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29 March 2014. The first same-gender weddings in the UK. Attitude Magazine celebrate with a commemorative issue looking at all things nuptial. Was happy to be asked to contribute an article on celebrating LGBT Muslim (& non-Muslim) love, so here it is.

Congratulations to all the happy couples!

God bless.






London. 2011. The world’s most multicultural and cosmopolitan city.

Gay Pride – Saturday 2nd July.

Surely gays and lesbians don’t need to parade their existence down Oxford Street anymore…we’re sorted in this city, right? What is Gay Pride anyway?

Is Pride about going to the gym every day the week before and getting your haircut just right, or perhaps volunteering to help one of the many organisations that need help on the day and truly feeling part of a community?

Come Pride, will you be with those ‘shiny new people’ you now interact with on Facebook, or spending time with actual friends who have invested genuine energy into your friendship and given a crap about you?

I remember seeing the London Gay Pride marches on television news, growing up in school, itching to one day be able to go, as a proud adult fighting homophobia with other homofriendly adults. My first pride in the 90s didn’t disappoint! It was a sensory feast. A sea of movement, walking with purpose. Cheering, friendly people, hot guys and hot gals, music, everyone happy – it was most definitely a powerful, ‘we’re here, we’re queer and we (don’t!) drink beer’ moment. Feeling suppression being defeated. Feeling part of a community. And then the glorious Trafalgar Square rally. Beautiful!

Fast forward to 2011. Millions descending onto the streets of London, marching, whistling, partying. Dancing in Leicester and Soho Squares. Who but a boring party-pooper would not be excited by all the revelry?!

But, we can do this every weekend. What’s so special about one day?

The difference? The march. The first march for gay rights in the UK was in 1970, when 150 gay men protested through Highbury Fields in north London, The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was in 1972. Since then the march has grown in number and importance, originating from the 1969 Stonewall riots, through to Section 28, age of consent and equality for all.

Huge issues that had / have serious consequences on our well-being. The only reason we can still celebrate today is because of the march and the ongoing fight for gay rights.

London Gay Pride March - 1972

Which is why the march and rally are always important. Having fun with loved ones too. But inbetween all the ogling at half-naked torsos, perhaps drinking and drugs, and general carefree merriment, it’s important to remember why we can be free in the first place, and why other places unfortunately can’t.

Iran, Uganda, Malawi, Russia, Latvia, Serbia…just some of the countries where our LGBT community are struggling to have the same rights we take for granted, sometimes even just being alive. We must march for them.

But in London we still have battles. Homophobia still exists in sport. Hate is still being preached by bigots in the name or religion, be it a minority of youths flyering Tower Hamlets ‘supposedly’ they claim in the name of Allah, or Christian leaders who think Jesus would equate homosexuality with paedophilia. Or atheists who will never treat an LGBT person as an equal.

For some, the march may be redundant. ‘Who cares? I don’t need to fight for anything anymore’. For me? Marching as a British Muslim who is gay and out has impassioned me. Obviously some people may not be able to relate to that.

But there is a growing divide between gays whose families are secular and their perception of what’s left in the gay struggle, and those gays whose families are from minority groups, e.g. blacks, Muslims etc. The first time I saw a group of gay Muslims marching together was a lightning-bolt moment, my eyes nearly popped out, I felt fired up. Years later, I spoke on stage at the 2007 Pride Rally at Trafalgar Square, as a trustee on behalf of Imaan (LGBT Muslim support group). The square was as packed as ever, but it was the day after police arrested a few individuals outside Tiger Tiger club in Piccadilly for an alleged terrorist bomb plot. I expected animosity and jeering, but was overjoyed that the whole crowd rallied together, cheering with full gusto at fighting homophobia, Islamophobia, all prejudice, and celebrating our diverse community, both it’s similarities and differences.

