Artwork By Arisha Ali
I was around 14 or 15 when I first started getting bullied. Perhaps, it was because I wasn’t the stereotypical girly girl that everyone wanted me to be. I never wore dresses, I walked differently, I talked differently, and, apparently, that was weird to most people.
I lived away from Pakistan and struggled a lot during middle school, particularly because it was never my decision to come out. I didn’t even know I wasn’t 100% straight till I got to university. But word had gotten out, around the school (through a teacher’s mouth, ironically), that I was different, that I wasn’t what they deemed as ‘normal’. Things like ‘Don’t associate yourself with her, she’s different’, or, ‘She’s a freak, stay away from her’ were, at that point, things I heard daily. I got harassed, pushed around, and verbally abused for almost 3 years which is the least that could’ve gone wrong in a country where not being straight is punishable by death.
My mother, being desi and particularly religious, found out eventually and told me being queer was unnatural. That it was a disease we must keep ourselves away from. The internalized homophobia that I had only strengthened after this and to this day I find it incredibly hard to talk to people about being queer. I’ve only had very few friends who’ve reacted positively and haven’t viewed me as some sort of disgusting monstrosity. Being religious plays a huge role, in that there’s an innate fear of displeasing God. But if God is Merciful and Accepting, why can’t He love me for who I am?
Being in Pakistan has enabled me to find people who will accept me as me even though I’m scared to know for myself. I’ve taken this chance to grow and try to get in touch with my inner self, to have that discussion that is so hard for me to have because of years of bullying, shaming and guilt.
I’m growing. It’s going to take a while. But I’m growing. And nobody can take that away from me anymore.