Sunday, February 19, 2012

"I am Not my Orientation. I am Me."

As promised, here are my follow up questions with Bilal from the last post. Theres so much to be said about his second set of answers. Through his words you feel elated that he has found himself, found a place of acceptance.... but you also feel the sadness... in the fact that he can't truly be himself around everyone he loves... You can sense that there might still be scars from the fear he felt when he was younger.. the fear of being singled out...

The scars may still be there, but they make him who he is....

His words are honest..and they peel back layers of culture and religion...of society and acceptance...to leave behind just a person.

Where did you grow up? I notice you say ‘moved to London’ … so did u live in Pakistan before that? And if so, how old were you when you moved to the west? Did that make a difference in you accepting your own sexual identity?

In short - I was born in Lahore, and moved to London at a very young age, but moved back to Lahore when i was about 7/8, and lived there till i was 19, which a majority of my formative years were in Pakistan.

I cannot tell you how much i wanted to move back to London when i was 19 (it had always been agreed i would study at University in England), just to get away from everything. I had avoided feelings till then, too scared to like anyone, to show too much of a particular emotion, in case i got singled out (the thought of which scared the shit out of me).

Saying that moving to London was the catalyst in making me comfortable with myself would be the most accurate way to describe it really - of course i didnt feel comfortable with my sexuality once i landed at Heathrow, but having a culture which was so much more accepting, helped an immense amount. I could finally breathe, be more of myself.

Why wasn’t sex good the first time? When you say you were thinking too much about it, what do you mean… did you feel guilty? Did you feel it was wrong to have homosexual sex? Or was it just the regular jitters that anyone might get the first time around?

Haha..Truthfully: Sex was painful the first time because the bastard (still a dear, dear friend mind you) DIDNT USE ENOUGH LUBE - I was bottoming you see, and oh dear god, sweet Jesus in heaven above it hurt, but it got better.

During sex there wasnt much right and wrong about it really, i wasnt really thinking "Shit, im so going to hell for doing it with a man" it was more anxiety about 'doing it right' (as you so rightly pointed out - first time jitters)

Afterwards was when it sunk in when i went home the next day - I felt like i was keeping a secret from my family (not that id tell them in the first place - I HAD SEXXXXXX) but ya know, i felt like I'd have to tell them ONE day, an they would think i was..'dirty' for lack of a better word, for engaging in such apparently sinful activities!!

When you say you have no intention of marrying a woman just to please your family, how do you think you will tackle the issue when your Parents start expecting it of you?

You know what, im not entirely sure how i will tell my parents, or how i will tackle this issue, just that ill cross the bridge when i come to it. Right now ive told them im not getting married because marriage in my family is cursed haha...

I mean i have 6 sisters (No, im not gay because i have six sisters...haha), One is happily married, two are divorced, one is on a trial separation, another in the process of a divorce, while the third is content to play the 'other woman' in a relationship. My parents are divorced, i havent seen my father in about 4 years, not that i care to either - that man is a complete prick.

There are multiple divorces and remarriages on my fathers side of the family. In fact ive lost count.

Do you think you will ever actually ‘come out’to your family? Or will you just avoid discussing topics like marriage?

Eventually. I hope to. I dont like lying to them. I love them immensely, and it hurts so very much that i cant be myself with them, even more so, the thought that they would disown me if they knew.

Does anyone in your family know? Siblings,Cousins? Is there any family member that you are particularly close to and wish to tell but haven’t? How do you think they would react?

Oh a lot has happened since we last emailed each other...haha

Ive come out to:

2 Sisters,

3 Friends

1 nephew

Sisters 1 is..in disbelief, but i supposed i have to give her time...I didnt exactly take a night to believe it myself.

Sister 2 was a disappointment, because I was closer to her.

In short, she wants me to stay IN the closet, never tell the parents, and lead a double life, never hear about how my love life is going, whilst fully prepared to discuss the quandaries of her love live. She disclosed this in a 40 minute conversation over the phone as if reading me the menu for a lunch she was planning. Sort of pissed me off, needless to say.

