National Coming Out Day and International Mental Health Day
It was great to be joined by representatives from across South Asian LGBTQ+ groups as we discussed the concept of Coming Out and what it means to us.
- Pavan Joshi – From India, came from Rajasthan in 2004 – dancer, writer, blogger, mental health specialist and gay (Please also see Pavan’s own article here). Part of GIN organisers.
- Lokesh Saini – Queer person from Haryana and in London for 2 years. Pronouns he, him, his.
- Matt Mahmood-Ogston – Trustee of the Naz and Matt Foundation – work with religious parents to support them in their kids to coming out – working towards acceptance in the family
- Rahni Kaur – Lesbian, Punjabi, Sikh – out for 30 years, single parent with 2 adult children, work in addressing violence against woman and girls
- Sabrina Court – Ally of LGBT community and volunteer for 2 charities one in India and one in the UK. Has a LGBT son.
- Osman – Gay Muslim man who volunteers for Hidayah.
“What does Coming Out mean to you?”
Pavan – I will take you on a journey of my life. When I was 13, I felt confused about my sexuality but I knew I couldn’t share it with people – no language, no role models, judgement around non conformity. Ten years later still confused and felt the same way and found the language on the internet…….and then came out. Ten years later, more confident about own identity.
What does it mean to me: Acceptance of family important…. they are still on their journey……. people should not be pressured into coming out. ‘Inviting in’ rather than coming out!
Rahni – Came out over 30 years ago when my children were young……couldn’t connect to South Asian women, the scene was predominantly white and uninviting. There were no spaces for non-white people so black and Asian people had to create their own spaces. Ended up with an estranged relationship with mum, despite the fact that I loved her………she would always ask how is your friend…..rather than partner. I am having to say who I am, because of my children people will assume I am straight. Constantly have to come out, some places accept and some don’t.
Lokesh – I am still in the process of coming out. Grew up in a small-town India with a conservative family and patriarchal. Coming out was about understanding myself and understand who I am and then about relationships I have with other people. I am still on the journey.
Osman – It is emotional to think about because not out as still lives with his family. Imagines what his life would be like if he could be himself. He is more concerned about the reaction of family and friends.
Matt – Coming out is one of the hardest things we will do as we don’t know how family and friends will react. Your whole existence could disappear. My fiancé Naz, was confronted about his sexuality by his family, which led to him taking his own life. It is a journey, not a destination. It might take years, it might take decades, might never be out to everyone. It is a personal journey and people shouldn’t be rushed. If you are not financially independent from your family/parents, then it is even more difficult. Matt recommends you are financially stable before coming out to lessen the impact on your lives.
Sabrina – It begins with the moment of truth with the presentation of a human being in their true form and an opportunity for a parent to show their unconditional love for their child.
“What advice would you give to others based on your experiences?”
Pavan – Everyone’s journey is different. Coming out should not be pressurised, people should do it when they are ready. Internal recognition is more important than external validation. Risk assess the situation, what is the impact on me as a result of coming out? Find support and connections – inviting people in that are connected with you and can keep it confidential. Find an organisation that can help. Find the right supportive environment.
My journey was never a linear journey. When I found I was financially independent it was easier.
Rahni – It has to be your choice and never feel pressured to come out. Balance between being authentic vs the cost. As a woman, had to face sexism, homophobia, racism, and lost my family and community connections for years. Me being ‘out’ is being the whole of me, but how do you do that when your family have a different perspective, religious views, etc. In the UK and other western countries, it is easier as a woman with access to education, employment, etc. You have to assess is this the right thing to do.
Lokesh – First you need to understand your own identity and your own-self. Being financially independent is important as well as emotional independence with the family, friends who accept you who you are. It is not a one-off thing, it is different coming out to different people. Parents would think I am eunach and friends of similar age have other misconceptions about gay people. Family wouldn’t be in a position to understand as he doesn’t have the language to explain and family wouldn’t understand queerness.
Osman – Look at own adopted friends to provide support as many friends unable to provide the necessary support.
Matt – Don’t rush, don’t feel the pressure – it is a personal choice. Naz and Matt Org have mapped out a coming out process to support people so they can understand the different phases.
Step 1 – Awareness – understanding who you are, family learning about you.
Step 2 – The LGBT individual rejects or denies they are different – family might go through this also. Although parents know their child better than anyone, but they often don’t want to be LGBT.
Step 3 – mourning of heterosexuality – mourning loss of weddings, children, etc.
