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Two nights ago, I’d just come out of a venue, The Signing Tree Conference Centre, Deaf Cultural Centre in Ladywood, one of the most deprived communities in Birmingham, if not the UK.
I was feeling very hopeful and optimistic as I had just finished presenting a talk about how I created Birmingham South Asians LGBT – Finding A Voice, the first social group for South Asian LGBT men and women aged 18+ in Birmingham.
Just before I got out of my seat, I felt my mobile buzzing in the pocket of my trousers. I ignored it and carried on listening to the Facilitator of the event, as she informed the attendees – young adults who are on the verge of creating their own social campaigns – that the Speakers will now be leaving and thanked us for our time.
I bade my farewell and engaged in brief conversation with one of the other Speakers. We exchanged feedback and suggest we keep in touch. My phone vibrated again and I pulled it out in the dark night.
The name lit up on the screen and I held my breath. It was my Jewish sister in law. I thought twice about answering it. I looked at the screen and it disconnects. I decided to call her back. I wondered what she will say. Has someone in my family died?
You see, there is nothing wrong in answering a phone call from your sister in law but when you haven’t spoken to your family for 6 years, as I have, then something must be wrong, surely?
All manners of scenarios run through my mind and I wondered what attitude I should adopt. Should I be angry or appreciative?
I’m angry because when my mother died in February 2010, not only was I grieving for her loss but I still hadn’t come to terms with the loss of my father two years previously.
At the end of 2010, I lost my job as a Support Worker in a Mental Health Daycentre.
In February 2011, my 5 siblings and I were invited to a dinner party hosted by one of my older brothers (I’ll call him A) and we discussed my mum’s Will. Or rather, I tried to discuss it and my siblings tried to change the subject. It was the last time we would all be sitting together in one room.
You see, as a family, we identify as British Asian, our cultural heritage is Indian Pakistan and the religion we most identify with – Islam. We have a Muslim background although I haven’t practiced for years and have recently started to re-connect. I would have liked to have thought we were quite a liberal, forward thinking family and we could discuss a number of topics but not love, sex and death.
A few months after the dinner party, I found I was still emotionally and mentally drained trying to come to terms with losing my mum. I couldn’t move forward and I was in financial dire straits. I had to claim jobseekers allowance and my partner and I were on the verge of losing our home.
My partner suggested I ask my family to help us out. That’s what families do, right?
I said I have never asked them for anything in my life and wasn’t go to ask them now. This led to further discussions and heated arguments. I had to wake up to the fact that we were at breaking point. I had no-one else to turn to for help except my family. In desperation and reluctantly, I asked one of my older brothers if he could help me out.
I still remember the phone call. We don’t have a strong bond as far as brotherly love goes, but we did talk. I hardly ever phoned him (in fact I never phoned him) and so, after we exchanged pleasantries, I asked him about our mum’s Will. He was somewhat evasive in his responses but made it clear that the family home was not up for sale anytime soon. Now, I might sound selfish but I felt I needed support financial and otherwise. I asked him if he could loan me £2, 000 “just to tie me over” until I could find a job. I stated I had never asked him for anything and didn’t feel I should be asking him now. But I didn’t have a choice or a quick solution.
His response: “You’ve made you’re bed, you lie in it.” I didn’t know what he meant. Then he said
“If you didn’t choose the lifestyle you have, then I might consider it.”
I still didn’t quite comprehend what he was saying. Then, it dawned on me. After all these years of me being with my partner, and my brother who appeared to be accepting of me as a member of the LGBT Community, showed his true colours. He wasn’t “accepting”. He had “tolerated” me for the sake of my mum, who loved me unconditionally.
I stated it: “You’re saying that because I’m gay, you won’t help me out? I can’t understand how you can say that to me now. I’ve been with my partner for 20 years and you’ve never said anything. And now, now that mum has gone, you say this to me? What has my sexuality got to do with asking for financial support? “
He replied quite calmly: “As I said, you’ve made your bed, you lie in it. I have a solution. You can sell your home, go your separate ways and then we might consider having you in the family home. That way, you’d have a roof over your head and be financially secure “.
Me: “And what about my partner? You can’t expect him to accept your solution? I can’t leave him. He’s my life. He’s as much as part of me and my world as is your partner, I can’t give him up “
My brother was beginning to sound sanctimonious and boastful: “That’s different. Think about your family and what we’ve gone through. Think about what mum and dad would say. Thank about how you could change your lifestyle and make it better.
