Growing up as a racial minority in a majority white country isn’t easy. Add being gay to the mix and you’re bound to have issues.
My family immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1992. I was only 7. We fled a war-torn country only to fight a different kind of battle here.
Fitting in wasn’t easy. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I knew that I was different – skin colour aside. 4th grade is when the label “gay” was introduced to me, along with the associated disgust people used to have in the 90s. That’s when my life took a negative turn.
With the constant pressure to do well in school and my need to feel like I belonged, I spent most of my time trying to impress my parents. I figured that even if they found out I was gay, maybe they’d at least forgive me because I was a straight A student. I was the good kid. I don’t think my brothers felt the same pressure.
High school was the hardest time for me. No one knew it. I was good at hiding my homosexuality and my creeping depression. I had never kissed anyone nor had I shown any genuine interest in girls. However, the highlight of my high school years was my straight best friend whom I was madly in love with.
I left high school with a lot of self-doubt, self-hatred and a growing sense of homophobia. I was fighting myself and convincing myself that I wasn’t gay. I fought that feeling for years to come.
The part that made it hardest for me in all this chaos was my household. We never discussed sexuality. My parents never felt the need to talk about it. They would fast forward through sex scenes in Hollywood movies and the excessive rape scenes in Kollywood movies. The only time any sexual “deviation” was mentioned was when a feminine/transvestite character played the comic relief in Tamil movies. Those were the only role models I had. And that was not who I was, nor who I wanted to be.
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I desperately wanted to fit in somewhere, but I felt like I didn’t. I didn’t belong with my straight friends. I didn’t feel like I belonged in my family, my culture or the Quebecois culture.
This sense of non-belonging created an internalized homophobic and racist mindset. I didn’t want to be Tamil. I hated my culture. I hated my name, the food we ate at home, the movies, the songs, everything. Even more, I hated feminine guys and anything gay. I hated pretty much all the labels that could’ve been assigned to me.
We eventually moved to Ottawa for a while. That’s when I met my first gay person, and I hated him. This hatred was born purely out of envy. He was so self-assured – a 17 year old gay kid comfortable with who he was.
In university, I finally had the courage to visit the LGBT centre after suicidal thoughts filled my mind constantly. I thought that maybe if I died before I came out, my parents wouldn’t feel shame. They would simply be sad and I figured that was better. Tamil movies have a way of making one feel guilty for shaming their families. A part of me was afraid that my parents would kill themselves if I revealed that I liked guys.
But it was at the LGBT centre where I learned that we, the queer people, were normal. That we deserved to have a happy life. It was a long and arduous process – it didn’t happen overnight.
Finally, I met my first boyfriend (albeit he was closeted). Here we were, two closeted gay boys trying to have a semblance of a relationship in secrecy. He is now married to a girl whom I doubt knows his history.
While I was with him, I was able to accept my homosexuality. But I did not get over the internalized racism. I was not attracted to brown men, nor Asians, nor black guys. White was the only way for me. I had alienated myself from everything I was.
Before graduating university, I started coming out to some people. Starting with a friend, then my younger brother, then more friends. My older brother was one of the last to know aside from my parents. I then moved back to Montreal to live my life as a gay man without possible scrutiny or doubt from my parents.
I came out to my parents in Easter 2013. They both took it very well, although I still don’t believe my mother understands what it means to be gay in modern Canadian society.
I’ve had a lot of introspection to do and I’d like to believe that I was able to rid myself of most my internalized self-hatred, homophobia and racism.
I am now a 32 year old Tamil-Canadian cisgender man who happens to be gay. The race of my human interest holds very little value to my eyes. The one regret I have is that I have distanced myself so much from my roots. To this day, I don’t know if I will ever be able to reconnect.