Thank you to L & Q for hosting Sarbat’s second Open Minds (ਖੁੱਲ੍ਹੇ ਮਨ) Sikh LGBTQ support group on the 26th of June 2019. We were pleased to welcome some new faces to the group as we came together to discuss our personal journeys of coming out and the barriers that stood in the way.
The group started the conversation with the idea that coming out is usually not a one-off process. It is something most of us have to go through multiple times over many years. Family members don’t always hear or accept what was said and it can be hard work to keep pushing against this resistance.
Also, coming out may not always lead to acceptance. We discussed how being out (or outed) in your community can make us vulnerable to verbal and physical harm. Sometimes deciding to leave the family or the wider community is the only way to protect mental or physical safety. In other situations, people felt that it was more important for them to compromise and continue a relationship with their family even if it their sexuality was not entirely accepted. Similar ideas about compromise and sacrifice came up a lot of time during the discussion.
We felt that there can be cultural differences in the implications of coming out. We also reflected on how difficult it could be to not have visible LGBT+ role models from the Punjabi community that we could relate to or draw inspiration from. The very fact that there isn’t a universal word or phrase for LGBT+ in Punjabi is a hindrance to the coming out process. The lack of appropriate vocabulary can be very disabling when we are trying to talk about our sexual orientations in Punjabi.
The discussion also highlighted that coming out as a man had very different implications from coming out as a woman. We touched on the idea of privilege and how it is unevenly shared between men and women in Punjabi culture, let alone non-binary or transgender folk. Bisexual people had been told that they should ‘just choose’ to marry someone of the opposite gender and that this lack of understanding can be difficult to correct.
Participants expressed the frustration they feel after coming out when others make quick assumptions about their sexual encounters or relationships. We noticed that this is a boundary that would not be crossed in the case of a straight couple in the Punjabi culture. The group speculated that this might be because coming out appears to be give others a ‘free pass’ to talk about sex or intimacy in a way that would usually be avoided.
Several attendees struggled with the idea of exposing their parents to criticism or judgement from their community by coming out. Some reflected their natural instinct to protect their parents and act as a shield from harsh comments, physical attacks or social ostracization. At the same time, we discussed how such protection can prevent them from processing events, developing their understanding of the situation and evolving their own coping strategies.
Through many charged and emotive discussions, it was clear that coming out is a process where we reveal our very vulnerable parts to those we trust. And it can be very painful or even traumatic to receive negative or aggressive reactions from the very people we placed most confidence on. Some of us have moved through this pain and trauma while others are still working their way through it. It was an honour to hear so many stories and to realise that most of us have been through very similar processes despite our vastly different backgrounds.
Our next Open Minds meeting will be on Wednesday 31st July 2019 at St Luke’s Community Centre. Please do attend even if you haven’t been able to make it to previous groups, we’re open to all. We will start the conversation on the topic of being a practicing Sikh who is also LGBT+. We are planning for our September event to be online only to allow people based outside of London to take part in discussions. Look for details on our website, facebook and twitter.
Kuljit Bhogal and Shraddha Kaur