Me: “I’m not coming home to fit in with your idea of a lifestyle. I’m with someone and I have a home. He might not be your sure, but I’m happy and both my parents were happy for me –“
My brother implied that my parents had said things about me contrary to what I was told and believed. But I’m not having anything to do with what he said. I know what my parents told me and they accepted me and my partner 110%.
Brother A: “As I said, you can come home. Your partner is not my responsibility”.
Me: “Is that what you offer? Because I’m gay, you’re not going to help me financially?”
Brother A: “You wanted support, and I’ve offered you a solution”
Me: “That’s not a solution. That’s an ultimatum”
I placed the phone down and broke down in tears…
My partner and I discussed what had been said, and I made the resolution not to see or speak to my family again.
Several months later, my other brother M , who is two years older than me, contacted me. We spoke about the Will. He said there was a Will, but they couldn’t allow me to see it as they “didn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands”.
I said “What are you talking about? This isn’t a drama. This is real life! There’s only 7 of us siblings so how can copy of the will fall into the wrong hands??” He provided excuses as to why I couldn’t see the Will. He asked me to consider my actions and the consequences it would have on the family, the detrimental impact it would have on my eldest brother who is mentally ill (un diagnosed) and emotionally unstable sister.
I replied I did think about all those things but I was also considering my own feelings and the well-being and welfare of my partner. Again, my brother appeared to provide me with an ultimatum and I was determined to lead my own life and contest the content of the Will, taking what I believe was rightfully and legally mine.
It was a long battle. It took 5 years. I hadn’t seen or heard from any of my siblings. I don’t know if I shamed them or pressurise them into taking action but I did not receive what I had expected or hoped. I was bought out of having an equal share of the family home, even though brother A said he was a “Millionaire on paper”.
The time spent fighting the case, the challenges that we faced, the emotional strain and the bitter words exchanged between me and my partner almost tore us apart.
To me, it wasn’t so much about the estate or the family connections. The fact of the matter was that, although my family appeared to be accepting of me on the surface, they still held homophobic attitudes about me being gay.
It was the “gayness” of me which instigated and provoked my brothers to offer me an ultimatum in both incidents.
It was me being gay that decided I had had enough of being treated differently and in a non-existence manner and being told what to do for “the sake of family”.
It was being gay which made me more determined to make changes in my life and help other people.
It was the “gayness” of me which made my brothers ridicule and humiliate me and not consider or value who I am.
It was being gay that made me look at myself and think I could be stronger than this and looked inwards to my own personal resources as to how I could navigate through the heteronormative systems and try and change the mind-set and attitude of others.
So my sister in law rings and we speak. I know she is not alone in the kitchen. She has it on loud speaker. I say I can’t hear her and she keeps breaking up.
She talks to me as if nothing has happened, as if the last 6 years is “water under the bridge”. She invited me to a house warming part. She, her husband (my brother M) and my two nieces have moved into a new property in Hampton and could I attend for old times’ sake?
I weigh up her words and the manner in which she speaks to me. I love my sister in law. It breaks my heart. She said she understands if I choose not to attend but just thought it might be worth trying. New Year and all that…
I listen to her spiel and I love the way she seems to gloss over all what I say. She apologised for not wanting to hurt me and doesn’t want to open old wounds but could I make the effort. I know she wants to avoid confrontation, even though she says she understands the family dynamics.
I listen to her words, softly spoken, she means well and I understand. I tell her that I have missed my family; the great nieces I know exist and have never met, her children whom I have missed growing up and my sisters whom I waited and waited over the years. I tell her all these things and tell her about the two scenarios I detailed above. She said “Your brothers love you and miss you” and I realise then that they are empty words and she has to go. But before she goes, I hold back my tears and tell her in a cheerful manner that my life has moved on, I run a South Asian LGBT social group, was invited to meet David Cameron and attend events as a Guest Speaker. She asked me what is it that I talk about.
I have to spell it out to her “About being LGBT, of faith, being Muslim, being gay, being visible and being accepted within communities and families, about tackling homophobia within communities.”
She says okay, you’re doing well. Then says she has to go and have something to eat.
“You will re-consider, won’t you?” She queried.
“My door is always open”, I replied.
Then I switched my phone off.