The following article was posted on UrbanDesiRadio.com by Petz on 21.01.11.
We have been given kind permission to republish it on our website.
I could do a mini-series of interviews with Kanwar (Sikh Knowledge) he just has so many ideas and well rounded thoughts. He’s one of those artists, where you can give him any topic, he will have something to say and there’s a profound message behind his thoughts. For the past two days, I’ve had some of his tracks on replay and I feel the way he uses particular words could best describe the darker days of his childhood. Where his innocence was robbed from him at a very young age, his coming out and coming to terms with his sexuality. I’m very grateful he took the time to tell a complete stranger, a journalist, for that matter, his story. If you didn’t know much about Sikh Knowledge before this interview, you’ll walk away knowing the true definition of a warrior – Kanwar Anit Singh Saini
Petz: I’m very impressed how you stepped out on stage and mention how you were proud, gay Sikh man at Non Stop Bhangra (Monthly Bhangra party in San Francisco, California) did people approach you after your set?
Kanwar: Surprisingly no. I was hanging out after the performance, I saw a few people pointing and whispering around me. A few people came up just to say, what’s up! One dude addressed it, but he was more connected to me by the fact he was from Montreal. No one really seemed to care. I felt it was necessary to mention it because most of the shows, I do are festivals and rallies with a political tinge to it. And this was a Non Stop Bhangra show, something I’ve never done before! I felt the need to mention it, although some of my music is danceable, there’s a message behind it. It sort of just came out to the audience. I just think everyone wanted to dance and to have a good time.
Petz: As a child, when did you start feeling different from the other children?
Kanwar: Right off the bat! I was somewhat of a “bubble boy” which means I always had some sort of allergy from being away from home too long, I was always creative, I was attached to my sisters, I was so different in that respect. Intellectually, I always did things differently compared to the other kids. I was always beat boxing on my way to school. In terms of my sexuality, on a certain level I always knew, but like I said, the sexual abuse confused things for me. As soon as we hit 8, 9, 10, we have a Meta awareness of ourselves, maybe even earlier then that. When the abuse started, my Meta awareness of myself, I explained these feelings being a result of the abuse, when later in life I realized it wasn’t a result of being sexually abused at all. I was confused with the reasons why I felt this way, but indelibly, found out there’s no reasons why, that’s just the way it is. It took my own self-awareness to separate the abuse from who I am. I was introduced to sex way too early, let’s just put it that way.
Petz: Do you get annoyed when people tie sexual abuse to homosexuality?
Kanwar: Oh totally! I’m not going to lie; my family did that when I first came out. They did out of fear, my sister approached me a couple of times and tried to make me realize it was because of the abuse. I realized they were just saying that because they needed a reason because they’re not me, so they just didn’t understand it. After awhile, they just accepted it for what it was. They saw beyond the sexual abuse. It really aggravates me when people assume you’re gay because you were abused. Sexual abuse itself is a monster, especially when it’s an old person and young person. I remember reading statistically, a couple of years back, how attention is attention, and a child who might have homosexual inclination might give off these susceptible signals to predators. The numbers of those being sexually abuse, who are gay, are just higher because of those reasons, not because of the abuse itself. Of course that’s just a statistic and even statistics can be way off. From me, it kind of resonates, like I said I was a bubble boy and very sensitive. I think when my abuse started, the root of it was basically attention, I loved the fact attention was being showered on me. Abuse isn’t always physically pain, a lot of it is being too young to know that the pleasure you’re feeling is completely fucking you up. That was completely inappropriate and not meant for me to experienced or showered on me in any way, shape or form. It really disturbs me when people compound my sexuality to the sexual abuse. Or abusers and homosexuality, abusers exist in many areas; there are heterosexual abusers as well, so it’s very different. If someone finds out your gay, they may never want to leave their kid with you again. It makes it difficult to adopt a child. It aggravates me for sure.
Petz: What happen to your abuser?
