When I was 22 I fell in love with a man much older than me. I didn’t mean to, but I did. We just connected on so many levels. We shared many common interests and passions.
But I was also conflicted with religious guilt. As a young man coming to terms with his sexual orientation and identity as a Muslim, I tried to differentiate between what was right for me as opposed to what “religion, family and culture” expected me to do.
I had an extremely close bond with my ummi, and our relationship was based on being honest and truthful to each other. But things were beginning to change, and within the constraints of young adulthood, combined with the cultural boundaries imposed by our south Asian upbringing, I couldn’t tell her everything. It was at the height of Section 28 and the HIV/Aids crisis, and I was still very religiously minded. I didn’t want to bring shame to the family.
I came out to my mum first, which devastated her. She asked questions about my whereabouts and new relationship. We found the strength to discuss the implications and consequences of my newfound relationship and whether she would tell dad. She ended the conversation with, “If it makes you happy, then I’m happy.” I knew that admitting I was attracted to someone of the same sex had shocked and hurt my mum, but she loved me all the same.
My dad didn’t find out until several months later.
Mum told me she had told him, and I knew dad was full of mixed emotions. Mostly, he was hurt and angry. At the time, my father was concerned about his own social standing. He was a self-proclaimed community leader, and one of the founding members of Birmingham Central Mosque. He appeared to make snide comments, combined with his regular diatribes about his reputation within the Asian community being thrown in the gutter, made it clear that I was the “black sheep of the family”.
Then, one day, my dad started to ask personal and intrusive questions about the people I met and the person I was with. I refused to pass on any information and I could see he was simmering with anger. Then he exploded. I had never experienced his wrath like this before. He was extremely homophobic in his verbal abuse. I said I didn’t have to listen to him, and walked out.
I didn’t visit my parents again for a year, and returned to the family fold only after several phone calls. My partner had encouraged me to visit and face the consequences. Whatever the outcome we were prepared to face them.
When I returned home, my father just opened the door and embraced me.
He said: “Your mum tells me that, as my youngest son, no matter what you say or do I have to accept you. But remember, you have broken your mother’s heart. And as she is my lifetime partner, I do not want to see my wife break, as it is breaking for me too”. I realised it was like a peace offering.
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My relationship was out in the open, but like the proverbial elephant in the room, it wasn’t mentioned again until about two years later, when I invited my parents to our apartment and introduced them to my partner.
My relationship with my father had always been quite strained and complex, even before I came out. But I think he saw I had demonstrated strength of character, determination and principle. He could see I was challenging his perceptions and had my own opinions, which were attributes he said he admired.
My dad was a political activist and social campaigner and I think this was, in part, how he managed to shift in attitude towards me. Part of his acceptance of his gay son stemmed from the realisation that he himself had faced and experienced prejudices as a young south Asian man coming to the UK, how the race relations and sex discrimination acts had changed society overall regarding the treatment of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic diaspora and the role of women.
It wasn’t that I changed him, but that he learned to change and accept what was going on around him.
Love changed everything.
The Independent is the official publishing partner of Pride in London 2022