with a guy”.
While he’s now explained this to his mum, he still hasn’t come out to his dad. He doesn’t know if he will:
“That the one benefit of bisexuality. My parents don’t ask questions at the moment so until I find the one for me, there’s no point causing heartache.”
“If it’s a girl, that’s helpful. If it’s a guy, we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Priya* is a young British Asian and has just completed her studies at a Birmingham university.
She first realised that she identified as bisexual at 17, but has only come out to “close friends” and “only certain friend groups”.
Indeed, she tells us:
“I won’t come out because of the Asian culture and community”.
While she has received natural comments or at most, a surprise from friends, she has only come out to “accepting people” due to the attitudes she observes in the British Asian community.
She tells us that the community believes:
“That they think it’s not a real thing. That it’s just lesbians trying to be more accepted by dating a male. Or that they’re cheater or swingers.”
In fact, these sadly aren’t the only stereotypes that she’s encountered.
Priya tells us that people also espouse myths like:
“Firstly, that bisexual people just have daddy/mummy issues. Then bisexual girls especially are just straight girls that like to kiss their besties when drunk and that’s it. Or bisexual guys are just gay guys trying to be accepted.”
It’s a tricky balancing act for many British Asians who identify as bisexual. In a community with a reputation for gossip spreading like wildfire, there’s always the worry of saying the wrong this and ‘shaming’ the family.
But the pressure is two-fold when it comes to matters of sexuality. Gossiping Aunties may seem a funny subject when it’s part of a film, but for bisexual British Asians, the stakes are incredibly high.
Priya shares how she copes with this:
“It’s difficult – I watch my words and what I say a lot, especially around Asian people.”
“There’s also an issue of, you can’t be seen to be too allied or sympathetic to the LGBT+ community or people will be like: ‘why do you care so much, are you gay?!’ And it’s annoying that even cisgender binary allies in the Asian community will get this.”
The LGBT+ community doesn’t behave to be much better at times. In spite of the community’s reputation as a place of acceptance, this isn’t always the case.
Bisexual British Asians frustratingly face double discrimination for their sexuality and face. For instance, Priya herself sometimes doesn’t feel welcome in the LGBT+ community, particularly not by:
“Die hard LGBT+ people with really strict rules and thoughts about how LGBT+ members and allies should behave.”
“In my experience, these are also people who really don’t like bisexual people as they’re not ‘true gays’.”
“Then, as an Asian, I come across a lot of LGBT+ people who think I will be homophobic or transphobic to them – before and after they find out I’m part of the LGBT+ community.
Most bizarrely, however, is what Priya has witnessed when the two labels of British Asian and bisexuality collide:
“Also, in the Asian LGBT+ community, there’s also the issue sometimes of dating people within your background.”
“In my experience, there are still barriers where a Pakistani girl won’t date an Indian girl because of what her community will think. Even though she’s not out, and won’t come out, and would not introduce her family to the Indian girl – it’s so instilled in people.”
Despite these negative experiences, she hopes for acceptance, encouraging people to realise:
“People in the LGBT community are just that. People. They didn’t choose to be this way, they’re not ‘doing it for attention.’”
“Treating people differently on the grounds of something like sexuality or how they identify is inhumane. Asians may be treated differently based purely on skin tone – something they didn’t choose and cannot change.”
“So I think a community that is already marginalised should work harder to ensure they’re not marginalising others, especially people in their community.”
Regardless of their age, gender or background, it cannot be stressed enough that bisexual British Asians are people too.
As we’ve seen, British Asian bisexuals are also someone’s child or friend and students or young professionals.
Above all, bisexuality isn’t the only defining factor of their identity, they have a heritage of culture and life experiences which are unique to them.
Bisexual British Asians have challenges which are different to those from other cultures which are seen as more accepting of sexual orientation.
Acceptance may not be achieved easily within British Asian society but moving towards it needs more education and awareness in understanding sexual preferences.
While DESIblitz has explored the similarities and differences of these three bisexual British Asians, there’s still a rich and fascinating plethora of real-life stories still out there.