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Khakan Qureshi founded Finding A Voice to provide a safe space for LGBT+ South Asian Muslims of any faith, culture, religion or disability. When asked how we can provide a supportive community for LGBTQI+ children growing up, he responded with this beautiful and personal story from his own childhood.
The earliest memory I have of my childhood is clinging to my mum, hiding behind her legs, as she seemed to be very busy in the small kitchen in our three bedroom terraced house.
My mum was always busy in the kitchen, chopping onions, peeling ginger, crushing garlic, heaping spoonfuls of Indian spices into a homecooked curry, ready to feed our family of eight.
But this day was very different.
It was my eldest sisters’ wedding. I was about one and a half years old. My sister was 15 years older.
I was fascinated by her makeup, the chiffon of her red sari, the gold embroidery showing off the intricate details of the swirling patterns sewn along the edges of the outfit.
I didn’t know it then, but I would unwittingly become drawn to the more “glamourous” side of life.
I would accompany my mum and sisters to the local Indian shops, to buy anything from vegetables to bread, figs in syrup to edible silver sheets to place on kheer, similar to rice pudding (one of my favourite sweet dishes) and then we would go into the fancy fabric stores, which offered rolls of all different types of fabric, from cotton to silk, from nylon to crushed velvet, from polyester to chiffon.
I would watch my mum and sisters ask to look at the different rolls of fabric, from plain to patterned, from simple to ornate. I would look at them running their hands over the cloth and want to do the same. But I was told, time and time again, that it wasn’t for boys to be touching ladies clothes.
So, I clutched my fists instead.
I clutched my fists and grit my teeth. I wanted to be a good, Muslim boy, but I also wanted to express myself.
Back at home, I would sit and observe the females of the household applying mascara, eyeliner, lipstick, and comb their hair into a chignon, curls with hairpieces or leave it natural but accessorised with pins, clips and combs.
As I grew older, sometimes, I would help my mum and sisters with suggesting what colour lipstick they should wear, how they should style their hair, what sari would look good with fashionable footwear.
As a child, my suggestions were welcomed.
Sometimes, I would drape the sari over my small body, throw it over my shoulder and totter around in any high heels lying around. My mum, sisters and their friends would laugh. Sometimes, they would encourage me to sing songs of the time, dance around and pretend to be a Bollywood actress.
They would laugh, and I would laugh with them.
Along with the weekly shopping trips to the fabric stores, my mum would take me and my siblings to the local cinemas. We would watch old Bollywood movies in old run down cinemas. I would sit in the old, musty, red seats and try to hide myself. My mum would tell me to sit up whilst she was engrossed in the scenes on the screen. My imagination would be captured by the beauty of the actresses, the fabulous clothes they wore and the way they danced across the screen.
I had a list of favourite actresses.
I also knew how to imitate them.
It was unusual for a boy like me to be so close to his mum and other females in and out of our household.
But I knew I was different but did not know how or why I felt that way.
With my mum, I would feel comfortable, be able to say what I wanted, talked non-stop about all I saw, heard and felt. She would encourage me to speak up, no matter what I said or how I said it.
Whilst my brothers and other males around me would often mimic the way I talked and walked.
My behaviour and mannerisms made me stand out.
Yet my mum welcomed and embraced these differences.
As a British born Muslim boy of Pakistani heritage, I look back at my childhood and wonder how I managed to be provided with the opportunity to express myself, in saris and high heels, to make people laugh, and how make up and fashion advice was sought from me to help my mum and sisters feel better about themselves.
I look back and see how amazing my parents were in allowing me to be myself in childhood and supported me in their own silent ways.
Thank you for this moving and gorgeous piece, Khakan! Learn more about Khakan and his work on Twitter.
And if you are looking for a book that tells kids they are wonderful exactly as they are, check out I Am Brown by Ashok Banker and Sandhya Prabhat
A joyful celebration of the skin you're in - of being brown, of being amazing, of being you!
Click HERE to look inside!
Khakan was recently awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours List 2021 for his work relating to LGBT+ equality. This adds to a list of several nominations for awards. He is the founder of Finding a Voice, a voluntary led organisation for South Asians LGBT+ aged 18 and older of any faith, culture, religion and disability. Khakan has written articles about his personal experiences of being a gay Muslim and appeared on multimedia formats exploring South Asian LGBT+ representation within the community.