My friends were GREAT specially seeing how they were Pakistani, and female. NOTHING has changed between me and them, (they do live in London though,). Their reaction was a surprise because ive known them since i was about 8 and grew up with them in pakistan, and i had no idea they would react so well. Shocker, really. We even check out guys together! hahah

My nephew im really close to - at 19 im quite close to him, nearly had me in tears, and was the first person i told. I dont know why, but i just blurted it out...sort of like "KAIS....IM GAY"

We were in my bedroom smoking a joint, and he was like Shit...Really? and i was like "Yep".... he was like "I still love you man...You're still my Uncle...Now, take a toke."

I very, nearly burst into tears.

How do you think your parents would deal with it if you were to come out?



Not well. I remember one time, i was laying on the bed on my mums room, as she watched TV, i was reading a book. I was about 12, out of the blue, she suddenly said "Bilal, you're not a 'poof' are you?" My blood ran cold, oh so very, very cold, i blurted out no, and went back to reading my book, my heart racing, and my palms all sweaty.

Im the only son. I have to take care of my mother (she is my parent). Believe it or not, my main fear is who is going to look after her if i dont. I mean sure, my sisters will be more than happy to do it, but its my responsibility - not theirs - they have their children to raise, their families to take care of - it would be unfair to my nephews and nieces to put such a strain on their mother.

I dont know. Really I dont.


You mention that you used to deny being gay,what was the turning point that actually made you accept you for who you are?


I started meeting gay people in London..they were normal. They were fun, they lived, they laughed, they breathed, they loved. Just not who other people expected them too.

We arent that different you and I..I realised, so i convinced myself to stop fighting myself, and just spend time just being myself!

* * *

Such a brilliant way to end the interview...makes me feez fuzzy inside...and hopeful for the rest of the desi universe

"...I convinced myself to stop fighting myself, and just spend time being myself!"

* * *

Speaking of the desi universe...I've recently been exchanging emails with another delightfully interesting and eloquent desi gentleman...he goes by the name 'chatkhara' and he's actually written something about his own personal experience as a desi gay man for the blog:

Nowadays, my life is a walking hash tag. I walk around clunky problems by trapping them in a nifty hash tag that can be easily classified, shared, tossed, and duplicated. I'm referring to twitter, of course.

I think that the hash tag allows me to classify my problems, neatly and succinctly, as the elephant in the room that I can carefully avoid. A theoretical tweet of #gaymanproblems allows me to joke about the burdens of heteronormativity while not really talking about the issue. I package my unwieldy woes in a portmanteau of problems that might elicit a laugh. Everything becomes "that awkward moment when" X happened. Pause. Laugh. Scratch your ass. Tweet about something else. That's as far as it has gone for me. I'm just so disconnected from the moment.

Part of the fun of #gaymanproblems is that it also assumes that you can click on the twitter hyperlink and see other queer individuals categorizing their queer blunders in a homosexual rolodex.



What have fags tweeted about today? Let's click in and have a peek. To the victor(s), the successful writers of #gaymanproblems, go the spoils: RTs and follows. "Heartbreaking" they cry. Supporters rally to the sad tweets, chuckle to the outlandish ones. In a global age, where we are all affected by a hyperactive inability to limit private experiences qua private ONLY experiences, marketing strategies reign supreme. I hate the tweet, but boy do I love sharing the misery with others. I think "schadenfreude" directed at the self might be masochism. Whatever. Gotta love the melodrama.

Why am I writing this all? Enough with the wallowing. I love the support, but I'm just commenting on the frustration of publicizing the ephemera of my life into a block text that can easily be closed and abandoned by all those who have read it. Except me. That's my existence, and I just sidestep it with hash tags. Here is one such hash tag hammered out for today:

#Gaymanproblems: That moment when your insides burst on your best friend's birthday and you present her the present of your failed heterosexuality.

About two and an half years ago, I came out to my friend Zainab on her 23 birthday. We were new to the area and started a friendship after a strong acquaintance period launched two summers before in India. The shared experience of living abroad forges strong friendships and I was ecstatic when I learned that she was moving to the midwest for graduate school. I wouldn't be alone. Our friendship exploded into a sibling like closeness that the world should envy. The chemistry was incredible. She became my auto-predict text. To this day, she is my siamese twin. Half way across the world, I know she feels phantom pangs of pain when I'm keeling over in diarrhea due to a poorly received kebab, or embarrassment as I bob my head (the faux-gangster that I am) to Mosdef. I'm such a poseur(!), but that's another entry.

