My name is Baquer Jawad Shirazi and I am an aspiring restaurateur/ hotelier. My parents are Marilyn and Jawad Shirazi and I was born on the 9th of October. My family is a close-knit, joint, non-practicing Muslim family. Growing up, there were four of us children who lived under one roof; my sister Shaina and my two cousins Rumi, Ryan and I. We were in constant competition stemming from sibling rivalry. I feel fortunate to have been born in the teeming metropolitan city of Mumbai. A large part of my childhood was spent in a city with a population of over 20 million and is a melting pot of all different religions and cultures. I believe it is a city with a place for everyone.
When I turned 8 or 9 years old, I began noticing that I was slightly different from other male counterparts in my life. I started noticing women but there was a difference in my gaze.
I was not attracted to the women but instead to their feminine attributes and aspired to be similar in some form or way.
I knew I was different, but I was afraid of “coming out”. To me; being different meant people either fear or dislike you. I was scared of being judged and condemned by my friends and I thought they would not understand me. This realization of being different, was terrifying and I was fearful of being ostracized.
The stress of keeping who I truly was; a secret, created tremendous anxiety in me. These feelings that I lived with were crippling, exhausting and overwhelming for the child that I was at the time.
When I was 11 years old; I started feeling attracted to men. Deep inside, even at that young age, I knew that was not “normal” and that this was shunned or even completely rejected by some parts of society. I forced myself to live with deep shame and guilt.
Over the next few years, the feeling of knowing that I was different became more apparent to me and I was finally able to put into words what I knew and felt.
I knew I was GAY.
Coming out to myself was giving what I knew about myself sanctuary. A safe space where I admitted that I was different. Subconsciously, that felt real and authentic to me, even though I was still fearful and intimidated by the way society perceived and stereotyped gay men.
I needed to keep my closely guarded secret safe in my closet.
My own acceptance was still colored with the anxiety of being discovered. The only way I felt safe was by detaching myself from people at home and in school. I changed from being an extreme extrovert into an introvert. I started losing interest and focus in things that were important to me. I was insecure and unsure about my life and wanted to escape from my current situation. The desire to start over or put everything on pause started to become an obsession as I was not comfortable where I was and looked at starting somewhere new as a solution that would save me from confronting my feelings.
When I was in the 8th grade, my parents had a psycho-educational evaluation done on me. We realized that my reading and writing skills were far below that of an average eighth grader. My parents thought that I could do with more help and the they offered a change of school. This was the opportunity to escape that I had wanted, and I readily accepted.
I changed schools halfway through the 8th grade and joined, “The Gateway School of Mumbai.” The main goal was to improve my standard of spelling and reading thus minimizing any problems I would have in the future to function in society. It was a tall order to accomplish in two years and proved a challenge for me and school, but we were all ready to work hard. The team at Gateway had a very supportive faculty and the remedial tutoring that I received helped me immensely.
During my time at Gateway, I was able to deal with all the academic hurdles I had and finished my tenth grade by exceeding expectations. I had a good score under the IGCSE curriculum.
However, looking back I do not see this as my greatest accomplishment at Gateway. My greatest accomplishment there; was rebuilding my confidence and re-constructing my self-esteem. Because both were at an all-time low, I had lost my ability to find joy in the things that interested me. Gateway helped me reignite my passion for cooking and baking. They steered and motivated me to rediscover everything that had previously brought me joy and happiness.
When I think of my fascination with food, I am transported back to my childhood when my mother always managed to cover every inch of the dining table with her culinary prowess! I remembered the aroma of the spices and the way she transformed raw vegetables and meat into the most delicious and imaginative dishes for us to enjoy. She not only nourished my body but my soul too. My fascination with food began with my inspiring mother and it is to her credit that I want a career in the world of culinary arts.
After I finished my IGCSE, I completed my 12th grade under the A-levels curriculum. Gateway had only been open four years and had very few students, making it harder for me to connect to people so I decided to change to RIMS International High School and Junior College.
My mother disagreed with this decision as she felt I should have stayed at Gateway because of the progress I had made there. We had intense and heated discussions on the subject, and it started affecting our relationship. After a dramatic week, I built up my courage and resolved to tell her that I was gay. My mom’s reaction was; “so you like guys?” and I answered in the affirmative. She told me it was fine and smiled at me reassuringly.
