A question often asked is “when did you know you were gay?” and the answer is… “Always!”
I didn’t have any defining moments in my life that were marked as my Gay ‘out’, instead, I just always knew I was attracted to the same gender, always felt flustered when I saw a crush, always thought about the same gender… it was simply always.
My first kiss was at the tender age of 4, I was in reception class in school and my best friend and I at the time hid behind coats in the cloakroom and played “kiss.” As I grew up, I carried on feeling attracted to the female cartoon characters on T.V and soaps, having crushes on female teachers, even going as far as writing a letter to my older sister’s teacher in primary school confessing my un-dying love for her! (cringe!)
Another question often asked is, “did you ever recognise your feelings as being wrong and did you think they were sinful?” and the answer is… “never!”
Brought up in a Muslim family, I was encouraged and expected to pray five times a day, and my routine as a child was to attend the local mosque for two hours every evening after school. I was taught that relationships were between a man and a woman.
Homosexuality was never explicitly discussed, but that didn’t mean that it was allowed. As I got older, I started acting out my desires toward the female gender by “fooling” around with family friends and school friends, it wasn’t until I was in Pakistan for my sister’s wedding, at the age of 15 that I came out to another sister that I was very close to.
I remember the turmoil and teenage angst I felt at the time of gathering the courage to tell her, trying to second guess her reaction, thinking of worse case scenario’s, i.e. where she might go and tell my parents, and then what the consequences could be! I may end up being left in this country that I was a complete stranger to, as a child bride!!
“I know” was her reaction… and then she walked away nonchalantly. I needn’t have worried! My sister, my best friend, and now my confidante of the biggest secret I had! She had always known!
It was a year and a bit later, now at college that I told my first friend. In my mind, I built it up to be this BIG news and I was SO nervous of what her reaction may be! Telling her was such a relief, and her positive reaction was an even bigger relief. We were both giggling like school girls over the news and decided we were going to go and tell our third friend together. The nerves that were sticking to my gut like glue when I told my sister the year before were nowhere to be seen.
“OK” was my friend’s reaction. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Having gone through secondary school, not being able to tell any of my friends about my secret, I felt free. I felt myself, I felt I could finally breathe.
That was until I stepped back under my parent’s roof and back through that Muslim closet. The year was 1999, we got internet at home, dial-up was my new best friend. A way to be gay at home! The computer was in my brother’s room, which luckily had a lock on the door.
I used to count down the seconds to when he went out, so I could rush to his room, lock the door and connect to the outside world (albeit slowly with dial up). I can still hear the beeping and ringtone of dial-up internet and it brings a smile to my face.
Through websites such as Yahoo! chat and other generic sites, I was able to connect to strangers. I wasn’t brave enough to “Ask Jeeves” for any gay sites, so I stuck to the ones that wouldn’t spill my secret. One’s that despite deleting it after every use, wouldn’t creep up in my browsing history!
University life gave me a bigger freedom. I met other girls, I had relationships. I explored my sexuality as fully as I desired and being in a different city to my home town, I was my true self.
As soon as I walked through my parent’s front door, I was the straight, Muslim, dutiful daughter who only thought and felt gay in secret. At the age of 21, I was living with and engaged to my girlfriend at the time and it felt like now was the right time to come out to my mum.
I picked a weekend, I came home, and I spent the best possible weekend I could with my mum. We laughed, we ate, we talked… I love my mum so very much! We were as close as could be, she knew everything about me, except my biggest secret, my sexuality.
I waited until the Sunday evening before I started the conversation, I had wanted to make the most of the weekend before I told her the news. I knew her reaction would be different to that of my sister and best friends. I expected the beginning of the conversation would also be the beginning of the end of our relationship.
She was stunned and in complete shock. “I have NEVER heard of this in our culture, nor the western culture” was her response, when I told her I wanted to marry a woman. I sat there, as still as I could be, not saying anything more and letting the words I just spilled out of my chamber of secrets fill the air.
The next six months were the worst. Phone calls were filled with screaming and crying and empty threats of being disowned. I avoided going home as much as I could, keeping my visits brief and formal. Our relationship never fully recovered after that day. Despite coming out to my mum, it never discouraged her to try and change my mind!
For the next 10 years, my mum never gave up on trying to encourage me to settle down and marry a man. For various reasons, my relationship at the time didn’t work out and I was back in the single market. I even considered fulfilling her dream of marrying a man shortly after my relationship had ended.
Having failed at a five-year relationship that shouldn’t have ended before the marriage began, I felt I had failed at my lesbian life. So I may as well just do as she kept on about all these years and marry a man. In my naivety, being gay only mattered if I was in a relationship with a woman.
Thanking God, that low moment in my life didn’t last long and I soon backed out before any suitors were brought to the house. My mum, having gotten so close, failed to get me on the straight path.
Fast forward 14 years, now engaged once more (hopefully the last time!) at the age of 35, I decided to come out to my Dad. My mum, along with my female siblings who I had come out to some years ago; had kept it a secret from my dad. Despite the threats from my mum to disown me when I had come out to her,I knew deep down, coming out to my dad would be a whole different ball game.
My relationship with my dad was one that was culturally stereotypical of a Pakistani man, our conversations never strayed far current news affairs, the weather and asking after family members health.
I also knew, coming out to my dad would be the day my relationship not only changed with him forever, but even potentially ended. Unlike the emotional bond a mother has with her child, my dad wouldn’t let his emotions rule his decisions!
“You know that you have been brought up a Muslim” was his first statement to me, “And you also know, that in Islam, this is a sin” was his second statement. I gathered my senses and drew a long breath before starting this war of words.
Having found the courage to utter the words that would end my relationship with my father, I didn’t want to commit an injustice to that courage by admitting that I “knew” that homosexuality was a sin in Islam. I owed it to myself, I owed it to that strength.
Instead, I tried to steer the conversation toward how some Islamic scholars are questioning the existence of homosexuality being written of in the holy book. This however angered him, and he gave me the knowing look that made me feel 5 years old again and I quietened my speech and merely responded “of which, that I have been told.”
I was surprised at myself for only breaking down three times,proud of myself for staying as long as I did. I was shocked after he told me to leave my keys to his house on the table and never show him my face again. I was angry at him, for making the decision for my mum that, as my mother’s husband, he had the “right” to forbid her to have any contact with me.
The 21-year-old me who came out to my mum was not ready to walk out the door and never have any contact with her family again. If 21-year-old me was given the ultimatum to leave my partner, my sexuality and live an obedient Muslim life with my family, it would have been my family that won!
But 35-year-old me had finally stepped out of the Muslim closet and refused to go back in, 35-year-old me told her dad, she loved him so very much and walked out of his door, still clutching his keys as a final gesture of rebellion against his wishes.
Now, I was finally living my true self. I am finally living my true self.