We go out for a celebratory birthday dinner, on me. We begin to gossip about an annoying girl in my cohort, Preet. Preet had been calling me frequently and hovering around me to the point that I started to dislike her. My passive aggression and avoidance didn't send her the indirect signal I had intended. Zainab casually suggested that she might like me.

And then they erupt, the fireworks inside. My stomach begins to convulse. Play it cool, self. Play it straight.

I don't really remember my vocal response to Zainab. I think I all but died, my last remaining words eaten in an uncomfortable chuckle. I was consumed by my own sheepish silence.

And so here we are enjoying middle eastern food in a restaurant. I've now gotten to know her for about a week and am excited to celebrate a monumental day together. But all the while, I'm consumed with the fear that I'm lying to her about my existence. I've performing straightness. I fidget uncomfortably in my seat wondering if she read the "FAG" bulliten written on my forehead.

I begin to feel selfish that I can't give her all of my attention, that I'm just so consumed with myself. My self-centeredness eats away at my core, as I watch my mind volley back and forth in its uncertainty. "Tell her! Don't tell her! Tell her, but not today! It's her birthday! Don't ruin today!" Moments like these are so intense for me, I often translate everything in my brain into the umpteen languages I know and focus on the structural irregularities of grammatical declensions rather than worry about the actual content I want to convey. And then I grow crazy. I imagine myself vomiting pee soup in the horror movie adaption of My So-Called Life. My head spins slowly, my eyes bulge, and Zainab slurps her diet coke, oblivious to what's transpiring in front of her. That's what anxiety does to me. Anxiety of myself. Anxiety of my unchosen, unrequited sexuality. I spin out of control, jumping from subject to subject, rationalizing, raging, imagining myself with 5 heads and a Samantha Steven's twitchable nose. I recreate myself with a swagger like Hrithik Roshan, hair like Mondo from Project Runway, and then before I know it class is over, the dinner check has come, and I haven't even savored the juicy story that my friend laughed out loud at for the last hour. I want to be anyone but myself.

Still, Zainab and I have a great dinner, from what I remember. And then in the parking lot, I lose it again. I start hyperventilating. It's interesting that in that very moment, two weeks shy of my 24th birthday, I did not associate my queerness with embarrassment. I wasn't embarrassed to be gay. I was happy in the closet and was able to joke out loud and be my salacious self with close friends who knew. But I still carried shame as an invisible, vestigial appendage of my upbringing, and shame has a mind of its own. It stops you from speaking. It makes your legs too heavy to lift. It takes your heart, cuts it off from the aorta, and tosses it the right side of your chest. My chest implodes on itself, my lungs collapse, and I have an outer-body experience as I see myself in fragments. Shame is what caused me to think that Zainab wouldn't like me anymore. That she'd be disgusted with me. The politics of high school make a cameo, it seems!

I walk anxiously to the car. The "me" I knew shrunk into a miniature version. He was now a walking, shame driven being.

But how did she not know? How couldn't she know? I depended on the fact that this was the foundation of the unspoken agreement of my friendship. I am gay and let's not talk about it. Could she be that oblivious?

The easiest way for me to out myself, I'm convinced, is to tell the world about my Ricky Martin obsession from the 7th grade. But somehow I never remember that one at the moment of Truth.

I can never, ever manage to actually get the words "I am gay" out by themselves. The words are too jagged on my tongue and I can't extract them from my insides without producing enough tears to irrigate a small desert. So I cheat. "I have something to tell you" is an incredibly easy statement to say, for some reason. "I have to talk to you about something" is too, and when I say these, I am setting myself up very well for the revelation. I almost feel like the other person can predict my topic of conversation. "Zainab, I'm gay," I blurted out. We were almost to the car, and I did the impossible. No going back now. Reality returned. Little Me resumed the wheel.

I now believe that the best response to the revelation of sexual orientation is nothing. Say nothing. Don't encourage the person to understand his/her secret as a magical revelation, a deal changer of sorts. Don't let their performance of trauma goad you into making orientation into something more than it is. It's nothing, a non issue. I am not my orientation. I am me.