London Gay Pride 2006 - Me and other LGBT Muslim supporters

Speaking personally, as a double minority it is much easier in the short-term to bury your head in the sand, to not confront the issue, and this is also true for secular gays and religious straights. Showing the world you’re gay and Muslim can be twice as hard than being a secular gay. And shunning people who associate with religion / gays is cowardice, whether you’re gay or straight. But for me the greater good, forcing Muslims to accept the existence of gays and forcing gays to accept the existence of other minorities, is vital to escape the ‘dark ages’. If I/we don’t do it, than who will? We can’t depend on others or the next generation to do the hard work for us, as much as it would be a much more peaceful life for us! A journey not without heartache, but hopefully one that avoids future heartache for many.

It’s not normal to get on with everyone and like everyone, it’s human nature for people to have things in common with some, and have not much in common with others. But there can be a danger of the gay scene becoming ‘ghettoised’. Unnecessary factions. For example, it would be bad if gay Muslims just stuck to each other and didn’t socialise with others. I am heavily against the new trend of some minority groups, such as some Muslims, being completely segregated. My grandparents came to London in the 1960s and wouldn’t have bothered coming if they did not happily integrate as proud British Muslims.

It works both ways. Everyone’s heard the paradigm of it being a ‘straight, white male world’, a comment on the least oppressed, people on top of the ‘dog eat dog’ world. Anyone who is ‘missing’ at least one of these characteristics will have experienced the pain of oppression, and would have fought to assert their rights, e.g. gay white males, straight white females, straight black males. Those who are oppressed usually become more accepting overall of other minorities, not just their own, as they understand the shared struggle for universal human rights. But worryingly, there seems to be a trend where those that were once oppressed have forgotten. My theory is that, just for example let’s say some gay whites, you get to the ‘top of the tree’, you’re in the big city smoke and finally feel accepted, and you can do what you want and no longer feel oppressed. And for some, that might mean that at best you’re not bothered about socialising with other minority groups and at worst you ‘ghettoise’ yourself from them, maybe because for some, finally being at the ‘top of the tree’ really is important (e.g. taken to extreme, the fact that some gay people join far-right political organisations). I will defend an atheist’s right to question my or anyone’s religion, but that’s a completely different thing from being anti-Muslim / anti-whatever religion / anti-minority, which is just as bad as being homophobic.

But like I said, it works both ways.

More than being LGBT which is one strand of our being, we are people; a false sense of elitism achieves nothing.

Pride is about having self-pride. Respect, love and honesty for yourself and others. Be with positive people. Help those in need. Maximise time with those who appreciate you and minimise time with those who don’t. Remembering your real friends and family.

AND…Pride also means not feeling you HAVE to go out on the day, fearing you’re missing out; it is OK not to go sometimes, have a quiet one in solitude or with loved ones.

As long as homophobia exists in this country or indeed any other, and as long as people aren’t inclusive of all gay people, religious to atheist, black to white, young to old, fat to skinny, as long as people aren’t accepting of the rainbow of diversity that the LGBT community is and instead want to create divisions in soulless cliques…

…then yes, parading is important to show we are united…and a damn site more fun and sexier than the haters too. 😉

So whether you’re parting hard and celebrating, or having a quiet reflective one, solo or with loved ones either here or in memory of those who’ve passed, Happy Pride.

Love Fiez X

Bit random to include Gaga and no this isn’t a plug for her, as much as she’s fabulous! But this advert came on while blogging and I like the happy sentiment.

Who can cast their mind back 10 years?!

January 2001 – Wikipedia went live…Apple introduced iTunes…George Walker Bush marginally defeated Al Gore to become the 43rd President of the U.S.A….Channel 4 launches E4…Rui Da Silva featuring Cassandra were Number 1 with “Touch Me”…and I came out to my sister.

20 years old, at uni, balancing study with trying to have a fun social life. But nursing a broken heart.

Well…kind of. I had met someone in a Soho coffee-shop after a night out. There was an instant attraction; like most chance encounters, it was exciting, spontaneous, and intense. We met again, and had a magical night of wining (him), dining (me!), dancing and more. Leaving my flat late at night, I wondered when I would see him again. He wanted to go for a day-trip but didn’t want me to call. He rang several times to try and speak, leaving voice-messages as I was busy…but didn’t want me to ring back. And then on a Friday, I got a text saying he was sorry but did not want to meet me again and wanted no contact. He had a boyfriend and this had happened before. He wanted to call the shots but didn’t want to get hurt by not being able to be with me as and when he wanted.