Kanwar: It’s fucked up, nothing happen. I blew the whistle on the abuse that I was experiencing and perpetuating. I’ll be honest about that; I was kid and a property edition as well. At some point, at the age of 16 or 17, I saw my whole family down and I told them everything. I blew the whistle on everything. My immediate family knows who the abuser is, my father knows who the abuser is and I know who the abuser is. The abuser knows who the abuser is and he knows that others know too. What’s funny is that, my abuser has never come to me to try to seek forgiveness. I haven’t made my peace with that person, but I made my peace with who I am. And who I am in relation to this abuse, especially it being known to my family. That’s huge and that’s really enough for me. This person, it’s funny, our parents generation has a weird way dealing with these issues, which we might consider very weird. It’s not that they don’t choose to talk about these things, but in fact for them breaking relations off with somebody is a very bad thing. Especially if the reason is something like this, they might not actually understand. In this instance, my abuser was my dad’s nephew. For my dad to break off the connection with that family, my dad just probably doesn’t understand, how he can do that and doesn’t know what to say. Which is sad, it’s not something I would do with my kid, but we have to understand they come from a different time and place. Just look at Monsoon Wedding, I would love it, if that was my life. If my father figure protected me in that way, that’s just not reality for a lot of people, it wasn’t a reality for me. I’m not living a fairy tale either, but thing is I can be loud about it, piss people off in the process and that’s fantastic to me.
Petz: When you were a kid, did you try to date girls just to fit in?
Kanwar: (laughs) I did, I had a girlfriend in grade 2. As I got older, I remember I tried to be intimate once or twice, not even just to fit in, but more just to prove to myself that I wasn’t gay. This was before shit hit the fan, I was really young, but I never tried to date girls just to fit in. I think I asked somebody out once, it lasted a night. (laughs). That was the end of that.
Petz: As you mention before, it is a long and difficult road out for a lot of folks out there in the Desi community to come to terms with their sexuality. And how you came out, it’s definitely different from other coming stories, because you blew the whistle on the abuse you endured as a child. From that point to your family developing a sense of acceptance to who you are, what happen in between? What made them come to terms with your sexuality?
Kanwar: I don’t think it’s acceptance for some people, I think if you are going to be a family member to Kanwar Anit Singh Saini, you are just going to have to deal with the fact I’m not going to care what you say. I’m lucky my family stuck around, I basically said, fuck you, I’m going to be who I want to be. Let’s just say my dad, this isn’t the ideal situation for his son. If you have a kid, think about it logically, you want your kid to succeed in “life” and you want your kid to have every opportunity to succeed. The reality is that includes not being gay, that’s a minority, if you are rallying for the maximum success for your off spring, obviously you are going to opt for them to be normative. So in terms for accepting, I think for somebody like my dad, he even says it himself, as long as my education is locked down then he just doesn’t care. I don’t think I could use the word acceptance with him. He tolerates who I am. For my sisters, on the other hand, who grew up in the western world, who know these terms, they accepted me. It’s a non-issue with them. My nieces are down with me, they are super proud of me. One of my nieces told me I was cooler because of who I am. (laughs) If I can take a handful of Punjabi kids and desensitize from this hetero normative macho crap that goes on in modern, pop, bhangra, movies and shit then I win. Between that point and now, my sisters are great, my dad is ok with it, but he comes from a different time and place. I can’t really blame him for that.
Petz: There are some people out there, in the Sikh community, who are still struggling coming to terms with their sexuality. They feel like they can’t be gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender, because it makes them a “bad” Sikh. What are some ways you overcame your guilt or is that still a work in progress?
