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Being Gaysi

PHOTOS COURTESY OF KASH AMIN

I’m not going to lie, I started this article a dozen times in the last two weeks and ended up deleting everything that I wrote. I just didn’t understand how to concisely pour my heart out about identifying as a gay desi. I had a point: I wanted that 15 year old gay South Asian living in Biloxi, MS, who sits in his room once his family goes to bed and Googles “Gay” and “South Asians” in the hopes of finding out more about himself, to read this article and realize that he’s not alone (ok, ok! I’m self reflecting).

I also wanted the average South Asian to read this article and actually acknowledge that hey, gay desis do exist. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about our community, it’s that topics that are not socially acceptable are swept under the carpet, coined taboo, and spoken of in hushed tones. Well, not anymore. I realized after two weeks of drafting that the best way to do this was to be rid of inhibitions and write with simple honesty: Hi, my name is Kashif and I’m a Gay Indian/Pakistani/Sunni/Shiite/Punjabi/Muslim.

I grew up on the outskirts of Houston, Texas in one of the largest South Asian communities in the United States and am the son of strict, relatively conservative Muslim parents. My preteen years were spent in constant transit: school, weekday Quran study and Sunday school at the local Shiite mosque. If there were any points constantly being driven home by my parents, it was the importance of school, religion and image. Whenever taboo issue came up in our family, my parents would go into extreme damage control. They were like a PR powerhouse in the South Asian community, able to spin any story into general acceptance.

For example, one night, my sister eloped and married a black guy. By morning time, he had become a Nigerian Muslim who my parents had approved. As a result, I grew up lacking a solid sense of truth and my perception of reality was constantly in question. It was at a relatively early age that I decided I wasn’t going to live my life in what I perceived to be a typical South Asian fashion, hidden behind smoke and mirrors. As “Oprah” as this may sound, I was going to live my truth and, as a result, destroy any form of my own self-censorship. If I revealed everything about my actions, my thoughts, and who I am, then I was living a shame-free true self.

I would research until the wee hours of the morning trying to negotiate between religion and my sexuality, looking for a special aside that would allow me to live my life, yet still retain my Muslim identity. I learned that being a South Asian Muslim queer was, in itself, a contradiction.

I remember when I first started to realize that I was gay. I was in my early teens and I would lie in my bed at night and pray with all my might that I would wake up feeling “normal.” I remember when I began to accept my homosexuality; I would drive to the nearest Blockbuster five minutes before closing time and rent Queer as Folk. I would shove the DVDs in a backpack, quickly run up the stairs and hide the discs underneath my mattress. When the entire house would fall asleep, I would sneak to the nearest computer, plug in my headphones, and watch what I thought it meant to be gay.

As I slowly started to come out of the closet, I realized that my co-identification as both gay and Muslim ran completely parallel to each other. There’s this one factor of your identity that you can’t change that has eternally damned you to hell. I would research until the wee hours of the morning trying to negotiate between religion and my sexuality, looking for a special aside that would allow me to live my life, yet still retain my Muslim identity. I learned that being a South Asian Muslim queer was, in itself, a contradiction.

At this point, I have this inclination to spit some intellectual shit about how, after 10 years, I’ve finally been able to reconcile my sexual and religious identity. But I haven’t. It angers a lot of my friends and family to hear me say that as proud and out as I am; I have accepted the consequences of a gay lifestyle in the Muslim context. I don’t mean this in a self-loathing, self-deprecating way, but I have to accept that, in the context of Islam, I am going to spend time in hell. But there’s this sense of knowing and accepting these consequences that has both empowered me and allowed me to begin to map out my “gay” future.

When you grow up in a Desi household, your life tends to follow some form of instruction: graduate, get a job, get married, and raise a family. A gay lifestyle tends to lack these instructions. There is no such thing as a real “gay” culture – we don’t share a common language, religion, tradition, etc. But by being Gaysi, I’ve been afforded something special. My expectations for my life tend to run in harmony with other South Asians: I want to get married, I want to raise kids (You’re not born yet, but know that your DADDIES love you!), I want that white picket fence, the three-bedroom house in the suburbs, and I hope to one day have a partner to share all of this with. I’ve also accepted the probability that I may have to do this alone.

As “Oprah” as this may sound, I was going to live my truth and, as a result, destroy any form of my own self-censorship. If I revealed everything about my actions, my thoughts, and who I am, then I was living a shame-free true self.

The most difficult part of my own identity is that my gay South Asian community currently lacks a legacy and a vision. We are the first generation of out and proud gay South Asians and we have to start creating our own vision for the future. The world has this perception of gays as this sexually charged community at which the core is sex and everything else is in the periphery. I’m not saying I’m outside of this dimension. There have been many-a-times even I have woken up asking who/what the fuck I did last night? But so have many of my straight friends. Slowly, the gay Desi community has finally started to create something special: gay South Asian support groups in which our culture is part of our sexuality.