I was stunned. And felt crushed. For months I was depressed; I remember it as being one of my darkest times.

“But why?” I asked myself. OK, I had heartache before…but I’d only met this guy twice! “Am I that pathetic?” Why did I care so much about this time compared to the others? My brain was saying one thing, but for some reason it was poles apart from my heart’s voice.

I was desperate to talk to people, and found myself confiding in many whom I would normally not confide half as much.

But still I needed help. And that was when I found myself yearning for family.

I had come-out to my parents at primary school but after it wasn’t taken seriously, I had decided to keep schtum to my immediate family until I was financially independent, had my own roof over my head and had more stability. It was agony…but I had to do this after I qualified from uni.

So with this in mind, there was some serious chewing of cud. I had no plans to come-out while at uni. And no plans to come out to one family member a long while before any others. But realising I needed to speak…there was only one person I could think of. My sister.

Taken by Mum – 1980

I had always kept a lot of stuff private from my family and sister when it came to personal life…but more so than most normally do, mainly because I was gay and didn’t want to attract any suspicion until I was ready to come-out.

But feeling at dire-straits, I had no choice. Speaking to her on the phone, I mentioned how it was important to share things…I knew she immediately thought I sounded odd in saying that. Still confused as to why I was so affected by someone I had met so little, I had decided to myself to tell her on the coming Saturday…20th Jan.

So there we were, in the living room, just finishing breakfast, Mum pottering in the kitchen, Dad somewhere out or busy. The usual Saturday morning telly. CD:UK was on ITV…I loved watching music television and performances, but that day it was going straight through me. “How was I going to say this?”, I thought. So…general chat it was, my sister saying what song she liked or didn’t like, me vaguely joining in, then turning to what she’d been upto recently, hoping she’d ask me too.

And then…onto what I mentioned on the phone. I could tell she was trying not to squirm and yet engage at the same time. “Ignore it!” I thought, and carried on. So…was I just going to come out with it? Of course not. So I continued by saying I had been really sad and didn’t know what to do about something that happened recently…I got really close to this guy…we had a great time…but now he said he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me…he said he likes me and has got a boyfriend…and I feel really bad.

Inbetween this she interjected with “OK” and “I see”, and nearing the end while I wasn’t stating it, it would have been obvious that there was a strong link with this guy. So she gave her support and said “Don’t worry”. I said “I just feel bad for him, like I’ve done something wrong”. “You haven’t”, she said. “I know. But I miss him”.

After some silence, she asked more about my feelings for him, and I was honest. Until the last thing I was asked was, “Do you see your future with a man or a woman?” With a man”, I replied.

She cried. I came-out to my sister, but she was the one crying, lol! I had been prepared for the worst for years, so we consoled each other and she apologised for crying, and I said she didn’t have to apologise. She said it explained some things, that she had wondered for a while. She didn’t want me to think she was upset at me, but just hearing it out loud was a shock.

The rest of the day was a bit of a haze. There was a family dinner that night for my approaching birthday, and the meal at the restaurant was great, was fun, but it seemed a little surreal. I couldn’t believe I had said it but was glad I had. And so night drew to a close, we all went to our homes, and my family retired for the night and we all went to bed.

Next morning I woke up. For a few seconds nothing, then I remembered. “Gosh”, I thought. I really did it. What would the future bring? I checked my mobile. And saw I had a text. It was from my sister. She sent it the night before while we were in our beds. I still have that text now. It read “Don’t worry about me brudda I’ll be fine, just look after yourself and take each day as it comes. See you in the morning. Night night, X”.

For the first time, I cried. Out of nowhere, it just hit me. Her text really brought it home, and I felt she had listened.

A few months before, Farrah on a night out and me studying at uni…hence her looking hot and me not!