Kanwar: I guess a few words on Sikhism, my name is Sikh Knowledge as an artist, and I got this name from a Black Jewish friend of mine. I didn’t give myself this name, because I was Sikh; my black Jewish friend had a double entendre and just gave me this name years ago. So people often approach me and think I know a lot about Sikhism. I do know a thing or two, this is the number one argument, and people say it’s against Sikhism because they assume it to be hypersexual. From what I understand, within the frameworks of Sikhi, to move away from worldly attachments, which includes sexuality is basically the goal in life. It’s not the sexual preference, it’s sexuality in general, and that people should be moving away from – under that framework. Even heterosexuals are anti-Sikhi, the difference is preference and it’s not the amount of desire one has for the act. In terms of Sikhi, I just say its sexuality; people should be moving away from, if that’s your argument. Another argument that often comes up – it’s unnatural. To love another human being, is that unnatural? I don’t think so. We have to look into these arguments, when someone says it’s unnatural, what they are referring to is anal sex. They are referring penetrating in the asshole. What you have to realize, this isn’t the end all and be all of what it means to be gay. The goal isn’t anal sex. That’s very wrong, because people have sexual preferences, it doesn’t mean they all fall into this “anal sex” category. There are many gay people out there, who don’t have penetrating sex; they just need the companionship of the same sex. What about lesbians who don’t have penises to penetrate each other, the underline assumption – gay people are just running around looking to penetrate something else or be penetrated. Which is so stupid, foolish and it’s a big misconception. It’s so King James, because King James wrote the bible and that shit went all over the world, and then everyone wrote laws against homosexual at some point in history. Sikhism was founded on inclusive principals. So when some people use it to exclude anybody, not even gay people, just anybody – I resent the hell out of that. Right then and there, they are being preachy. I find that to be the antisepsis of the faith.
Petz: Do you think the younger Punjabi community lacks knowledge and acceptance towards the LGBT Punjabis out there?
Kanwar: Hell yeah! I told you Punjabi Sikh culture is hetero normative and too macho for it’s own good. If I had a function in arts, other than music, it would be desensitizing these idiots to what it means to be a human being. Which is basically what I am. Are they ignorant to it? Yessssss! Sooooo ignorant to it. Think about it, when do we often get exposed to different types of people? University. What happens in University? People group themselves into cliques; there will be a Punjabi clique, a Hindu clique, and a Gujarati clique – people stick to their own cliques. It’s familiar; it’s a homely feeling, it’s funny HA HA. What ends up happening to their detriment, they become less cultured as people. This isn’t an absolute truth, even in the Diaspora, people can grow up not ignorant and just knowing their own, not experiencing the world for what it is. They need to come to terms with this fact that gay people come from this world. 10% of people in this world are gay, I don’t care what culture you’re from, I don’t care what President Ahmadinejad says, how gay people don’t exist in Iran, of course there’s gay people in Iran. Trust me, they do exist. It’s foolish.
Petz: What would you like to do to bring awareness to the community?
Kanwar: Be me, just like every one else should be themselves. I will just be me, if that can bring awareness, I’m not one to go wave my flag in anyone’s face. I don’t want someone to wave their flag in my face. I will just be there, be me and do the stuff I’m supposed to do. I love producing, I love making music, I love my other career – I love all these things. Just by being me, if I can desensitize these people – fantastic! I’m not at the point yet, where I will march anywhere and infringe or push it in people’s faces. That’s up to them to accept me, one day I might be treating them in the hospital or their kid in the hospital – who will have the last laugh? I’m still a human being, people just need to accept for what is what.
Petz: I love your music, especially the track you did with Humble the Poet, Singh with Me. How will you take your sexuality and compose it into a rhyme?
Kanwar: I talk to Humble about this often, about how I can incorporate this part of myself into lyrics, without being so overt about it. If I had an album, I would probably address in a song or two. When your rhyming, basically hip-hop tracks aren’t about anything at all. Humble the Poet, is one of the emcees I know who can stay on topic; he can have a lot of rhymes on one topic. If I were to incorporate it, I would incorporate it, the way I corporate my views on Israel/Palestine. In other songs, where I just rhyme for the sake of rhyming, I can still incorporate my views in on metaphor. In our song “Slick Slick” I say something like, spark the night, with no reason like Israel. Right then, I’m bashing Israel for whatever my beliefs are, but I just said it in a simply assembly or rhyme. I do actually have a rhyme on Humble the Poet’s last album, on this song “Middle Ring Pinky” I end up saying something like, Knowledge the boggy, iconoclastically breaking fag perception. I’ll incorporate it in my rhymes, like I’m a regular hetero emcee.
Petz: This has been a wonderful interview; I believe people out there will feel truly inspired by your story. We are truly blessed to have you open up the way you did. I’m truly blown away by you. Thank you once again Kanwar.
Kanwar: Don’t mention it. It was great, thank you for letting me speak my mind.