I think in many ways my background is atypical in the British Asian community as my parents were very liberal. My upbringing was never as strict as that of my cousins, and that is something I that I have only come to appreciate in hindsight. I don’t come from a rich family, I was brought up on a council estate. My parents married young and came over to the UK in the 1960s. They wanted to get us out of the council estate, and they both worked hard to do that. The main thing that my parents instilled in all of their children was to strive be the best that we could, to educate ourselves in order to have a good lifestyle.
We didn’t have a religious upbringing, it was more a case of instilling us with moral values. My parents didn’t bring us up to follow a certain religion. We were told that there was a God and that it’s important to have faith. My family’s religious background is Sikh/Hindu Punjabi, but we would only go to the Gurdwara for weddings and funerals. In the absence of having a religion to subscribe to, I found it easier to come out than others. I wasn’t constrained by any sort of religious pressure or feeling like I was doing the wrong thing. Religion wasn’t a barrier or hurdle to contend with when coming to terms with my sexuality.
I kinda knew from a very young age that I was gay. I started to get my head around it by the time I was in secondary school, aged about 12. My best friend and I were both bullied at school for being gay, but neither of us actually told the other that we were gay until a few year ago. It was never a shameful thing for me. I just thought that if that’s the way I am, then that’s the way I am. It did take me a while to accept it, but my being gay was never a major issue for me.
I’m the youngest of 4 children. At the age of 14, my dad asked me outright if I was gay a couple of times when he was drunk. At the time, I didn’t say anything as I wasn’t really sure about things. He never asked me again. It’s a shame, as one of my regrets is that I didn’t get to tell him I was indeed gay as he died when I was 15 years old. That was also the only time that religion formally played a part in my life, and I turned to Christianity. I was a Christian for 2 years, but I didn’t find what I was looking for, whatever that was.
Six months after he died, things came to a head and I decided to write my mum and my older brother a letter stating that I thought I might begay. I left the letter for them in the morning, before I went off to school, and that evening I was scared to go back home. My mum’s reaction was confusion, and she found it hard to grapple with it as she had never met anyone who was openly gay. She said that it was probably a phase, that she would take me to the doctor, that she could get some medicine – the typical South Asian reaction. Being a parent, and a recently-widowed single parent at that, it was a really difficult time for her. I’ve never really got along with my older brother, but his reaction was the coolest I could have imagined. He said “You’re 15, you’ve got your GCSEs this year, we’ll support you, but you need to focus on your education. We’re still your family.”
I do question whether it was a good thing to do at that time, but I needed to tell somebody, I’d missed out on telling my dad who was the one person I thought would have understood, and so telling my mum helped relieve some of my pressure. It was really important for me to tell my family because I wanted them to be part of my life. I didn’t want to keep anything in my life secret from them. I also realised that if it had taken me a while to get to grips with my being gay, that it would take my mum a bit of time to readjust too. I gave her space, and the fact that I moved away from home for university helped a great deal as I had my freedom then. When I returned home after university, things had changed for the better between me and my mum. In fact, my former long-term partner came and lived with me and my mum for a period of timen before we bought our own place together. My mum is now ultra-cool, genuinely.
The first time I went to a gay bar was when I was 18, just before starting university. It was dark, dingy and depressing! It felt secretive, seedy, and my overriding feeling was disappointment more than anything else. I kind of expected to walk in and for people to be welcoming and really friendly, almost like being treated like an honoured guest. When I was at home, we didn’t go out to pubs with friends or partake in under-age drinking, so when I got to University, I went mad on the gay scene. I caned it! It was a different experience – being away from home helped. I started making friends at the bars, and it was only a few months down the line that it struck me that there weren’t many Asians or non-white people on the scene. The things I thought were compliments initially, such as being called ‘exotic’ or an ‘Arabian prince’, I grew wary of as the person calling me that seemed to be more interested in the colour of my skin than in me as an individual. I understood that I was a bit of a novelty on the gay scene, and it did on occasion work to my advantage, but after a while it felt stale and I got bored of that.
When I finally met Asian men on the gay scene, I was disappointed that a lot of them were married and for them, going out on the scene was a few hours away from the wife and kids. I’ve never had that pressure of being married, and can’t empathise with it. I felt like they were letting my side down.
I’m 38 now. In the next five years, I want to be married to a man and be a dad. I don’t regret my life thus far, as I knew that my 20s would be filled with partying and not about settling down. Since I turned 30, my wants changed. I feel like I’ve done as much as I could do with the gay community, and now feel like the time is right to find a partner. My mum often asks me if I’ve met anyone, mainly because she wants me to be happy.
I have simplistic beliefs of God and of a Heaven and a Hell, but not as part of a formally subscribed religion. When I have a child, I wouldn’t actively encourage or discourage the child from any specific religion, but I’d adopt the approach of my parents and bring the child up with a general understanding of religion.
I hope that more British Asian gay guys and girls have the balls, the courage, the strength, the motivation, the inspiration to take some responsibility and live their lives honestly and happily. I don’t mean that they should hurt their families in any way, but I have heard far too many stories over the years where people have taken what I consider to be the ‘easy route’ by conforming to their expectations by getting married and having children, even though it’s self-sacrifical and a detriment to their own happiness. I believe that you have only one life. We as Asian people are taught to be selfless, and I like that, but there is a time in one’s life where you have to be selfish. I don’t think that I’d clever enough to lead the double-life that so many British Asian gay men and women do, and I’m fortunate that my family have been as accepting as they have about me. I don’t know of any openly gay British Asians, and it would be good to have a handful of them as role models. Even if it is just to say “They did it, and they’re successful and out.” It would be good to see people happy about who they are and enjoying a healthy, functional relationship with their families.