So…what about this guy? Well, I did a lot of soul-searching over the weeks. And I realised exactly why I felt so lost. It actually wasn’t really about him – I had questioned myself already as to why I was so affected by someone I had met only twice. But the last time we met, I was a little blown away. I met his friends, we talked about university, background, he was 36 and I was 20, holidays, sharing anecdotes, then just us two onto a posh restaurant, then more chat, to a bar, then mine…it was a very intense evening and I had a taste of a world I was able to now have. Be free and open as a gay man with a potential partner, or even just with friends but have a social life that was fun and honest and fulfilling. Having lived a life in secret, it was that night that blew me away. So when he said he didn’t want to see me anymore, I landed back to Earth with a bump right on my heart. It wasn’t so much him, but more the reminder of my double-life I had been living for so long, which at that point had been going in completely different directions. It felt like the life I had a right to was suddenly being taken away from me, and there I was, back at university, back to rewardless hard graft, back to my horrid, torn, secret existence, back to lying to my family where I was tired of this facade. So I had a meltdown. I was sick of it, and found myself telling friends, even acquaintances. But I had to tell family. Tell someone. Tell my sister.

I told my friends that I came-out to my sister. It was a big deal for us, and they were all excited. My friends would joke, ‘Oh she must be a fag-hag!”. It couldn’t have been further from the truth! A combination of things including the friends she had at the time, her goals in life and her own views on a ‘gay’ in our family meant that while she wanted to support me, she found it difficult. She had been to gay clubs a handful of times, found it fun and novel…but that was someone else’s life. Of course, I was expecting it to take a long time for her to get used to it, I didn’t after all take just a few months and think, “Hey, I’m gay, it’s all cool!”. And of course my sister had serious cultural and religious misgivings, and yet was a modern girl. But after all, this was me and it was the start of telling my family, ‘Love me as me, as I love you as you”.

She spent time with her friends and talked about gay issues. Then would go to gay bars with her friends, sometimes with me, and had fun. Waiting from the sidelines, I was looking forward for her to meet my friends. Seeing her getting comfortable, I was really happy for her progress, and with our lives we started to share. I did wish there was a lot more of this sharing. Being gay; it was the life her brother had but had never shared, part of my identity, and I expected, and I wanted – most of the time at least – to share my sister’s new experiences, to be the one to introduce her to ‘my world’ as it were, after so long. She preferred to explore the gay scene with her own friends separately. And it’s important to have separate experiences and not do things together always. But for the longest time she’d feel reluctant if I encouraged her to explore the scene, then tell me about being out all night at a gay venue! But hopefully there’ll still be time for sharing.

10 years on she’s a fully-certified fag-hag. 😉 Ha! Clubbing every week…wish I could rather than study! But seriously, looking back, it was an important milestone. Melanie Phillips recently wrote on how kids were essentially being brainwashed into being gay. What she refuses to understand, is that if schools and families continue to ignore the fact that gay and lesbian kids exist and do not choose to be that way, instead of talking about it as natural and something that has and will always exist, then the millions of queer kids’ suffering will never cease. No more years of having to hide who you are, living as a ghost with your family, never knowing what your full potential in life is, growing-up with a daily, never-relenting fear of being disowned. I wonder if she and journalists like her will be doing anything worthwhile for LGBT History Month this February.

After telling my sister, the days of questioning about girlfriends or having to tell half-truths about my socialising were no more. And it was the first time there were no major secrets from me to someone in my family. Now our Mum’s died, it’s more important than ever to keep it together.

Thanks for listening to me that day 10 years ago Farrah. 🙂 Gotta teach you some dance moves now! 😉

Brighton Pride 2008

12th of December 2010.

Just another day.

I guess I imagined I’d be with my Mum.

Perhaps driving with her to my Grandparents, looking over to me with a slight hint of pride sitting with her son at the wheel.

Or helping her cook her infamous lamb biriyani for my close friends that she (and I) had so longed to meet, to know an important part of my life, looking after everyone as always. Both watching contentedly as people close to my heart enjoy her food, eating with us.

Taking her to a museum, both eagerly discovering, say, the ancient Egyptians, or enjoying a West-End play, or simply spending time with her in town, arm in arm, proudly showing her off to the world.

