Last week, the LGBT homeless charity Albert Kennedy Trust warned it was seeing an increase in the numbers of gay Muslims fleeing from forced marriages and family violence. However, for one gay Muslim, the experiences of gay EastEnders character Syed Masood are closer to home.
While I haven’t been a fan of the show for quite some time, I was intrigued when I heard that EastEnders was to feature a storyline outlining the struggles faced by gay Muslims. Being someone who is both gay and (quasi)religious in their Islamic faith, I was interested to see how they would cover it.
As many people know, the relationship between religious communities and homosexuality can be volatile with both sides often holding open contempt for each other, but nowhere is this shown more than in the families of gay Muslims.
While problems faced by the gay children of other social groups are more upfront – open hostility, youth homelessness etc – issues faced by gay and lesbian Asians have different layers of intricacy as family honour and social standing come into play.
Gay people in these communities are faced by the violence and disgust that is unfortunately prevalent in certain groups of people around the world and have to deal with an inherent and irrationally focused hatred from their family and friends. Sometimes this manifests in violence and there are cases all over the world of gay and lesbian people being killed by their families, who use their religion to rationalise their own feelings of hatred.
Other times, familial affection overrides this violence, but rather than this leading to tolerance or acceptance, a web of manipulation is spun and gay people are continuously made to feel they are dirty or wrong and that their life is causing pain to the people around them.
EastEnders showed this in its proper light and rather than Syed being thrown out by his mother Zainab or attacked after being outed, he was instead told to go through with a marriage to a woman for his family’s benefit.
This exposes the root of what is in question here in terms of Muslim parents and how they deal with the situation.
It is true, as I saw in the show and have experienced in my life, that if it gets out that a family has a gay son they will lose everything. They will become social pariahs and outcasts from not only the community but from the extended family who want to disassociate themselves from the fallout of the situation. Any other children in the family will also be shunned, unable to get jobs in their community and unable to marry as other families will see their blood as tainted.
This is the very real situation that is faced by these groups when a person, particularly a man, comes out as gay. It brings out the worst in people – parents, brothers, sisters, uncles – who mix their own negative views on homosexuality itself with the fear attached to losing their social status. Instead of coming at it violently or aggressively, the educated parents of gays instead manipulate their children, using their knowledge of them to consciously and unconsciously degrade their views of themselves and the way they see the situation around them.
This leads to many gay Muslims being stuck in loveless marriages or spiralling into depression, drug use and even suicide as they are made to feel like the situation, their sexuality and the reactions of their loved ones are their fault.
But while it is easy to be horrified and disgusted by the treatment that these gay Asians and Arabs receive, outside observers must consider why we let our families get away with this. Why we let them in our heads, feeding our own insecurities. The answer is simply because they’re right. Should the knowledge of our sexuality come out in the greater community, our families’ lives would be destroyed.
Whether this is right or wrong is sadly an irrelevance, that’s just how it is. It is the reason we allow ourselves to feel the guilt of our sexuality and the reason why family members do anything to stop it and to beat down any idea of their child being happy in a same-sex environment or relationship. Simply because, on subconscious and conscious levels, they know that it would destroy their lives.
Name not published at author’s request.