Tag Archives: Asian homosexuality

What to know about South Asian lesbians…

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SatWhat do we know about South Asian lesbian and bisexual women in the UK today? What is there to know about them?

This coming weekend’s edition of the Sunday Times magazine includes a feature on South Asian lesbians by journalist and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor. He made contact with me in March last year. He learnt about my area of research and project due to a workshop I was running as part of Alchemy 2013.

I spoke to Sarfraz at length about my findings. A key trend being: the largest single group that made contact with me was Asian Muslim women. This prompted the idea for the piece for him. I provided him with a diverse list of a dozen women, some of whom I’d interviewed and others that I hadn’t; but who had got in touch with me after I’d completed by research.

So after 18-months or so I’m intrigued to finally see this piece. I should certainly recognise all the contributors.

If you’re interested, do buy this coming Sunday’s edition. You can purchase the paper or an online version. I understand it’s a 4-5 page spread with several images.

I’m delighted that what is considered a niche minority subject is getting such profile in a mainstream national publication. That it will land on so many door mats on Sunday morning (or accessed online) and the masses will stumble upon this story.

Thanks to the spark in Sarfraz’s mind for the story we can now look forward to the feature.

Let’s keep up the visibility!

Rob’s take on The Love That Knows… panel discussion

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So here we are again. It certainly feels like a while since I last wrote something for this blog and it’s a pleasure to be back. Many of you may remember me as the friendly face of Beneath the Surface which toured last September and is now in the process of being developed into a fully-fledged theatrical piece – but more about that in the coming months I’m sure…

What I’m actually here to write about is a discussion that I was lucky enough to observe at Southbank Centre as part of Alchemy festival which showcases and celebrates art and culture from South Asia. The event was called The Love That Knows Much Shame and was a panel discussion which fundamentally focused on the question “Can you be LGBTQ and South Asian or are the two mutually exclusive?” It was a chance to share experiences as well as a chance to discuss ways of creating a more progressive future.

Now I could go on for reams and reams about the panel and their various areas of expertise. Needless to say, the organiser of this event had managed to select an eclectic mix of people to talk about the issues and how they, both personally and within their organisations, are helping to forge new inroads into creating a world that is prejudice-free for members of the South Asian LGBTQ community and for the queer community generally. For the sake of being brief I will simply list them here with links to their websites. I implore you to check out the good work they are all doing and to see what you can do to help aid our fight to eradicate intolerance. The event was chaired by Razia Aziz. Panel members included Aashi Gahlot, Fiyaz Mughal, Harjit Sarang and, of course, Bobby Tiwana who organised the event and whose blog I am once again hi-jacking!

So what were the main points to come out of the discussion? For any of you who were following the event on Twitter then you may have seen some of the quotes I put up:

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D

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GAnd a hugely popular Tweet which caused a bit of a stir:

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These Tweets might help you to get a flavour of what the event was like. Fundamentally, we were gathered there to make a statement that whether you’re Gay, Straight, White, Asian or any combination in between then you can help stamp out prejudice. I likened the event to the ACT UP meetings in New York in the ‘80s which, in their hay-day, were a hotbed of ideas for tackling the AIDS epidemic. Here we are, 30 years on, across the pond, gathering again to take action against another enemy; an older one and one that’s harder to beat – homophobia. While this event was part of Alchemy, thus technically a South Asian event, I looked around the room and saw such a mix of people that I knew this topic had struck a chord with many people from outside the South Asian community as well.

We all know what it’s like to suffer prejudice at the hands of someone who is supposed to love us; we all know what rejection and intolerance feels like. Yet for many of us in the UK, we have the freedom to live our lives how we want. Especially in the cosmopolitan city centres, identifying as LGBTQ is not something we are scared to do anymore. However, for many others, coming out as LGBTQ is still a battle where the people they are fighting are their own families and friends. There were some truly touching stories shared at this event and some truly horrifying ones too – families disowning children for years and years for the meagre “crime” of loving someone of the same sex. What I found truly heartening was the number of people, from all nationalities, who turned out to support those who still find it hard to be accepted for the people they are.

Looking at the issue from a South Asian perspective though, for many people it does seem that you can identify as LGBTQ and South Asian. There are spaces between the two terms and navigating them can be hard. We touched upon the fact that “coming out” is quite a Western concept and one that does not gel well with the many highly private families in South Asian cultures – “OK so you’re gay but keep quiet about it and don’t let the neighbours know.” Similarly, it can sometimes be quite hard to know which is the best way to go about seeking acceptance – does one do it quietly by just living their life and hoping their visibility will eventually breed acceptance, or do we stand up and politicize ourselves and fight tooth and nail for our rights? We heard from people who argued for both cases and, while no agreement was made, it opened up a debate that needs to be had. How, as a collective, are we going to fight intolerance?