Or at home, she’d be listening, enraptured, beaming, as my sister spoke excitedly about her hard work paying-off in her demanding job, or how I got an ‘A’ in my latest assignment.

I could be sitting with her in the living-room, me obsessing over the latest pop artists on T4 or X-Factor, my Mum half-frowning at me, half-joining in.

Or maybe…she would just be there…while we were chilling at home…her pottering around or feet up on the sofa…just her presence, but such a powerfully loving, warm, pure and immensely beautiful presence.

But, all this and more are bittersweet fantasies, endlessly evolving in my mind, since my Mum died unexpectedly 3 years ago today.

Memories have always been important to me. Actually, massively so – half the time I’m in a constant state of playback of past experiences.

I think this is why I’ve found it particularly cutting. I remember speaking to someone shortly afterwards who said that after his Mum passed away many years ago, the pain never goes, you just get try and get used to it. ‘Blimey’, I thought, ‘this bodes well’. Actually…he was so right. Well, for me at least. Of course, everyone dies. Bereavement and mourning are a fact of life, always very sad, but the final rite of passage. Everyone who’s ever lost someone always feels pain, but I guess it all depends on different circumstances, some people’s are worse than others.

I think what makes it quite tough is that since late primary school, a distance developed on my part when I realised I was gay. Sensing early on the social taboo, but then the far greater family and cultural and (gravely misinformed) religious view, the idea of being close when I might be disowned was too painful, and unsafe. And so although I still was a part of the family and enjoyed good times, in my heart of hearts, it was always from a distance.

Desperately wanting to be honest, be open, just be me, but too scared of rejection. But I’ve always said, as harsh as it sounds, that I’d rather be disowned than be dishonest. After years of damage, when I came out to my parents for good (I initially came out at primary school…but in short, it wasn’t taken seriously), it was like being reborn…a feeling I’m sure others can relate to. It was the most difficult but proudest moment of my life.

Of course, it was an ongoing process, and there were some very difficult times. But to finally know that there were no secrets, that she knew who her son was. No sinister ‘elephant in the room’. I was ecstatic. Nothing could ever compete with that relief and happiness. And very slowly, I started to reform broken bonds, making up for lost childhood. It was a massive learning curve for her which she was still on, and I was immensely proud at how she dealt with it, in her way. One can’t expect ones’ parents to get used to it overnight.

And so I hoped to take her out, show her my friends she had always wanted to get to know, or my partner, go out with her, anything and everything. I could be 100% relaxed and feel at home in my family once more. The one thing so many take for granted, the only thing I had wanted for so long, was now finally coming.

But a few months before she passed away, life suddenly descended into darkness. There was a lot of pressure on our extended family, but particularly my Mum. All families have ups and downs. There are a couple of incidents that were our toughest times, but we pulled through. But, this time, regardless of my Mum’s death, was shaping up to be yet another. I shan’t elaborate here, but again we all tried to pull through.

Less than 24 hours previously, I had met her at my flat. Unfortunately my last moment with her was to be a brief hug in the cold. Dropping some stuff over, my Dad asked my Mum if I could come downstairs rather than meet me in my flat. ‘Thanks Mum’, ‘OK darling, Dad’s tired, we have to go’, ‘OK, see you later’, ‘Bye, see you later’, *HUG*, ‘Love you’, ‘Love you’.

I remember on the day she died, something horrible I had recently heard she experienced as a child particularly gripped me that morning, and I solemnly vowed I absolutely had to get justice for her while she was alive. And then, hearing it on the phone, the words that broke my heart. Running out into the street at night, finding taxis who’d agree to take me home, seeing my sister’s telling face at the doorstep, then rushing upstairs seeing her laying on the bed, blood on the pillow near her face. She still smelled so strongly of ‘Mum’, that comforting, loving essence. Her skin still so silky soft. She went to sleep in the afternoon, and my Dad found her a few hours later. The coroner said she was healthy and didn’t know why, but perhaps her heart. I think the hospital misdiagnosed her a few days previously. A few weeks after my Mum died, my Granddad also died.