In our gay world, our sexual position/preference tends to fragment our identity (top/bottom/versatile/bear/twink/cub/etc.), but Gaysis, I believe, are the first ethnic minority to abandon these labels and focus more on our cultural being. From Trikone in San Francisco, a gay South Asian support group, to Sholay, a monthly gay Desi-themed party right here in New York City, we have started to relieve ourselves of our culturally produced shame. I’ve had the privilege to experience this first hand around the world from San Francisco to London. I spent a semester of my undergraduate career studying at the American University of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where “practicing” homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment. During my short semester-long stint, I visited an underground gay club in Dubai that was simultaneously being raided by undercover police officers, and traveled to private gay parties in random buildings in the middle of the desert that required special invitations to attend. Yet, in spite of all of this hiding, our community still perseveres.

I volunteered to write this article hoping to increase our visibility in the South Asian community. Essentially, to bring a voice to the gay South Asian whose current circumstances don’t allow him to fully open that closet door.

Right now, most of the gay South Asians I know live in some form of the closet, while the gay community at large is ranting and raving about how important our gay rights are. However, it leads me to question: how do Gaysis expect the South Asian community to grant us our rights and acknowledge our existence if the majority of us live our most private spaces (our homes, our offices, etc.) in the closet and behind a cloak of shame? It’s because South Asian culture is so heavily indebted in its roots and a self-imposed normalcy that, we, as Gaysis, are constantly stuck in limbo. Who and what am I willing to sacrifice? My true sense of self OR my family, my job, my environment? For my opinion on the matter, I am going to have to very gay-ly and abruptly evoke the sentiments of RuPaul here and say, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

I volunteered to write this article hoping to increase our visibility in the South Asian community. Essentially, to bring a voice to the gay South Asian whose current circumstances don’t allow him to fully open that closet door. I know I’m very lucky to be surrounded by family (Hey Summer! Hey Amber! Hey Anju!) who have fully and publicly supported everything that I am. I’m very lucky to have a mother who, albeit privately, acknowledges my sexual identity. I also wrote for future children of Gaysi’s, in the hope that one day, I can take my son to my local mosque/temple/church and he’ll be able to publicly proclaim that his two babas have brought him here and it’s acceptable. Finally, I wrote for that confused 15 year old boy in Biloxi who feels alienated in his own environment. I have unwavering faith that his generation of queer South Asians will have a legacy. Just give us time to build it. —KASH AMIN

First published June 23, 2010. Updated on Nov. 26, 2010.

37 thoughts on “Being Gaysi

  1. It was really hard to read this article and not feel tears well up! You had me right there with you, in your childhood, in your life right now. You made me want to root for you. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. The challenge of attempting to combine worlds in itself is a harsh reality for many South Asians, who are said to be “normal” and don’t have to face such issues such as being a “gaysi”. That being said, your attempt to combine all your worlds that are “contradictory” is something that I greatly appreciate and applaud your efforts to make the “impossible” possible! Overall, an amazing journey, and very brave of you to inspire others and give them a voice!

  3. Thank you for sharing the side of a world most of us don’t understand. Especially being muslim, we’re taught from a young age that “gay is bad” so we close our eyes to the matter… Kash you just opened mine to realize that you are a loving, breathing, fabulous human like the rest of us. I hope the rest of you come out of hiding, because the rest of us are growing in acceptance one by one.

  4. I have always struggled with this question in regards to Islam. Because the Islamic view on how a person who is homosexual should live their life is that they should suppress their homosexual feelings or get married to a woman, have children and ignore their feelings for other men; which, to me, always sounded impossible and extraordinarily too difficult. Now, my brother, while I understand it is difficult – everyone in life is tested, and even though you feel like you are being tested beyond your limit, remember that people before you have been tested harder and what seems impossible is possible.

    On another note…the ones who have been tested before you, probably got married, had children and met their lovers in secret. Therefore, while it is hard for me to be fully supportive of your lifestyle, I will respect the choice that you have made, and respect you for being honest with your friends, family, and community and realizing that you can’t hide from God so why hide from anyone else? I also think it is very admirable you acknowledge you will have to pay for the sins but you can accept the consequences of them and move on. But please do not give up looking for that balance because its probably easier to give up on Islam and live this life on forget about the next, but if you agree with what Islam teaches (and not what Muslims practice) then you will be better off for it, and as always, God is the most forgiving.