Of course, the issue with these sorts of discussions is that we are only ever able to scratch the surface of the problem, let alone find solutions. Maybe if there were another event like this we could pick up from where we left off and get in deeper? I know I will certainly be on the lookout for similar talks to this one. Ultimately though, the main benefit of an event such as this is that it brings people together. After an event like The Love That Knows Much Shame people don’t feel so alone – “there are others out there who want the same things as I do.” You get a chance to network, take phone numbers, organise meetings. This event was merely the starting point for people to break into smaller groups and carry on the fight in their individual communities. “Activism starts at home” as one of our panel said – let’s hope that this wonderful event has inspired people to go and make that statement true!

Also do check out Harjit Sarang’s pioneering Equal Marriage campaign.

Robert Beck got involved with Bobby’s work after one of his very dear friends was interviewed as part of the research for ‘Beneath the Surface’. Since then he has worked as a Researcher for Bobby, Social Media Adviser, Production Assistant and Guest Blogger. The work means a lot to him and he hopes to stay involved for as long as possible. He doesn’t have a website (although he probably should). Follow him on Twitter @robertjamesbeck 

Rob blogs Birmingham

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Hello again, dear readers. I am writing to you, not from Glasgow as suggested in my last post, but from the safety of my own home. It appears that, as is often the case with me, I was stressing rather too much and it turns out my journey to Midland’s Arts Centre (Mac), MacEntrancein Birmingham, though now re-branded as mac birmingham, was easier than I had anticipated.

For future reference, it is a very simple bus ride from the centre of Birmingham – although I’m sure you’ll have a much better sense of navigation than I do! The building itself is gorgeous and I was surprised at how picturesque it was!

Another guilty confession, readers, but despite professing to be a theatre-maker who has spent eighteen years in the West Midlands, I had never visited Mac before but boy do I wish I had. Clearly I have spent far too much time in the likes of Manchester and London and have neglected the amazing venues us Midlanders have on our doorsteps.

Well anyway, to the matter at hand, by which I mean Beneath the Surface event number 3!! I don’t know what it was about this performance but I really thought it was the best one yet. The performed extracts were very well done (apart from a slight mix-up on the sound levels…anybody sitting on the right-hand side of the room might be ever so slightly deaf in one ear now) and once again there were plenty of surprises in how the audience reacted to parts of the script.

MacRiverThere seemed to be a more relaxed and vocal atmosphere in the room with audience members laughing harder at the jokes in the script and exchanging glances with one another throughout. This may have been to do with the number that we had in – our largest audience yet – and once again an eclectic mix of men, women, white, Asian, straight and gay. There were also a significant number of older people which I found very interesting and made a point of talking to after the show – but more on that in a bit.

One thing I really noticed at this performance was how the audience in Birmingham was very keen to dive straight in to talking about the issues raised by the piece and to discuss these with much greater ferocity than I have thus far witnessed. Indeed, there was very little talk about the theatricality of the piece but a much greater emphasis on the themes raised in the work.

The discussion at one point intensified with one man saying how he would have preferred some lighter stories which celebrated tolerant parents as well as the stories that condemn the prejudices of others. While one woman countered this by saying the whole point of this piece was to raise awareness of those who find being gay and South Asian extremely torturous and that by including too many “happy” stories risked diluting the poignancy of the piece. Personally, I think that both are right. This work is not simply about telling horror stories of people who can’t/won’t be true to themselves and are tortured by it but should very definitely celebrate those who are open and proud and have found a way of gaining acceptance. Yet the piece should be about balance with both the lighter and darker stories being given equal airing. At the end of the day, the purpose of the piece is to tell stories about contemporary British Asian gay lives and to do that the whole spectrum of experiences must be examined