We all face hurdles…I’ve faced a lot that other people also have, and a lot that people haven’t. But I feel you must always tell yourself that there are people in a worse-off situation. Because it’s true. But even though that doesn’t help sometimes, you have to, otherwise you’d be bitter, be unsuccessful, be defeated. But thank God / Cosmos, like a lot of us, I’ve got through them, and achieved, and then one can finally appreciate the good in one’s life, and enjoy life.

But with my Mum taken away, it was difficult to keep telling myself the same thing. She was barely 60 years old, I was in my 20s. Her parents were still alive. After years of being trapped, I had only just started to develop a full content relationship with her after coming out, sharing our life the way we were supposed to, the way others did and perhaps took for granted. She had devoted her life to making everyone around her happy, putting others before herself, and I wanted to devote the rest of my life to making her happy. And the last few months of her life she was tortured with sadness.

That was the moment I thought, ‘No, f**k this. What the f**k just happened? My Mum’s been robbed from me. I’m supposed to live my life with her. We’ve been through such a difficult journey, and now we deserve happiness. We need to make loads more memories. Good happy memories. I wanted her to meet all my friends. It’s not fair’.

And so the memories I had became like gold-dust. Such memories with my Mum are worth more than all the money on the planet…and then some. From waking-up, to going to bed…her face, her voice, her laughter, her kindness, her joy…infiltrate my mind, my soul. Painfully sometimes.

In the absence of creating new memories with her, I have a desperate need to share past memories with others whose lives she blessed. Of course, something we all do when we lose a loved one. Regaling tales, swapping anecdotes, reliving. That’s all I could do.

And so we move on, try to adjust. Make the most of our lives, with those important to us. Knowing I could never do that with Mum, I hoped to do that with those she was important to too.

So memories. To try and make up for missing out on them. Unfortunately, the other thing I was relying on seemed to give way. My sister and Dad together with me in my family home. My Mum’s extended family together with us three. But my Mum’s family and Dad grew resentful of each other. My Dad entirely refurbished my family home. And then he remarried within months, and then left the country.

‘So what did I have left?’, I asked myself desperately. I never say never, but it’s unlikely I’ll have my family back to how it honestly ought to be. I feel it didn’t have to be that way.

If anyone else is going through a similar experience, this is what I hope helps. Some of what I always did, some of what I’ve learned since.

Talk to friends. Maybe a counsellor might help?

Share your memories with your loved ones. In some cases your family may implode and you can’t. I tried to find at least a few people with whom I still could.

Tell those important who hadn’t met them, all about them. Share what made them special.

Make good memories! With people in your life who are still here.

Surround yourself with positive people. Try to distance yourself from negative people.

Try to be around those who truly appreciate you. And make sure you tell people whom you appreciate exactly that.

Live your life respectfully and try to do what you can to make those who you’ve lost proud.

I don’t think my Mum got enough of the appreciation and support she deserved and so selflessly gave others. And we never had enough of a chance to share life and for her to meet my friends. But I hope by making her proud and letting people know about her, it’ll make her and me happier.

Hope this helps anyone else who is going through a tough time.

R.I.P Mum. Love you and miss you forever. X

Prejudice in LGBT Community

And onto the 2nd incident! A tale of bears, burkhas and bigotry. Just before London Pride this year, the owner of XXL (the London gay club for fat / big and often hairy men), Mark Ames, announced via facebook that he would be “boycotting any shops, petrol stations restaurants or businesses I know are owned by Muslims this also includes holidays to muslim [sic] countries today see [sic] our death toll up to 300, so why the hell are we not just flying this scum back out to there beloved states and pull out and let them fight out there [sic] own issues!”

An uproar ensued, with the Iraqi LGBT group, the UK Muslim LGBT group Imaan, Peter Tatchell and Jeremy Joseph speaking against him. Mark Ames issued an apology, and said he was angry at extremists and should have chosen his wording more carefully, and that it was because he had friends in the Armed Forces who were particularly affected.

