How the 'gaysian' community helped me reconcile my Asian self with my gay self (The Independent)

  • Vishal Gaikwad
The reason I moved to London was to give myself mental space after coming out to my Asian family. My parents were devastated as they had planned an arranged marriage for me, their only son, and the cultural significance of my wedding was huge. Even though they came from a place of love, these expectations were causing me immeasurable stress and upset. I had no choice but to leave the family home for the sake of my mental health.
Today, after having left home and ingratiated myself with the ‘gaysian’ scene, my relationship with the family is slowly mending.
What does 'gaysian' mean, you ask? It's an amalgamation of the words 'gay' and 'Asian' that describe me and a whole underground LGBT scene. Our scene only exists in larger cities like London. It’s usually confined to a few monthly club nights in an obscure venue – but it’s about to get bigger.
These club nights are an opportunity for Asian LGBT people to meet and socialise. But perhaps more importantly, it’s a place to dance the night away accompanied by a heady mix of Bollywood and bhangra tunes. It may seem like that’s not so different from what happens on the mainstream gay scene, albeit with different music – but the gaysian scene is unique, as there’s an emphasis not only on expressing one’s sexuality but on celebrating Asian culture. When many Asian people grow in families with extremely conservative views, we can end up feeling like our identities are torn in two by the realisation that we’re gay, bi or trans. Gaysian celebrations work to reconcile both sides of our identities.
When I first moved to London after leaving my family home, I thoroughly researched the gaysian scene and clocked a place to go. I caught three buses to a north London club that was reminiscent of my secondary school’s PE hall. Glamorous it wasn’t, but it didn’t matter as I got to see many LGBT Asian people be happy and carefree. I marvelled at the existence of so many people living perfectly contentedly who were exactly like me. It was supremely liberating.
But once I became a regular on the scene, I noticed that Asian LGBT liberation was limited. Outside of the relative safety offered by gaysian spaces, many men and women still experience deep anxiety around coming out. It’s not unusual – or unreasonable - to fear being disowned by one’s family, shunned from religious society or even ending up with threats to one’s life. It can often feel as though it would be easier if we were white.
Excitingly this week, the gaysian community’s existence came to public attention in Channel 4’s ground-breaking Muslim Drag Queens documentary. I was initially nervous watching it; I felt protective of the gaysians involved who were baring their lives on national TV. My fears, however, were quickly quelled. It’s impossible not to feel warmth towards those who have expressed their deepest fears and desires throughout the programme, and I feel thankful for their courage.
Admittedly, my own mind was opened by watching the footage. As a non-religious gaysian, at times I find myself guilty of perching on my high horse, judging religious LGBT people. I assumed their faith held them back from progression - but I was wrong. These Muslim drag queens proved that their religious beliefs didn’t compromise their sexuality. They came across as empowered and fearless spokespeople for a community that can act as a literal lifesaver for so many. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.