Racism in LGBT+ community made British Muslim writer wish he was straight

by Hugo Greenhalgh | @hugo_greenhalgh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 28 September 2020 11:05 GMT

Author Mohson Zaidi photographed in London 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Handout by Jahied Ahmed

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In his new memoir, Mohsin Zaidi tells the story of growing up gay in a devout Shi'ite family and his struggles to come to terms with his sexuality

By Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, Sept 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British writer and barrister Mohsin Zaidi said his early experiences of racism in the LGBT+ community were so bad, he wished he was straight.

In his new memoir "A Dutiful Boy", Zaidi tells the story of growing up gay in a devout Shi'ite Muslim family in East London during the 1980s and 1990s, and of his struggles to come to terms with his sexuality.

After battling to cast off the weighty expectations of his culture and faith, Zaidi said he initially felt out of place in the LGBT+ community too, receiving responses such as "I don't date Asian guys" or "I only date white guys".

"At the time, it made me wish I was straight again," Zaidi, 35, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

Zaidi, whose parents came to Britain from Pakistan, recounts in his book the difficulties he encountered as he sought to find a community in which he felt he belonged.

"For gays, I was too Muslim. For Muslims, I was too gay. For whites, I was too brown, and for my family, I was too white," he said.

Global anti-racism protests this year have shone a spotlight on the double discrimination faced by many LGBT+ people of colour, both in wider society and their own communities.

Studies show LGBT+ people of colour are more prone to violence and poverty, and a 2018 Stonewall/YouGov survey found more than half of Black, Asian and other minority LGBT+ Britons experienced discrimination from members of their own community.

Zaidi's book, which was published last month, details the particular struggles of coming out to his parents in an environment in which homosexuality was either ridiculed or not discussed.

"For such a long time I hoped there was a button that I could press that would make myself straight," he said, linking this internalised homophobia to growing up in a society laden with expectations.

"About what your future would look like. That you would marry a woman, have children and live near your parents.

"I think that in some ways that with my faith and my culture, it felt like there was a tension between what was expected of me and who I was."

'MISTAKEN FOR A DEFENDANT'

Social class also played a central part in Zaidi's story.

He was the first person from his state-run school in a deprived area to go to Oxford university, where he studied law, before training to become a barrister in London.

"Being mistaken for a defendant when I'm in a suit or mistaken for a clerk... the sense of unbelonging was something that resonated," Zaidi said.

But eventually, he added, such experiences had helped forge his sense of being "the outsider pushing through".

His acclaimed memoir is the latest success in a life of high achievement.

One reviewer said the book "will save lives" by providing others going through similar experiences with a positive role model.

Engaged to be married – although his April wedding was postponed due to the coronavirus lockdown – and having sold the television rights to "A Dutiful Boy", Zaidi is considering a full-time career as a writer.

"I've got a couple of ideas – fiction and non-fiction ideas – and I'd like to do some TV writing," he said.

"I hope I'm in that category of people who might not know what they want to do but will constantly try and do interesting things."

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(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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