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I mentioned earlier in this post how there was a significantly larger proportion of older audience members at Mac than there had been at either London or Smethwick. I think this is a very interesting point to make and may have led to one of the most fascinating discussion points of the evening. The piece itself is made up of both younger and older voices. Indeed, the voices of the two Indian parents (if this isn’t making much sense to you then it is possibly because you haven’t seen the show and I would therefore direct you to the bookings page where there are still tickets left for two of our three remaining dates) represent the older generation who still have trouble accepting and might even find the idea of homosexuality abhorrent. Yet it is simplistic to state that the older generation is prejudiced and the younger generation tolerant. One older Asian lady that I talked to described the piece as “completely new” to her – she had seen the event listed and thought she would give it a go. Yet as our conversation continued I saw how adamantly she believed that supporting those you love and care about, no matter what, was what made you a family and I found myself thinking that her presence here was no mistake. She wanted to learn more so she could continue to be supportive to those that she loved. This was put into stark contrast when I heard about the abuse a young Asian teen had received from his peers when he came out at school. It struck me that in many cases the older generation can be instrumental in teaching the younger generation to be tolerant too. Cast your minds back to my London blog, the story of the young boy teaching his grandmother about tolerance through his unbiased innocence and you’ll find, as I have done, that every generation needs to be taught tolerance and that it is down to families and communities to do this teaching and that if we all practice and teach acceptance then suddenly the world might begin to change.

As well as these incredibly deep revelations, we also found the time to have some fun with the discussions. For the first time in the workshops so far we had people sharing the ten words they would like to impart to a character in the script. While they were all very insightful, I do remember one lady using her ten words to ask one of the characters out for a coffee! I’m smiling to myself as I write this as I can just imagine that character going on a date with one of the audience – it just seems like something they’d do! I also remember the words “love risk” being mentioned as part of someone’s ten words and I thought that was such a great phrase…I think I might have it embroidered onto a cushion!

So a slightly longer blog this time but one that I think deserved a few more words. I left Birmingham buzzing, both because of the performances which I think are getting better and better with each venue and also because of the discussion and the topics we touched upon. I hope our next event in Sheffield will be just as good! So until the next time – stay fabulous!

 Rob Beck (is guest blogger for Beneath the Surface) 

Turning points

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Last Saturday’s workshop was a privilege. After a gruelling week with not such brilliant sleep (during the week) I thought I might be running on empty by Saturday afternoon. However I did sleep reasonably well the night before.  On the day, it was cloudy with breaks of sunshine and a peculiar curving wind. I was calmly excited with anticipation for the workshop.

In terms of numbers it was modest and this did allow for more in-depth interaction and openness amongst the participants. The group was bold, generous and authentic, in fact even nurturing towards each other. My beloved Abhi participated too on this occasion, which was very useful in receiving a no holds barred critique afterwards. His comments were wholly positive.

Carl’s writing exercise is quite powerful. He takes you back to a significant turning point in your life making it vivid through his prompts – the use of senses, the time of year and day and so on. The group were scattered across the room busy writing: some on chairs, others laying on the floor or perched on the steps. Afterwards we sat in a circle and each shared an extract with the group. Here’s one from the session – an imagined letter to a father:

Dear Dad,

2007. December, Boxing Day.

You’re in India.

We’ve had dinner. Eastenders is on in the background. Half-heartedly we’re watching.

I had planned it this way, as you were away, so that I had mum to myself.

In theory, the plan was to tell her, and then you.

She thought I was joking…that it was an excuse not to get married.

“No, I’m gay!”

Apparently she was clueless. But what about mums knowing their sons and all that? What about the Gay Times incident at 16…?

Arena workshop participant – 22 June 2013.

Do you have a turning point to share?

Not so many hours to go…

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I’m looking forward to tomorrow afternoon: getting down to Wolverhampton and running a workshop session with Carl Miller. I’m anticipating new people, voices and ideas to discover… 
British Asian lesbian and gay lives

Alchemy workshop, Southbank Centre, Sat 20 Apr, 3pm

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I’m thrilled to be running a workshop with Carl Miller as part of the Alchemy festival – a collision of British and South Asian cultures at Southbank Centre (London), now in its third year. Beneath the Surface

Inspired by the degree of interest and enthusiasm last autumn especially from Londoners, we thought it would be good to run an event in the capital. It’s an opportunity for us to connect with people touched by the subject of Asian homosexuality.

We will facilitate an inclusive space for people and go through series of structured exercises: designed to stimulate recollection, conversation and sharing. Participants will work together in pairs talking and listening and take part in an individual writing exercise. There will be space to share things with the group as people see fit – this is OPTIONAL!

No former experience or specific skills are necessary to attend. A willingness to have a go and contribute within your personal parameters is all that is required.

Participants will also learn more about the current progress and future plans for the Beneath the Surface project.

2 hours. Cost £5. Booking through Southbank Centre