Growing up gay and Sikh in the UK

Members of LGBT Sikh group Sarbat in UK at London Pride 2015 (Representational Image)
By Gaylaxymag | OPINION |

You would be forgiven for thinking that being born and raised in the UK would make it somewhat easier for a turbaned man (Sardar) to be openly queer. And you would be forgiven for thinking that the Indian diaspora in the UK is more open to and accepting of LGBTIQ+ people. We’re supposed to integrate, right? Well I certainly wish it had been true when I was growing up!

In fear of losing their identity, or seeing it diluted, 1st and 2nd generation diaspora Punjabis have held on tight to their culture and traditions. So much so, that it becomes suffocating. It leaves you feeling that you only have one choice: conform or be ridiculed. Please don’t get me wrong, Punjabi culture is amazingly beautiful: our traditions, our music, our community solidarity and spirit, our food; I could go on. But it also has a regressive and ugly side, rooted in patriarchy, misogyny and toxic masculinity. Like a disease, our culture’s obsession with manliness can easily spread to every corner of your soul and identity, and kill your authentic self.

I was born to a 1st generation working class Indian Sikh migrant family, in the early 80s. I was always the weird eccentric child in my family, and still am! I love theatre, dance, music, fashion, the arts; I was never into football, rugby or cricket like the other boys. Instead, I waited for my parents to be out to practice dance moves in front of the living room mirror and snuck off to dance classes without telling them. As a child, people outside my community would confuse me for a girl, because of my feminine mannerisms or because I was not, in their view, a typical boy. Within my own community, I would often hear that I should have been born a girl, inferring that girls are inferior, and because I behaved like one I was inferior too. I would swallow this up and internalize it, to the extent that it became ingrained in me. To stop the bullying, I “manned” up by behaving like a real boy and this performed masculinity became my shield.

Yet, my first experience of discrimination wasn’t because of my sexuality, but because of my race, ethnicity and faith. These parts of me are visible: I can’t hide them like I can my sexuality. I remember as a child being told to “go back to where you belong” or “Paki go home!” I recall one incident in particular: one day when I was returning home from playing in the park, someone pulled off my turban: I felt so violated and ashamed, as if it were my fault for being Indian, of colour, for being a Sikh boy with a turban.

Growing up, I always wanted to be white, straight, blonde haired and blue eyed. The opposite of everything I was. I did not want to be a long haired turban wearing Sikh. I celebrated Christmas and Easter, spoke in a certain way, listened to British Pop music, and had white friends.

I moved away from home and finally gave myself the freedom to explore my sexuality. Armed to the brim with toxic masculinity: misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic and repressing my emotions, I stepped out into the queer community! I thought I had come into my own: I had accepted being gay and was out amongst close friends. However, I was still struggling with deep levels of internalized homophobia. I would cloak my sexuality by dialling up my masculinity; I would pride myself on passing as straight; and I would avoid befriending very feminine men. Deep down inside, I still wasn’t OK with being gay.

I would also get asked questions like “Can Sikhs be gay?”

Read full entry, Growing Up Gay and Sikh in the UK, here.


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