Our Voice

Manpreet Singh Virk - San Francisco Bay Area, USA

 They tell me that I can not be Sikh because I am Queer. They tell me that I can not be Queer because I am Sikh. They tell me who I can or can not be and scold me when I do not listen to them. You see, they fail to realize that they can not tell somebody to be red or blue when somebody is purple. I am a Queer, Transgender Sikh man, and it pains me to write this in 2018. I tell cishet Sikhs that my pronouns are he/him/his, and these cishet Sikhs INTENTIONALLY use she/her and call me a woman. Sikhs INTENTIONALLY reach out to me on my social media platforms to harass me, when all I am doing is taking up space that is rightfully for me. Do these Sikhs realize their own hypocrisy when they use bigotry to oppress somebody that is different than them? Why call yourself a Sikh when you refuse valid knowledge?

Sikhi is rooted in peace, equality, acceptance, and love; when did all of this go away? Our Gurus taught us how to protect ourselves (Ghatka) and how to read/write in one of the most complicated languages (Gurmukhi). Our Gurus gave us stories, bani, sangat, langar, and Gurdwara. Our Gurus gave us all of the tools that our Sikh society needed to reach egalitarianism and enlightenment, so what happened? When did Sikhs start discriminating against LGBTQ+ Sikhs when LGBTQ+ identities have existed in India for over 4,000 years? 

I was 8 years old when I realized I was a man- I would literally wake up in my dreams as a boy. One day, around this age, I made a wish on a shooting star; I wished to wake up in the body of a boy. Weeks went by and my wish had not come true yet. I forgot about my wish until I was about 11 years old- I had my first crush on a girl from our neighbourhood. I was confused because I felt invisible. I would dress very masculine but did not understand why girls were not attracted to me. Girls would chase after boys and vice versa, but I never saw people like me. My feelings for women always felt normal and natural, but I would never validate or acknowledge them because I was afraid. My mother found out that I liked girls when I was 12, and she beat me up. She locked me in a room with her, screamed at me, told me that I would go to Hell if I did not “pray the gay away.” I told her that I would change. We never spoke of it again.

For the next few years, I continued to invalidate myself. Every time I had a crush on a girl, I would pretend like I did not. I went through middle school like this, but once I became a Junior in high school, I started to come out to myself. I was 15 when I initially came out to my best friend as Bisexual. She is a lesbian, which is why it was easier for me to come out to her. I came out to two people that year, and those two people did not go to the same high school as me, which is probably why I came out to them. As soon as those two people validated me, however, I became a little more open about my identity during my entire junior year. When people would ask me about my sexual orientation, I would tell them that I was bisexual. Rumours got around but I did not care. I transferred to a different high school for my senior year and stayed closeted for most of that time. 

As a senior, I was having difficulty being who I was because I felt confined. When people would ask me about my sexual orientation, they would ask me with this horrible look on their face. I can never erase that look from my memory because it was a look filled with disgust, hatred, and judgement. I would lie to these people because these people were the same people that made rumours go around the school. Nobody, but me, needed to know my business. During my senior year in high school, I came out to my mother. I had a panic attack at my friend’s birthday party and called my mom to pick me up. She came right away. When we were about to be home, I came out to her. We talked in the car for about an hour, and I felt less burdened by my identity. She was very shocked, but she had hope that I would marry a man because I told her that I was bisexual. She never told my stepdad when this happened. 

For years, my mother was my biggest enemy. I was around 16 years old when I told her, but she fought with me about my identity until I was around 20 years old. She would oppress me with cultural teachings that she internalized from her own parents. When my mother was a child in k-12 school, her own parents would not even allow her to wear lotion for her dry skin. They would ask her who she was trying to look good for, and they would beat her if she came home even a few minutes late. My mother would be made fun of at school because she would have flakes of dry skin on her face and lips. Her parents were so strict and lacked compassion- it was no wonder that my Mother repeated these same injustices to her child, me.

My last argument that I had with my mother, I asked her why she was against me. She repeated the same arguments that she had for years, then I told her to show me where she learned this. She would say “They told me during Katha,” and I finally said: “But where in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji did you see this?” After this conversation that I had with my mother, everything changed. She was silent for quite some time, attempting to articulate her thoughts. She had nothing to say to my question. I think my mother saw through her cultural view right then and there; it was as though I saw the thought change in her mind, right before my very eyes. After that conversation, she began speaking to me about it more without attacking me or scolding me. She was more interested in how I felt and how I was doing. Eventually, she started saying “Make sure you marry a girl who takes care of you too, okay?”