  5. Powerful, heart touching article. May stories like this give others strength to be nothing but who they want to be

  6. I hope you ask’d permission to use the pics of those guys, especially the kissing one which contradicts in what your saying in the article i wish you hadn’t used tht one

  7. @Osman – How exactly does the image of two men kissing contradict his message of being unashamed of who and what you are? Why do you go so far to wish he didn’t use the photo? By posing such an idea, it makes me believe you did not understand this article or you cannot get past your own notions of this “taboo.” If it makes you feel any better, the two men kissing, did so with a camera in their face, full out in the public, and do not care about the world seeing their affection. The images of men and women kissing and women and women kissing flood the media mainstream, finally the media fills the void with two men kissing – that’s what most people would understand as the old cliche “a picture is worth a thousand words”

  8. The author received permission from everyone portrayed in the photos to republish them.

  9. thank you for this well articulated article…so on-point, brave and determined without being arrogant and defensive…lovely…may God grant you the strength to continue living you truth.

  10. bravo kash. well written and so necessary. wishing you and your legacies all the luck and brawn you need and more.

  11. i am also a lesbian and proud member of GLBT community. will anyone answer the following questions. in past history say 100, 200, 500, 1000 years back gays were also existing. but during those days we have not come across any such case of gays finding it hard to marry etc. one firend of mine suggested following —> there are two kinds of hindus one normal hindu and another Party Organization card holder of sang Parivar. therefore people who are gays or lesbians adjust somehow with thier opposite sex partners. but gays who are the Party Card Holders of Gay Political Movement find it impossible to adjust with opposite sex

  12. A very good article written expressing what one feels..
    I had a friend, a gay friend who once asked me whether i worry about my afterlife, at first i didnt understand but then he said that we would be going to hell as we are gays. That moment i thought that what a price to pay for being what you are??? But then i am happy and complete of being what i am, as i am. And its better to live life satisfactorily and then die(and then lets see whether we go to hell or heaven…)But then god doesnt hate any1, so why wld he hate us.
    And Then comes the society, they feel gays dont exist. In India thats how the picture is, U’ve gotta marry a girl and produce kids. And some people just do it for the sake of family and society, aint living in denial no less than hell itself……???

    Though i understand and know so much,Still i am unsure about my future….

  13. @Shaheryar, Salaam. As a Muslim man who is gay, I grow tired of hearing people promote the “test” theory. What is the passing score, dear lady? Heterosexuals should suppress their sexual proclivities, which they do not, for they have all kinds of (loop) holes manipulation (pun intended) to wiggle in and out of as it relates to “improper” sexual activities, e.g., sinners can only marry sinners, thus they get a free “get out of jail” card in the game of Islamic Shari’ah Monopoly. Whether you’re supportive or not, your seeking balance in your thinking is not far more important than someone who is gay and their fully embracing Allah–not human interpretations based upon the rituals of dead men of ancient societies who manipulated shari’ah to fit their political vision of empire. Quran is available to all and to all who have their “iqraa” they have their answer. Salaam.

  14. Amazing writing – I give you kudos to step up and put all this in words that have been so clear to my own childhood. I grew up in Pakistan until 19 and came out to my parents at 26. Though still not accepted by them, I still live my life here in the US sharing with them tales about me and my partner of 3 yrs. They still frown upon it but on the phone I make a point to complete the story, sometimes they change the subject, sometimes they go through with the story and sometimes I get a lecture about sinfully living my life.
    But enough about that, Kash thanks for writing the article and I hope it opens up that close door a little bit more for all gaysis.
    Well done.
    (I will look for you on facebook!)

  15. Being GaySi is serving fried chicken at 2 am at a glorified diner followed by BJ’s to customers in the bathroom … Live out, live proud, build your legacy!!

  16. Dear brave Kash, I was sent a link to your article by Rasheed Eldin via the Eye on Gay Muslims site. He and I have been exchanging comments about a UK soap opera (EastEnders, viewable via bbciplayer)that has been running a storyline about a bisexual Muslim who came out just after going through with an arranged marriage.

    As you must know, Rasheed Eldin (like most Muslims) takes the hardline view that all gay Muslims are headed for Hell, a prospect you seem to be reconciled to. I was raised a Christian (Methodist, among the more broadminded of Protestants), but had a crisis of faith from which I have never recovered.

    Christian gays also have problems. For every tolerant churchmember (including some clerics) who accepts them, there are two more who think they are damned (esp. in the Vatican and among American Episcopalian ‘fundamentalists’). I’m what you call an ‘apostate’ now, but if I weren’t I would prefer to believe in a God who embraces diversity rather than one who condemns people out of hand.

    I know how hard life is for Muslim gays. I lived in the Persian Gulf for 6 years and had boyfriends (quite a few!) who struggled with this dilemma. One entered an arranged marriage (like the guy in the TV soap) and so far as I know did NOT live “happily ever after”. I made him the basis of a character called Rashid (coincidence!) in my novel SHAIKH-DOWN (check out my website, but be warned: it’s rather rude about Arab sexuality in general). Rashid’s fate is determined by the demands of the story but I believe I have painted a very accurate picture of a gay man forced into a life with a teenage virgin (suicide bombers are, I believe, promised up to 72 of these, but it wouldn’t be your idea of Heaven, I guess!).

