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Author shares heartbreaking story of coming out as gay and Muslim: ‘My father asked a witch doctor to cure me’

Hilary Mitchell March 4, 2021
Mohsin Zaidi A Dutiful Boy

Mohsin Zaidi appeared on the Jeremy Vine Radio 2 show on 3 March to discuss his book about growing up gay in a working-class, conservative Muslim family

Author and criminal barrister Mohsin Zaidi has been praised online after appearing on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show to discuss his “inspiring, heartbreaking and eye-opening” coming out memoir A Dutiful Boy.

Mohsin Zaidi grew up in a close-knit, working class, conservative Muslim family, and was the first pupil from his comprehensive school in Walthamstow to go to the University of Oxford.

He spoke to Jeremy Vine about his traumatic, complex and unique experiences, both as a gay Muslim and a working class student at Oxford. While he was at university, he explained that he lived a “dual life as a gay man at uni and model Muslim son at home”, who snuck downstairs at night to watch Queer as Folk.

Mohsin Zaidi recalled how once, when watching coverage of Freddie Mercury’s death with his uncle, the older man said that Freddie Mercury had deserved to die due to his sexuality. And when he finally told his father he was gay, a witch doctor was invited to ‘cure him’.

Mohsin Zaidi also spoke about coming out to his close female friend while sitting on a bathroom floor during his time at university, and how it took him about four hours to finally say it.

‘I genuinely believed I was a terrible person because I was gay’

“Often when people talk about getting something off their chest they describe it as a weight being lifted. It was more like… we’ve all had this sensation of being really unwell with the flu. And there’s this one day where you stop feeling as rough as you have, and you can tell that things are slowly going to improve.

“For me, being able to tell the first person was the equivalent of that.

Asked how his friend reacted, Mohsin Zaidi explained: “I think she was relieved because I had opened the conversation by asking if she could still be friends with me if I was a terrible person because I genuinely believed I was a terrible person because I was gay. I think she was relieved that I hadn’t killed someone.”

After he finally told somebody, things “unravelled” and he had a breakdown, but due to his background “the concept of mental health didn’t really exist. It seemed like an indulgent thing to be worried about”.

Mohsin Zaidi thinks ‘a child has the power to hurt a parent in the way no one else can’

He explained that he told his parents separately. His mum was first and she had to take a week off work as she was so distraught about the news. His dad thought she was going through the menopause as she was so emotional. Mohsin Zaidi described telling his father as “the hardest thing I ever had to do,” adding “the way it came about was we heard through our community that people were gossiping about my sexuality and so I knew it was really important that he hear about it from me and not from anyone else”.

“Eventually I just sat down and told him and as soon as the words came out he began to cry and my mum had been wailing in the background and she came into the room and they embraced. It was hard because I think a child has the power to hurt a parent in the way no one else can and I felt I’d broken them.”

However, the story has a positive ending. Mohsin Zaidi is now engaged to be married to a man called Matthew and his mum is so comfortable with their relationship that she was actually the person who encouraged him to propose “before Matthew dumped him”.

Zaidi explained: ‘He is the favourite, they prefer him to me and I think that’s a sign I’m marrying the right person.”

After the interview aired, many people took to Twitter to praise Mohsin Zaidi’s eloquence and courage in speaking out about his experiences as a young man.

One person wrote: “What an amazing young man you are. I listened to this yesterday and I was just taken aback by your calm manner, your eloquence, your ability to express ideas so easily. Beautiful.”

You can buy A Dutiful Boy: A Memoir of a Gay Muslim’s Journey to Acceptance on Amazon here, and you can listen to the Jeremy Vine interview with Mohsin Zaidi here.

More: books, Gay, Muslim

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