My own mother, a woman who once told me that gay people are damned to Hell, fights for the rights of LGBTQ+ folx today. I even asked her to do an interview for my YouTube channel (youtube.com/singhisqueer) so that other Queer Sikhs could see that change was possible, so that other Queer Sikhs could know that there is a safe space for them to exist on this planet, that they are not alone, that they can be free. I have had so many people contact me because of that video- and I would not have been able to connect with these people if it had not been for my mother. One of my family members, an Uncle named K S Hundal, wanted to use this video as blackmail. Keep in mind that I have not spoken to this dangerous man in over 12 years. His daughter wants to marry a man who is not Jatt, and he threatened his daughter, saying “I will show his entire family what your family truly is,” and he linked my video to the threat. I am not threatened by bigots like Hundal, who have to use already oppressed people to oppress his own people. These are just one of the many instances of hate that I have received from my family, as well as all of them invalidating the rape case that occurred to me, even though there was clear evidence showing otherwise. If the laws were in my favor, I would charge Hundal with a blackmailing crime since I can not charge him for denying rape. If the laws were like the laws during Guru Ji’s time, do you think people like K S Hundal would still be alive? Probably not, since Guru Ji fought against cruel injustices with swords. Guru Ji had no tolerance for rape sympathisers. 

I have been dealing with mental health issues and had severe symptoms (i.e. PTSD, anxiety/anxiety attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorder, executive dysfunction, insomnia, etc) for over 12 years, since I was a child in 6th grade. I tried therapy three times, each at a different age in my life. No amount of therapy helped me deal with my panic attacks or insomnia. My eating disorder got worse as well. I would fall asleep around 4 AM and wake up at 7 AM to go to my class at the local community college, and my grades were barely making it. Surviving became so difficult, and I would find myself sitting in front of a computer screen for hours in order to distract myself from my suicidal thoughts.

I came out as Transgender when I was around 20 years old, in 2015. My mother accepted me right away and helped me with everything. I had no idea which route I was supposed to take if I wanted to medically transition, but my mother aided me with all of that. She supported me through my entire transition, including when I wanted to stop Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) earlier in 2018. My mom became my best friend. While on HRT, I began having side effects that negatively affected my mental health, so I started researching plants. During my research, I came across marijuana. I started using marijuana (smoking/eating it), and my life changed dramatically. I was able to sleep, eat, and laugh again. I made the most money that I had ever made in my entire life through my jobs. I had finally transferred to a University and graduated community college. My grades improved, I joined a theater production at my University, and I published a poetry book. My mental and spiritual health improved more in those three years on medical marijuana than it ever had via therapy. 

I am 24 now, and my parents are my biggest supporters. My dear Queer/LGBTQ+ Sikhs- always remember that you are not alone. YOU MUST TAKE UP SPACE WITH YOUR EXISTENCE. There are 23 million Sikhs, and not all of these 23 million are the same. Each person in this 23 million is unique and different in class, caste, race, color, creed, gender, sexuality, region, and language. Our Sikh peoples have had multiple intersections for centuries, but we have never had to make these intersections known, because under Guru Ji, WE WERE ALL CONSIDERED ONE. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji includes teachings from a Muslim, from a low-caste person in society, etc. There are teachings in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji that have been written by Non-Sikhs, by people who did not even LOOK Sikh, but their teachings are included BECAUSE THE MESSAGE OF ONENESS IS THE SAME. If the Gurus emphasized co-existence between all religious identities, why do cishet Sikhs deny Amrit and Anand Karaj based on identity? Having a bias against somebody because of their identity is the literal definition of discrimination.. so why are we allowing cishet Sikhs to discriminate? We should not and can not allow them to do this any longer, which is why I urge all LGBTQ+ Sikhs to revolt against the cishet patriarchy in “Sikhism” and reclaim SIKHI, the true religion of liberation, love, and justice for all. Decolonize your Sikhi, and it will bring you so many steps closer to love, light, and oneness... Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh! --- Queer/Transgender, Age: 24