Zainab's reaction was exactly that, and it might have been the best reaction I have ever received (queer individuals excluded). She responded with a perfunctory "oh." She may have even said "that's nice" or "thank you for telling me." I disremember these specifics, as I was more concerned with my miscalculation, my huge faux pas. I must have ruined her birthday.

I must have! What kind of a friend trumps the birthday girl with the fag card? Now her birthday will also be the day I came out to her. Forever. WTF. This is not cool, and I think I spent the next 20 minutes apologizing out loud and the next month in a perpetual face palm.

Zainab is persistent in convincing me that I did nothing of the sort, that she could care less if I was gay or not. Most importantly, I wasn't met with the sly but condescending "I knew it all along" remark that I anticipated. I wish I could have savored the moment, the surprise. Seen the reaction on my face as I realized I was naive to think my orientation could destroy my friendship and banish her 23rd birthday to some hellish corner.

Two and a half years later, this has all become a very funny joke. I'll call Zainab up every so often and come out to her on the phone, parodying my trepidation from that night. Now I'm finally laughing with myself at the joke instead of making myself the butt of the joke.

I'm not sure if I am ready for this next step, but the fact that I have taken to the quill to document my anxieties and unpack my own emotional history leads me to wonder if I need to out myself on my personal blog. To blog about everything in my life in one forum but restrict sexual and sexualized content that reveals my affinity to men (and questionable, problematic pull to women) is to perform a violent partition on my mental life. How Mountbatten of me. I already lead a bifurcated existence in so many ways and the odds that my family will discover this blog is next to nil. And if they do, what happens? So what, my moments of torture have an audience with several members that have had roles in my one act play. Maybe they'll remember when they called my "fag" as a five year old. Oh, wait, this isn't the place for that.

I'll just write and see what comes to my fingers. Please stay along for the road, reader. We can think together.

Ham saath saath sochen gay. Even my thoughts are gay.

* * *

Oh my...after reading that, I'm left feeling that my friend 'Chatkhara' has unfortunately led quite a tormented existence...in both Bilal and him there has been shame. Shame about something they didnt have any control over, something that is perfectly natural. Lets hope that because of people like these two, younger people will have things to read that mirror their experiences...homosexuality may not gain acceptance in desi-land overnight, but there is comfort in seeing that you're not alone and that there are others out there who face the same struggles. I won't say much more cuz there's already a lot to think about in this post.

You can read more of Chatkhara's musings here........or if u prefer, read that post here.

A shout out to Gaysi - Thanks for publishing my post!

Later Skaters!

1 comment:

  1. Wow Eiynah! Both Bilal and Chatkhara were an excellent edition to the blog. I loved reading all the honest and heart-felt things they had to say. My favourite parts were Bilal's story about his mom asking him if he was a poof - and how that totally freaked him out. I think it's sad that he feels like him being gay could somehow get in the way of him being able to take care of his mother. I hope that if she finds out, it won't...and (on a side note) I think it's unfair that in our culture the son is always expected to be responsible for aging parents. I mean sure girls get married and have children, but often so do men..why shouldn't we all return the favor and look after our parents (the ones who were good to us anyways).

    I also loved Chatkhara's bit where he came out to his friend Zainab - it seemed like he was going to explode or implode on himself. Sheer panic and totally chaos took over his mind and she was a friend, not family. Although he made jokes about it, I seriously can't imagine what it would be like to be so effing scared to tell someone I was straight...it must really suck to have to go through that every time he has to break it to someone.

    Like you, I think its sad that they've both felt so shameful and secretive about their orientation. I hope that discussions like these can help build a more accepting and open-minded Desi culture - even if it is just a drop in the ocean. At least your blog is a place where people can feel safe and share this side of themselves without losing their shit - or having people lose their shit when they find out. I mean, THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN! For everyone's sake....

    Also, congratulations to Bilal for recently come out to so many people in his life! I love that he told his nephew over a joint, and got such a sweet response :) It sounds like they have a great relationship and I'm glad that him being gay is not going to change that!

    I absolutely loved your Pakistani flag illustration btw, so witty as always!

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