Being an ally to the Gay community is important to me even though I am not gay. When I was growing up in Asia, gay people were seen as ‘others’ whose lifestyles were not acceptable. Their sexual orientation was seen, variously, as being weird, anti-religious or deviant. With time I began to realise that the arguments used against gay people were the same ones used against feminists. At the crux of this was the belief that conforming to the patriarchal hetero normative was the overriding requirement to be a respectable member of society. This wasn’t a good enough criteria by any means to accommodate differences. I have held events for Gay people and feminists over the last two years where discussions on prejudices have been discussed. In keeping with my blog mission, which is to make a difference, I publish the interview below with Peta, founder of Gaysian Faces. It is an extremely moving one which shows the pain of coming out.
I was born and raised in San Francisco. One evening I met my friend Stephanie for sushi, she’s half Chinese and half white. She let me borrow this book, ‘Part Asian, 100% Hapa’ I never heard the term Hapa before, but it’s a Hawaiian meaning for being part Asian or Pacific Islander and part something else.
In its historical context it was used as a derogatory word, in a sense you’re only half one of us, you don’t belong.
The book itself was beautifully done. The pictures were from the naked shoulders to the participants’ head. Next to the picture they either wrote something or drew something. A six year boy had written, ‘I have no friends’, that struck a cord with me because I remembered how hard it was to make friends in school.
I thought maybe sometime down the line I would do a project like this, but for the Queer community. I never really acted upon it. My relationship was almost like any other relationship, we supported one another, shared the same interests – we met on ‘Myspace’ in a Lesbian/Bi women group message board under the question, “what sort of date would you take the person above?”. She must’ve looked at my profile and pictures. She could see my travels around the world and said, “we would probably do something adventurous, like bungie jumping or sky driving, since it seems you like to do active and adventurous things!”
From there, I added her and we started messaging, it wasn’t an instant relationship – we were just friends. She had another crush and I had mine, when her crush didn’t work out – I was there to support her, when mine didn’t work out – she supported me.
My crush was in New Jersey, I had been trying to court her for a couple of years, finally I told her that I couldn’t do it anymore and she just had to give me an answer. My New Jersey crush rejected me.
I went back to the room and messaged my now ex (I’m going to refer to her as that because I never will disclose her name)who was online. I told her I was going to take a walk in Central Park and that she could ‘join’ me virtually. I showed her the sights. I think from there our bond started to become a lot stronger and eventually evolved in a relationship.
When we met face to face the chemistry was spot on, she surprised me at the airport and I was smitten and nervous. So was she. We had talked about her coming out to her parents. I wanted her to be sure. I did some hard soul searching asking myself whether I could see a future with her.
She was going to out herself to her family, I had to be sure this was going to be for keeps. All didn’t go well, her mother refused to speak to her, went bonkers on her and got a Hindu priest involved for mystical advice.
My ex came from the an orthodox Hindu family, she loved to eat chicken but felt guilty because her mum was a strict vegetarian. The mother wouldn’t even let my ex keep fake meat in the house. Her dad agreed to meet me, that made my ex feel better, and the dad even said, “maybe I can actually be good friends with Peta”
I was picked up from their local tube station and we went to a restaurant. The conversation was really pleasant. We thought it was going well. I could feel her at ease, but right in the middle of lunch the Dad dropped the bombshell on how we needed to be away for a year and couldn’t speak to one another in order to win over her mother.
I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I tried to be strong for my ex but I could feel my face getting red. In the car, she broke down in tears about us and I pleaded with her Dad,“She’s not a bad person for being who she is, neither am ., I want what is best for her and I really do care for her, please don’t make us separate”. It fell on deaf ears.
I never wanted to come between her and her family, her family meant everything to her and they meant everything to me too. In the end it got to be too much and we broke up.
The break up unleashed torment and drove a wedge between us. Everything that she had loved about me, she now hated. I couldn’t take her mood swings, right when I thought I was having a break through with her, she would close down. She blocked me but would message my friends wanting to know what I was up to and whether I was ok.
We went our separate ways in the end. It made me sad that she couldn’t be who she wanted in 2008.
Fast Forward to 2015, I picked up a copy of “Part Asian, 100% Hapa”. I was thinking of my Queer idea photography project. I started to reach out to community leaders in the Gaysian community, I thought about my own heartache from many moons ago. I had read the story about the Naz and Matt Foundation in the summer of 2014 and it made me think about my ex.
In March, I was made redundant from Barnardo’s, I needed a project to keep me occupied and Gaysian Faces was born. I met up with Khakan Qureshi, he had just started ‘Finding a Voice’, a support group for LGBTQ South Asians in Birmingham. He had an idea of holding a meet up event and was expecting three or four people. Well, 11 people turned up! It was Khakan’s biggest event since he launched during that time.
I didn’t launch Gaysian Faces right away. The timing had to be right. I got all the graphics sorted and decided to feature one participant a week, just to give me time to find more. It was difficult back in 2015, but I somehow managed. I wanted it to be inclusive to both those who were out and those who were not.
I feel even in the wider LGBTQ community, there’s not enough activities for those who are not out. We take “pride” in being out, but for some it’s just not possible and others need to be respectful about that. It could be life or death for some, which is why I stress coming out is a very personal, private journey with no expiration date.
But with Gaysian Faces and other organisations just know there is a community ready to embrace you and love you for you, whether you are out or not.
Asifa Lahore’s Muslim Drag Queens came out in August 2015, like millions of others across the country, I tuned in. I was surprised to see myself in the background for the kick off to the journey of acceptance where Matt walked 150 miles from London to Birmingham in memory of his fiance and soulmate Dr. Naz Mahmood.
I launched Gaysian Faces the day after.
It’s been quite an organic journey so far, I’m quite moved by the “No Outsider” protests in Birmingham, while I’m not leading any campaign, I’m a child of having LGBTQ education in schools, as well as HIV and AIDS education.
San Francisco in the 1980s was ground zero for the HIV and AIDS epidemic. In the mid 1990s, the San Francisco Unified School District and the AIDS Foundation came up with this wonderful lesson plan, they would get speakers for the HIV and AIDS community. Normally a male and female, one from the LGBTQ community one from the straight community. They would come in our classrooms and tell us their stories. For some of my classmates it was the first time they had met someone living with HIV or AIDS, it left such an impact on my generation, I would like to think that it helps eliminate prejudices that could’ve come from my generation towards people living with HIV or AIDS.
I think visibility is needed more than ever. Gaysian Faces provides this.
Everyone has the right to have their story be heard.