As I have just about started on my project, I don’t yet have many images, certainly not images that are a little mysterious drawing in the viewer that I could use to promote a workshop. My workshops are planned for next June. One of my first bookings, requires some promo material. I am desperately short of exciting images of gay Asians that could I can use to promote the workshop.
I came across this image on the web of two women by Poulomi Desai. It was part of an exhibition called ‘If Shiva can wear lipstick, why can’t I?’ at the Dhoom Dhamaka festival in Reading in 2008. I love the energy within this image: it has an ambiguity, a bold spirit, and a zest for life. I’m currently seeking permission to use this. In the meantime anything of this ilk would just be great.
Last week I set off, after saying goodbye to my darling in the morning. I was heading to the Midlands for my first interview. Whilst I had allowed enough time including contingency, I couldn’t have predicted the state of the motorway. There were delays on the two main routes for me to get to my destination. I ended up employing my nephew Aaron at the end of a phone using Google maps… Fortunately he didn’t have any lectures until the afternoon.
I managed to get to my destination panting. I was welcomed by a reassuringly warm smile, the smell of ( a recently eaten) orange in the air, a warm room, digestives, followed by a tea… It doesn’t get better than this.
Valbir painted a vivid picture of herself. Of a cold overcrowded terrace in a cold bleak England of the seventies. Of a strong girl who knew how to look after herself from a young age. She got into many fights often provoked by racism either at school, or on route, to and from school. She was motivated to do well at school for her dad, and she knew that it would be the passport to another world. She described a pull from within: of needing to discover and realise who she was, which she knew couldn’t have happened at home or even her home town.
On route to an interview for a university place the following academic year Valbir described the first time she saw two women kissing. “On the approach to the main building, it’s a long walk with steps going back and further back. So, I’m walking towards the building and in the distance I see these two, women, young, in an embrace, kissing on the steps. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen…and the way they looked… and what they were wearing. They might have been punks. And the people around them; no one took any notice. It was then that I knew I had to go to this university.”
The kiss that Valbir witnessed slowed down, as though everything else had stopped… That was the most honest, beautiful, right, perfect, truth – the only thing that mattered… As a gay man I know exactly what she’s talking about. When you never see yourself or your desire reflected in the world around you, the first time you do, everything stops. It chimes with your inner core and makes you feel truly alive. It feels like another limb, something so familiar, like the most natural thing in the world. Do you remember the first time you saw that kiss?
My call out for interviewees got a great response. Thanks to all of you that expressed an interest in participating. I had some really lovely conversations with people trying to find out a little about them.
I did pretty much operate on a first-come first-served basis, balanced a little by an even(ish) gender split and reasonable geographical spread. What struck me about the preliminary chats with all those that I managed to speak to was, that just by scratching at the surface a little, threw up so many interesting lives, each distinctly different.
And people continued to get in touch more than I could reasonably do justice to. After talking to people, I realised that there were many people out there wanting to talk and share their story. To get to a point of talking to a stranger about who you are and what makes you tick takes some courage, self-realisation and acceptance. People wanted to share so that others could learn from their lives as well as clarifying a thing or two for themselves through the process.
Many were frustrated by the status quo of hidden lives and motivated by the project’s aims of addressing this. A common recurring theme coming up during these pre-chats was of dual lives. This may sound like a double life or alter ego; often it’s as simple as being out and everything you are with everyone at work and play and all of that at home or with your parents, apart from your sexuality… compartmentalising.
Another recurrent theme was ethnicity and homosexuality… for some this was direct racism or open hostility, for others it was more subtle: coolness and not made to feel very welcome by the white majority LGB/T community especially on ‘the scene’ and some other queer spaces.
People hope to see a change so that British Asian sexual minorities can be themselves and live their lives. And especially amongst the younger generation, there’s a real belief that this is possible. More visibility, more gay Asian role models, more information, more stories of real lives, and good drama inspired by all of this which connects with audiences in new and interesting ways… might just be a small step in the right direction.