Hmmm. Most Muslims and I are completely against extremists / terrorists / all hate-mongers. That is not Islam. Islam is peace. Good that he tried to apologise…but I don’t really buy his apology. He was writing, not speaking, so it was even easier for him to be more considered, and specify ‘extremists’ and not ‘Muslims’. And for a club that promotes tolerance and an alternative to the more judgemental aspects of the gay scene, it was complete hypocrisy. Where does that leave people like myself and others who are proud to be gay and Muslim; XXL was not only my local, but one of my favourite ‘no-attitude’ clubs. And as for the British Muslims who are also giving their lives against terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was a complete insult. But hey, some things are in the past.

And so, again, watching Syed and Christian fight prejudices and hatred to stand up for what they believe in so strongly – love – I wondered if Mark Ames and others like him were watching. Maybe they couldn’t give a monkey’s. But it was encouraging to know that a highly-viewed show like Eastenders was promoting a message of love and understanding.

This Saturday, a group set up as a result of this XXL debacle – Bears Against Bigotry – are having a picnic in Regent’s Park, completely INCLUSIVE and open to everyone to discuss ways of bringing the community together, in a relaxed fun environment:

Bears Against Bigotry Picnic – Sat 31st July 2010

I think it sounds fantastic and encourage people to go, and if I’m not working till late I hope to go. What gets me is that there are some supposedly spiritual people who reject you because you are gay, and some assumed-to-be liberal gay people who reject you because you believe in God. We all have differences, it wouldn’t be human to be identical. But it’s that which we should celebrate, as well as what we have in common. Have pride in ourselves…Human Pride. And maybe 2 people in particular, even if they haven’t watched Eastenders recently, might also enjoy coming to the picnic one day. 😉

Me with other Imaan supporters, at London Pride 2006!

“The thing is, they tell me I can’t be gay and a Muslim…why not? Who do I have to choose? I am the way I am, because that’s how Allah made me. Whatever faults I have, he gave me. Now I am proud of my faith. Now I am proud that Islam is about peace and tolerance and celebrating things that make us different. But I need to be proud of who I am. Only, I’m gonna need a little bit of help.”

“I can do that.”

“I’m gay and I’m Muslim…and I don’t think you can go to hell for having loved.”

“Let’s go home.”

As Syed and Christian set off through Walford Market, orchestral strains soaring instead of the usual ‘da, da, da, da da, da-da-da-da‘, a tube train passing through Walford East station in jubilee (note to anoraks: not Jubilee; I know it’s District!), I wondered how many viewers nationwide learn about issues they would never else consider (at best, through blissful ignorance, at worst, through prejudice) from our daily soaps.

Soap acting can sometimes be twee, so I was curious with how Eastenders would portray the story of coming out in a Muslim family, two issues close to my heart and those of others I know.

If I’m honest, I stopped watching soaps years ago (loved some while at school!), but after I was interviewed last year by Attitude magazine – along with 2 friends – about being British, gay and Muslim as the plot-line was launched, I was fascinated to see this unfold on screens up and down the U.K.

And I must say…I have been very impressed. Eastenders has pulled no punches and has been careful to develop the relationship between Syed & Christian (did they plan that I wonder, a Muslim involved with someone called Christian? 😉 ) tenderly, while making sure it’s kept as realisitic as possible with the drama of denial, religion, family members keeping shtum, marriage, violence and even throwing in a SSA (same-sex attraction) ‘healer ‘ into the mix.

The road for Syed and Christian may still be rocky, they may choose not to be in a relationship, but watching this recent episode with pride, 2 particular occasions sprung to mind. The first dealing with SSA (same-sex attraction) healers, and the second dealing with prejudice in the LGBT community.

‘Healing’ One’s Sexuality

Out and proud: Daayiee Abdullah, a Gay Muslim Imam (Priest).

I had a friend I’d known for over 10 years. He was intelligent, warm, quiet unless with people he knew well…and religious. An observant Muslim, like myself, which we had pride in. And both gay…in which he felt shame. Over the years, we had our struggles, but it inevitably became awkward when he informed me of his involvement with a SSA healing group.

Mainly through sheer laziness we would get in contact irregularly, but he was one of those friends where we could suddenly arrange to meet and it would seem like we had only met yesterday. One of those times was a couple of years ago, after my Mum, who had just turned 60, died unexpectedly.