S. Singh Boparai - New York City, USA

Being a Gay Sikh male while growing up in New York City, you come across various obstacles and struggles relating to your sexual identity. Personally, I was always made to feel less than. Bullied for my appearance, my walk, my voice and what I represented. Many don’t realize that homophobia begins at home and for me it was no different. Being a little kid, I always remembered the adults and older cousins in my family poke jokes about queer people. From a young age, my parents annually had me attend Summer Gurmat Camps at the Gurdwara or Camp Chardi Kala. I always found it ironic, that I was sent there to learn about my religion which teaches love, equality, truth and resilience but was always made fun of by the other kids at the camp because I was different. As I got older, it became harder and harder for me to be true to myself. I was dating girls not because I was attracted to them but because that is what society wanted me to do. For the first time in my life I was approached by a young man when I became a senior in high school who ended up being my first boyfriend. That relationship taught me a lot about myself, my truth, my authenticity and gave me the strength to be liberated. Once I went to college I exposed myself as much as I could to the gay culture in NYC. Making close gay friends and having support from close family and friends, I was able to come out to my single mom. That was the best day of my life. I felt so free, like a burden was lifted off my shoulders. It hasn’t been easy for my mom to get accustomed to because of her traditional orthodox views but I would be lying if I said she wasn’t trying. Today, I am 26 years old working in my line of work and taken by the most amazing man I could’ve ever asked for. My boyfriend is the light of my life. He has taught me so much about love and understanding. Today, I am a better man because I am loved by him.

Traditional Sikhs believe the only way for the lineage to extend for generations to come is when a man and a woman wed in holy matrimony. Their minds are to narrow minded to conceptualize the modern ways that gay couples can create a family. I was discriminated and marginalized against just to fit a norm that is continuously a hot topic in this country. Sikh society and culture have already foreshadowed what is expected of you. It took years of individual internalization for me to understand that I am no different. It has most definitely been a hefty process to get to the point of self-discovery and liberation. I’ve come to love myself and understand that I’m unique in my own way, an aesthetic that grabs the attention of a cis man or woman.

I hope my personal journey brings light and happiness to those who may feel unwanted or confused right now. Individuals will always try and bring you down or make a mockery of what you represent but that is ignorance. Don’t ever let that dim your light! In these current times it is important more than ever to help spread awareness. Always remember to be yourself and love who you want to love without any approval of others! So I ask all my Sikh brothers and sisters to unite in spreading awareness along with standing up in support of the LGBTQ family ~ Gay, Age: 26

G. Singh - Midlands, UK

Before I tell you a tale of inner conflict, I want those around me to know, not just gay Sikhs but to all Desi queers that sit in the western world we exist, we are valid, we deserve love and respect, we aren’t here to please others, in fact some of us just want to live in peace. However when it comes to my own journey, it was rather a simple one, that involved self denial and ignoring my sexual side, and denying any attraction to anyone, purely for my own sanity. Growing up I was always seen as a coconut, in fact I knew that gay people existed but in a western context, and that in the desi world it’s forbidden. Although I’m not religious I do my best to live a life that is moral in all respects. So at 16 I accepted my own sexuality however there was no inner turmoil or conflict in fact my brain was too busy wrapped up in other issues, my conflict stemmed from being a minority within a minority, I never saw being gay as wrong just unable to digest the societal racism or my fetishisation due to my race, to be honest I was never bothered by it, although my family is homophobic, and my mental health has declined over the issue, I won’t ever stop fighting. For my fellow desi queerd and equality overall. We have a collective responsibility, I shall fulfil mine as I see fit, as shall we all ~ Gay, Age: 22

B. Singh - Midlands, UK

  

Dealing and coming to terms as to who I am has been a very long and difficult path. When I look back, at the age of 11 was when I first realised that I had an attraction to guys. I decided to ignore it thinking it was a "phase". As I went through high school it became much more apparent I was attracted to guys. I made the mistake in thinking taking amrit would stop these thoughts and attractions. But how is something natural, to be removed? Being gay started affecting me mentally by the time I was 16 and starting A levels. I felt so alone and upset about who I was. I thought it was my bad karam that made have this "disease" as I saw it. I had lost friends due to trust issues and became very depressed and started thinking about suicide. The day I was going to end it all was the slowest day in my life. But when it came to it I couldn't do it. I found other singhs who were in a similar boat as me where I found some comfort. At this point I was comfortable as being bi because that way it would least affect me in the eyes of the world. However I was still lying to myself. The stress and anxiety made me ill very often and affected my education. Hearing people's comments about gays really hit me at times especially those who were close. As time went I was stuck in a place where I took each day as it came. Uni had started and the most unexpected thing happened. I found people who were straight who had a view which really comforted me and made me realise my truth. They didn't judge me and saw no problem with a singh being gay and amritdhari. This was a major turning point for me. I became more happy and content in my life. I was smiling and felt wanted and appreciated. This weight had been lifted off my shoulders. If only I had this support from the start so I would not experience such terrible pain ~ Gay, Age: 20