Step 4 – Acceptance/tolerance – not rejecting or hating but putting up with them.
Step 5 – Acceptance – people/families embrace themselves for being different
Step 6 – Pride – Being proud of who you are.
Step 7 – Understanding you have the power to help other people
The ultimate stage of coming out is the Power to Help Others.
Sabrina – Spent a lot of time with children, watching films together and used to discuss them afterwards. Be conscious of the phrases you use, the comments made, and questions asked. The reaction given to your child when they come out, do not say your thoughts out loud. Explain to your child you need time out to understand and they will find that supportive. I listened to Sherwin, created space for him to talk, and I asked him, what can I do to help. I told him it is ok, we can work this out together.
“How can parents/friends/allies support people on their coming out their journey?”
Pavan – I remember when I first came out to my friends, I had only been in the UK for 6 months and they were all doctors and were married. They didn’t have any reaction to my coming out. Create a place of trust and confidentiality. Listen to what they are saying. Let them talk about it when the child, friend or family member wants to talk. Hear it out. You won’t know all the answers and that is ok. Be honest about it, if mistakes are made, we can work it through. Make the other person realise that they are not alone. Working things together, creating a safe space and trust and confidentiality.
Rahni – The process/conversations start much earlier…..do not assume that your child is a heterosexual.
Lokesh – Sexuality and Gender Identity are personal. Set up parameters on how the person would like you to respond with language, jokes, etc.
Osman – Sharing experiences of lived experience of LGBT individuals. Raising awareness and creating visibility.
Matt – Celebrating differences and celebrating those differences. Make people understand the impact on LGBT individuals both positive and negative. Make the use of this language normal and part of everyday life. The more it can be normalised within families; it will make things better for LGBT people within family units. Challenge the stigma.
Shraddha– bringing these conversations into the mainstream
Sabrina – Learning and growing as an ally and as a parent of a LGBT child
Matt – Sabrina filmed a video to talk about this and her video was shared millions of times around the world.
Q – Is Coming Out is a western concept?
Lokesh – there was no representation of LGBT people for family and parents. It makes it more challenging to come out.
Pavan – Society in the west is different as individuals cannot separate themselves from your family, community………. this puts additional pressure on South Asians to conform to this narrative. It is often seen as the whole family coming out to the community. Personal coming out to myself was more significant than deciding who I need to tell.
Q – What is the role of religion. Does it help or hinder?
Rahni – Religion has a lot to answer for. If you have been taught scripture by someone else and you haven’t critiqued it yourself, then it can be really challenging. First rejected religion, so had to find books in English to understand what scriptures say but people who tell me about religion will oppress me. Religion shouldn’t oppress anyone, but it is used to oppress people.
Osman – Do your research on faith, read about it and do not listen to older men who dictate. Faith is an individual journey.
Matt – Naz was from a very conservative religious family. His parents were very strict and traditional in their interpretation of their faith. Even when they talk to me, they get culture and faith mixed up. Often it is a cultural response rather than a religious perspective. Interpretation is a learned behaviour, and this needs to be unlearned and re-learn a different behaviour. People can be educated to be more accepting of one another’s differences.
Sabrina – I am an atheist. Nothing comes before my family. I show more attention to Sherwin because I am fearful for him, but he has no fear which makes me stronger. No religion propagates hate but this is what many people do. Do not look down on LGBTA.
Q – Does the issue of Racism make is harder to come out?
Osman – It is difficult when you are on the scene as many people face racism and islamophobia – I have to explain myself when out. We shouldn’t have to explain ourselves when out and about.
Rahni – When I was coming out in the early 90s, I used to go clubbing in salwar and kameez – some people wouldn’t let me into clubs, so we set up a place for black lesbians. Racism is still there and hasn’t disappeared. For young LGBT people, it is a challenge when coming out.
Pavan – BBC3 documentary Queer Britain talks about racism. There is internalised racism within the ethnic minority community which also needs to be addressed.
Q – What advice would you give to someone thinking about coming out?
Rahni – Make sure you have your support network. Safety is more important than anything else.
Pavan – It is your own journey don’t be pressurised.
Matt – Be the person you were born to be
Osman – Love yourself and be yourself
Lokesh – Be yourself and take care of yourself
Sabrina – Only do it when you are not pressured, financially and emotionally stable.
Kindly transcribed by Pritpal and finalised by Kulbir (both Sarbat volunteers)