He suddenly became more proactive in wanting to meet, suggesting things to do. A few weeks later, my Mum’s Dad also died. It was a great comfort to pray together, go to the cemetery, just hang-out. Although we had our differences, I thought we could see past that and finally have a full friendship.

It was great to spend time with each other over the next year. But then he stopped getting in contact and did not return my calls. A few months later I received a long email. It said he thought I was a great person, warm, loving, who hadn’t done anything wrong…but that our paths had changed to the point where he could no longer be friends. He regarded SSA as an addiction like gambling or drug abuse, and it was dangerous for him to hang around other addicts like me who were proud of it, and didn’t even see it as an addiction.

He was going to tell me around the time my Mum died, but thought it inappropriate to say anything then, and he only plucked up the courage to say it a year and a half later. But he wished me well at the end of the email anyhow, but that he would not respond to any contact from me ever again.

I was speechless for a while.

So when Syed in Eastenders met the same kind of SSA ‘therapist’, I was excited and nervous to see the conclusion. He talked openly and honestly about his sexuality, and the therapist went through a series of explanations and ways to deal with this, covering all angles from childhood to coping strategies. But ultimately…love won. In tears, Syed realised that, for him at least, this was all b******t. He realised that God made him the way he is, warts and all.

And that, actually, being gay wasn’t really a ‘wart’ at all. Perhaps taken for granted by most gay guys, I was over the moon that this was what Syed decided. Because, whether you are an atheist or believe in God, you are who you are, and loving someone can never be wrong.

It is completely unacceptable for someone to feel pressured in ‘coming out’, or to feel ostracised for choosing to keep one’s sexuality to oneself; unless potential damage is caused by being in a certain situation and choosing to not ‘come out’, it is no-one’s business to disclose such information but the individual’s.

However, ‘SSA healing’ is a different story. ‘SSA-healers’ can ultimately worsen the prejudice against members of the LGBT community. They can also be indirectly responsible for the murders of members of the LGBT community; I say this because as a mindset it can create a culture where being ‘queer’ is seen as wrong. If an individual decides to ‘cure’ him/herself, then it is that person’s choice, fair enough. But the problem with ‘SSA-healing’ is that in creating this environment, there is no acceptance that people can be born LGBT or that they don’t need to change…and therefore those that are homophobic – whether through incorrect religious quoting or otherwise – may use this as an example to justify killing LGBT people, if their reasoning is “You were’t born this way, you’re just refusing to accept that being LGBT is a mistake, just listen to what SSA-healers say”. If any of my friends never wanted anyone to know about their sexuality or indeed anything else, I would always honour that, no question. Likewise, I respect my friend’s choice to ‘treat’ his ‘disease’ by going to a ‘SSA healer’, and while I similarly honour his decision to keep this private, I can’t ever really buy this ‘I can be cured’ perspective if it damages the individual and those around him. Especially if it taught him to turn his back on what could have been a great friendship – did he take this advice from other friends? It hurt me to become more of a friend when I was in need and then end it, rather than stop it sooner, especially when I had always strived to give him 110% of my loyalty, energy and love in our friendship. But I guess then it was best for me too if he couldn’t reciprocate it.

I didn’t respond until a few months later. Namely to say I respected him for his courage, but that if he was being honest I therefore did not understand why he was proactive in wanting to meet up for so long, and that any effort on my part to meet up could not have fuelled this addiction when we never went to gay venues or particularly talked about sex, and I had been in a long-term stable relationship for 7 years, etc. And that especially knowing I came out to my family, and how it affected my Mum in particular, I was hurt that he suggested I would reveal something so deeply-impacting to my family for it to be merely an ‘addiction’. Lastly, I hoped that he was always honest to himself and others, because ultimately, Muslim or not, we should be true to ourselves.

So I sincerely hope my fellow Muslim, my fellow human, and indeed any one involved with ‘SSA-healing’, had watched / been aware of these Eastenders episodes and come to the same conclusion to accept himself, and others, as God made him/them.

Part 2 tomorrow!…