When I look back at this moment, I am amazed by the ease of how my mom handled my confession. It was not peppered with any drama nor spice, she just immediately accepted who I am.
I have never built up the courage to say these words to my dad, but hopefully someday I will. We have never discussed my sexual orientation, but I know in my heart that he accepts me for who I am. My father realized early on in my life that my interests lie in the hospitality industry. He knew that his dreams for me to take over his dates and dry fruit business in the future would not be realized, but he put his own interests aside and gave me the freedom and opportunity to pursue my own passions. My father loves my sister and I unconditionally. He respects me enough to make my own decisions and I love him for that.
The stability that I have in my life comes from the unshakable foundation of unconditional love that my parents have always shown me.
I joined RIMS a month later and made friends easily there. The first few friends I made were 3 girls who were my seniors. Early on in our friendship the girls had suspicions about my sexual orientation, and they quizzed and questioned me in many roundabout ways until I finally asked them if they wanted to know if I was gay.
Afraid of offending me, they admitted that this was the question they had been wanting to ask. I answered; “Yes, I am Gay.”
This was the first time I had said those words aloud to anyone that was not related to me and it was such a big moment that my heart raced, my palms got sweaty and my breathing was staggered. Two of the three girls also identified as being bisexual, pansexual and gender non-binary. There was a sense of relief when I realized that other people were struggling with similar issues. I felt accepted and comfortable with them.
The second time I came out to a very close friend who I felt was mature and open minded enough to accept me, it didn’t go according to my expectations. Shortly after sharing my secret with her, we had a disagreement. It made her very angry and she threatened and bullied me. Her leverage was my secret that she used against me and threatened to disclose it to my classmates.
I felt betrayed and under pressure as I wanted my close friends to hear it from me. I was being forced and I stopped playing to her terms. She forced me out of the closet earlier than I wanted to come out and I felt helpless and victimized. But the response from my classmates was an unexpected surprise. They not only accepted me, they had genuine questions about my lifestyle. Their calm curiosity gave me confidence to be myself.
I learnt so much from this experience; I never expected my close friend to betray me in this way. I had expected my classmates to judge me or be hurt/angry for lying to them, but life teaches us that everything happens for a reason.
Every experience has lessons, and this was to teach me to let go and to trust that everything would work out in the end. Running away and escaping from my life and issues was not the answer. Anxiety and stress had ruled my life for so long that I had made this a bigger issue than it was. I realized that if people could not accept me for who I was, then they didn’t deserve to have me in their lives.
My journey has not only been about coming to terms with who I am regarding my sexual preferences, but also finding my passion through food and realizing that true happiness comes from the inside. When you can accept who you are at your core, then from that peace, there is more space to be able to align yourself with things that bring meaning to your life.
‘I AM GAY’ is something that I still find difficult to say. Maybe, because I haven’t said it enough. Maybe, because in society seeing two men together is yet not completely accepted. Maybe, I am scared of being ostracized or disliked for something completely natural to me; an instinct to love and be loved.
BUT I do know one thing: I AM GAY. This is who I am. There will always be people who judge you and won’t understand, that too: is Life. What is important, is to know who your true friends are, to accept and love yourself cause, “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”- RuPaul.
PS: I think this is the first time that I have used the words me, myself, and I this often. So in this last bit, I would like to thank a few people and change the topic from myself: Firstly I would like to thank the phenomenal team at the Gateway school of Mumbai, If it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would have reached where I have today in life, it was they who have helped me improve my skills and knowledge in several areas and changed my perspective on life.
Shalini for mentoring me through the process of writing the blog and editing it.
I would like to thank my close friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin.
My parents who have supported me always; through the process of coming out and accepting me and loving me for who I am. My sister for always supporting me and helping my parents understand me better. Lastly, I would like to give a big thanks to the Bodani family for making Gateway a reality, have me as a part of their family and encouraging me to be open about my truth.
Writer: Baquer Shirazi, Gateway Alumni
Editor: Shalini Sawhny – Braxhoofden