J. Singh - Midlands, UK

  

I wanted to be free, I had never felt so suffocated in my life. Waking up everyday wishing you would just die was no way to live. I was blessed with Amrit (baptism) aged 14, I quickly rose through the social ranks and was instructed by the Panj Piyare (baptists) to keep Sarbloh bebeik rehit. Age 17 I started to realise I could no longer repress my sexuality and I began to have fun at college. An accidental drink here, a bite of some meat there. I fell into this vicious trap of self-loathing and presenting myself for peshi (confessional) several times. But what was I going for? I would avoid the topic of sexuality when confessing my sins. No one spoke about sexuality, and any attempts to talk about it were shot down by homophobic Sikhs. I regressed into dark holes for several years and would drink and take a cocktail of drugs, several months later I would try and fill this void with Sangat and Simran. All the time just asking for death to come to me. There were times when I would get drunk, take as many hits of cocaine and ecstasy, write suicide notes and drink even more wishing I would die in my sleep. Aged 20, I had enough and could not take it anymore. I was outed to my family before I could do it myself. “it’s not natural”, “what’re we going to do?”, “what will the family say?”, “how can I tell my brothers?”, “you can’t be a Singh anymore!”, “You’ve ruined our honour”, “If you had said earlier, we could have dealt with this better” …. For another 2 years I spent my time kissing ass and trying to please everyone. No matter what I did, I couldn’t do right. My entire life was up for discussion, no part of my life was private anymore. I wanted to ‘come out’ for freedom but I was being stuffed back into the closet, “you’re dressed too gay”, “your pagh is too big”, “why you are reading paath for?”. At 22 I snapped and fought back, “who the fuck are you to make me feel like this?!”. Bit by bit I argued back and fought for my freedom within my family till my mum went from saying my ‘friend’ to boyfriend and telling everyone about how she was proud of her son. I still comply with some of her silliness when it comes to extended family because I have been left to flourish and grow in my own ways ~ Gay, Age: 25

G. Dhillon - London, UK

  

Growing up, I did struggle with my sexuality. My family never really talked about sexuality -I guess they just assumed their kids would end up "normal". When I Realised I was queer, at first the only issue I saw was that society in general was fucked, not my religion or culture. But when talking to my mum about sexuality I realised that I had a lot more shit to deal with. I've always hated hiding who I am but this was probably one of the first things I had to keep from those I thought cared about me. It really fucks you up, you know. I remember talking about sexuality and Sikhi in RE and one of the things someone mentioned was that all gurus married women – they were straight so we should be, too. “Nah, fuck that shit”. That was my first though. They never discriminated on anything; gender, caste, religion – the gurus didn’t give a fuck so why would they hate me for being queer? So in a way, Sikhi helped me accept myself. It also helped with accepting that I wasn’t cis- the soul has no gender so thus I felt I had none in my physical mind either. I eventually came out to my mother and she ignored me. That shit fucking stung but I wasn’t sad, I was furious. Like, who the fuck is she to tell me I can’t be queer when the religion she’s brought me up with ain’t done none of that shit? Eventually she came around but I realised soon id have to hide myself from my family and relatives – this only became more apparent when I met another man who claimed to be a strict Sikh. He told me if I married a woman in a Gurdwara I’d be insulting the religion. That I can’t shake off and had I not been at work I probably would’ve gone off on his dusty ass. After that though, it became a lot more apparent how much I have to hide from the community if I want to be accepted. Its funny, isn’t it? The queer community can be so racist and anti-religion but then the Sikh and Punjabi community is so homophobic. It really fucks you up cos you know what, I ain’t got no place to go; I ain’t got no community where I feel welcome ~ Queer, Age: 18