    As an ‘infidel’ I probably should not be offering you advice, but here goes. Kash, if you’re TRUE TO YOURSELF then I believe God will accept you – whatever the mullahs and imams say. Good luck! I hope you find happiness.

    David

  17. Excellent.
    I would like to add that the female gaysis are indispensible to equality; and please- do not marginalize those gay allies (desi or not) who do not wish to have a family/white picket fence/etc.

  18. Hi,

    I stumbled across this article. I’m neither gay, south-asian nor Muslim.

    I don’t know a lot about what Islam has to say about homosexuality. Or whether its a more of a cultural versus a religious prohibition against it (if you can separate the two).

    But I am tempted to draw parallels between the gay Muslim community, and the gay Christian community (I’m sorry if that comparison offends). Where the term gay christian is inherently paradoxical and contradictory because the Bible clearly prohibits a homosexual lifestyle. So it always seems to me (as an example) like women joining the mens club and then saying ‘change the rules because we have a right to be here’. When the fact that it is the men’s club clearly prohibits women.

    I would never deny that homosexuals have the right to worship. But I think that it is ridiculous to demand that religious institutions go against their long-established beliefs by allowing homosexuality to become acceptable within their halls of worship.

    Homosexuals should create their own religious institutions where they and heterosexuals with similar views can worship together.

  19. well said … n so true .. when r we going to b able to live our lives without having to look over our shoulders …n just walk forward n not back in the closet ..

  20. OK, so I’m a “gaysi” too but, as someone mentioned earlier, Allah tests us in different ways. Allah will reward us for not acting on our feelings. A hadith mentions suffering removes sins like a tree in autumn, and if you find it possible to get married to the opposite gender, you are loving someone for the Sake of Allah. And those who love for the sake of Allah will be provided wit shade on the Day of Judgement.

    Of course, I do think people are too harsh on same-sex attracted people, however.

    Oh, and keep in mind I’m not being judgemental as I’m gay too…

  21. Hello again, Kash.

    Let me draw your attention to something said last month by a leading Christian politician in Britain (Chris Patten, former Conservative Party MP and the last Governor of Hong Kong before we gave it back to the Chinese). He said that he thinks one reason God loves people who are “devout and gay” is because “they have been subject to so much discrimination and persecution”. Isn’t that great!

    Of course, he’s not a theologian and he’s not a Muslim, but he is expressing a belief in a BENEVOLENT GOD – not the sending-us-all-to-hell God advocated by Fundamentalists (Christian and Muslim). Who says these thundering bigots preaching damnation from their pulpits and soap-boxes are the guardians of the only truth? Maybe God/Allah IS forgiving and tolerant.

    Of course it’s important to be devout, first and foremost – to be true to one’s faith. But maybe Patten is right and God’s heart is big enough to embrace people who are devout and gay – and true to themselves.

    Have a nice day, Kash. Have a nice life!

  22. I’m glad I came across this article. I am a bisexual muslim woman and I felt alienated in my community to not have someone close to my situation or someone who understood it. This article brought some hope that one day, we can accept everyone for who they truly are.

  23. Hey ! Another fantastic write-up , i really had wonderful time although studying this . Searching more !! Bye

  24. Thank you for this article. I’m personally straight, but one time at one of those typical Desi parties, one of my family friends’ had talked about some friend of his’ cousin who had openly admitted that he was gay and his parents no longer acknowledge his existence. This kid is desi, and my parents, not being so much into gossip as the others, have always raised me with this idea of, “No matter how much you screw up, we’ll always love you.” This idea to me was completely unfathomable, and I personally, wanted to reach out to this boy, even though I had no idea who or where he was. I just wanted to know, I completely and wholeheartedly accept you all.

  25. it means you are victims to the mk ultra.  i know you simians cannot grasp this- but this is all by design.  Faggits are induced into this behavior, now it is NORMALIZED via the telescreen and mediums presented by your benevolent gods.  Yes you peter pans, you have been subliminally probed into your current tinker bell life style. 

    running around like tooth fairys, copying other sheep in society.  Unable to be your true selfs.  However you will soon learn your lesson, you will soon return back to your original state.  the ape and then bacteria single cell. lol . 

  26. I appreciate what you’re trying to do. For most gay muslims like myself, coming out presents some scary consequences. There is no precedent for us, there is not one openly gay Pakistani man in the public eye and every one is scared of becoming made an example out of. But someone has to step up and give every one else the courage to come out, if only to a close inner circle. To any gay Pakistani men and women who might be reading this, you are not alone… you are as God made you so never be ashamed of who you are.

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