Interviewee : Shazad Hai
Q. What do you identify as (gay, bi, transgendered, queer – use any terms you like here)?
I’m a gay man
Q. When did you first start to define your identity as such?
I started identifying as a gay man when I was 20. However, between me being fixated on Sridevi serving Nagin realness and heroines performing melodramatic mujras, I knew at a rather early age that I was attracted to men – around the age of 5.
Q. Was it easy or difficult for you to come to terms with your sexuality?
It definitely was difficult to come to terms with it. My parents divorced when I was entering puberty and discovering things like the men’s underwear section in department store fliers that came to the house. My mom didn’t exactly get the best support from our community (being the first woman in the family to have a divorce and all). I thought that my coming out wouldn’t make it any easier on her and our family, so I tried really hard to conceal it.
Q. Have you experienced homophobia? If yes, how did you deal with it?
I didn’t have any direct homophobic statements and actions hurled at me. I, however, knew that it was around.
Q. When did you first out yourself?
I don’t really remember the exact moment or first time I used the words gay to describe myself. In my early 20s I remember hiding behind the term ‘bi’ for a while and then eventually coming to terms with the fact that I only really do like boys – always did.
Q. Was it unplanned or was there careful planning involved?
Nope – no plan at all. I kind of went with the flow of whatever was happening with me at the time.
Q. Who did you come out to & why did you come out to that person?
I told my mom in the spring of 2005, and then I do remember telling my one sister over MSN in the summer of 2007 when I visited Toronto for the first time (my home now) and my other sister when I returned home to Calgary that summer. I also told my close friend Olivia. All of these people were told because there were and are always there for me when it mattered.
Q. How did they react?
My mom didn’t throw her hands up, drop to her knees and wail to the heavens “KYUN?!!” a la Bollywood mother style. She was calm, but did have some challenges with it for a couple of years before coming to terms with it. My sisters and Oliva were just waiting for me to tell them.
Q. Did your coming out change anything about your relationship with them?
Nope, it stayed the same.
Q. Have you ever been outed without your consent? If yes, how did you deal with it?
Yes it did happen and I was a little upset. But then I realized that person wasn’t someone who I was particularly fond of nor had a significant impact in my life, so I just moved on and didn’t give it any energy.
Q. How did the people you were outed to deal with it?
One person was shocked and talked to me. The other people – I only know their reaction through the aunty rumour mill – so it doesn’t matter.
Q. Do you think being Gaysi makes it harder to come out and that if you weren’t part of such a traditional and conservative culture you would have an easier time with your sexuality/identity?
I think if you speak generally about the South Asian community, one would think that. But I mean every person, no matter what community they belong to, is different with a variety of life experiences. People can surprise you! Someone who belongs to a super conservative community could be more accepting in their own way, than someone from a very “liberal” upbringing.
Q. You seem to enjoy modelling. Tell us more about it.
Modelling was something that I fell into about a year ago. However the process t started about three years ago, when I really became comfortable in my own skin. I mean I started going to the gym when I was about 20, however I had major body image issues. I felt the color of my skin was preventing me from fitting into the mainstream gay community, so I felt I needed to have a “perfect body” and everything would be fine. After going through a break up, I realized that in order for my body to transform, I would have to take pride in my own unique brand of attractiveness. When I realized this, this took off the pressure of me comparing myself to other bodies and that constant rush to be “hot” and made my journey my own. After going through the physical transformation, I got into go-go dancing for events and then last year I started to compete in fitness shows, and then got into modeling. One of the main reasons I got into modeling, was not only to prove to myself I could do it, to but also to be a face of an out Gaysi. As part of my full-time work, I facilitate a social support group for gay/bi/trans south asian men called Dosti, and I know that for desi guys who like guys, there is comfort in knowing that there are faces they can see that are perhaps going through or went through similar circumstances.
Q. Would you recommend that people stay in the closet or come out?
I don’t recommend either because everyone‘s circumstances are different. What works for one person, might not necessarily work for another. As long as you’re comfortable with yourself in whatever situation you’re in, and it works, then cool.
Q. One Queer or non-Queer personality you draw inspiration from?
I find inspiration from my mom. After going through some tough times as a single mom, she managed to be there for my sisters and I. She was actually the first person who first planted the fitness seed in my head, when I was in my late teens.
Q. Your favorite queer-themed movie?
For Queer themed: “To Wong Foo, thanks for everything. Julie Newmar!” Though they aren’t specifically queer films, I also wanted to mention movies of Sridevi, Madhuri or Rekha in the 80s and 90s. Whether it was Sridevi who was a shapeshifting snake in “Nagina” fighting against an evil snake charmer to protect her family, to Madhuri in “Anjaam” and Rekha in “Khoon Bhari Maang” who take revenge on all those who wronged them, they played the roles of women who stood their ground and fought back against the world that tried to suppress their voices (and of course let’s not forget them KILLING IT whenever they performed a dance number). I find a lot of us gaysi boys growing up during this time, found ourselves in these characters, and finding comfort whenever we watched them on screen…repeatedly (Yes, I know all the dance moves to “Mein Teri Dushman” and “Chaneh ke khet mein”).